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April 24, 2011


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They say those who harp on about homosexuality the most are the most likely to turn out to be closet-cases. What might that say about those whose hobby horse is "graphic shots of a woman defecating"?

Jon Hastings

Not that I want to defend Roger Kimball, but it seems that what he's doing - repeating an apocryphal story without bothering to check into it - is different than what Mitchell is accused of doing. I mean, it's not like Kimball was writing a review of the new L'Age d'or DVD...

That said, there's no reason Mitchell should have gotten fired over that. Maybe there's more to the story?

Glenn Kenny

Oh, come now Jon—Kimball's not not "bothering to check into it." He's been called on it, and keeps doing it. It's called willfully perpetuating a falsehood in order to bolster an aesthetic/ideological agenda. It's entirely different than what could have been an honest (albeit complicated) mistake on Elvis' part. I mean, I liked "Source Code" more than he did, and I couldn't SWEAR to you that I didn't see Jeffrey Wright at least holding a pipe at some point in the film.

But yes, I imagine there is more to the story, and I imagine it involves money in some way or another. In which case, consider what it says about Movieline's parent company that it's trying to portray itself as a defender of good journalistic practice (and coming off like it's caving to directorial and fanboy complaint). when in fact it's just trying to save some bucks. A diverting burlesque in the New New Grub Street that is digital media.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Jeeeesuz, Glenn, how could you inflict that Roger Kimball link on me first thing in the morning?!?! It's like he absorbed the very worst parts of Tom Wolfe---the mandarin smugness, the galumphing attempts at wit, the dead-eyed absence of curiosity, the philistine disinterest in aesthetic or emotional effect, and then padded it out with please-hire-me-conservative-media-machine rightthink ideological mouth noises. This is Jonah Goldberg's favorite critic, isn't it?

Dan Coyle

In a related story, I finally noticed Kyle Smith's takedown of Sidney Lumet and... seriously, fuck off, Smmith.


If getting details wrong about a movie -- and I mean, *really* wrong -- was enough to lose a guy his job, then Ebert should have been bounced years ago.

Terry McCarty

Here's a passage from an article in NEW YORK about Mitchell's leaving THE NEW YORK TIMES:

“Elvis has this sort of Candide-like air about him,” says Outside executive editor Jay Stowe, who edited Mitchell at Spin (yes, he worked there, too). It’s not naïveté, exactly, but an aura of doing what he wants and seeming surprised, in all innocence, when people take offense.

A good example was in 1992, when Mitchell was recruited to a development job at Paramount Pictures by his friend Brandon Tartikoff. He was fired six months later after Paramount decided that the job conflicted with his reviewing duties on NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” (Variety reported he was “shocked.”)


Plus, are we really taking the word of Nikki Finke on this? Writer's strike aside, I wouldn't trust her if she told me it had been raining outside my apartment right now (which, by the way, it has been). There has to be more to this story.

At any rate, I like Mitchell as a critic, even though I don't always agree with him (I liked THE SOURCE CODE much more than he did, and I don't remember Wright smoking a pipe in the movie; nor, for that matter, do I see him as a "villainous" character per se), so I hope he finds something else soon.

And Dan...yeah. I really wish I had just taken your word for it and not had to read it for myself. That'll teach me.

That Fuzzy Bastard

@ bill: I dunno, I kind of miss the days of pre-video movie criticism, when writers would describe scenes that had never happened with no way to check. It became a sort of alternate version of the movie, and spurred sometimes more creative reflection than mere adherence to the facts. It's not a science, after all!

Victor Morton

Let me suggest a tangent topic: Biggest mistakes of this sort we each personally have committed in a publication or a public forum. Penitence doesn't stop with Lent (!)

Mine would probably be -- that Haneke's LA PIANISTE ended with a suicide.

Tom Carson

Just about every reviewer who's been at it awhile has committed much worse mistakes than this one -- from faulty memory, information overload or whatever. In my own case, I bless Providence for the fact checkers who've saved me from any number of errors, but I'm sure Movieline doesn't have 'em. For that matter, the NYT doesn't either.

So, yeah -- "pretext" is definitely the right word. I dunno whether money was the issue or life on the Elvis roller coaster was too much for Movieline, but this wasn't about a director's tweet. If Spielberg had protested, maybe you could make a case for kowtowing -- but Duncan Jones? Nah.

Victor Morton

Let me second what Tom says -- at least in the abstract and as who works in a profession where fact errors are both inevitable and fireable (but usually not). Very often people are fired for mis- mal- or non-feasance that really did happen and which were serious breaches of duty, but were actually pretexts for other reasons. Such errors can be overlooked (and have to be, if you want to keep people on staff), but they provide excellent legal grounds for decisions that might not be so legally defensible.

Glenn Kenny

@ Victor: As for what I may designate "The Victor Morton Challenge," that is, the biggest mistake I ever committed to print, well, there has to be something worse, but the one I remember best has to do not so much with the error itself but the way it was brought to my attention. We had, at Premiere, an intern...not just any intern, but an ASME intern...who came into my office one morning to report to the hungover film critic that he had seen "Summer of Sam" the night before, and wondered if they'd changed the cut of the film since he (the film critic, that is, me) had filed a review. "Why's that?" I asked. "Because in your review you write that when couple X is driving to point Y, they play ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' on the soundtrack, but that song doesn't play in the version I saw until a much later scene. In the scene you were writing about, the soundtrack plays 'Fernando.' 'Fernando!'"

For some reason I took that pretty hard, and rather than then leave me to indulge in an extra-special bout of self-loathing recrimination, the intern proceeded to give me, quite blithely, his detailed assessment of the film. I still sometimes have nightmares of being pursued through dark alleys by a high-pitched voice repeating "It was 'Fernando!'"

(Also, when I was in college I printed in the school paper a review of a 1980 Talking Heads concert in which the reviewer marveled at the newfound acuity of its balding, jumpsuit-clad extra guitarist, whom the reviewer identified as none other than Brian Eno. The guitar player was, of course, Adrian Belew.)

A week back at that Strand event about David Foster Wallace and "The Pale King" I reminisced about Wallace's perhaps inadvertent and perhaps not inadvertent way of making life tough for fact-checkers; his "Big Red Son" piece features data that turned out to be completely unverifiable (e.g., the number of square feet of actual casino space in Caesar's Palace) side by side with information that could be considered all too verifiable (e.g., the number of times Stephanie Swift gets spit in the face in "Gang Bang Angels 1"). More on that later.

Harry K.

I haven't the depth and breadth of a writing career to make a truly spectacular mistake such that it appears in documented form, but how's this for such a mistake in real time, and a rather classic one at that-

I was talking to someone once about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and I was caught with egg on my face when it turned out that I was one of those kids whose parents had created their own edits of a film. My mother turned the movie off right when all the inmates get on the boat.

So, for years, until about half-way through high school, I thought that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ended with everybody sailing to freedom, which actually doesn't sound half bad.


TFB - I'm not actually saying the guy should have or should be fired. I'm just saying watch WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (for example), read his review, and marvel.

Also, I never make any mistakes.


@lipranzer: Wright is pretty definitely villainous in the movie, I'd say. (SPOILER: one of the big victories at the end is Vera Fermiga choosing to "follow her heart" and trust the poor soldier dude over the selfish, arrogant science man. You could argue that Jones was trying for ambiguity--Wright's contention that the soldier [who I keep referring to as "the soldier" because I can't for the life of me spell Jake Gyllllanehaille's name right] may be the only person who can interface properly with the Source Code, and thus is a crucial component in a process that could theoretically save thousands of lives, isn't entirely ridiculous--but, as with the final twist that the director claims is intentionally unsettling but just seems ill thought out, there really isn't enough in the film to justify us opposing the most obvious interpretation, ie, Wright is a selfish etc who should put aside all his fancy book learning and have emotions and so forth.) One of the reasons I couldn't get behind SC as much as I wanted to was that it started so creepy and weird and striking, but quickly fell into a lot of easily graspable cliches, and Wright's transformation into dickhead intellectual was a big part of this, I felt.

James Keepnews

Victor -- What's French for "spoiler alert"? Certainly, I assumed the same denouement pour LA PIANISTE, even as she, just like Lou Reed's parents taught her, walked offscreen with her head held high...also, went my presumption, fatally wounded and about to collapse offscreen, succumbing to le grand mort. I'm still not convinced it didn't happen, no matter what Haneke says!

My biggest mistake during my "professional" period wasn't even for a review but for an interview with Jean Bach, director of A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM, which I opened by recounting an unrelated quote from Eric Dolphy: "When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone, in the air. You can never capture it again." As all schoolchildren know, this quote is featured at the end of the Fontana release LAST DATE, Dolphy's final "officially" recorded concert (2 June 1964 in Hilversum, Holland). Somehow, in the haze of my misreading of the jazz literature, I both assumed these were Dolphy's last words and that they were delivered from the bandstand of this recorded concert minutes prior to his dying thereupon. Yes, well, no: he died almost a month after this "last date" -- several other gigs would follow -- and the quote was taken from an earlier interview.

Michael Adams

I used to go around quoting Dolores Haze as saying to Humbert Humbert, "Gee, dad, you talk like a book" when she actually says, "You talk like a book, dad." But my version is better than Uncle Vlad's.


Not being a pro critic, I suppose any such errors of mine are confined to blog posts. Well, there's also that time in a film class after a screening of THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER when I asked the professor if the guy playing the reformatory governor was Robert Coote. He replied with a startled look, "No, Michael Redgrave!" Don't know if he was more startled by my error or the fact that I had heard of Robert Coote.


wait. i saw source code recently, and the wright character indisputably has a pipe that he plays with from time to time.


Roger Kimball is the kind of critic who thinks sneering at rock music and movies makes him an intellectual. I remember "The New Criterion" in the nineties dissing "The New Republic" because the latter's arts and letters section starts with Stanley Kauffmann's movie reviews.

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