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January 31, 2009


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Brief Interviews is about academia?

S.F. Hunger

I love it when Glenn gets his claws out. Is there a hot bodybuilder in the building?

For a piece of film-meets-internet awesomeness (as opposed to the sadness in your post), check these babies out: http://spacesick.blogspot.com/2009/01/i-can-read-movies-series.html

Claire K.

That was my question, Joel. I'd heard somewhere that it used therapy as a framing device.


The Brief Interviews film invents a lonelyheart grad student, who conducts the titular interviews as an academic project/thinly veiled attempt to reconcile her own heartbreak at the hands of a character played by the director. That in itself may not have been fatal, but the film plays as if reading D.F.W. aloud to a broad once got Krasinski laid, so he figured if he just did that on film, he'd get *really* laid, like, a lot, like, for the rest of his life.

Regardless, I think "could have been worse" ranks as high praise from Glenn re: Spout, so we'll take it...

Jovani Remior



Glenn, I haven't seen the film, but I'll make sure to include the "doesn't make the grade" phrase in any review I write about it, just to make you happy. ;)

Also, saying its too bad for DFW isn't necessarily to mean too bad for his ghost/angel/whatever. It can also mean that its too bad for his legacy and work. Artsits like DFW can be considered entities after death.

Glenn Kenny

I don't want to pick too much on Christopher Campbell, who seems an amiable and well-intentioned fellow. Still, unless we're going to enter some realm of metaphysical speculation, I must continue to maintain (with much regret) that Wallace is no longer an entity. His WORK is an entity, yes, and had Christopher merely written "Wallace's work would seem to deserve better as far as film adaptations are concerned," we wouldn't be having this conversation. The "you know what I meant" defense is, alas, pretty emblematic of what a close friend calls the "A for effort" ethos that's an ever-increasing feature of online discourse. Maybe I don't really have any right to play drill sergeant in this racket, but that's just my own personal moral failing for you...


Fair enough. I'll never admit to be a perfect writer, and so I appreciate your educational response to my improper choice of wording. I don't take back what I wrote regarding my belief that an artist may be considered an entity after death, but I understand why you think it would have been better for me to write, "Too bad for the work of David Foster Wallace," or something like that.

And yes, I am quite amiable and well-intentioned. Let's get a drink sometime and have that metaphysical debate.


That framing device makes sense to me, even though I think that Krasinski, with the help of at least one die-hard DFW fan I know of on the Office writing staff, could have come up with a more interesting substitute for the "..." of the stories. That "...", by the way, for the great reactions "she" inspires from her subjects, is, in a weird way, one of my favorite Wallace characters ever. And where was The Browning Version on that list? Not the greatest movie, I guess, but still worth it for the awesome Redgrave performance and for the regret that a lot of one-time-promising academics feel after they've wasted that promise on years of ungrateful students.

Glenn Kenny

And by the way, kids, if you think I'M snarky, have a gander at the blogospheric reaction to the meltdown of Pajamas Media. Start over at Instaputz (http://instaputz.blogspot.com/) and work your way around from there. I was particularly blown away by this: "PJM’s new hope is PJTV, a pay video site. Where you can pay to watch Glenn and Helen Reynolds. This is not unlike asking people to pay to be punched in the face." And that's from a fellow right-wing website!

Which does remind me of another nice thing I could say about Spout: They didn't ask people to pay to watch "Butterknife."

Ar ar ar.


Joel, I'll second your vote for The Browning Version, although perhaps it was winnowed out because it isn't set in a college or university? I would have liked to see The Male Animal on the list. However, I really don't think anybody should be too hard on Christopher, because he put Horse Feathers at number 1. That covers a multitude of sins, in the Siren's eyes at least.

Glenn Kenny

@ Campaspe: So the joke's essentially on me, for not finishing reading. I LOVE "Horse Feathers," maybe a little more, even, than the sacred "Duck Soup." Well played, CC.


>SHRUG< For every film, there is a group of people who absolutely hate it, and there's somebody in that group who gets published on a regular basis. Granted, some are more articulate than others, but in the end, it boils down to somebody who should be able to sort their personal feelings from their professional blowing the review. My personal favorite was always Owen Gleiberman; I don't think any critic has had such a raging hatred for a filmmaker quite like he had for the Coen Brothers.

W. M.

I'm glad John Fucking Krasinski "invented" a character as a way of making Brief Interviews more easily adaptable. He took an incredibly potent formal device (the unseen, hidden interviewer) and wished it away with a flick of his hacky sacky fingers. This leads me to believe that Krasinski wasn't necessarily interested in Wallace's work, but that he was more interested in what kind of cultural cred he could nutball off of Wallace. The people who make movies really do think they're smarter than writers, don't they? I mean, that's no joke. This movie is, though. There are a dozen formal and structural devices that Krasinski could've used to maintain the integrity of Wallace's work, and he chose none of them. I think Karina is right. Krasinski is a pussy hound with above average reading comprehension skills.


Forget the nitpicking about careless writing - how about careless parroting of sexist conventional wisdom:

"ignore sound judgment (most of it coming from her then husband, Elia Kazan)" [I've also heard that her cinematographer was really responsible for the bulk of what's good about this film.]

Of course, when a woman makes a great film (like Maya Deren's), it's always the man behind the woman who really knows what to do.


Glenn Kenny

The Bronstein piece is, as it happens, rife with such fascinating, er, contradictions...


@ W.M.:

Fans of books tend to think "You just write the names of the characters next to their dialogue and VOILA! Brilliant screenplay." Not so much. Novelists don't have to collaborate with actors, producers, etc., they don't have time limits, and they don't have budgets (beyond what it costs to exist and keep a computer running). So bringing a book to film isn't necessarily a function of the filmmaker thinking he's smarter, it's a function of what they can achieve with the materials they have and the people they have to allow into the process. That's why bad books tend to make good movies, and good books result in, well, any film version of "Moby Dick" or "Myra Breckinridge".


As you can see from my above comment, I'm also wary of how Krasinski has dealt with "..." in his adaptation. However, I don't think he needs this film to get laid. Second of all, I hope that Will Forte plays the "victory for the forces of democratic freedom" guy. That just seems right. From your comment, though, it sounds like you already saw it. Is it really that bad?


Just to clarify, I was responsible for editing Ms. Bronstein's piece. It seems like the criticisms you mentioned were specifically editorial ones. As I'm the only one responsible for reading all of the writing on Hammer to Nail before it gets posted, I think it makes more sense to blame me directly for any grammatical/linguistic/phrasing missteps. Thanks.

Glenn Kenny

@Tully—it's commendable for you to step up to the plate like this, and I take your point. Allow me to point out, however, that most writers—that is, most writers who are unencumbered by narcissism and that special sense of entitlement that often goes with it—will give their work, like, you know, a proofreading (or two) prior to submitting it to an editor.


This might be like talking politics with my parents, not to mention the fact that i think there are far more productive things both of us could be doing with our lives, but I will say that for myself, as someone who writes A LOT--mostly for the worse, in my insecure opinion--I am guilty every single day of proofreading certain things several times and still allowing egregious, obvious mistakes to slip past me. Are you insinuating that this writer didn't proofread her piece? What if she happened to have proofread it three times? Does that make her even worse as a writer? As a human being? I'm still not sure what point you're trying to make when you take the effort to cut-and-paste and then criticize someone else's grammar. Is this a film blog or a middle school English blog?

To give my own humble opinion on things, I can't shake the feeling that every time I read a post like this--from anyone in the world, mind you, not just you, Glenn, and not just about movies--it feels like an act of misplaced condescension and hyper-insecurity. Removing the content from the equation, it always sounds like the bitter, jealous whining of a spoiled little boy who's mad that a new kid showed up in class and is getting all the attention. As someone who doesn't carry that particular gene, I'm truly fascinated by this behavior. Repelled, but fascinated. Which is why I'm here right now, I suppose.

Okay, I'll leave it at that. Feel free to put me in my place now. Break out the can of whup-ass if you want. I've yet to catch your grammatical wrath (at least I think), and knowing how embarrassed I am about my own writing, I'm sure there's enough fodder for a twelve-part series. Or, better yet, why don't you just ignore us shamefully inept non-writers and pretend that we aren't even here in the blogosphere, brashly butting heads with you Genuine Professional Critics? (I look forward to an actual discussion about this next time we see each other; I'm too busy to start an online battle at the moment.)

Glenn Kenny

You raise some interesting questions, Michael, and I look forward (sort of) to discussing them with you in person some time. But let me just clarify a few things.

First, I did not seek out Mary Bronstein's piece with the intention of putting a hit on it. Quite the contrary. I followed a link put up by the generally reliable David Hudson, in the expectation of being directed to a piece that might illuminate me about a film I admire. And, less than a hundred words in, found verbiage so sloppy and slapdash as to constitute—and here's the really salient point, I think—an insult to any even semi-literate reader. Because it is an insult. I really don't understand why you can't see that.

Am I condescending? Yes. Does it ever occur to you that some things deserve condescension? Mary Bronstein cannot write, but I'M the spoiled little boy who's mad that a new kid is getting all the attention? I'm perfectly content with what attention I do get, I've got to tell you. You ask "why don't you just ignore us shamefully inept non-writers and pretend that we aren't even here in the blogosphere?" All I can say is, "But you are, Blanche." And when inept writers waste one's time with twaddle, they've earned getting called out on it.


I just think it's better (i.e., healthier) to ignore that which one thinks is bunk and worthless and simply focus their energy in a more consistently positive direction (mind you, this is being written by the crank who lambasted Mr. Mendes repeatedly for his castration of his favorite book ever--based on your review, you might take exception to my reading of what I found to be a sterile, unforgivable atrocity). I agree with you that sometimes drastic measures must be taken, but I just don't know if the above cases are worthy of your venom. Then again, that approach has as much of a right to exist in this crazy virtual universe as my hippified one. So I guess that means I'm agreeing with you. Whoops. Sorry for the intrusion. Condescend away!


Yes, Joel, it is that bad. Krasinski, not surpisingly, managed to reduce the book to nothing more than a actor's showcase. His instincts as a director are...well, he doesn't seem to have any instincts.

And I have to concur with Glenn. Mary Bronstein, or whoever "wrote" her piece, is a horrible writer. This has nothing to do with bloggers vs. print writers, new kids vs. old kids; it has to do with laziness, with assuming that no work needs to be done, like say rewriting, before something is shown to the public; with caring about what you produce as opposed to just wanting kudos for producing anything. But considering that Mary Bronstein and Michael Tully are affiliated with the Mumblecore crowd, who consider every shit they take to be a work of art (and so we come back to Wallace; hopefully Krasinki won't try to adapt Oblivion next), I'm not shocked to find such sloppy work on display. That seems to be the key tenet of their aesthetic ethos.

Glenn Kenny

@Tully: I found your screed on "Revolutionary Road" quite engaging, with some well-taken points. I thought much better of the film than you or Andrew Grant did; that said, some things about it have been nagging me so persistently that I no longer feel compelled to defend it all that much. Also, I've tried not to feel "betrayed" by cinematic adaptations of great books ever since, well, Kubrick's "Lolita," which only resembles the novel in some particulars but is maybe two-thirds of a great film nonetheless.

@W.M.: Thanks for the concurrence, but...not to seem like a pussy, I'm not entirely comfortable with the ad hominem elements of it. Tully and I are actually friendly, and I think his films show both talent and promise. There are other filmmakers with whom he's professionally and socially affiliated with whom the case is...not so much. I try to engage works, written and cinematic, by their individual merits, but things can get a little dicey when you're dealing with a so-called movement, or, more accurately, a number of artists tied together by friendships and such. Contrary to some of my nastier posts and facetious Facebook status updates, I'm not really all that interested in cultivating enemies. But I have a low tolerance for the kind of shoddiness you cite, particularly when coupled with an "aren't I wonderful" attitude. That's why I (stupidly, I admit) got on Emily Gould's case so many months back.

And yes, Michael, this is a film blog, not a middle English school blog. But when I stick to film, as in my piece on Hawks' "El Dorado," you can practically hear the crickets chirping in the comments section. (Although many thanks to RWK.) So maybe I am some kind of attention whore at that...


Sometimes, I'm sad about the conversations I miss out on. The only thing I really have to add -- apart from acknowledging that my own proofreading skills are weaker than I used to think -- is that with so many great writers dying off at an alarming rate, and some of those deaths not generating anywhere near the amount of ink they should have, I see no problem with bad writing being called out. I wish it happened more often. The idea that doing so is simply a form of nit-picking, or arrogance, or something, is just another side of the same coin. If bad writers aren't called out, it's only going to get worse. It will probably get worse anyway, but at least we can try.

Tom Carson

GK, you know I love you, but I wish you'd pull back here. Simple fact: I'd never heard of Mary Bronstein before reading your post. You, on the other hand, are a name to contend with for everyone who cares about film criticism.

Sue me for wishing you'd save your elephant gun for, say, David Denby. I've mocked lesser-known critics in bad moods myself, but I regret it. For all I know, Ms. Bronstein really is a bad writer, but a) maybe she'll get better and b) this is getting cruel.


Everyone is great. Isn't that the way it has to be now? I'm going to assume that I'm older than almost everyone here. So here's a piece of advice: stay where you are. Do not seek out those that are different than you and for God's sake, please do not glide outside of your comfort zone. I think it will be fatal if you do.

When my sons were babies they used to get happy whenever they would take a particularly large dump. Look what I can do, they seemed to be saying. Some of you remind me of my sons. If you don't like being criticized, go flip burgers at McDonald's. But if you want to be creative, then grow a thicker skin. I'm looking at you, Michael Tully. The world does not exist to validate your every thought and utterance. Sometimes what you say and think and do is going to be incorrect. But you can't handle that. How are you ever going to get better at what you do if you don't recognize when you fail? Or maybe you don't want to get better. Becoming better is not as much fun and having your ass scratched all day long like a puppy. And all of your measured, witty comebacks aren't going to cancel out what I just said. Grow up and become accountable for your actions, young man. Trust me, in the long run it will only be for the best.

Tom Carson

I know for fact I'm older than you, Peter. People my age just aren't that self-dramatizing.


You're not older than me. Nice try, though. If you were older than me you would know that people my age are as self-dramatizing as anyone. What else you got?

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