Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Loose Ends: White vs. Ebert, Smith vs. Everyone, and Some Other Stuff

Two items were all over the Twitter feeds of most of the critics that I follow today. First, there was everyone’s favorite contrarian troll, Armond White. I’ve tossed in my two cents on Mr. White before, and stand by my assessment of him:

White clearly couldn’t care less about contributing to a real dialogue in film culture—he aims to be a provocateur, and nothing more… he contends that “To the unbiased, I am known as a critic who speaks truth to power.” Apparently, in this context, “unbiased” means “lacking in anything resembling good common sense.” But it’s a telling line; by claiming to speak “truth to power,” his insistence on bucking trends and casting his lot on the far side of good taste (quality of the work in question be damned) is laid bare as his primary motivation.

Well, the more-patient-than-me folks over at /Film gave Mr. White a forum for his bullshit last night, and he rose to the occasion. Hew boy, did he rise:

We’ve got film critics who are employed professionally by legitimate publications, and we have the world of the internet film writers. The internet has become so pervasive and overwhelming that the internet has stolen the impact and prestige and effect that traditional professional film criticism used to have... And I think that leads to a kind of anarchy where there are very few people writing about film who know what they’re talking about and who are rigorous about having standards in film. The anarchy, I think, comes from the fact that in mainstream media and the internet, most people who are writing about films are simply writing from a fan’s perspective instead of a truly critical perspective. So what used to be termed “film critics” now is almost meaningless, because you just got a free-for-all of enthusiasms rather than criticism.

Hey, elitist much? Armond, I’ve seen the print version of your “legitimate publication,” all what, four, six pages of it? They can’t give the fucking thing away in New York. You are an Internet film writer. Deal with it. And while there might be some credibility to the argument that there is a “free-for-all of enthusiasms” and that critics aren’t critical enough these days, that argument doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight when it’s mouthed by the guy who gave the ol’ thumbs up to such titles as Norbit, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Grown-Ups, Clash of the Titans, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Sorry, I guess, that the rest of us didn’t have Armond’s same “rigorous” standards.

And speaking of “the ol’ thumbs up”, there’s this shocker:

I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job.

The hubris and willful ignorance of this statement is stunning. Stunning. Say whatever you will about Ebert’s TV show—and I have nothing but good things to say about it, coming of age as a filmgoer at a time where that show and that show alone was promoting a cultural dialogue about film—but the man won the fucking Pulitzer Prize as a film writer. That’s an honor that has thus far somehow bypassed Mr. White—inexplicably! Since he is, after all, a “pedigreed film critic.” The fuck does that even mean? Was he bred at a film critics farm?

But to imply that Ebert is somehow not “trained” and doesn’t have the “foundation” is, again, a fundamental misreading of this entire plane of reality. He’s being smugly, self-satisfyingly obtuse. As Mr. Ebert noted today:

Armond is a TRAINED film critic. I'm NOT. I scramble by on three years of grad school in English, 42 years of experience and 35 of teaching.

Armond White is the Fred Phelps of American film criticism. He keeps just showing up and yelling nonsense, and he’s going to continue to do so until we all decide to ignore him.

* * *

Another little flame ware flared up on the ‘net today—it started as Kevin Smith vs. C. Robert Cargill (aka "Massawyrm" on Aint It Cool and Twitter), and quickly became every critic vs. Kevin Smith. Cargill is a guy I’ve not agreed with often (I still can’t get past his No Country for Old Men review), but his piece for Smith’s insane tantrum against critics after most of them (though not all) hated Cop Out—is right on the money. In my mostly positive Cop Out review, I addressed it briefly in a footnote (“a pretty clear case of sour grapes from a director who certainly wasn't talking about charging admission to critics when they were falling all over themselves for Chasing Amy”), but Cargill’s piece is smart and precise:

It damaged his brand more than Cop Out ever could have. Guys like me have been in his corner for years, celebrating his successes and feeling genuine disappointment with his failures. While he is still a very capable director, he's poked the wasp nest after getting a few stings and angered the whole bunch… He's a guy who coasted on the praise of critics for years who turned and asked what good are critics when they didn't get his back. His dismissive rant just seemed silly and out of touch, including a number of gems that showed how unaware he was of the quality of his film. In the past he was a director who owned up to his mistakes. Now he's just an angry director yelling at people who didn't like his film.

Pretty much, yeah. When I got on Twitter, @ThatKevinSmith was one of the first people I followed, but I fell right off when he went on this silly fit—it’s the whiny fit of a crybaby, particularly when placed in the context of the introduction to his script book of Clerks and Chasing Amy, in which he pinpoints two specific reviews—Amy Taubin’s early, positive Clerks review, and Matt Zoller Seitz’s negative but insightful Mallrats review—as being the big turning points of his early career. What if you’d made Taubin pay to see Clerks, eh Kev?

Anyway. Smith gets on the Twitter machine and gives Cargill the fuckin’ business:

Dear @Massawyrm - Poor wording in the first sentence of your article attributes the opening quote to ME; only it's not my quote at all.

Must then follow that rest of the piece is incorrect as well; fruit of the poison tree, as it were. Hope so, as you deemed me "irrelevant".

I'm irrelevant, @massawyrm asserts. Half a world away, I'm on the verge of selling out Sydney OperaHouse 2nd night in a row. I'm irrelevant.

1 of the highest rated podcasts on the ENTIRE internet & I'm irrelevant. Contracted by EPIX to shoot BDay Q&A for TV & I'm irrelevant.

World's first podcasting theater & I'm irrelevant. 1.67million Twitter-lookers? Irrelevant. Starting my 10th film next month? Irrelevant.

I get it: @massawyrm felt I attacked critics & since he identifies as a critic (the "lamest critic," says his bio), out came the mighty pen.

I'm sure you're not the dick you portray in print, @massawyrm; someone out there in the real world might even love or at least tolerate you.

If you improve your writing, maybe I'll let you follow me again. Meantime - g'bye, @massawyrm. Happy landings on a KA-BLOCK-olate bar...

Seriously, what a fucking child.

* * *

From the day that the first Mel Gibson tapes broke, people were wondering how long it’d take for someone to work up a What Women Want trailer that zanily incorporated them. Slate did so, and it’s awful:

I sought this thing out. Why isn’t it funny? Because the tapes themselves are so rancid and disturbing that it can’t become funny. What happened was that we all forgot the actual “high concept” of What Women Want—that Mel can hear women’s thoughts, not that they can hear his. So it’s just a trailer of him screaming at women, which ain’t funny. They could have made this work by doing one simple switch: if when he heard the women thinking, he’d heard his voice screaming at him. Then Mel Gibson is screaming at himself. Everybody wins!

The “recut” What Women Want trailer did accomplish one thing, though: It reminded us all of what a putrid piece of shit What Women Want was.

* * *

Quick hits:

Things to read: Dan Fierman’s candid, fantastic GQ interview of Bill Murray, Drew McWeeny’s fascinating account of the never-made, never-before-even-remotely-heard-of Saturday Night Live Movie, and the awww-fuck-you-Paramount coulda-been on Anchorman 2.

Things to watch: Courtesy of my buddy Milt, here’s a great Entertainment Tonight clip from 1985, where Maltin explains this new company called “Criterion” and how they are putting classic movies on “laserdisc”, and including all of these other “features” to go along with the movie:

And from Orndorf, a 1985 look at “Paramount’s Today: Where the Future Goes On!”:

Not sure what’s with all the 25 year old videos today, but there you are.

1 comment:

  1. Kevin Smith was right...

    But, so was Robert...