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The Week of the Dissolve: Keynote

written by rick July 4, 2016
The Week of the Dissolve: Keynote

It’s been a year since The Dissolve shuttered its virtual windows, packed up its stuff, and moved on.

Welcome to a week commemorating its passing.

Recently, I was talking to a friend, and started wistfully recalling it, in the hushed terms we usually reserve for good friends. He responded, pretty reasonably, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

So this week is dedicated to remedying that.

Long story short: The Dissolve was a website. A pretty good one. It meant a lot to a bunch of people. It had a solid run, and folded a year ago this week.

A year seems both a long and a short time ago. A long time, because so much has transpired since. A short one, because so much of what I valued about The Dissolve has morphed into other forms: its writers migrating to different arenas, its readers congregating in different conversations.

But there was still something ineffable about the original encounter that I’ll always miss. I want to talk a bit about why.

I wasn’t even there from the start, and don’t lay particular claim to anything, but I distinctly remember the shitty feeling that washed over me when I read the formal announcement, ominously titled “The End”, after hours of panicked speculation in the comments. It came as a shock, though in retrospect it really shouldn’t have.

And that shock was combined with a queasy, self-mocking feeling: “Why do you care so much? It’s a website. There are other websites. And, as a matter of fact, since when do you even care about websites, you total nerd?”

Grappling with this existential quandary and sudden, unexpected inclination to insult myself in unusually personal terms, I wrote the following on this blog the same day:

More than any other place online, [The Dissolve] fostered a sense of community among its commenters. I think this wasn’t an accident: the generosity in the commentaries of its editors and writers, the wide range of films they featured, the sense of open discourse they encouraged … these all help generate genuine discussion, debate, and camaraderie. The sense was that we were all in it together, trying to figure out how these things work and what they mean.

This is what I still remember most fondly: The Dissolve was, for a whole host of reasons, a locus point, a collection of fascinating, well-curated content but also something of a meeting space. As I also pointed out in that hastily written piece, I’ve never been much of a comment section participant. But The Dissolve was different. For me – and, I feel confident wagering, for others – it became what so many sites promise but fail to deliver: a community.

As the curiously wounded (and arguably overdramatic) remnants of that commentariat made our way to social media groups and elsewhere, we’ve done alright at keeping that community going. Conversations have continued, and friendships have been maintained, fostered, and created. That’s pretty remarkable, actually, and speaks to the strength of the initial connections The Dissolve, its writers and editors, made possible.

Entire critical endeavors have been more or less born out of all this. (Most definitely the site you’re reading right now, for better or worse.) I’ll gather up some links later in the week. But for today, I just want to tip my hat to a film website that, in its brief run, became much more than that to many of us.

The Dissolve was a repository of critical insight, a corner of the online world where like-minded pop-culture obsessives could nurse private fixations in public, a journal of thought in which contributors and audience merged in conversation, and a set of conditions that enabled independent creation. Readers became writers simply out of a desire to participate, discovering a kind of courage and self-confidence through our interactions.

If this sounds overblown, so be it. But The Dissolve made a lot of things possible, and greatly exceeded whatever modest expectations its originators might’ve held for its success. Even if the market couldn’t support it, it made its mark on the world.

The Dissolve is still dead. Long live The Dissolve.


After today’s keynote, we will take a look at some (highly subjective, occasionally personal) favorites from The Dissolve’s run. Later in the week, we’ll consider some memorable conversation topics from the community of commenters, highlight an array of projects that represent its legacy, and check in on what its writers have been up to since. Stay tuned!

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