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August 10, 2009


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Matthias Galvin

That was honestly one of the best pieces of film-cultural criticism I've read in quite some time.

"... an anti-rockist analog one can apply to film criticism, wherein post-Derrida-theory can be distorted in order to posit that G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is actually Teh Awesome"

No, Glenn.
YOU are Teh Awesome.

Also, happy [belated] birthday!


Yeah, Glenn, this is excellent stuff. I'm not a critic, but I have what I like to think of as "good taste", and I can on occasion get all worked up about shit like "The Adventures of the Transforming Robots", but when I take a breath, I'm able to see that, logically, all that should really matter to me is that the good stuff (or what I consider the good stuff) is available for me to enjoy, and everything else should be kept on a live-and-let-live basis. I'm good friends with people who like movies that I think are utter garbage. But they like them, it's their life, and all that.

The thing that gets under my skin about pieces like the ones written by Wells and Ebert is the implication that those two guys are one of the very few that "get it". They like the things that it is correct to like, and all others are part of the encroaching plague. It's so self-righteous and self-aggrandizing.

Keith Uhlich

The Ebert piece (I haven't read the Wells piece) bothered me in some way that I couldn't quite put my finger on, and your work here helped contextualize for me.

I can't begin to express how much this article means to me, Glenn. Thank you for writing it and for sharing it.

Earthworm Jim

Fantastic piece, Glenn. Should be nominated for some sort of year-end "Bloggy" award.

My attitude is similar to Bill's, above: I'm just happy when stuff like The Hurt Locker and In The Loop (and Humpday, and Moon ... this has been a great summer for indie film) actually manages to get made, and get released in some form, so that I can see it. This is admittedly somewhat selfish because I live in a big city, I'm plugged into the film blogosphere, and I have access to most every new film of note. Others make do with convincing themselves that "Star Trek" was one of the best movies ever - and if they honestly feel that way, God bless 'em. It's a dysfunctional system, certainly...but as you say, wringing our hands over how the masses Just Don't Get It is a pointless exercise in solipsism that I frankly outgrew when I was around 20 or so. I wonder if Ebert is coming back to it in some kind of full-circle twilight-years cycle type deal.


Most critics are lazy and unable/unwilling to seek out new films, but are all given the same scraps of meat to nibble and share similar sentiments about. It's rather bland and pointless. In a day and age where 10 worthy shorts/features are completed every week, its a shame to see critics adopt the old "we'll write about whatever the studio gives us" regarding indie/film festival darlings instead of actively looking "under the radar" to enthusiastically share with the world ala the early Village Voice days. Many critics have a "the filmmaker owes me" mentality when, if they really loved what they were doing, they would turn the table from time to time.

Tony Dayoub

If I like movies like The Hurt Locker or Public Enemies or The Limits of Control, all movies which have been as pilloried as they've been lauded, it's enough to know (as Bill implies above) it is fortunate that these even got made. It is enough to know I got to see them.

And all those stupid people? Twenty years from now they'll be catching on to some of these titles, or proving they were right to ignore them in the first place.

Great piece, Glenn.

Dan Yeager

Welcome to the '50's, Glenn. I arrived seven years ago, so let me tell you of a moment in my youth that for some reason still sticks with me. A good friend shared with me and another his enthusiasm for the movie he had seen the night before.
It was "A Woman Under the Influence". Now this friend was no budding cineaste, probably didn't know Bunuel from Bergman, but he raved about what he'd seen. It was also playing at the local movie theater, not some art house venue.
Now jump cut to a few weeks ago and you'll find me sitting down to lunch with a number of colleagues - ages ranging from 25 to 45 and what movie do they bring up and describe as 'awesome'?
Transformers, natch.
Yeah, from time to time I get my dander up when pondering such things but it usually eases into 'what the hell' and a shrug of the shoulders. Life's too short and, hell, I can see what I want and if I like it pass it on the to the few I know who may appreciate it as well.

Brian Darr

Isn't the difference between teenagers of today and those of yesteryear not their level of innate intellectual curiosity, but the position of importance their tastes and interests are given in the mass media marketplace?

Greg F

"I'm good friends with people who like movies that I think are utter garbage."

You're talking about me aren't you Bill? You're talking about my love for SHORT CIRCUIT aren't you? Well, fuck you Bill. Fuck you.

Oh, and, excellent piece. I've not read any Ebert blog entries yet but may read this one to which you refer. Got to start somewhere.

Yvette Alesandro

To pretend like this country isn't currently undergoing a particularly virulent strain of anti-intellectualism is to be in denial. Yes, the French, to use your example, like to consume trash as much as we do, but they also balance out their junk food diet with healthy doses of intellectual wheatgrass, i.e., they still promote cultural artifacts that would never, ever get talked about, let alone marketed, in this country. Movies like Wall-E and Idiocracy are being made for a reason. Some people see it, others don't, and there are the people who see it but don't want to talk about it. I have been a teacher in the California Private School system for over 25 years, and when I say that kids are getting dumber, I'm not just being an old coot. A majority of my students, all of them in the 15-18 year old range, read at a 5th grade level. In other words, they are about to enter into the adult world functionally illiterate. Every year there are 3 or 4 kids who have interests beyond texting and video games and taking pictures of themselves in their underwear, and these are the kids who get the best grades, who you can have an actual conversation with. They are also, subsuquently, the kids who get along best with the teachers. They don't act like overgrown babies; they act like the adults they will one day become. I think the point that some people are trying to make is that we are becoming a nation of permanent children. If that's not regressive, if that's not poisonous, then I don't know what is.

Jim VB

Outrage doesn't go very far in this The Land Of The Free. After all that happened last fall, Wall Street still has its groove on. Likewise, if someone is still reeling from "Cloverfield"- alright, dude. You say Zach Synder is a genius auteur? That's on you, brah.

However, I'm in total agreement with Bill Maher, smirk and all. I draw the line at these lumbering fiends who are creating havoc at various town hall meetings. Trying to bury what's left of healthcare reform. Shouting with nothing to say. Screaming about euthanasia squads. Demanding Obama's birth certificate in their next breath. Dutiful foot-soldiers, taking their marching orders from their masters at Faux News and from the sociopaths who broadcast and guide them over AM radio. George Romero's zombies haven't a thing on these hopeless fools. This may not be an entirely stupid country, but about one half of it is behaving like inbred morons. And proud of it.


Nice read. By the way, In the Loop is already available on pay-per-view. I, too, saw it in the theatre, but guess it must be one of those IFC simultaneous releases. I found it to be clever, and agree the script had decent structure and content, but don’t think I was quite as taken with it as our resident, 50-year old blogger. “Chilling” definitely doesn’t come to mind, lol. Then again, I’m the type who uses “lol” without irony, so what do I know? I do find taste to be an interesting thing, but can’t help but to cringe when the “good” variety seems more ego-driven than genuine. As in, so many poser types I encounter who seem more concerned with making sure everyone knows how smart they are than actually being smart. Or humble.

Tony Dayoub

I am shocked to hear this kind of response coming from a teacher, Ms. Alessandro. It sounds to me like this says more about your inability or frustration with having to constantly adapt to the ever-changing demands being made on teachers to engage their students and/or parents in an exciting way.

The best teachers I've known in my life have done very little griping about the students. Instead, they do more soul-searching about how they can overcome their admittedly understandable ossification in the face of growing indifference by both young and old to the relevance of what passes for a good education in this mass media and consumer-driven culture.


@Yvette - "Yes, the French, to use your example, like to consume trash as much as we do, but they also balance out their junk food diet with healthy doses of intellectual wheatgrass"

The same French people? Because that's sort of the point.

@Jim VB - "However, I'm in total agreement with Bill Maher, smirk and all."

I don't doubt it. Especially the smirk part.

"Faux News"

For God's sake, get a new joke. For all the congratulations you give to yourself, you'd think there'd be a spark of originality in there somewhere. Alas.

Greg -

Yes, I was talking about you. Sorry!

Dennis Cozzalio

Glenn, I seem to recall the Algonquin Round Table of my teenage youth in much the same way as you do, although before I made it behind the football field I'd usually get tagged by some jock or snoose-lipped rancher's son for some stress-relieving abuse. If these were the intellectually curious teens Wells and Ebert remember, they sure seemed to have a mighty strong taste for ripping books up over actually reading them. And not many of them beyond my tight circle of three or four friends-- hopeless dweebs one and all-- took the movies of the day, which weren't marketed specifically toward teens at all, any more seriously than a diversion or background noise for make-out sessions.

But I think Brian Darr might be right too that the real difference between teens of today as opposed to those of the past is indeed "the position of importance their tastes and interests are given in the mass media marketplace." Suddenly teens are being told, forthrightly and subliminally, by the inescapable presence of content geared to them throughout the culture, that their interests, or what someone has decided are their interests, should be of primary importance. I don't think it's so much that THE HURT LOCKER is given no emphasis to the teenage market-- were movies like NETWORK or DELIVERANCE or DOG DAY AFTERNOON marketed to teens? It's just that movies with an obvious adolescent bent are the ones Hollywood has trained itself to make and market now. The parallel to something like G.I. JOE getting a $175 million budget and a huge marketing push might be if Disney, back in 1972, pulled out all the marketing stops to convince everyone that SNOWBALL EXPRESS was the can't-miss movie of the summer.

It seems to me that, contrary to what Ebert and Wells seem to be worried about, THE HURT LOCKER is reaching exactly the audience for which it was intended. It's an art-house hit, the first movie "about" Iraq to reach anything like a wide audience. So what's the complaint? That the marketing machine for G.I. JOE is louder than the one promoting Bigelow's movie? What's new? Movies like G.I. JOE are disposable; they scorch the earth on opening weekend, but they usually end up meaning little. However, over time a movie with genuine worth (and this may be the eternal optimist in me speaking) tends to rise to the surface of the culture, as long as there are good writers around to continue the conversation. It ain't instant gratification (another offense this generation of teens supposedly invented), but I'd rather run with that and pretend, in my tiny little mind, that movies like G.I. JOE don't even exist, than take time to fret that they do.

Dan Yeager

"But I think Brian Darr might be right too that the real difference between teens of today as opposed to those of the past is indeed "the position of importance their tastes and interests are given in the mass media marketplace."
I can't argue with that at all. Having grown up through the '50's and '60's I can recall how 'yon teens' dressed - a reference to D.J. Jerry Blavat to those not from Philly - they dressed like Harvey Keitel's Charlie in "Mean Streets". The boys that is. The girls aspired to look like Audrey Hepburn, say, or Jackie Kennedy. In another words, as grown-ups. Not too many years later there's my Dad sporting sideburns and wearing his first pair of jeans since grade school.
For the record, I hate suits and ties so I'm not arguing for a return to yesteryear. It's all about what we'll buy in order to fashion ourselves into what we think others want to see.


Hear, hear!

Although I think you give the "rockist" people far too short shrift. It's easy to caricaturize them as Jonas-Brothers loving dupes, but there is a valid point to be made about rock, race and the old rock-critical consensus on what makes some music worthy of consideration and contemplation and some not, there.


Tears For Fears rule, and even jazz giants like Wynton Marsalis bow. "The Seeds of Love" is one of the greatest pop records ever. And "They Might Be Giants" is the very definition of nerd-college twee pop.

Otherwise, I'd say the big difference is that marketing has taken over everything, reducing all to its banal level, and for the first time, youth seems to have no cynicism about the marketing force-feeding them shit. Like when I hear people talking about how great so and so commercial is (and that's not just teens). In my day, we made fun of ads. And that was healthy.


And Wells continues his spiral into acclerated decrepitude with his latest bizarro rant about how he's now "bothered" by 90 percent of off-topic comments...on his blog. His insights on humanity are tainted, to say the least.


For me, I'd just like to see Ebert and Wells offer a decent explanation of how the vast majority of Americans, forget teenagers, are even going to see "The Hurt Locker" in theaters in the first place. According to Box Office Mojo, its widest opening was 525 screens. "G.I Joe" opened on, let's see here...nearly eight times as many screens (4007, to be exact). For all we know, rural teens have a burning desire to see this movie (to be honest, I wouldn't actually be surprised if "Hurt Locker" played like gangbusters in those areas), but the nearest theater playing it is three hours away.

Plus, it's not really doing that badly. It's seen as a plus on Kathryn Bigelow's career, it's made $10 million so far, which is pretty solid, and it's gotten rapturous reviews. So what's the big deal?

Glenn Kenny

@Christian: Ha! Say what you will about TMBG, they never brought a chimp onstage with them. At least not in my experience. But I mostly saw them at Lower East Side "performance" dives way back in the day. Tears For Fears made some decent records (most of which I preferred in their incarnations as Beatles tunes), true. I was mostly turned off by their stagecraft, such as it was. (One of the artists I championed back in the day actually worked with TFF's drummer on one record, and reported that the ensemble as a whole were really great guys. "Shame about the music, though," he added. Sorry, couldn't resist.)

@Slutsky: "There is a valid point to be made about rock, race, and the old rock-critical consensus on what makes some music worthy of consideration and contemplation and some not." Yes, that's anti-rockism in theory. Anti-rockism in practice, more often than not, is some Ivy League asshole trying to convince New York Times readers that Toby Keith is a major artist. And the Jonas Brothers citation isn't a concocted caricature. It's a direct quote from Harvard graduate Jon Caramanica, writing in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section...

I do wonder sometimes what old Lester Bangs would have made of such fulminations!


What Dennis said basically. Back in them olden days Gi Joe and Transformers and the like - all movies based on TOYS - would have been cheapo b-movies. Now there is a whole entertainment-industrial complex behind them with budgets bigger than the GDP of Albania and a tsunami of marketing that dominates the landscape. I don't think people are any dumber these days just that idiocy is more visible and has a big megaphone.

Tom Carson

I spent my rock-critic youth being indignant that the Ramones weren't as big as the Beach Boys. But that mostly proves what an idiot I was even if Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee -- Tommy, not so much, I'm guessing -- were prey to the same delusion. Unless it's just hotheaded and callow, attacking the mass audience for its moronic taste is almost always a sign that a critic has lost it. So I'm bummed to see Ebert even flirt with the idea -- which I think is all he's doing, since all sorts of well-reasoned qualifiers point to his ever-abiding good sense.

Even so, The Hurt Locker is a lousy pick to make that case with. For the life of me, I don't see a whole lot there for fun-seeking 17-year-olds to connect with. A 17-year-old cinephile might be another story, but since when has a movie that's primarily a pretty grim look at the psychological costs of masculinity attracted a teen audience? And why on earth should it? Unless a critic just wants to give up on pop culture outright, which is a legitimate stance but in my book not an attractive or especially interesting one, doesn't it make more sense to learn to revel in the occasions when the big public gets it wondrously right -- the Beatles, the Godfather movies, Thriller, J.K. Rowling -- and otherwise more or less cheerfully accept our own eccentricity? After all, the Ramones are also great proof that posterity gets it right too, and if critics aren't in it for the long haul, that just means they're thinking like the studio execs we all ridicule for treating opening weekend like it's Judgment Day combined with the Kentucky Derby.


That chimp tale is scary and very un TFF like, but TMBG did do a children's song called "One Dozen Monkeys"...



"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."

Attributed to Socrates, ~400 BC ... ;)


Vivian Sobchak:

“The plots and stories of most popular feature films today have become pretexts or alibis for a series of autonomous and spectacularly kinetic ‘monstrations’ of various kinds of thrilling sequences and apparatical special effects...the raison d’etre of such films is to thrill, shock, stun, astonish, assault, or ravish an audience, now less interested in ‘developing situations’ than in ‘immediate’ gratification offered by a series of momentous – and sensually experience – ‘instants’ to which the narrative is subordinated...”

Mark McGonigle

Don't go to the movies if you want to be intellectually stimulated. Pretty simple. Movies don't serve the purpose a lot of people want them too. They never have.

And bill: any chance you're ever going to respond to the topic instead of what other people say about the topic? Seems kind of easy. And childish.

Glenn Kenny

"Don't go to the movies if you want to be intellectually stimulated."

Geez. Speaking of Lester Bangs... That sounds like something mega-producer Mike Chapman once said: "If you can't make a hit record then fuck off and go chop meat somewhere." Which prompted the Bangs riposte, "So long, Leonard Cohen, been nice knowing you, I guess." As for us, I suppose we should kiss Chris Marker, Raul Ruiz, Straub-Huillet, Godard, et. al., goodbye. Pretty simple, indeed.


Great post, and what a thread it's spawned! See, Glenn, there isn't an inverse relationship between length of post and length/depth of thread, after all.

As a relatively young person, I have to say that there are times when I feel as fogey-ish as Ebert and Wells must, so I don't think it's an attitude related entirely to age (as people have noted, here - the state of narcissistic dismay over perceived cultural taste is cyclical and circumstantial).

I'm in total agreement that we're no dumber than any other culture on earth, and in some cases are quite a bit more savvy and sensitive and open (eg. this recent election thingy, with the black guy - say what you will about the French, that would not have happened over there at this point in history; by any reasonable measure we're a less racist culture than most of Europe).

But on the other hand, the "virulent strain of anti-intellectualism" is indeed very real here, and it spells bad things for this country. Our literacy rates alone are astonishingly bad. Added to the fact that what passes for intellectualism in this era is most often, well.. that bilge about the Jonas kid.

And the Ivy-league grads that don't go into sham criticism (or sham journalism, or sham education)? Well, they're the same morally blinkered twerps who have been robbing America blind for the past couple decades, and are continuing to do so now.

And yet, in the next year or so, we will be graced with not one but two (2!!) new films by Terrence Malick. God has not yet forsaken us.


Mark - I already did. Second comment. It wasn't earth-shattering, but I had a lot more to say than you did.

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