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June 09, 2008


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Tom Carson

I've often disagreed with Aaron (whom I've never met) on this site's predecessor. But I'm pretty sure that he's incapable of pretending to be "Peter Grayson." He's a)too honest, b) too smart, and c) is so far from being an asshole that he couldn't fake it if he wanted to. Which I don't think he does.

Peter Grayson

Oh, TC, that was sweet. Along with your Team Kenney T-shirt and WigHat I'm also going to send you a limited edition I Heart Aaron temporary tattoo.



I think you confuse Self-Awaria with Knee-*Jerk*-Reactionia.

Great extrapolative skills, by the byt.

Wait. Did I write "great"? Must be the grass.

Tom Carson

I must say the repeated "WigHat" references make me wonder if we're up against D***d E*******n.

Glenn Kenny

Boy, the things you miss when you're sitting in the ER. I haven't been in a flame war of this ilk since I ticked off old Ann Althouse.

Still, we've gotten a bit off-topic. Peter, if I say "my bad," rescind the "f***ing p***k" crack, and add "pretty please," can we cease with the ever-spiralling ad homenizing?


I actually commented on the initial blog post -- but MA and I got waylaid by an issue related to, well, intellectual snobbery and the whole "the world is going to hell in a handbasket and everything was just great forty years ago" (which is repeated every forty years).

But, here's the thing, even given the other duties of a full time critic and the whole getting to the theater issue and the actual watching of the movies issue, he STILL seems to be an incredibly fast writer. I don't know about you pros, but this semi-pro takes probably two or three hours to write a fairly serious review (say, 700 or words or s0), sometimes longer. Of course, if I had editors, copy editors, and proofreaders to clean up all my mistakes for me, maybe I could bash out that "unchallenging copy" more quickly.

Frankly, he is a good writer, but I totally take Glenn's point.

And, Peter Grayson, I hope that you work at something you find to be absolutely no fun, because I guess you think that's the only real work. I wouldn't want you to think less of yourself.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, Bob. These are some points well worth addressing. As I said in the post, I consider Atkinson a provocative and often astute critic. And yes, his output is enviably prodigious—of late, I've enjoyed his lengthy eviscerations of some of his more politically-minded commenters on the Zero For Conduct blog. And that said, I doubt that he would deny that there's a polemical element in almost all his work. That is, that if he's going to lob the kind of argumentative grenades that he does in the blog and Brooklyn Rail piece, he can't possibly believe that the rest of us are going to stand by and say, "Why, look, there's a rhetorical grenade being thrown our way, let's just stand here and let it blow up on us." Does anybody think that he would say such things, and that everybody else in some related field would respond, "That's a jolly good point, I'll summarily go about giving up every hope of making a livelihood out of film criticism"? Of course he wouldn't. He was trying to start a fight, and I was trying to give him one. Didn't quite work out, alas.

Peter Grayson

Bob, I work in Immigration. Most thankless, tedious job in the world. I've hated every moment of it since I started back in 1973, when, due to circumstances, I had virtually no choice but to take the job. That doesn't mean I don't love my daughter to death, because I do, and now it looks like I have. Please don't take that the wrong way, Clara. I know she's reading this because she's the one who turned me on to this website. Anyway, you kids don't have to worry about me clogging up your comments section after tonight. I've been perfectly content to stay on the sidelines for all of these discussions so far, and I have no problem going back to doing that. I'm just glad I got a chance to get my two cents in. Nothing that any of you has said has changed my mind one bit. I might be deaf in my left ear, but I can still hear perfectly. My voice hasn't sounded this clear to me since the night my father died. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go get in bed and watch Big Rig, some documentary I bought myself as an early father's day gift, along with Fanny and Alexander and Typhoon, a Korean movie about nuclear terrorism. I can only assume that a good percentage of you will be watching There Will Be Blood for the 20th time. Enjoy.


So much of this argument, not to mention Atkinson's original claims, and the American market he's describing to a miserable T, are largely predicated on a misconception about intellectual labor. Since it is not *exactly the fucking same* as spending eight hours driving a truck or fitting pipes, we are lazy entitled parasites. What drivel.

I make it a point to never violate Godwin's Law, but when I originally read the Atkinson piece my mind immediately shot back to that scene in "The Counterfeiters." Solly arrives at the new cellblock print shop, pauses to survey the area, and a Nazi guard grabs him and says something like, "What are you standing around for, you lazy Jew? Get to work!" At which point the Nazi commandant upbraids the guard: "Standing around? This man is *thinking.* You should try it sometime."


Peter, you have a slight problem here, concerning your credibility and superior attitude.

What do we actually know about you? That you're a person who has little else to do than lurk on blogs and occasionally be insulting.

This means you either A) are lying about having a "real job" and are just some sad, pathetic bastard who needs the attention or B) you have an empty, unfulfilling job that doesn't challenge you or give you enough to do, and you probably don't enjoy it, either.

You're not provoking anger in me. Just pity.

Thomas H.

What's up with all the anger? And who is this Kenney Peter Grayson keeps mentioning???

Mike De Luca

To think the greatest thrill Peter Grayson will have had in his life is to strip down on this blog and show the world his shortcomings.

Peter Grayson

I remember Peter Niven, De Luca, and you sir, are about as far from Niven-esque as possible. But if anyone should talk about exposing their shortcomings to the general public, I guess it makes sense that it would be you.

But seriously, thanks, kids. This has been rather therapeutic for me. I shall now go back to being a silent observer of this website, but don't think I won't be snickering at most of your comments.

Bill, please look into a serotonin-uptake inhibitor. I mean it. You sound like you're suffering from chronic depression.

And everyone don't forget to read the new book that Michael Atkinson edited, Exile Cinema.


Ah, the theatre of the Internet. Now that's a new gig for a critic!

Keith Uhlich

"Peter" Niven, ay?


It sucks that everybody in America has a job doing something they really love that isn't physically demanding, and that they can count on having a job like it until they hit retirement age, regardless of what the market forces dictate...except for film critics, who, in addition to (gasp!) attending screenings at inconvenient hours, (blanch!) seeing a lot of movies that aren't very good, and (faint!) struggling to get into the right frame of mind to write a movie review, now find their livelihood threatened by a populace that's forgotten how much they need and will always need movie criticism, and by big money-grubbing corporations that Just Don't Care.

Sorry, Glenn, but I'm with Atkinson on this one; unemployment sucks, and it sucks even more when you're (say) accustomed to relatively cushy jobs and maybe contemplating decidedly less cushy options for the first time in a long time, but we're all at the mercy of folks who decide whether or not what we do is worth paying for, and complaining about how movie criticism is harder than it looks and takes more time than you think and hence you deserve to always be able to make a living at it...well, it kind of starts to sound like self-important whining after a while. Peter Grayson sounds like a dick (can anyone who ends more than one purportedly-serious statement in a row with "Bwahahahaha!" be otherwise?), but he's right about the basic point behind Atkinson's post: if you can't make ends meet doing A, start looking for a B, because clinging to A like it's your god-given right will get you approximately nowhere. Your ability to make a living has nothing whatsoever to do with the intrinsic value of your work; sadly, it's about convincing the right people to pay you and keep paying you. And that's all it's about, whether you're Roger Ebert or some dude hunched over a conveyor belt on an assembly line.


But here's my problem. Sleeper, you say:

"if you can't make ends meet doing A, start looking for a B, because clinging to A like it's your god-given right will get you approximately nowhere."

Who, precisely, has said that making a living being a film critic was anybody's God-given right? Nobody. But if you HAVE made your living as a film critic for a long period of time, only to find yourself abruptly out of a job, it's reasonable to want to look for work in that same field. And it is also reasonable to get angry when someone publicly claims, in midst of this job search, that what you've been doing for a living is not something anyone should aspire to, because it's not an actual job.

Glenn Kenny

I believe I've created the wrong impression, given the number of people who seem to think my quarrel with Atkinson is an ill-disguised self-pitying wail apropos my own layoff and job prospects. I'd have said the same thing if I still had my cushy job, or any cushy job. (What defines a job as "cushy," by the way? The amount of anxiety you DON"T have in performing it?) Nobody who's posting comments here—well, almost nobody—has any idea what I'm up to in terms of current or prospective employment, first off, and there's a reason for that. Also, Michael Atkinson's advice about how to make ends meet pretty much means sweet fuckall to me—I'm a grown man, I can take care of that shit myself. As I said before, I'm not down. And I'm not complaining.

What I object to is Atkinson's know-somethingish bluster, and I am more than a little bemused to see a guy who writes for—at least part of—his living give the signal to the money boys that writing ain't no big thing. That's pretty much all. Not "the world owes me a living because I'm so clever." Where that exactly is in the original post I can't quite see.

Tech, no lust

Mr. Grayson -

Might one be able to find you on IMDB under your real name?

Typhoon > There Will Be Blood? Yeah, ok, whatever....


Oddly enough, I make my own money, my dad's probably dead (we don't know) and if anything I'll end up paying off his debts, and my mom makes enough to sustain herself and no more. And I've worked day jobs too!

So are we done with the knee-jerk assumptions yet? About everyone who doesn't have the pleasure of being you?


I remember someone at that paper Michael Atkinson used to work at equating Michael's ability to see a movie and turn a review in to one of the world's mysteries: Like, sometimes he'd get two or three or four screeners one morning and he'd have reviews of all of them in his editor's inbox by the next morning (at the latest). Not that Michael's reviews ever sound rushed, but they do feel like purges, no? So there's your context, if anyone is looking for one: Writing comes easy to Michael, and it's either a sign of his self-absorption or total obliviousness, that he feels it's the same with everyone else.

Glenn Kenny

This also touches something M.A. wrote in the first post quoted in "Brooklyn Rail," called "Fireworks", when he describes what David Ansen does/did and then notes, "The cops, bartenders, union agents, managers, editors and public school teachers I know would look on that job as a vacation." This pronouncement serves two functions: it announces Atkinson's bona-fides as a denizen of the "real world"—we're meant to infer that Ansen would never mingle with such plebians, leaving whatever contact would be necessary at a given time to his indentured eunuch—and it executes a nice left-wing reversal of an old wingnut theme, currently circulating as "Barack Obama is a latte-sipping elitist out of touch with the American people." Feh.

I've always considered myself terrifically fortunate to have been able to make a living at this game. And you know what? When I discuss the work I do with the bartenders and cops of my acquaintance, they may say "cool job" or some such thing, but they never act affronted that I get paid for my labor, or state that they'd be able to switch places with me because what I do sounds like a vacation to them. They respect what I do just as I respect what they do, bartenders particularly. But maybe I know nicer, more-well mannered cops and bartenders than Atkinson does.

Okay, all that said, let me further state that (even in spite of my overly pissy and inappropriate update) I am quite looking forward to reading "Exile Cinema." If someone wants to point me to a copy that already has Joshua Clover's contribution scissored out, I'd be mighty grateful. You think this has been bad, you don't even wanna get me started on THAT guy...


Here's what I want to know: who thinks seeing movies you don't WANT to see, as a professional requirement, is fun? I can't imagine any critic waking up in the morning and saying "Today is a good day, because I'm going to see 'Bratz!' For free! And get paid to write deep thoughts about it!"


The argument is kind of analogous to the one frequently made about ballplayers and entertainers, albeit on a much smaller scale, in that A) the ones who do their job well spend a lot more time on it than they do on the field or on the set and B) they're the ones that put the asses in seats. No one ever bought a ticket because it was Steinbrenner's team or Sony's studio.

These newspapers are not cutting their costs so that they can charge us less, or because it improves their product in some way; they're cutting their costs so that they can make bigger profits. And most of them are still making a profit, with or without their film critic.

Some people are fortunate enough to have jobs that they love. If J. Hoberman is the only reason I and many others pick up the Voice every week, then he's earning his meager salary. Why would I begrudge him that? Bitter jealousy is the only reason I can think of. Certainly, plenty of people make more money doing less valuable work.


I'd like to comment on what Peter Grayson has said. Yes, he's been condescending and insulting, even a bit incoherent, which as someone over 45, reminds me of myself during one of my "golden" moments. But he's also right that our ability to see, read about, and write on a computer about movies is a luxury that many of us accept as a necessity because we've never had to go without. While I don't agree that film criticism is less worthy as a human pursuit than other forms of gainful employment--the arts in all their forms, including criticism, are absolutely vital to the health of any society--I can see how someone working in immigration, seeing a lot of people from desperate circumstances (I imagine) happy to get a job washing dishes, might think this belly-aching about movies is just a little more than trite.

As for Atkinson, he's just doing the new thing in journalism-- acting as provocateur to generate all that buzz that will keep him employed.

Glenn Kenny

Well put, Marilyn. And let me reiterate: I consider myself very fortunate to have forged a career as a (mostly) well-compensated media professional.But make no mistake: all the good fortune in the world wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't applied a pretty strong work ethic to that career. And if mentioning that makes me self-important, so be it.


Thanks, Glenn. I feel the same way about having been able to make writing and editing a career (I do the movie stuff for fun). It was relatively easy for me to find a way into publishing, and for that I am grateful. And, yes, a strong work ethic is important to remain in this world because many aspire to it and, unfortunately, the opportunities to get in at something like a living wage (or even not) seem to have shrunk considerably since I started out. I, too, think Atkinson's cavalier attitude was just what writers don't need!


Without comment:



So has this all been Internet theatre? Hilarious!


Huh. If the circumstantial evidence offered above is more than merely a coincidence, then this wouldn't be the first time that a, er, writer has hopped into the comments section of a film blog, using the name of one of his characters, and started acting like a worthless dickhead.

Even if this IS a coincidence, I would still like to point out that the novel in question is one of the many self-published books one can find on Amazon that has mysteriously generated nothing but five-star reviews. That must mean it's really good!

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