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May 10, 2009


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As it happens, this has nothing to do with "Three Days of the Condor." In the latest Weekly Standard John Podheretz comments on the decline of newspaper film criticism at http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000%5C000%5C016%5C493gurnm.asp Here is the money quote:

"Movie criticism has been a feature of American newspapers for a century, and sadly, one can count the standout critics throughout that time on maybe two hands. Many of these jobs were filled by reporters or editors who didn't get another plum assignment and were thrown a bone by a gruff but kindly managing editor. Nothing much good was going to come of that.

This deprofessionalization is probably the best thing that could have happened to the field. Film criticism requires nothing but an interesting sensibility. The more self-consciously educated one is in the field--by which I mean the more obscure the storehouse of cinematic knowledge a critic has--the less likely it is that one will have anything interesting to say to an ordinary person who isn't all that interested in the condition of Finnish cinema. Amateurism in the best sense will lead to some very interesting work by people whose primary motivation is simply to express themselves in relation to the work they're seeing--a purer critical impulse than the one that comes with collecting a paycheck along the way."

A whole host of snarky comments come mind, such as the fact that without Rupert Murdoch's patronage, there wouldn't be a Weekly Standard, and Podhoretz probably woudln't have inherited the editorship. And it's not as if his fellow film critics were bursting with admiration over his work, or that he was bursting with a profound knowledge of the medium ("Cinderella Man" one of the greatest films of all time?)

Ryan Kelly

I've always had a fondness for that film, I think Redford is among the more dynamic star personalities in recent film history. I got into an argument with my father when TCM last braodcast All the President's Men because I said, to me, Redford encapsulates good screen acting; that is, there's a naturalism and ease to Redford, while you're constantly aware that you're watching a performer when you're watching Hoffman. And the Redford in Jeremiah Johnson (my favorite of his films with Pollack, and one that proves to me that Pollack had serious chops as a visual artist) is not the Redford in The Candidate is not the Redford in Condor etc...

Glenn Kenny

@Partisan: Yes, John's certainly on a roll with this one. It's not enough for him to have plum gigs such as those of the Standard and Commentary handed to him on a silver platter—in fact, I think that's part of the whole problem. No matter where he lands, very few, aside from the usual suspects, have ever taken him terribly seriously, although it was pretty impressive, what he did on "Jeopardy."

And here, now, he gets back at all those mean, and now- unemployed film critics, who never used to let him join in any reindeer games. I actually think he should be angrier at the publicists and the marketers who never, ever, ever used a blurb of his in an ad—that "Cinderella Man" quote was, if anything, tailor-made for advertising. Because for all his fulminating, John always had less credibility as a film critic than David Manning, who didn't even EXIST. Think about it—that must hurt.

The sheer laziness of the article is hilarious. I love the way he falls back on that vaguest of putative bonafides, the "interesting sensibility." I mean, Adolph Hitler had an "interesting" sensibility, as did Charles Manson. Esquivel had an interesting sensibility, too. Max Ernst? Packed with "interest," his sensibility was. My buddy Sasha Grey—"interesting" sensibility. I could do this for hours, but you get the idea. Surely John must have something specific in mind. Then the gratuitous slam at Finnish cinema—ha! Stupid fuckin' Finns with their fuckin' stupid movies! I fuckin' hate snow! Hey, look at me everyone, I still get paid to write about movies, not like those assholes who give a shit about stupid fuckin' Finnish films! Hahahahahahaha! And so on.

But best of all is his bold prediction: "Amateurism in the best sense will lead to some very interesting work by people whose primary motivation is simply to express themselves in relation to the work they're seeing..." Yeah, duh, John; it already has "led" to some "interesting" (there's that word again!) work, and has been leading to such for years. Much of said work can be accessed, for example, via my own blogroll—that list of blogs and websites over to the right. Funny thing, though, a lot of said work is even more niche-oriented than the published film criticism that Podhoretz has such a bug up his ass about. But whatever.

Whaddya want from the guy, though? He hates both Ingmar Bergman and "The Searchers" in equal measure, and once confidently predicted to me (and here's the pro forma parenthetical informing the reader that Podhoretz is a nice enough guy in person, there, whoever cares, are you happy now?) that "Down With Love" was gonna make a fortune because today's teenage girls really dig retro parodies of Rock Hudson/Doris Day pictures.

Account Deleted

All people who hate Ingmar Bergman should be shot. It's essential to our survival as a species.


Podhoretz certainly knows all about Amateurism, his wrongheaded analysis over the past decades speaks for itself.

I think the DOWN WITH LOVE prediction was some serious projection: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if those Hollywood sodomites had to turn out a new series of chaste Doris Day comedies?"


Ryan, nice take on Redford. I also think he's a real star presence, much better than he gets credit for being.

Glenn, wait -- Podhoretz hates The Searchers? I thought that movie was one that liberals and conservatives could hold hands and praise together. I feel bereft.

Ryan Kelly

Camp, he's so natural on screen that I think some people think he isn't acting! He never over does it, there's always an ease to his performances and he's just incredibly graceful on screen. I don't know how great he'd be on stage, but he was really born to be a movie star.

Glenn Kenny

Campaspe: Sorry to bereft you there. Here's J-Pod himself, singing his hallelujah at the thoroughly pig-ignorant "Slate" anti-Searchers piece by snivelling pig-fucker Stephen Metcalf:

"There is a purpose to Slate's contrarian-ness. Stephen Metcalf blows the whistle on the bizarre enthusiasm by cineastes for the 1956 John Wayne movie The Searchers, often chosen as the best movie ever made in polls of critics and cited as such by filmmakers. In my view, 'The Searchers' is a turgid, wooden, boring and weird movie, which I have now seen three times in a desperate effort to have my eyes opened to its greatness. Truth is, as Metcalf says, it stinks, no matter what the film snobs say."

Note the canny use of the phrase "film snobs;" John's manner here is not unlike that of "Sunrise" hater Tom O'Neil.

Of course if he had stopped writing after inputting the words "Stephen Metcalf blows," he would have been spot-on...


Hey GK--

Off topic here, but have you heard any insiderish info w/r/t Criterion taking the CONTEMPT blu ray of its schedule? I remember you raving about the new HD transfer and was really looking forward to revisiting it on BD. Sigh.

Glenn Kenny

@Brian: I don't ever recall it being on a schedule, officially—was it? I know it was something they had looked forward to but not nailed down a release date for. But I'll look into it.


You're right-- no release date, no specs had been announced. However, in the initial press blast(s) announcing Criterion's decision to move to blu ray, CONTEMPT was a title they hyped.


Glenn - Wow. The Sunrise comparison is apt. I can understand someone not getting the acting styles of another era but if you can't at least admire The Searchers' visuals then I have to wonder what you think a great movie IS. And it's nothing if not accessible; it isn't as though we film snobs got together and forced the guy to watch (AHEM) Aki Kaurismaki three different times.

In addition to the "snobs" red herring I am starting to be very wary of the word "turgid" in reviews--it often seems to signal nothing more than the writer's desire to take a filmmaker and his admirers down a peg. If Podhoretz is using it to mean "excessively ornate" then I wonder what the hell word he has left for Peter Greenaway. If Pod's using it to mean "bloated" then he's still wrong--it runs 119 minutes and each scene develops the themes.

To get back to your screen shot -- the "Argento" on the top slot is completely delicious.


"If Podhoretz is using it to mean 'excessively ornate' then I wonder what the hell word he has left for Peter Greenaway."

That made me laugh...

Glenn Kenny

@Bill—Campaspe is a woman of ready wit, for sure. If you're ever travellin' to the tri-state area, specifically the realms of Kings' County, look us up. There are no better dinner/drinks companions in the vicinity, cinephile or not...


Glenn, I would love to, and if I ever am, I definitely will.


Oh, and also, if either of you are ever in the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area...which seems unlikely, but still.

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