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December 17, 2010


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You should of written this as to where I could understand it better.

Tom Russell

I remember that Donald cartoon! I always thought it a nice point of comparision for Mickey's Rival, in which Mickey competes with a nasty, but not physically identical, doppelganger for Minnie's affections. What's interesting is that Daisy is wooed by a suave Donald instead of the prone-to-fits-of-rage original; Minnie, on the other hand, seems attracted to a cruel frat-boy that's picking on her gallant mouse.


Get ready for it...

...This is why I love this blog.

Andrew Wyatt

Oh, man. For some reason, I cannot stop giggling at the screenshot of that note.


Yeah, I think that Martin blurb confuses two different things - critical approval of accuracy, and critical approval of an unresolved ending (which happens to be accurate). Besides which, it's hardly as if the main reason critics liked ZODIAC was an unresolved ending, though Fincher deserves praise for not tying things up with a tidy bow.


If "the little people" are going to defend the 'Pirates' movies as mainstream studio filmmaking, they need to remember that if the studio had had its way, there'd be a lot less Depp and much more Orlando in them. Then how many folks would've defended 'em, I wonder?

Critics treating the audience with contempt? Just contemplate the fact that Disney was trying to set Orlando Bloom up as the next DiCaprio or Damon -- ORLANDO BLOOM, people! -- then get back to me about "contempt"!


In fairness, I don't think anyone is defending the PIRATES as "mainstream studio filmmaking", but rather as movies they happened to like. They don't give a shit that a studio had anything to do with it, nor should they.


For what it's worth, I really enjoyed "The Tourist" and am still somewhat mystified by the critical opprobrium attached to it (I didn't read Glenn's review I admit). Sure, it's not as good as its models, but it seemed to me an affectionate, unassuming throwback to an earlier type of studio film.
I haven't seen "The Lives Of Others," but had heard that it was rather overrated, so I didn't know what to expect of Henckel von Donnersmark's direction. But I find his work in this quite crisp, elegant even. I like to think I'm pretty neutral regarding most stars on the scene and I found Jolie and Depp's performances to be subtle and charming.

Tom Block

>I've got one word for you, "DAH!!!"

I'm taking this one to my deathbed.


If we're doing "for what it's worth"s, then for what it's worth I enjoyed the "Pirates" movies.

And Tom, "DAH!" is easily my favorite part of that, as well. That must have hit Glenn like a knife in the bowels.

Earthworm Jim

GK's place: where a post on any subject can wind up with an examination of the selfhood of Donald Duck. I love it!


Surely Martin doesn't think that all the critics who embraced ZODIAC and other contemporary stabs at realism have also summarily dismissed everything that falls outside of that style? I was somehow able to include ZODIAC in my 2007 top ten alongside such realism-challenged efforts as HOT FUZZ and RATATOUILLE, without having an aneurysm even.

Kent Jones

I'm now trying to get in contact with all the young people Thierry Jousse and I have influenced, and urging them to think twice.

Adam Greene

That bit about "Don Duck" made my day. Hilarious.


Per the photo at the top of the page; I haven't heard any Hatfield and the North, but if they ever do a movie about them, Rhys Ifans is a dead ringer for Richard Sinclair.

I was going to write a long piece about how the subtext of both of those asinine comments Glenn refers to seems to be how being a critic is both meaningless and worthless, but I'm not sure it's worth wasting the effort on it.

warren oates

I think the consensus is clear. If it leads to blog posts like this one, then Glenn needs to bait his MSN audience with even bigger words and digs at much more beloved franchises. Antidisestablismentarianism? Star Wars?


"I was going to write a long piece about how the subtext of both of those asinine comments Glenn refers to seems to be how being a critic is both meaningless and worthless, but I'm not sure it's worth wasting the effort on it."

No, it's not. I mean, it's not even subtextual; I'd say the average American has a distinct disdain for critics. To most moviegoers, film isn't art, but a delivery device of thrills or humor or heartwarming sentiment, or inspirational uplift, or impressive special effects. Critics, in their opinion, are misguided snobs who fail to get this. But it's fair to be skeptical about criticism. For example, up until maybe four or five years ago, I thought THE GODFATHER (1 and 2) and ON THE WATERFRONT were great films. A view widely shared among newspaper and popular magazine critics, i.e. the only criticism 99.99% of the population will ever read or see quoted. Even whoever's involved in the Sight and Sound poll agrees. But, if you go to Dave Kehr's site, you find that, among more serious critics, ones who write books on film, contribute to film journals, are asked to do commentaries on Bresson DVD's, people say, without provoking much disagreement (except from the odd Mankiewicz enthusiast), that Brando never appeared in a great film. Conversely, all sorts of titles that will never get an American DVD release are celebrated as masterpieces. And nowadays I too would rather watch WICHITA a hundred more times before I watched THE GODFATHER or ON THE WATERFRONT again. But you do have to wonder a little about a school of criticism that deviates so severely from the views of the people actually consuming what is, after all, a form of mass pop culture. Perhaps you have to question whether the criteria on which WICHITA comes out looking like a much more interesting film than THE GODFATHER are criteria that are the end-all be-all of criticism, given that so many people greatly prize films that are obviously made to suit a very different set of criteria. Especially when I see things like Rosenbaum writing that GODFATHER III is his favorite because it comes closest to Manny Farber's notion of termite art. I understand not liking the first two because they're so aggressively non-termitic, it's kind of my problem with them, but when a theory starts producing results so utterly divorced from the response of the typical filmgoer, you have to wonder whether critics should be more accommodating of films that are unabashedly a series of willfully iconic moments - or big explosions or stupid jokes, for that matter. I think it's fair to say at least that of the films that try very hard for a sense of the epic, without much room for ambiguity, nuance, everyday detail, scenes that don't advance the plot, and all the good stuff that makes, for example, CANYON PASSAGE a vastly more interesting film to auteurists than SHANE, THE GODFATHER'S one of the most successful. Maybe that's where criticism should stop - whether a film succeeds at its own aims for itself - because a preference for termite art over willfully epic films is just that, a preference.


In response to Asher, yes even at the time, critics like John Simon, Vincent Canby, Stanley Kauffmann, Dave Kehr, Andrew Sarris and Jonathan Rosenbaum were unenthusiastic about THE GODFATHER. But then, what movie would all six of them like? I don't think cinema commands the kind of kind of unanimity that literature can command. If neither F.R. Leavis or Georg Lukacs showed much love for "Ulysses" I think most students of literature would view this as a weakness of their critical approaches (English nationalism in Leavis' case and Leninist unmodernist in Lukacs'). An attempt to read Shakespeare or Tolstoy out of the canon is likely to be viewed as eccentric at best, rather than taken seriously. By contrast, I don't think there is any movie or moviemaker that could expect the same sort of indulgence. Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his article on the American Film Institute top 100 American movies, says he would have chosen about a quarter for his own list. But I don't think it would possible to poll any cross section of American critics and not have CASABLANCA, the first two GODFATHERs, CHINATOWEN, or THE WIZARD OF OZ on such a list. There isn't unanimity, but there can be a certain consensus.


lipranzer, when they make that movie (which I would, critic or no critic, pay to see), they've also got David Walliams pencilled in for Phil Miller, Ralph Fiennes for Pip Pyle, and Russell Crowe for Dave Stewart.

C'mon gang, let's start a Facebook group to MAKE IT HAPPEN.


Why the heck do people who routinely ignore or dismiss critics' opinions bother to read criticism? And then offer condescending advice about turning off your brain and just enjoying the ride, or whatever? Such folks have won the cultural war, if there was one. The studios pretty much only greenlight tentpoles and franchises and formulas. Nothing any critic writes will ever change that. Do the critic-bashers think dissenting opinions somehow threaten the possibility of continued mindless fun? Probably not, but I don't understand why some of them are so eager to admit in a public forum that they don't like to think much while being entertained, and that anyone who does must be some kind of insecure Poindexter with a stick up his butt.


Asher: I don't have a time for a more elaborate or thoughtful response right now, but I just wanted to offer the following counterpoint: the ""typical filmgoer"'s taste also changes over time. For example, the people emailing Glenn would probably dismiss now "The godfather" as "too slow", and "On the waterfront" as "black and white?? Ugh!"

Glenn Kenny

Just to be clear, by the way, I don't feel at all affronted or offended by the comments I cite, and I'm totally fine with any sort of reader feedback—it's part of how the game goes now, and I didn't even mind it back in the day when it was done by snail mail and thus a bit less ubiquitous. I just thought those comments in particular were noteworthy in peculiar ways. And wanted to point out, implicitly at least, that as a fellow who enjoys Donald Duck cartoons, I in fact don't have a thing against, you know, entertainment. It's bad entertainment I have problems with. I don't even reflexively disdain "white elephant" stuff.

Kent Jones

Vincent Canby didn't like THE GODFATHER? He certainly loved the first one. And Dave K? And GODFATHER III is termite art?

More importantly, who cares? There's such a mad obsession in film criticism with lists, rankings, how much "love" is shown for this underappreciated movie rather than that AFI-sanctioned classic. There is a vast amount of attention paid to what critics like and don't like, and precious little to what they write and what they think.

Manny, for instance. Everyone thinks of him now as the guy who stuck up for B movies and shot down the award winners. His thinking was always vastly more complicated, right from the start, and his assessments more nuanced than such a black and white, one shot definition would indicate. More importantly, opinions and assessments were at the bottom of his list (he once referred to the critic's opinion, in an interview, as a "derelict appendage"), because he knew that opinions always changed along with the framework of thought. Hitchcock, for instance. He is known, because of NEGATIVE SPACE, for taking Hitchcock down a few pegs. His complete work tells a different story. And when he taught at UCSD, he taught more Hitchcock than any other filmmaker (Bunuel is a close second). And a few years ago, he took another look at ON THE WATERFRONT and was very excited by it.

But, it all gets reduced to what did he like and what did he hate. Because the energy behind so much criticism I read now works from a basic equation: liking a film = dismissing another film.

Steve Pick

jbryant, I think most people are merely looking for affirmation of their experience. The only thing that matters to consumers of reviews/criticism is that the writer says what they already know. Most writers, of course, would rather that the reader discovers something previously unknown. We expect that because, for the most part, that's why we read other critics. And heckfire, I'll admit it, if Robert Christgau or Dave Marsh happened to rave over a record I already liked, I felt that affirmation myself.

Kent Jones says it best - "There is a vast amount of attention paid to what critics like and don't like, and precious little to what they write and what they think." This is why there has never been a public outcry when space has shrunk for reviews of any popular art. All that is desired is a simple yes or no.


I hope I never reach a level of film scholarship and erudition in which I am no longer allowed to like ON THE WATERFRONT or GODFATHER II.

Kent Jones

Graig, what's even more ridiculous is WHY it's not okay to like ON THE WATERFRONT or GODFATHER II anymore: because enough people have liked them before and now it's time to like something else.

Steve, I suppose you're right about the public indifference to the shrinkage of space devoted to criticism. But my sense is that the common idea is off: that all criticism boils down to liked it/didn't like it. In other words, I'm not sure that it's desired, but what's envisioned as proper.


I don't understand why anyone writing about film should be expected to take any sort of point of view outside of their own, or why film critics, or people who write about films, should be any one specific thing. I happen to like a whole lot of mass appeal films, and wouldn't bother myself reading anybody who thought Brando had never been in a great film, but why anyone should consider pulling back, even a little bit, from the ephemera (ie, movies that "will never" be released on DVD) of film is beyond me.

And the whole idea that film is "after all" a mass appeal artform doesn't cut it, because so is every other artform you might care to name, if you want to go far enough back. This kind of thing is film culture at its most insular.


That "insular" comment sounds like contradictory to my point (unfinished thoughts are sort of my calling card). What I mean is, this sort of conversation strikes me as very insular, not to mention circular, not to mention etc.


I think a lot of this shifting of canon, so to speak, has to do with the fact that so much MORE is available to viewers these days. I honestly think that some people feel that this expansion of choice has to be made up for by somehow making the 'list of approved films' shorter; out with the old and in with the new.
And, of course, there is the framework of "National Cinemas" that expands this even further, depending on one's own ability to access (I don't think anyone would seriously argue that a Nollywood, or even Bollywood, has approached a comparative level of "sophistication" of (Classical) Hollywood Cinema, but whose to say they can even be compared. Some people would think it crazy to compare Ram Gopal Varma with Chan Wook Park or Makhmalbaf with Bresson, but that's the beauty of criticism. If it makes you think/respond, it's worth reading.

This discussion also reminds me of that series of books "1001 movies to see before you die". Every year they feel like they have to include newer movies, so, inevitably older, already to-die-for films have to be dropped off to adhere to the 1001 number.

The Siren

What Kent said, what Graig said, and what Kent said afterward.

One of my favorite Farber pieces is his warmly appreciative review of The Best Years of Our Lives, a movie as far from termite art as can be imagined.

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