It has always been complicated to explain exactly where the articles I write post, to people who aren’t familiar with various details of my life. Yes, all right, I just tell people it’s The Solute. But it’s a weird name, which everyone initially confuses with “salute,” and I have to explain that it’s a chemistry joke even though the site has nothing to do with chemistry, and by the time we’ve got all that sorted out, we’ve lost track of what the conversation was about in the first place. (Probably why I don’t like something.) It is also true that the Facebook group that tangentially ties in to the story now has over two thousand members, many of whom are unaware of the history of the group and unfamiliar with this site. So, then. I will set it all in one place, to save explanations.
In the Before Time, there was The Onion. In print since 1988. Online since 1996. (Out of print, now, and exclusively online, but that’s not part of our story.) In 1993, an entertainment section called The A.V. Club was added. Real entertainment news, not parody. It, too, made the shift online, and acquired its own domain in 1999. In December 2012, Keith Phipps stepped down as editor, followed in April of 2013 by Scott Tobias. Later that month, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, and Genevieve Koski left The A.V. Club as well. Koski, as well as Noel Murray, both continued to contribute as freelancers.
But in May, they announced the development of a new site. The Dissolve. It launched on July 10 of that year. Several other fine writers worked for the site as well, which was run through Pitchfork. The articles posted were generally more intellectual than many other film sites, though there was still a strong undercurrent of humour. (Well, Nathan Rabin was hanging around the place, after all.) Many of the commenters from The A.V. Club made the shift, and others (your humble chronicler included) joined without having started there.
Gradually, a community grew. There were actually features in the comments section, regularly occurring events such as Random Ten and Corner of Happiness. And then came the proposal of serious writing by the members of the commentariat. It had been observed that one of the best parts of The Dissolve was its penchant for positivity; there were articles about how good things could be, including the Movie of the Week series, instead of a pervasive sense that, as the group’s joke has it, all movies are bad. The discussion turned to movies that people in the group loved even though others did not, and the idea grew that a series of articles defending that love would be written and posted in the comments of the Essential Film Writing column, an article posted every day that highlighted the best film writing around the internet.
Famously, the first of these articles was our own Julius Kassendorf writing about the 1975 Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we were seriously intimidated by the level of research, the length of the piece, and the detail. A few short paragraphs would clearly not be enough. We all stepped up our game, I think, and Lovefest was a resounding success lasting for several months through the spring and summer of 2014.
It was at that point that Julius recognized the quality of writing we had going in our beloved little group. That, combined with the love of film shown, suggested that we might use our time productively by developing our own site. Oh, we wouldn’t make money—I get a little bit from Patreon, but the site itself is all volunteer—but we could have fun doing it. And so, in August of 2014, The Solute was launched.
All was well! We had the Home Country, and we had the spin-off. And we moved on with life, enjoying some fine writing there and here, and a strong community that crossed between the two. What could go wrong?
On July 8, 2015, we found out. That day, with no notice to us and essentially none to our kind hosts, Pitchfork pulled the plug on The Dissolve. The reaction was your basic stages of grief. Shock, anger, and sorrow were the strongest, I think. But also determination. We by-Gods had something, and we weren’t going to lose it. And while sites around the internet memorialized the loss of a great film site—often mentioning the strong comments section, so awareness of that wasn’t just us—we mobilized. The Facebook group was born.
It was a curious thing, at first. While some members had always used their names as screen names, most of us had not. We went from limited sharing to being part of one another’s lives. It was like bringing your friends over to your house to the first time, but bigger and weirder. In those first days, most of us added literally dozens of new Facebook friends, connecting in a desperation to avoid being disconnected. Articles appeared here lamenting what we’d lost but with a firmness that we would not lose all.
Indeed, the group now has people who don’t even know why the group is called The Dissolve. Subgroups spin off with a steady regularity, everything from TV to music to personal issues to parenting to simply having a peer group of people who remember the first time Disney released a Beauty and the Beast movie. The main group remains strong. The in-jokes from the Before Time are still shared, and new ones are added. I’m not sure how many of the people who did not know the Before Time know about this site, but the Self-Promotion Threads still appear, so there’s still the chance to learn.
We are a fan site of a schism of a spin-off of a web version of a parody newspaper. That’s an odd history. The half-connection with a sprawling series of Facebook groups and subgroups only makes it weirder. But however we got here, here we are. My life is the better for all of you crazy cats. Even if I have to step out now for a taco break.