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April 12, 2010

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The Chevalier

Speaking of Rotten reunions. I sure wasn't old enough for the Sex Pistols the first time around. But I caught them at Roseland in '96!

Glenn Kenny

I was at that show too, and had a blast. Good dirty exploitative money-grubbing fun, exactly as advertised.

don r. lewis

Man, Glenn. Hate to say it but with each passing month hanging around here, I become sadder and sadder at your predictable grousing. As soon as I saw the Kohn news I read it and though "Oh boy, Glenn Kenny's head just popped" and sure enough, here you are. I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm just torn.

When I got into film writing, you were a huge role model to me. When you got canned from Premiere, I was stoked you could now be free to say more of what you want and see movies you cared to see. But at least once a month there's some grumpy "get off my lawn" type article that makes you seem like some crazy old film coot who sits all day in his Brooklyn apartment staring out the window at all the hipster douchebags outside with their damn fraternizing and Arcade Fire as you prime a sniper rifle.

Anyway....I dunno. Do whatcha gotta do but all us people trying to take film criticism more seriously look to you and always have. I anxiously await your next Swanberg slam followed by a David Foster Wallace story followed by some commentary on 80's porn stars tied in with some great writing on cool movies from yesteryear.

John M

I thought Eric Kohn was already the lead film critic at indieWIRE. No? If not, who was?

Sadly, I never find myself searching out his opinion. Reverse Shot, I like. (Which critics had that complaint about GREENBERG? I had my issues with the film, but Greenberg being, um, older and, um, white, certainly, um, wasn't one of them.)

Don't agree with Don R. Lewis re: Glenn's concerns. Nothing "get off my lawn" about them, in my opinion. They're very real concerns.

That being said, I have tickets to Pavement in September, and am hoping for the best. Malkmus is a crapshoot.

Glenn Kenny

@ Don Lewis: "Hate to say it..." Yes, I'm sure you do. I imagine the pain you felt on inputting phrases like "crazy old film coot" was excruciating.

You seem reluctant, however, to engage the substance of my "grousing." What would make you happy, Don; if next time Eric Kohn made a swipe at "older critics" which was based in either willful misreading or actual stupidity, ought an older critic such as myself just shrug, or even say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

And let me ask you—seriously—do you really think it's okay for Karina Longworth to write a homage to a film the makers of which she has some strong social connections with, and to not only not disclose those connections in any way, but to write said piece in what amounts to the pose of a completely disinterested observer (a "journalist," as she so coyly puts it)? You really think that's cool?

Because if you do, then I don't think we have anything more to say to each other.

Ryland Walker Knight

For the record, fwiw, I like _Greenberg_. It's hilarious, and often so.

don r. lewis

Glenn-
I actually am in TOTAL agreement with you regarding the fraternizing between these low-fi filmmakers and the press; particularly the N.Y. based press. But rather than take potshots at "successes" why not call them out when you see them happening??

I've become a somewhat bigger asshole than you over calling out blogs for doing set-visits and sucking up to studios (while on the other hand bagging on studios who don't allow access) because it's unethical. Just like what Karina did is unethical if true. I'm glad to be back at Film Threat where I can voice these concerns AND I've taken it upon myself to fully disclose any kind of social networking and/or "gifts" given to me by festivals like a comped trip.

All that being said- it *feels* to me like you're looking down your nose at all these youngsters and awaiting their next move which you will snidely pooh-pooh and like, blow up an image of their socks as an entry photo. You seem to despise any kind of friendly repartee between anyone and I think that speaks to the bigger issue I have with these grumpy-ass entries.

All of "us" younger generation have to hustle to make this happen. We need to meet each other and network and be at these festivals in order to gain access and then form an opinion. Invariably, filmmakers are at the festivals and we meet them and become friends or acquaintances. It's impossible not to unless you skip all the movies and receptions at the festivals which would be the antithesis of covering a festival AND we'd never get food or free drinks! The filmmakers also have to hustle because for every festival a film like Aaron Katz's "Cold Weather" plays, it's up against stuff like "Kick-Ass" that brings in the crowds. (Note; I'm friends with Katz and "Cold Weather" is fucking awesome!) It has to hustle to be seen and us critics are the only chance it has at getting a buzz going.

Why not lead by example or explain how you might like it to be rather than watching these peoples movements like you're some kind of American Idol of Film Critics judge, awaiting just the wrong note or comment to be written so you can pounce? I honestly still don't know what you're talking about regarding Karina and the homage she wrote and this is like, the 3rd of 4th time you've mentioned it with no details. Unless I missed it elsewhere, bring it. It's worthy of discussion I'm sure.

I hate to bring up the "death of film criticism" stuff on the tip of everyones lips right now because I'm sick of hearing it, but I know I look to the critics I grew up on to help lead the way. Ebert's embraced new ways of getting his thoughts out and all I get from you is, you're mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more.

Glenn Kenny

Don, baby, sweetheart, the link to the story and thread I refer to is right up there, in blue, underlining the words "the comments thread." The link works. Click it and all will be revealed.

I'm friends with Aaron Katz's cousin! And his uncle! And a lot of his other family members! The result of which was that I met him before most of you guys did! So there! And I think he's a terrific filmmaker, too, and can't wait to see "Cold Weather."

The Chevalier

Actually -- and Don understands this -- a big reason lo-fi filmmakers are friendly with younger journalists is that a lot of the filmmakers either make or made money as film journalists, and a lot of the journalists dabble in filmmaking themselves.

The whole thing is very porous and ambiguous.

Glenn Kenny

I agree that it's porous and ambiguous. I think it's kind of interesting that a fair number of lo-fi filmmakers are in worse economic states than many film journalists. The days when Pauline Kael could upbraid Otto Preminger in the back of his limo are over in a lot of ways! This state of affairs is merely one of the many that facilitate a particular kind of fraternization these days.

But...and here's my question...does this porousness and ambiguity excuse altogether abjuring the ethics that I'm talking about? (And this is a discussion that ranges across a large number of fields, with bloggers such as Virginia Postrel and Glenn Reynolds seeming to argue against tight ethical considerations. To be completely frank, I find most of their arguments in this respect to be almost despicably self-serving. But that's just me.) How frigging hard is it to insert a parenthetical disclosing a connection? (Aaron Hillis is consistently conscientious about doing this, and I think it was unfair of Craig Dawson to lump him in with the other critics he took to task.) And if journalists and critics aggressively decline to do so, how will it finally affect the relationship between the journalist and the reader. A lot of people already hate and mistrust critics. I think that not being as upfront with them as we are capable of gives them good reason to.

don r. lewis

O.K...read the article annnnnd....so? It seems to me you're out of the loop on the actual day-to-day goings on of independent film and festivals. I don't mean that to be snarky, I think your self-professed time alone and away from these things has pushed you outside the loop.

Karina knows Bob Byington and has chatted with him so she's not allowed to talk about his films in print any more? Do you know Bob Byington? I assure you, he's not an adept socializer but he's a really fine filmmaker and I agree with Karina's assessment of his work. What is the length or depth of involvement she has with Bob? I have no clue. Do you?

Again and as The Chevalier pointed out: we know these people so what are we supposed to do?? Not talk to anyone? Ignore a film we dug if we like, took a shuttle ride at Sundance and passed a flask along the way? What's your point, man? If you have one, lemme hear it. I'm interested. Otherwise I'm sticking with you don't like these damned kids and their damned fraternizing.

And again- I'm on the side of erring in favor of disclosure. It's not about *you*, it's about your audience and they can decide if you're buttering up a friends work or if you're actually saying something worth investing in. Pauline Kael got dragged down by fraternizing with Warren Beatty but rather than have all journos learn a lesson from that, it's becoming the norm for big studios to give writers access to talent in order for good buzz. But if you meet a filmmaker on the festival circuit and liked his/her work (or, didn't) you're going to run into them and there's no P.R. wrangler there to supervise. I'm all for a line being drawn on whats kosher and not...but who's gonna draw it?

Glenn Kenny

Don, you seem determined to both miss my point, and rub my nose in how out of the loop I am. I'm starting to not like YOU too terribly much, either. Just so you know. So long.

John M

"Otherwise I'm sticking with you don't like these damned kids and their damned fraternizing."

Embrace those generalities, Don R. Lewis. You still haven't stated why you think Karina Longworth didn't need to insert a parenthetical about disclosure. (And why Village Voice didn't request that of her.) Sounds like she's friends with him--shouldn't she tell us this?

I also, on the evidence of HARMONY AND ME, would have to strongly, strongly, strongly disagree with the description of Bob Byington as a "really fine filmmaker." But that's neither here nor there.

md'a

I walked out of Harmony and Me at ND/NF, having failed to laugh once, but can (with some effort) imagine that other people might find it funny or otherwise worthwhile. So I'm not prepared to accuse Karina of bad faith. I feel confident that she genuinely likes the movie, and I rather doubt that any of the critics under discussion would outright lie about their opinion for the sake of fellowship.

Nonetheless, personal relationships with subjects, however tenuous, should be disclosed right at the top of the piece. That goes without saying. Or it should, anyway.

Glenn Kenny

@ md'a: Thanks. For what it's worth, I think that Longworth's sentiments about the film are genuine. I don't think she's writing in bad faith. But I think that the piece's lack of disclosure WAS disingenuous, which sure as the sun shines leads to the perception of bad faith.

Stephen Whitty

"When you got canned from Premiere, I was stoked you could now be free to say more of what you want and see movies you cared to see."

Oh yes, and can I say I was thrilled, too, Glenn? Thank heavens, I thought, another journalist had been freed from the dreary burden of a paycheck, health insurance and maybe a pension plan, so he can be true to his art!

I guess I shouldn't have read past that sentence, or that post. But I did.

And while this probably only marks me as another potential cast member of "Gran Torino II," let me say that I don't understand why it's necessary to "network" in order to "form an opinion," or why "invariably" mere attendance at festivals leads to friendships with the people whose work you're there to cover.

Maybe I'm just anti-social, but I've managed to have sources and interview subjects for 20-very-odd years without thinking of them as anything but sources and interview subjects. And although I can imagine that line being crossed, I don't know why the writer wouldn't then at least acknowledge it in print (or, preferably, excuse him- or herself from reviewing the person's work from then on).

Not that I'm in a thousand years comparing myself to them, but it seems to me that I.F. Stone did a pretty good job writing about politics (and Manny Farber did a pretty good job writing about movies) without ever hanging out with their subjects, or even leaving their neighborhoods very often. They looked at what was happening, they looked at what was being done, and they wrote about it. And that was enough.

But I guess that's what made them journalists and critics, and not syncophants and careerists.

Haice

Another great post Glenn! I don't think you're grumpy and out of the loop (although your references to La bas, Nightmare Alley and Shutter Island do worry and intrigue me).
I must confess I don't know anything about Mr. Kohn, but just reading his reference to Manny Farber and Termite Art in regards to new filmmakers of today makes me think he's clueless.

Fuzzy Bastard

What a cute little teapot in which to have a tempest!

The Longworth piece wasn't a review---it was a piece about indie distribution, using one film as a test case. Yes, the author says she enjoys it, but the fact that audiences seem to enjoy it is vastly more relevant in the context of the article (if critics' enjoyment determined what got distribution, Ed Burns would be mopping floors). I don't know how acquainted Longworth is with B.B.---hang out for drinks once a year? attend each other's barbecues? meet at swingers' parties?---but it seems pretty tangential to the piece.

This does get into the challenge of acquaintance disclosure as well---how much acquaintance do you need to have before you have to disclose? Personally, I find parenthetical "I know this filmmaker and he's rilly, rilly sweet" statements to be more annoyingly clubby than enlightening, but that's a matter of taste. I sort of take it as a given that if a critic likes an artist's work, they're going to try to hang out with said artist, and if an artist gets a good review, they're going to buy the critic a drink.

Gifts are another matter---and irritatingly, they're disclosed a lot less often. But either way, anyone bright enough to understand that a review is one critic's take, not an attempt at objective truth, is generally also bright enough to understand that all us down-at-the-heels art-film devotees are going to know each other.

Filmbrain

"We need to meet each other and network and be at these festivals in order to gain access and then form an opinion."

Don -- I've read this sentence a handful of times, and I simply don't get it.

Gain access to what, exactly?

But more troubling is the idea that networking with other critics/bloggers and/or filmmakers is a prerequisite to forming an opinion.

 don r. lewis

As soon as I am let in on what egregious error or friendship Karina has with Byington, I'll understand better I suppose. *I* have it on "good authority" that they are no more than acquaintances but if that needs to be pointed out in every positive piece being written, we're in for a dull ride.

@John M.- What should the Longworth parenthetical have read to make you rest assured there were no shenanigans going on? What are you and others implying or are you just jumping on the bandwagon?

Follow up question, should you as an internet poster be required to provide a parenthetical regarding your like or dislike of HARMONY AND ME? Do you have an issue with the filmmaker? Do you have an issue with the reviewer? Based on your insinuations and expectations of disclosure, I cannot take your comment seriously until a parenthetical is provided.

But seriously...where do we draw the line? I ask that honestly. Is there like, a pyramid chart of acceptable connections? Should we make one?

@Stephen- I assure you I wasn't glad Glenn lost his job, I was just happy to see he was continuing on here. Without writers like Glenn, I'm often at a loss on how to read films and filmmakers whose work I want to get into, but have no jumping off point.

As for networking, etc. The critics you mention were writing about movies that were readily available to be seen. I'd argue that without a film like HARMONY AND ME playing the small fests and the filmmaker reaching out to writers, the film would have died an early death.

Not to beleaguer the point but again...the loop. These filmmakers don't have P.R. reps many times. If I want to see a smaller film for example, I've either got to go to a festival where there's going to be dozens of fellow writers AND filmmakers around me all the time OR email the filmmaker and ask for a screener.

Do I wish I was an old skool professional film critic with an office and an editor who tells me "Today, see you ________ and I want it written by ______." Fuck yeah I do. But those days are over and if I want to be IN the conversation and thus writing about films people have a chance to see, I have to seek out other writers and see what they like and dislike, have seen or are planning on seeing so I can plan a festival schedule. Or I have to seek out a filmmaker through facebook or whatever and try to get a screener. That's networking and that's what I mean by it.

md'a

"I sort of take it as a given that if a critic likes an artist's work, they're going to try to hang out with said artist, and if an artist gets a good review, they're going to buy the critic a drink."

Oh. Well then.

Glenn Kenny

@ Fuzzy Bastard: There are ways of doing the parentheticals non-cloyingly, and one should, I believe. Like so: "Full disclosure: I have a cordial acquaintance with X." Or what have you. Sure, there are other questions, like when disclosure can become a form of name-dropping as it were. As in, "Should I really say I "know" this person when the amount of social contact I have with him is now down to about once a year?" or what have you.

As for Longworth, not to beat a...well, never mind the metaphors, but allow me to quote a comment from a thread at Jeff Wells' place: "I kind of hate to bring this up, because I genuinely like Karina Longworth's writing a lot, and I'm genuinely happy to see her as an editor at LA Weekly, but I attended a screening of the mumblecoreish HARMONY AND ME last night at USC, and Ms. Longworth was facilitating the Q&A with the director. And it was *way* obvious that she and the director were *way* palsy-walsy with one another -- to the point where she didn't feel the need to ask him any real questions because, well, it was obvious she already knew all the answers."

This is not a good thing.

The thread follows this post, which is a contextually relevant one, as they say:
http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/2010/03/curveball.php

 don r. lewis

"We need to meet each other and network and be at these festivals in order to gain access and then form an opinion."

Yeah, that was poorly written and not what I meant or better, not how I meant to say it. I think I clarified it in that last post though, sorry about that. Not good to post internet messages while driving and eating a cheeseburger.

d.a.

I saw Pavement last night, as it happens, here in Nagoya. Good start but then it all descended into pretty perfunctory bar rock. Malkmus still seems cool though, bandmates less so. One of them said they remembered a lot of faces from when they were here in 1993. cringe.

Glenn Kenny

The first time I ever wrote for the New York Times was because of a relationship that prohibited a staff reviewer from writing up a record. I ran into Jon Pareles at some disc emporium and we were talking about this and that, and he mentioned that I ought to get in touch with the Arts and Leisure editor about writing up this live King Crimson box, "The Great Deceiver," which he was forbidden to do because he was friends with Robert Fripp. So it was written, and so it was done. And in my first goddamn piece for the Times, I fuck up and call Jamie Muir the violinist and David Cross the percussionist. I still got a couple more pieces from them anyway, then bounced over to the New York Daily News because they paid better and Betsy Pochoda (yeah, I get to call her "Betsy") was so flattering and insistent.

When I reviewed Davitt Sigerson's second album for The Village Voice back around '84, I needed to get a hold of his first, for comparison's sake, and my editor Bob (yeah, I get to call him "Bob") Christgau suggested I just ring Davitt and go pick a copy up at his apartment. Well I just blanched! I wasn't going to go and actually meet the guy before I reviewed his album! Because we'd automatically fall in to that thing of buying each other drinks and what not. Fortunately I was able to snag a copy at St. Marks' Sounds. And remained pure. (The punchline is that I just had lunch with Davitt last week! At The Palm! Which is better than you do with a lo-fi filmmaker, that's for f**king sure!)

Yep, those were the days. And yes, please, DO get off my lawn...

Fuzzy Bastarrd

As regards Longworth: If this acquaintance predates seeing his movies, then it's a possibly undue influence, and might be worth mentioning. But does it? Or is this a case of a critic seeing a movie that she thinks is terrific and unlikely to get noticed (due to lack of PR machinery), and trying like hell to get that deserving, cash-strapped film an audience? That strikes me as a perfectly worthy use of a critical podium---much as I appreciate critics' efforts to get people to see neglected classics, or their mockery of big-budget twaddle, trying to get people to notice an independent new filmmaker seems like the most valuable thing a critic can do. If Longworth saw the film, loved it, realized it was going to vanish without a trace, and decided to ask the festival if she could host a Q&A in the hopes of drawing attention to it, well, that sounds just fine to me! I *expect* critics to be partisans for films they care about, and when that film is the kind of indie picture that lives or dies by critical regard, this seems like a net gain for film culture.

Bruce Reid

Not having seen (or heard of till today) HARMONY AND ME, I'd say Craig Dawson's percentage breakdown of Longworth's article sounds fair just based on the merits. But is there any reason to suspect she has a "personal relationship" with Byington beyond Dawson's say-so?

If not, all due respect to Stephen Whitty, there's less smoke here than there is around I. F. Stone (about whose failure to disclose I'm equally neutral).

Filmbrain

Fair enough. Cheeseburgers can have that effect.

However, regarding your question about the need for parentheticals, I feel that there's a difference between Karina writing at Spout (where she was both author and sole editor, if I'm not mistaken) and at the L.A. Weekly.

There are (and always will be) plenty of films that have tremendous festival success but don't land distribution deals, for a whole host of reasons. Karina, who attends many festivals, knows this. Had the piece been less specific, I wouldn't have minded as much, but as it stands it reads like little more than a bit of free publicity for the film. It's more of a press release than the kind of investigate think-piece that Karina normally excels at.

I don't question or doubt her feelings towards the film, but I think a brief statement at the beginning piece was in order.

(I'll add my own parenthetical -- I am solidly neutral about HARMONY AND ME. I thought it was fine, nothing more. There are more deserving films lacking distribution, IMO.)

Bruce Reid

Apologies (yes, two). I'd kept the browser open while reading the linked article and didn't see that Glenn had linked the Hollywood Elsewhere article to buttress the complaint.

And my phrasing in reference to Stone was as presumptuous as some of the comments that got under my collar. I meant Stone's *alleged* failure, of course.

Aaron Aradillas

Quick. Someone get CFK on the horn. We need a copy of the Declaration of Principles. STAT!

Just tryin' to ease the tension up in here.

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