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?