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David Poland

By David Poland

On Film Criticism… On Sarris’ Passing

I will let others more qualified than I reflect on the work and life of Andrew Sarris. Suffice it to say, he was my favorite working critic, while he was working, in my post-college life. His work drove me crazy while I was at NYU in the 80s, but he seemed to be less concerned with defining film in his later work and more of a normal film lover, albeit loaded to the gills with historic perspective.

But the passing of Sarris – like Sarris being let go by the NY Observer a few years back – causes me to wonder about where we are in film criticism. Arguably the only name power in film criticism left is Roger Ebert, a thoughtful, earnest writer who loves movies and got his Pulitzer for film criticism before they started handing them out by rote, but also of a certain age, physically vulnerable, and while louder and brasher than ever in some ways, literally silent.

I applaud both Dargis & Scott, but it’s been over 30 years since any critic employed by the NY Times has risen beyond the shadow of the paper’s majesty. And I don’t know that either of those two want to do so. I think they have the great luxury, in this time of cutbacks, to just do their jobs… to be pure critics… to stay above the fray (playing verbal ping pong with David Carr in an exercise that plays to both of their weaknesses not their extreme strengths aside).

The trades are only relevant these days when Todd McCarthy brings his personal weight to something. This is not a rip of (all) the trade critics, but they work for outlets that define status and neither trade has any serious status anymore. The only power they have left is being “first” when they can con some studio into letting them print first. And indeed, the inability to build a relationship with a single, central critic at the trades makes them unreliable to readers. Eric Kohn may be ass backwards most of the time, but at least indiewire is trying with the right idea.

The LA Times is worthless, critically. One critic’s ship has sailed and the other’s hasn’t landed. The Tribune Company has raped the rest of their line-up and while I like Michael Phillips (in Chicago) and think he is a smart guy… non-entity in the big picture. Roeper is the airline magazine of criticism.

Time and Newsweek are the heads on the spikes in front of the media castle, warning others what could happen to them. Slate was never much critically and is now worse. And Salon, which used to be fun, is not fun anymore.

Love Joe Morgenstern, but does anyone outside of core readership really care about criticism at the Wall Street Journal (or The Boston Globe, btw)? USA Today remains USA Today and EW remains a marketing outlet… which they do with style and aplomb.

Am I missing anyone? Do they do criticism on any of the morning shows anymore? Do I have to pretend that the Kevin Smith show has anything at all to do with film criticism? (I LOVE watching Kevin Smith talk… but watching him nod and make faces and say, “Yeah, man, I agree!” is just f-ing pathetic. He is smarter than the mob and always has been… about everything but himself.)

So my point… yes, I have one… is…

How many critics are there left on the planet whose argument over a movie you think would be interesting to hear or read? Can there ever be a Kael vs Sarris again… not because there aren’t plenty of people who love to argue, but because few are as able to focus their beliefs in a way that is really worth fighting about?

Sarris and Kael… just two people who seem to have sincere, passionate believes and the ability to have the fight in public without it becoming too self-reflexive.

Why can’t anyone recreate Siskel & Ebert? 1. Because they were never meant for TV, so no new program wants two modestly attractive, smart white guys, 2. They weren’t defining themselves by their television personas (at least not in the early years), and 3. They had genuine, defined beliefs about movies from the start and were neither pandering to other critics or the studios or filmmakers or trying to make a name for themselves by crushing easy targets.

They were a “eureka” moment… whatever you think of the role the show had in the history of criticism. Honest yin and yang.

These days, every f-ing tweet seems like an exercise in posturing for most of the critics on the web. Jockeying for position… trying to get a job… trying to keep a job. And yes, some do come by their passion and/or rage honestly. Absolutely. Some even come by batshit crazy honestly.

But the discourse always seems to come down to likes and dislikes and not a lot more than that. Or there is something more serious going on, but it gets overwhelmed by the posturing.

And of course, Kael & Sarris & Ebert & Siskel were full of quirks and personal kinks. We all are. But the idea they were arguing became clear. Their Ideal.

I don’t know that I have said this publicly, but the failure of the combination on the last Ebert show was that – however true or untrue in fact – Ignaty never said to Christy, “You sound like a provincial burnt out housewife whose critical thinking is as limited as the outlet you work for” and Christy never said, “You sound like an overpraised child who has watched too many damned Criterion Collection movies and has lost, at your tender age, the ability to appreciate what normal adult Americans love about the movies.”

Or something like that.

Again, not saying that either comment would be fair or accurate. But those are, kinda, the two sides those two people are playing for. And they were never very well defined by one another. And that is the difference between good television and boring television. (AO Scott and Michael Phillips suffered the later… two smart guys who had slightly different perspectives and… who gives a fuck?)

People have wanted me and Jeff Wells to get into it on some form of media. And I have always refused the notion, primarily because I know his weak spots and would crush Jeff in an intense argument, not necessarily rhetorically, but personally. I would find it hard not to stick in the knife. No matter how severe his opinions, I would look like a mean, cruel person. And I would be, for a moment, a mean, cruel person. I don’t want to be that… even if it paid well for a season before everyone moved on to some show featuring some critic who was in a sex tape.

But i digress…

It seems like there are a lot of people out there with a lot of smart things to say… and as we all do, sometimes think dumb things. But aside from “I hate 3D” or “I hate digital” or whatever, is there philosophy left? Are there great arguments left?

Actually that’s wrong. I know there are arguments to be made. But do we have the right people to make the most of the arguments?

It’s not just the movies. Can you imagine an argument as real and demanding as Mailer vs Vidal or Mailer vs Women right now? There are more people fighting than ever… and less real impact. Fox News lies. Jon Stewart counters with comedy. But there is so little really good, juicy, smart, head-turning fighting. I want 30 minutes with Stewart and O’Reilly across from one another every single week, so they can stop being cordial and get down to it. Or Rachel Maddow and Hannity. No hiding behind one host in control and pre-programmed arguments. Let’s call bullshit in real time.

I love Tony Scott, but I want to see David Carr do a weekly videocast with Mark Cuban, who will push back with authority and will be wrong too, which we would know because Carr could fight that fight. Likewise, I’d be interested in Tony vs Manohla (not that she’d ever engage on camera) or Tony vs Armond or Tony vs Glenn Kenny or Glen Kenny vs Dan Kois. If they are going to tussle, I want to see a good, fairly even heavyweight match with one power fighter and one finesse fighter who are all about the fight, not about the endorsement deals.

And though I mention all well-known figures, I am sick to death of The Pulpit Of Big Media. Richard Brody is an interesting, intelligent guy… but being at The New Yorker as a critic does NOT make you right. Not close. Almost insistently the opposite much of the time. (Denby being the “regular” guy on the team.) And being a feature reporter at the NYT makes you about as much as an critical authority to me as it does to your significant other. Etc, etc, etc.

I know I am opening myself to a cascade of the same old whine about me… that I am all about me. But I am as guilty as anyone of arguing about the char, not the meat. And though people seem to misunderstand this, arguing a side of an argument with passion and vigor does not mean that you have, necessarily, lost perspective on the fact that there may well not be a “right” position. People must be allowed to disagree at a level higher than “fuck you” or polite nodding… but still understand that there is rarely a Truth. For me, engaging someone in an argument is a show of respect. I would be so much easier just to ignore those I disagree with. But then, I would be a Tea Partier.

Film deserves better fighting.

Fighting deserves better film.

The first rule of Fight Club isn’t that you don’t talk about Fight Club because it’s a secret. It’s because Fight Club is about acting, not intellectualizing action.

The second rule… that’s probably about the secrecy.

You tell me.

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69 Responses to “On Film Criticism… On Sarris’ Passing”

  1. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    Unfortunately the few great minds in film criticism are eggheads off the beaten path (ie sites no one reads) who have no idea how to speak eloquently to a wider audience. The danger is that it’s been out with the old, in with the new for sometime. Unfortunately the new who will be the dominant players are a bunch of geeks for whom Jurassic Park was the seminal film growing up. Some will fake it to make it but in the end, the evolving nature of film and the insidious parasitic nature of Hollywood junk has altered the landscape forever and with it, the art of criticism.

    Film criticism used to be a career.
    Like projection.
    Now they’re both replaceable by a teenager who can push buttons.

  2. LexG says:

    Then why’s it so goddamn hard for anyone to throw 100,000 at me to write some reviews?

    I’m at least half as stupid as Alex Billington, who isn’t even funny and doesn’t even have a comedy background.

  3. arisp says:

    The ONLY film critics, such as they are, that I look forward to reading weekly are Denby and Lane in the New Yorker. And Denby by a hair b/c his writing is creative and funny, and I actually look forward to reading their reviews – even to films I have zero interest in seeing. Otherwise, critics don’t interest me, they’re all the same, all vanilla, no real “voice”; the type of film ‘philosophy’ you mention certainly is extinct (or officially extinct with Sarris’ passing). Once in a blue moon someone here, or on another blog, will post a link to some 65,000 word grand review, and I’ll get a kick out of the depth/madness the writer is apparently consumed with, but I’ll quickly forget the site a day later.

    And Lex, okay I’ll take the bait, b/c I’m bored – all the more reason why NO ONE will pay you a cent – it’s a dying breed. Every teenage with a heartbeat is posting crap on the web. I must say some of your rants are pretty funny, and your POV and style definitely give you a real voice that stands out, but honestly, unless you’re hustling and trying to land a gig (and not shitting on everyone you know on a nightly basis on twitter), I’d say odds are slim.

  4. berg says:

    my copy(ies) of American Cinema are tattered and taped from the many times I read and re-read descriptions of director’s careers and especially the appendix at the back that listed movies by year …. still a bit of a head scratcher that Sarris panned Almost Famous

  5. berg says:

    “will post a link to some 65,000 word grand review,” ….

    65,000 words? That would be a book of over 100 pages, not an article

  6. arisp says:

    Ok Mr Literal, thanks for pointing that out.

  7. Yancy Skancy says:

    I’d watch Glenn Kenny and Kim Morgan. I haven’t seen many other current print critics on video to judge their televisual aptitude, but those two I like.

    First choice would actually be LexG and John Simon, but I don’t see that happening.

  8. LexG says:

    100 THOUSAND dollars.

    Not one penny less.

  9. David Poland says:

    I might just pay $100k to see which one of you would choke the other out…

    It’s not criticism, it’s HBO Boxing After Films

  10. Joe Leydon says:

    I’m thinking of LexG trying to one-up John Simon, and the only image I can come up with is the first scene of tonight’s Dallas, when J.R. holds a straight razor to the throat of his son after the whippersnapper thought… well, that he could one-up J.R.

  11. sanj says:

    i hardly read film critics in print…but there’s 100’s of film critics up on youtube.

    the deal with print and tv is that time to discuss the movie is very limited…and with movie podcasts there isn’t any…it doesn’t make them better – it just means more time
    for discussion .

    it’s easier to me to listen to 1 hour slashfilm movie audio podcast than read anything from the NY Times .

    some of the fun movie debates are when you think a movie is 10/10 and somebody else thinks its a 1/10 .

    then sometimes strange stuff occurs – Black Rock 2012 – has no reviews on imdb. no serious film critic went on there and spent 5 minutes writing a review ?
    this must happen a lot to indie films…

  12. Luke K says:

    I think profound criticism has been massively hurt by the the media landscape of today. The one liner reigns supreme and you need it to get a click on your Tweet, Rotten Tomatoes review or to be called out in a TV spot. Great criticism can’t be filtered down to a sentence but rather is a sum of the review and it’s philosophical stance….be it right or wrong. Also, everything is compounded by the noise being so loud and instant, that it’s hard to have the time to write something great while concurrently not being influenced by everything around you. It’s really a shame.

  13. lazarus says:

    arisp: Anthony Lane? Really?

    The guy doesn’t even appear to enjoy watching films. Miserable stuff.

  14. berg says:

    people who watch Dallas 2012 are 100 years old

  15. Joe Leydon says:

    Some of us are paid to watch it, Berg.

  16. Don R. Lewis says:

    Siskel & Ebert stabbed film criticism by making it about this is GOOD (thumbs UP) and this is BAD (thumbs DOWN) and AICN broke off the knife by showing you just need a grandstant to stand on in order to appeal to people and have an opinion in order to be valid in the internet age. It’s become dumbed down to the point where you can’t have a real discussion (rarely) because soooo many writers are uninformed, ill trained and too inexperienced to talk about anything other than thumbs up/thumbs down.

    Sarris -vs- Kael will never happen again because they knew how to argue and had valid, real reasons for believing what they did (ie; a press junket you got to go to doesn’t mean XXX movie is worth a shit) and not every fucking person with a website got to chime in. The arguments they had got hashed out in real life, in real time and it created a conversation. Not the white noise of talkbacks.

  17. Joe Leydon says:

    I have always said that, if Pauline Kael were reviewing now, she would be doing so on her own website/blog, not for any publication. Guess the same could be said for Andrew Sarris.

  18. sanj says:

    you movie critics need a reality show – winner gets a critic show on amc. remember when amc tv had that shootout show with that old critic guy ?

    movie critics only matter every year when Toronto film fest comes around …every critic finds some great films that might get oscar and hypes them up for the next 3 months.
    right after…nobody talks about them.
    haven’t heard how awesome the artist is in a long time.
    you film guys got bored of the black and white siletn films already.

  19. SamLowry says:

    You’d almost think critics were pushed off a cliff by a cabal of studios and producers. Did they realize movies are now so expensive and the risks so great that any opinionator who can turn one ticket-buyer away should be sealed in a 55-gallon drum and tossed in the Chicago River?

    Replace ’em all with a rabble of idiots who won’t convince anyone of anything!

    Makes you wonder when the business trades will feel the same pressure to dispose of analysts who know what they’re talking about and replace them with corporate asskissers.

  20. cadavra says:

    1) We’ve become an unliterate society. Nobody wants to read anything longer than three sentences, if that.

    2) The studios mostly make junk that critics will for the most part loathe.

    3) The audience for that junk doesn’t read reviews, largely because they assume the critics are old dudes who don’t understand why the JACKASS movies are like the most awesome shit ever.

    Ebert himself said Sarris was the most influential film critic of all, and he was right. He showed us that Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks, et al were not merely entertainers but serious artists, and he rescued Fuller, Boetticher, Siegel, et al from the stench of (presumed) B-movie hackery. “The American Cinema” was my bible from college forward, and I was over the moon when God autographed my battered copy at LACMA some years back.

  21. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    ” when God autographed my battered copy”

    Well you seem to have a level-headed perspective about the man.
    I actually think he would have loved Jackass and seen it as some sort of transformation of the auteur theory.

  22. Eldrick says:

    Manohla at the LA Times when she had that Ask Manohla weekly column was probably the last time i was excited about criticism. i still read and enjoy certain people. AO Scott is always thoughtful, Armond is always entertaining,. But as I get older, for the most part, who cares. its an elitist institution with a lot of over thinking posturing and its kinda only interesting if you are college age and find that kind of academic “death by analysis” worth the time.

    oh, i kinda like that AO Scott and David Carr thing. its doesn’t have to be perfect.

    And noticed the shot at Wesley Morris. Was it cheap? I don’t know, but i don’t really rate him at all. too snarky and condescending for my tastes. but i haven’t read him in a while, maybe he improved.

  23. LexG says:

    Legit question for some of the guys a little older than me (I’m 40 and grew up on Ebert and Maltin style pop criticism, with a minor sampling of Kael books from the library that I didn’t particularly like, mostly because I didn’t want any dissent from my own views…)

    Was “film criticism” ever relevant? All MASSIVE respect due to Sarris, but when critics and bloggers of a certain age discuss Kael or Farber or esteemed film theorists of that vintage, they get all misty-eyed for this alleged GLORY DAYS where it was an artform and film criticism was revered, and practiced by visionary thinkers who really knew how to read the “text” and extract incisive commentary and sociopolitical perspectives…

    But, really, beyond academics, super super super Cahiers du Cinema film buffs and ROBIN WOOD types… was that kind of “deep” criticism ever a gangbusters hit in Peoria?

    I’m not even being snide, because I know just around the time I was born, something in the Watergate-free love-disco-whatever culture had people not just on the coasts, but in flyover, expanding their minds and checking out like new Fellini or Truffaut or Bertolucci… Seems like there was a more intense, if passing, mainstream interest in foreign film, experimental film and means of expression…

    BUT did they follow suit and read KAEL? Or these other beloved towering icons of criticsm? Was Joe Schmo in Cleveland reading “ideas”-based film essays on the Mulvey Gaze or RETURN OF THE REPRESSED or whatever scholastic film theory gets thrown around?

    Or were the Farbers and Kaels just as niche/elitist then as they would be now?

  24. Bob Burns says:

    nerds worried about the kewl kids – writing drenched with fear of ridicule…. Scott, Lane, Darghis and the rest.

    the tyranny of the pecking order.

  25. Glenn Kenny says:

    That was super-constructive, Bob Burns, thanks!

    I may regret this but I’ll take a stab at answering Lex’s question. Whether or not Sarris’ writing was ever “gangbusters” in Peoria—and really, so what if it was or wasn’t—of course it had an impact. Prior to the French critics who influenced Sarris, for instance, Hitchcock was considered a populist showman hardly worth taking seriously, Hawks a competent creator of insubstantial entertainments, etcetera. For better or worse (obviously I think it’s for better), the work of Sarris and even ostensible anti-auteurist Kael created a new way of looking at movies, at movie canons, and more. (And that changed the way movies were made, too; one of the most unfortunate by-products of auteurist criticism has been the ubiquitous possessive credit. )Their work might not have been scarfed down by the masses the way that of Ebert and Maltin has been, but it was the water in which Ebert and Maltin swim, and I think Roger and Leonard would completely cop to that. Hope that answers your question. (Glad I was able to do so without commenting on how sick-making the way you throw around the term “niche/elitist” is, ’cause you’re such an average, well-adjusted, normal person. )

  26. Krillian says:

    Yeah, my exposure to Kael is checking her books out in movies, but it’s cool history to go back and read her in-the-moment snapshot essays of The Godfather and M*A*S*H* and Butch Cassidy and so forth.

    Stewart v. O’Reilly is always good TV.

    Who’s John Simon?

  27. LYT says:

    David – if you want an antagonistic critic show and think Wells is a bad match for you, I have three words:




  28. movieman says:

    I don’t know that I have said this publicly, but the failure of the combination on the last Ebert show was that – however true or untrue in fact – Ignaty never said to Christy, “You sound like a provincial burnt out housewife whose critical thinking is as limited as the outlet you work for” and Christy never said, “You sound like an overpraised child who has watched too many damned Criterion Collection movies and has lost, at your tender age, the ability to appreciate what normal adult Americans love about the movies.”
    Or something like that.

    Amen to that, sir.

    On the Sarris front, it was Peter Bogdanovich who turned me on to Sarris when I was in eighth grade. I immediately went out and bought a copy of The American Cinema, then shortly thereafter began subscribing to the Village Voice.
    Sarris truly rocked my world. He gave me an entirely new (and infinitely superior) way of looking at films and, accordingly, film directors. If only there had been a TCM or Netflix around at that time to supplement my reading (and re-reading) of TAC!
    I think the only post-Sarris critic with the same breadth and knowledge of film history/appreciation and understanding of the great directors was Mike Clark, long-time film critic of USA Today. Since Clark wrote for a not particularly well-respected mass publication, he never received the props he deserved for his scholarship and splendid writing.
    With Sarris’ passing, it truly feels like the end of an era (or should I say, “The Era”?)
    How unfortunate/regrettable/sad that Sarris never updated/revised The American Cinema as he’d been promising to do for decades.

  29. christian says:

    Krillian, John Simon was the enfant terrible of film criticism. Incredibly lofty often pretentious standards, but the guy is often brilliant.

    Watch him dissect RETURN OF THE JEDI with Ted Koppel:

  30. David Poland says:

    Oddly, Luke, Drew and I agree, it seems, on a majority of movies. We have similar tastes. The antagonism between us seems to be almost exclusively about my take on AICN history and the rules of the e-journalism game.

  31. Boofta says:

    So this is where LexG went to do his attention-whoring. Who knew.

  32. Yancy Skancy says:

    In the pre-Internet days, if you were truly interested in the art of film, you followed Kael/Sarris/Simon/whoever, because why wouldn’t you? If you were in the “flyover” area, the likelihood of finding like-minded peers wasn’t great, so you’d hit the library and check out The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The New York Times, New Republic, etc.

    The Sarris-Kael feuds seem to be well-remembered, but Simon was just as much a part of all that. I think maybe he had the misfortune of appearing mostly in National Review at that time, a magazine most self-respecting liberals wouldn’t be caught dead reading. Even though Simon was not a political conservative, his “elitism” and acid wit rubbed liberals the wrong way, and has surely marginalized his reputation even more today. It probably didn’t help that he was more erudite than most film buffs, with as much or more interest in literature and the theater as in film.

    Simon actually has a blog, though it’s infrequently updated and doesn’t contain much film content. Here he is with some thoughts on nostalgia, THE ARTIST and HUGO:

  33. Not David Bordwell says:

    @Krillian: To quote a late great etc., John Simon is the greatest movie critic of the 19th century!

    I read the papers!

  34. christian says:

    He was good at championing films like MEDIUM COOL, PRETTY POISON and even BULLITT. He praised THE SPY WHO LOVED ME as well.

    I think he’s one of the wittiest critics even tho I disagree with his targets:

    “And that car, Ben’s red Alfa Romeo, a linear descendant of all those obiquitous, scene-stealing cars in Godard’s and Lelouch’s films, is on screen more than any other character save Ben. Photographed with everything from reverse angle to helicopter shots, and with Simon and Garfunkel’s songs obstreperously dogging it, the car very nearly drives the film to vehicular suicide.” – Simon’s THE GRADUATE review

  35. The Pope says:

    How about this for an idea. Film critics should no longer obsess over which films work and which ones don’t. Instead, they should examine HOW they work. I admit that harks back to Monaco’s How to Read a Film… but the level of ‘criticism’ now is “awesome…” “well, I was in the mall with my friends and…”
    “this blows.”

    With the internet now, there is just declaration and no reflection. No how or why. And good, articulate critics could lift themselves above the slime by giving us the how and why.

  36. Fitzgerald says:

    Pope, outstanding point. Whoever’s fault it is, the norm is critics trying to out-mean each other, clamoring to declare their superiority to the film, often, ironically, in a not very intelligent fashion. Or declaring something great or good enough without engaging and contextualizing. There are still great critics out there, but I long for people who can engage with the ideas and desires of the film and filmmakers, even when those desires are muddled or compromised or fumbled. There’s so much to learn from broken movies. We can have fascinating cultural discussions around these grains of sand, but we are running scared of so called pretension and trying to get on the right team.

  37. Joe Leydon says:

    I guess New Orleans qualifies as “flyover” country. I can remember a period there between the mid 1960s and mid ’70s when you couldn’t go into any bookstore without finding a section devoted to movies. And not just star bios and paperback novelizations. There would be collections of film reviews — Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, Judith Crist, John Simon, members of the National Society of Film Critics — along with serious books about film theory and history. And of course you’d find stuff by Kael, Kauffmann and the rest at public libraries.

    BTW: There was stretch after Judith Crist left New York Magazine when John Simon was that publication’s film critic. Indeed, I remember being astounded when he had some nice things to say about a Burt Reynolds movie — W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings — in one of his first columns.

  38. LexG says:

    On the most basic level, though, I’d say “regular people” experience movies emotionally/viscerally, and the VAST majority of critics watch things from a detached intellectual remove. Which seems so 180 from the whole concept of movies, which function essentially as pornography to the viewer.

    Writing about film is ultimately going to be trying to “read” the text or subtext and project these crackpot connections about a movie’s alleged “ideas,” which is what concerns most critics… when it’s essentially visceral porn to audiences.

    You really see a major film critic who reviews films with any particular eye toward composition, editing, visuals, SHEEN, aspect ratio, juxtaposition, or even ACTING. It’s always about IDEAS and sociopolitical conjecture and disseminating an emotional ride from this scientific remove. It’s not what movies are about. Even Howard Hawks said that movies are best on the move, that the action is the main thing anyone’s focused on, and even guys like Godard and Gorin watched Hollywood movies for the sheer thrill of the ride.

    Less and less do I understand what any non-scholastic, blowhard, academic type is really meant to get out of “serious” criticism. It’s like reviewing a football game. Football is for guys to crack beer and cheer their team and ogle the cheerleaders.

    Nobody writes about football from some quasi-Marxist deconstructive Mulvey-gaze analytical perspective and launches these crazy Robin Wood theories about it.

  39. christian says:

    I believe Joe’s flyover tribe was called The Film Generation. Anybody with two or three film degrees should know that.

  40. Joe Leydon says:

    Christian: Here’s a 2000 piece I did, talking’ ’bout my generation. LOL.

  41. LexG says:

    I have one Film Studies degree.

    (One in English Literature, one in Journalism.)

    Of course with those qualifications I should be doing spotting scripts for softcore porn while Alex Billington and Karina Longworth and Sasha Stone go to fucking Cannes.

    You know, the great big talents like that. (TM Aykroyd)

  42. LYT says:

    “Nobody writes about football from some quasi-Marxist deconstructive Mulvey-gaze analytical perspective and launches these crazy Robin Wood theories about it.”

    Baseball, on the other hand…

  43. LexG says:

    Good point.

  44. Jason says:

    I can’t believe there are this many smart, educated, prudent, informed people who still don’t understand economics. If people don’t come to the store, the store closes. No matter if they sell hamburgers, socks, condoms or, in this case, criticism. So high-priced sales people, in this case, critics, won’t survive…and shouldn’t. Not from a “hey man, news is important and a part of our everyday dialogue” hippy-lite point of view. But from a “we can’t pay the fucking bills — so someone who makes $70,000 to write sentences like, ‘Spider-man is an elegiac and complex image of ourselves’ ” point of view. And no matter how many people SAY this – they always look like the bad guy. When the truth is just simple evolution. Nobody’s fault. But it’s a market economy, folks…and the market tells you what they want to read, pay for and enjoy. Please stop blaming the kids for “that damn rock n roll music.” Because this kind of “shame on the American people for the state of criticism” chatter always sounds like that.

  45. Fitzgerald says:

    Nothing wrong with asking for better.

  46. Joe Leydon says:

    Jason, you remind me of Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic: Someone who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

  47. s says:

    Everyone blames Siskel and Ebert for their “Thumbs up” approach, but that was only the TV show. You had to READ their reviews for deeper insight. There was so much complaining about Ben Lyons, Josh Mankiewicz, Christy Lemire and Ignaty, but, frankly, I preferred them to Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved. As for the Los Angeles Times, I miss Sheila Benson.

  48. JoshSleeps says:

    I wish that Ebert would have engaged more with Armond’s poking (though I respect him for not).

    Back when White was (relatively speaking) relevant, I gorged myself on his writing specifically to see what new sacred cow he’d assault week-to-week. Unfortunately, most of his targets, especially in the criticism community, were respectable enough to ignore him. (PR puppet Lisa Schwarzbaum doesn’t count).

    On the other hand, that brief period when Ebert responded to White’s assaults was absolutely glorious.

  49. SamLowry says:

    Jason, that’s why I asked when papers like the WSJ will replace stock analysts with corporate asskissers, or business reporters with a copy boy trained to paste in press releases.

    If it’s only about saving money then why not turn each paper into the HuffPost and pay their writers nothing?

  50. sanj says:

    when the dark knight rises comes out – 24 hours after there should be over 10000 reviews in some form.
    so there’s no shortage of reviews …

    a few top critics should just not review it and see what happens .

    if Chris Nolan doesn’t finally come around and do a dp/30 – DP should not review it. take that warner bros.

  51. cadavra says:

    Kenneth Mars’ character in WHAT’S UP, DOC? is a caricature of Simon, whom Bogdanovich loathed.

    Simon was a brilliant writer (especially for someone whose first language was not English), but he was also an unrepentant snob and could be unbelievably cruel; even the most ardent Streisand hater would cringe at the things he said about her face. But he also penned what I think might be the single greatest wordplay ever in a review: Of a certain British comedian he wrote, “If this is Norman Wisdom, I’ll take Saxon folly.”

  52. SamLowry says:

    Well, he is Serbian….

  53. Yancy Skancy says:

    One can understand economics and still lament the way things have turned out.

  54. SamLowry says:

    …and after finishing that clip he’s hating on not just Empire but special effects and Disney. Plus he thinks Huck Finn is a great book for kids, whom you should also take to Tender Mercies.

    Yeesh. At least Armond White is entertaining sometimes.

  55. Christian says:

    Nobody’s perfect.

  56. anghus says:

    film criticism has become so boring because so many critics forget the basic tenants of the film going experience:

    is it entertaining?

    And all the intellectual posturing and preening in the world is less important than that one simple question. i dont expect every grown adult to be able to review from a position of child-like enthusiasm. And i loathe the people that moan about how everyone who writes about film should be able to access this exuberant inner child and view film through the lens of a cynicism free 8 year old. That entire concept seems so idiotic, and yet you read two dozen pieces a year from online film sites about how film writers have lost touch with this in fetu inner child and should be able to revert to a near idiotic state when watching a film.

    But the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction which leaves you with cold, calculated and almost vulcan like dissertations on film that are a chore to read.

    The good ones find that place in the middle between moron inner child and stark intellectualism and can give an honest assessment of a movie.

  57. Yancy Skancy says:

    Sam: I’m not sure that what Simon says about Disney in that clip is a dig. He merely says the STAR WARS films might as well be animated for all the flesh-and-blood humanity they offer.

    As for “Huckleberry Finn” being a great book for kids, and TENDER MERCIES being acceptable viewing for them, perhaps his European background is showing. Though specific ages aren’t mentioned in the interview, Simon probably felt that kids past a certain age should be able to handle such fare, with proper guidance. I think maybe a lot of Americans felt that way too at one time. There are probably still a few who’d rather explain the context of “N*gger Jim” than, say, Jar Jar Binks.

    I guess it’s a weird generational thing now, but in the pre-home vid days, kids were more of a niche market. By a fairly early age, I was just as interested in “grown-up” movies that my parents watched on TV. If I had seen TENDER MERCIES back then, the presence of the boy in the story probably would’ve pulled me right in, and I might have learned something about life, love, forgiveness. Doesn’t seem so bad.

    Unlike Simon, I don’t think it’s an either/or thing, though in fairness, the forum he was speaking in wasn’t conducive to a nuanced consideration of the supposed “issue” at hand. Everybody had their sound bites and sweeping points to make. I certainly don’t think the Ebersisk came off any better, just more populist and “relatable,” particularly to anyone who grew up under the inescapable influence of STAR WARS and all it has wrought.

  58. Christian says:

    I was taught HUCK FINN in school as well so its not such a stretch.

  59. christian says:

    And doesn’t anybody remember the TENDER MERCIES bubble-gum cards from Topps? “Trade you a Duvall for a Tess Harper!”

  60. hcat says:

    Sam, ripping on Disney in 1980 was not out of the ordinary, they had became AIP for kids. It wasn’t until 89 that they came roaring back.

    And yes at the time there was not a large KID market, and I remember being 8 and watching things like Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People on HBO. Is having a kid watching the themes of Tender Mercies any different than say The Blind Side?

  61. christian says:

    Altman, Brooks, Capra and Bogdanovich bitch about John Simon:

  62. Krillian says:

    Yes he is ripping on Disney in that, and the most recent Disney animated movie for them would have been Fox & the Hound, and I think S & E gave two thumbs down. I know Gene did, I remember reading his review where it mentioned there’s way too much gunfire.

    Simon does strike as a brilliant writer, but the way he shreds Empire and Jedi as the same worthless junk shows, as Ebert said, he’s old at heart. And he has no kids, so I tend to titter at the childless who try to lecture about what’s best for children. He strikes me as one who believes children should have nothing but steamed vegetables for breakfast.

    Ebert talks about remember Saturday matinees. I expect Simon to counter with “I remember the Nazis marching through my hometown; that was my childhood.”

    I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this guy before.

  63. christian says:

    Simon has none of the auteurist’s childhood filmgoing nostalgia. But he loved YELLOW SUBMARINE. And hates Godard.

  64. anghus says:

    oh man. i read this today at aint it cool. The headline:

    “Harry says BRAVE is pretty damn great, despite the obnoxious screaming child in the theater!”

    First two paragraphs involve describing at great length a screaming kid in the theater and includes this gem:


    When everyone talks about the online film sites murdering film criticism, this is the kind of thing that comes to mind. This isn’t a comment section or a talkback. This is the content of the review.

    Mind blowing.

  65. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    Nobodys Perfekt (1981) Christian

  66. Christian says:

    Billy Wilder’s bday!

  67. cadavra says:

    But God forbid anyone should get up and complain to a theatre employee about the yowling kid. They let the F.C. win when they sat there and took it.

  68. movieman says:

    As someone who has complained on numerous occasions to theater employees about yowling brats, I’ve learned that it’s just not worth the add’l pain/aggravation
    The theater staff, whether usher or manager, is loathe to offend the negligent parent, so they usually just blow smoke up your ass (or make YOU feel like an insensitive clod for daring to complain about a precious wee bairn).
    After all, the offending parent/kid(s) might not come back next week when another 3-D ‘toon breaks if, g*d forbid, you ask them to vacate the auditorium.
    What usually winds up happening is that you miss parts of the movie and get rewarded for your vigilance with dirty looks (or worse) from the parent (and usually sundry bystanders who invariably take the parents’ side) for having the temerity to object to the kid/toddler’s screaming/crying jag/tantrum in the first place.
    Groaning and bearing it in situations like this is pretty much the only option available these days.

  69. cadavra says:

    Or do what I do (for the umpteenth time): Wait a couple of weeks. (And if it’s a kid picture, go to the 10:PM show.)

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho