When Paramount Pictures released its “controversial classic” Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) for the last time in 1997, it promised viewers, “nothing can prepare you for this film's shocking ending.” That shocking ending turned out to be obscurity: the final VHS copies of Richard Brooks's once controversial film will become unplayable around 2027, but the movie has already been marginalized by film-historical economy of value dependent on commercial distribution. This article thinks through the ways that digital video platforms and economies structure scholars and viewers’ relation to film history. Artificial economies of scarcity are indispensible components of the classic film market, but the critic often feels an urge to save a beloved text, to somehow prevent its loss. That fear of loss engenders an affective response that I call the savior complex, which gives rise to two critical imperatives: an interrogative quest to uncover the truth about the text and compassionate redescription, which sustains viewers’ hope through the embrace of filmic pleasures. Working through both responses in relationship to Looking for Mr. Goodbar, I argue that the film forces a figural and material encounter with loss that pushes its viewer to sit with and accept rather than resist mortality and material transience. In so doing, she gains greater awareness of her own critical motivations and can figure out what it is she truly wants to know about film.
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