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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Why is the Elvis Mitchell Story Getting so Personal?

So, in case you haven’t heard the sound of gleeful cackling across movie blogs and Twitter, Elvis Mitchell is no longer Movieline’s chief film critic. Unfortunately, a lot of what I’m reading out there (especially in comments of the various stories) is much more a personal sense of … happiness, I guess, for lack of a better word … at the perception that one of entertainment journalism’s biggest, most elusive personalities has gotten his “comeuppance.”

Much of what’s going on around The Elvis Issue feels less about recounting Elvis Mitchell’s job history than it is about peoples’ personal issues with him. Rarely, if ever, is the personal sexual history — or, for that matter, their IRS troubles or border hassles over cash in a cigar box, or anything not related to their job — of any person who just lost their job a matter for public discourse. Even if you consider Elvis to be more “public persona” than “person,” a news story about a film critic being fired (presumably) over an issue related to a review is certainly not an appropriate place for that kind of discourse. Is it?

I was offline much of the weekend at Sakura Con, so I didn’t really catch up with the whole “Elvis has left the building” pile-on until this morning. When I did catch up with it, what I read on Twitter, and over at Thompson on Hollywood, kind of jolted me. There’s an angry vibe of joy and derision around Mitchell’s Movieline departure that I find really disturbing.

There’s a very personal element going on around this story. How is anything that happened between Elvis and his ex-fiancee relevant to anything? His private affairs are no one’s business. If he was, say, a Republican senator writing anti-gay legislation and then found to be a closeted homosexual? Okay, sure. If his job was writing relationship advice and moralizing about committed relationships and monogamy, whether he was or was not monogamous himself might be an issue. But his sex life is relevant to news of him losing his job … how, exactly?

I get it. Mitchell is a big, controversial personality. He’s burnt bridges and pissed some people off along the way. Honestly, I think part of it is not so much professional jealousy as it is professional disbelief. When jobs in the field of entertainment journalism are disappearing at an alarming rate, and critics are out of work, the idea that someone who’s lucky enough to land a full-time, (presumably) well-paying gig would blow it off or screw it up, really seems to be pushing a lot of buttons.

So is that where part of this angry energy is coming from — the idea that Elvis “took” a job that could have gone to someone who would have done it differently, or better, and then lost that job just a few months later?

I don’t think it’s that simple, though. The stories, the tweets, even some emails I’ve gotten about it, feel way more personal even than that. There’s this sense of Elvis having gotten his “comeuppance” for ignoring too many phone calls and emails, or not being reliable, or “rubbing elbows” with too many rich and famous people (he hangs out with Tarantino! How dare he?!), or having a certain kind of large, eccentric personality, or whatever. He carries himself with an air of not caring what anyone thinks about him, and maybe people don’t like that. He’s perceived as blowing off people, events, jobs, and if ever there was an industry where being ignored pisses people off, this is it.

In my personal experiences with Elvis as a friend, he has never been anything but a scholar and a gentleman. I’ve had some of the most in-depth, interesting conversations I’ve had with anyone in this field with him. Have there been times when we’d made plans to meet for a drink or whatever at a fest and we didn’t connect? Sure. There are also plenty of times when we did. That’s true with most of my friends in this business though … we get busy, we blow something off, we apologize later. Elvis has not, in my own friendship with him, done that any more than any number of my friends.

I will also say this: When my friends at the Oxford Film Festival and the deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City were looking to bring in some bigger names for their fests last year, and I asked Elvis if he’d be willing to show up to jury or panel or lead a Q&A for them, he did. These are not high profile, globe-trotting fests where Quentin Tarantino’s hanging out, they are small-town, regional fests. Elvis was invited, he came (and, for the record, some other bigger “name” people were asked and declined), he did what he was asked to do, and he was, so far as I’m aware, nothing but professional, polite and engaging at both fests.

I’m putting that out there because I’ve heard stories making the rounds about Elvis not showing up for this or that fest that he committed to be at, but no one is really saying, “But he did show up for this and this and this.” Nor is anyone saying, by the way, that other people in this business have accepted to jury or panel at a fest and then canceled last minute, leaving a fest to scramble. Happened at Sarasota this year, happens at just about every smaller regional fest at one time or another. Elvis is hardly the first (or last) critic to commit to a jury and not do it. But to say that he’s completely unreliable and always does this is, I think, a bit of an overstatement. It’s noticed more, perhaps, because of who he is, or because he’s stepped on the wrong toes over the years.

Anyhow, this whole gossipy, angrily joyful chatter about Elvis and Movieline is just inappropriate. All anyone really knows is that he screwed up a fact in a review for a film whose screening he is known to have attended. He didn’t write a review for a film he didn’t see. He didn’t steal another person’s writing. At worst, he maybe referred to a script to get a fact and pulled a fact that wasn’t in the final cut. And frankly, if every critic who ever made a factual error in a review got fired for it, everyone from Roger Ebert to a lot of film bloggers out there would be out of work.

So why is this any different?

20 Responses to “Why is the Elvis Mitchell Story Getting so Personal?”

  1. cookie bitch says:

    Thank you for your interpretation, this is consistent with the Elvis I know and respect.

  2. George P says:

    I completeley agree. Since the Deadline report came out, i have been following the different reactions in other articles and in tweets, and the discussion has gone so far off the original point into a character assasination. He was probably fired for a number of things aside from the mistake, that could or could not be related to budget issues for Movieline, but the mud slinging is doing serious damage to the critics community and journalism as a profession more than we may realize.

  3. Don R. Lewis says:

    I agree that the personal attacks in the comments sections of various blogs are fairly shocking. However (and I am a big, big Elvis Mitchell fan) it does get frustrating to see a guy get opportunities many of us writers work towards and would die to have only to see him titter them away. I think that coupled with the general feeling amongst our colleagues that our positions are rather doomed has added to the schadenfreude going around.

  4. Buck Beaumont says:

    He didn’t steal material from another writer? How do you know that? The reason for his abrupt termination hasn’t been disclosed. Common sense would prevent MMC from firing Elvis Mitchell without an airtight reason — and the one thing we do know is that it was a termination for cause, because they would legally have had to deny Nikki’s story otherwise — so there must be something serious. Point is, you don’t know. He might not have seen Source Code either, despite a handful of people IDing him there in the crowd at the beginning of the screening. Maybe he had an emergency and bolted halfway through. You don’t know.

    Go back to journalism school.

  5. Eldrick says:

    thanks for the sane respone Kim. as an observer, the film criticism community is really some kind of high school with gossip, back stabbing, etc. Hillarious.

  6. cookie bitch says:

    Go back to journalism school? Just the facts; the numerous sources documenting his appearance, did not fall asleep, did not bolt in the middle for an emergency, (this would have been observed by anyone sitting in any row behind him), definilty made a mistake,(common to other critics), Movieline dismissed numerous other staff, Movieline is defintly having money probelms. We know he did not steal from another writer, easily documented if he had, no smoking gun so to speak. Termination with cause is a broad spectrum term laden with latitude in all employment agreements.
    Opinion; Is Elvis guilty of not making everybody happy all the time, yes but please don’t hold me to that standard. His inabilty to say “No” when appropriate has more to do with his personal desire to sincerely avoid dispappointing others, only resulting is doing just that. I am so discouraged by the range of miscommunication and agenda driven non-fact checking. Kim, you are my hero for writng the most prgamatic interpetation.

  7. Nicely done says:

    Kim, I was similarly dismayed by the amount of vitriolic postings that ranged from catty (Anne Thompson recounting alleged tawdry details that have no place in the story) and factually inaccurate (concerning his repeatedly confirmed attendance at the screening) to racist (Orlando Sentinel’s Roger Moore had the poor sense to call his NPR hire “tokenism”). Elvis has been a close friend of mine for more than a decade and while there have been a few (rare) instances where dinner plans may not come together over eleven years, he’s come through for me in various ways, more times than I can count. I’m glad you mentioned the countless small festivals he attends and the amount of small films that he’s championed at various stages of his career as a critic, radio host and jury member (and no, not one of my films). Clearly, I can’t speak for others who feel they have been wronged by him at different stages. However, the lack of class and decorum in these write-ups says a lot more about the people taking part in the sniping than Elvis.

  8. Kim Voynar says:

    Buck, no one has accused Elvis of stealing material from another writer. He was accused (in the public forum of Twitter and numerous blogs) of making a factual error in his review of Source Code that indicated he pulled that information from a draft of the script, because the fact he referenced was not in the final cut of the film.

    Because of this, there was speculation that he had reviewed a film off the script without seeing the film. That speculation has since been disproven by numerous sources, including the studio; he was at the screening, he did stay for it (whether he stayed awake, I can’t speculate, as I wasn’t there and sitting next to him).

    There was radio silence from Movieline when the director, Duncan Jones, Tweeted about the mistake, and Ray Pride followed up on it. Then, an announcement (from Nikki Finke, who works for Jay Penske as well, although Deadline and Movieline are technically separate entities) that Elvis would no longer be working for Movieline. Around this same time, coincidentally or not, Movieline also let go its freelancers, including Alonso Duralde.

    These are the only facts that are known by anyone outside of Elvis and his manager. Everything else, up to and including details about Elvis’s private sex life and IRS and Canadian border issues, and whether or not he’s “reliable” as a person is superfluous bullshit (whether true or not) being put out there for the purpose of saying “Hah hah, Elvis had it coming for a long time, so let’s all kick on him while he’s done so we can feel good about him getting what he had coming.”

    All anyone knows are the facts that are known: This happened, then this happened. Whether the Source Code review was the sole reason he was fired, or whether it’s convenient cover for Movieline to unload a spendy hire when they needed to tighten their belt, is all speculation. Is it a fact that he made an error in a review? Yes. Is it a fact that he was subsequently fired? Yes. Is it a fact that other film critics have made factual errors in reviews and not gotten fired for it? Yes.

    The rest is completely non-objective crap being put out there by people who have personal bones to pick with Elvis, and those things should never have been put out there as a part of a “story,” without the disclaimer that the piece being written is an opinion piece judging Elvis as a person, not a reporting of the issues pertinent to this particular loss of employment.

    And even so, much of what’s being put out there is very one-sided. Is it a fact that Elvis has committed to jury for some fests and not shown up? Yes. Is it true that he’s not the only journalist to do this? Yes. Is it true that he’s also committed to jury for other fests and shown up and done what he committed to do? Yes. Is it true that he accepted but did not show up for the LA Times gig? Yes. Is it true also that he’s been delivering weekly for NPR for years? Yes.

    Hence, I wrote THIS piece, which is an opinion piece about how people are slamming on this person (IMO) unfairly, when all anyone knows for a fact that he did was make a mistake in a review. Which, by the way, pretty much every person who’s tweeted or written vitriolic pieces about Elvis and the Source Code review over the past few days has done at some point in their own careers in film/entertainment journalism. And that includes me. None of us are perfect, either as writers or as people.

    Point here: If you’re not going to stick to the facts of his firing, but trying to make a statement that he has a pattern of behavior that therefore overall justifies him being fired for making this mistake in this review, and you’re only putting out there the information that makes your case — as opposed to a balanced view of a person overall, the good and the bad — what you are doing is maligning that person’s character unfairly based on your own personal bias. Which is not only bullshit high school gossipy crap that should not be labeled as journalism, period, but hypocritical to boot. Judge not lest ye be judged, and all that.

    Facts aren’t as sexy, and maybe not as personally satisfying as throwing virtual punches at someone you don’t like, but they do have the advantage of being relevant and provable.

  9. Graig says:

    Hear hear. This is an excellent piece, and I thank Kim Voynar for writing it. The more I think about the Anne Thompson article, the more convinced I am that she was wildly out of line in writing it.

  10. Thank you Kim for a voice of reason. I was somewhat shocked by the strange attack on his personal life due to a job firing. It seemed out of place for the story and not very balanced journalism. Was I ever asked how I feel about Elvis as a former judge and panelist for our festival? No. Were others who have had good experiences? No. In fact Elvis Mitchell has consistently been kind and thoughtful every time I have met him and despite me being a “no-name” always finds time for me at every festival I run into him at to have a drink or eat lunch.

    He serves on the board of Indie Memphis and always shows up every year. He attended the Oxford Film Fest last year and will be invited again often as we loved the time we spent with him. Is he bad with e-mails? Yeah. But then again, so are A LOT of people in the film industry. So what?

    Uh and the fact that he hangs out with “famous people?” Yeah, jealous? I want to spend time chatting with filmmakers I admire as well. If people didn’t want to know more about filmmakers, most people I love in this business would not have a job.

  11. Tom Quinn says:

    I was fortunate enough to screen my very low budget film with no movie stars at Indie Memphis a few years ago. Elvis was one of the judges that year and we were thrilled by his very kind words when we won an award. Much later, he brought up our film during the Q&A at deadCENTER and, again, was extremely supportive. Later that year we were up for an award and I knew Elvis had been on the nominating committee. I wrote him a “thanks” and he sent a very kind reply. I’m barely a blip on the radar, but the support that Elvis gave to me and my film meant a great deal.

  12. Buck Beaumont says:

    “No one has accused Elvis of stealing material from another writer. He was accused (in the public forum of Twitter and numerous blogs) of making a factual error in his review of Source Code…”

    Again, just trying to help you out here: no one has accused him of that PUBLICLY. I am not attempting to prove (or imply) that Elvis stole anything from anybody, I am attempting to prove that *you do not have any information as to whether he did or not.* Therefore, it is erroneous of you to make a declaration which you cannot support. The true cause of his firing is completely unknown to us. Nikki, our one source, could have gotten the story wrong, for all we know.

    Imagine me as a journalism teacher circling that statement you made — “He didn’t steal another person’s writing” — with a red marker and asking, do you know this to be a fact, Kim?

    I’m sure David Poland would agree that my logic is infallible here.

  13. Nicely done says:

    Buck, how do we know you’re not guilty of robbery? No one’s accused you of one, PUBLICLY. Come on. You’re really reaching and it’s very unfair. I did go to journalism school (several years ago) and it was drilled into us that reporting was about facts, not unrelated gossip and/or speculation which is why Kim wrote a great, incisive piece about all the BS surrounding the story in the first place. Please don’t add to all this silliness. I don’t know you at all, but I think you’d agree that that kind of talk is beneath all of us. This isn’t Watergate.

  14. Kim Voynar says:

    Curious that “Buck Beaumont” has the same IP address as both “David Durrell,” who was last seen slamming Erik Davis in my post about him resigning, AND as “Iris Heard,” who was attempting to make some not-so-subtle slams regarding Erik Davis with regard to the departure of Elisabeth Rappe from Cinematical — in the same post.

    Gosh, I wonder who “Buck Beaumont” could be. *yawn*

  15. Kim Voynar says:

    Anyhow. Back to some questions that are actually germane to the post.

    1) I think the question of why this whole thing blew up in the particular way it did is relevant. As I said, Elvis is far from the first film critic to make a factual mistake in a review. You’d be harder pressed to find a critic who HASN’T made a factual error than one who has. I’ve pointed factual errors out to friends, and had them pointed out to me. Point being: That, in and of itself, strikes me as a strange reason for a name critic to be fired three months into a gig.

    2) What really got things going, though, was Duncan Jones Tweeting about it. Which first, speaks to why Jones chose to do that rather than emailing Elvis privately to point the error out. Which would have given Elvis the opportunity to publicly run a correction along the lines of, “The pipe wasn’t in the movie … I was checking another fact in the script, saw that, and must have assumed it was in the final cut. It wasn’t. Mea culpa.” Or Jones could have asked the studio publicist to follow up on it, or whatever.

    Instead, Jones’s very public Tweet caused a cavalcade of very public response. And I have to wonder, if Elvis’s review had been glowingly positive, would Jones still have made that Tweet?

    3) Which also speaks to the nature of the internet space that so many of us live and work in. Back in the old days before the Internet (when I was in, you know, journalism school — when that still meant we cut and pasted the fricking paper by hand every week and didn’t have any of those fancy-schmancy blogging tools you youngsters have today), if a critic made a factual error in a review, maybe the director’s people or the studio would have called the paper and bitched about it to his editor. The writer would get called in by the editor to ‘splain himself, a correction would be run the next issue, and life would go on.

    and also, 4) Why was the response to this particular critic in this particular situation so immediately and reflexively vitriolic?

    I gotta believe that even if someone I really, truly had reason to loathe lost a job, or lost a ton of money on a movie, or any such “comeuppance,” I wouldn’t publicly string them out to dry along with all their personal dirty laundry. I can count on fewer than five fingers the number of people I would even categorize as being people I loathe to that extent anyhow … and you might be surprised at some of the people who AREN’T on that list.

  16. cookie bitch says:

    Buck Beaumont as a journalism teacher…the industry would be f****d”. “Just the facts” is the basic premise for all journalists to aspire to with a retraction if in error. This issue represents society at large becoming increasingly mean and magnifies the number who are stuck in mire which includes hate and jealousy as a pastime. I had to stop reading most of the posts fearing some would inevitalby conclude with “nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo”. The internet is sorely lacking in the abscence of an ombudsman. On a personal note, “The Source” was a bore. I had to leave the theatre mid way and wait for my friends in the lobby. I found counting the kernals left at the bottom of a bucket of popcorn, (buttered by the way), to be profoundly more fulfilling than the film.
    Kim, no words to express for finding a “true” journalist via the internet, thank you. News is fact driven, the intenet seems to be opinion driven.

  17. cookie bitch says:

    Retraction, meant “Source Code”, call the newsroom!

  18. Kim Voynar says:

    Cookie,

    I think there’s room for the Internet to be a venue for pure opinion pieces … I certainly write enough of those myself. My issue with Elvis Mitchell story was opinion being presented as if it was news, the very personal nature of Anne Thompson’s piece in particular, which just went straight for the jugular, and the vitriol I was seeing on Twitter and in comments sections of stories about it.

    I did find it interesting, though, that once Anne’s piece ran, it seemed to actually have an effect of putting the brakes on. It felt to me like a lot of people read that and said, “Whoa! Wait, that was really personal! What the hell?” and that maybe made them think twice about what they were about to say. I guess it drove traffic, though. Which seems to matter more than anything else, these days.

  19. Kim Voynar says:

    And merciful heavens, Cookie! Get the title right! Now, picture me as your journalism professor, getting out my red pen … tsk, tsk.

  20. C. Yeong says:

    Hi: Elvis is kinda black. Ignoring that energy enveloped in the crits is just naive. Same as when people vehemently declared they weren’t gonna vote for Barack. Only they said that was the 1 reason why. [Lame]

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