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May 28, 2011


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Kent Jones

Amazing. They seem to have removed the offending passage from the on-line version.

Pinko Punko

Blogger ethics panel, of course. Whereas GK would update and leave evidence of a prior transgression, there are things of which cannot be spoke amongst people of good breeding.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Yes, Kent--they shaved off the entire final paragraph, presumably after someone else pointed out this error.

There's another error in the same article--less obvious, perhaps, to people who don't know Paris well. The Shakespeare & Co. bookstore seen in the film isn't the one that was owned by Sylvia Beach and was near the Luxembourg Gardens (a shop which no longer exists, and has been gone for many decades), but just a store which appropriated the same name and is near the Seine, not far from Notre Dame. This second store is also featured prominently at the beginning of Linklater's "Before Sunset".

Glenn Kenny

Well gosh, now that I'm finished with the crossword puzzle, I'm gonna have to frame the passage in the print version.

I'm afraid that this is what we're up against, gentlemen, and will be up against until we die: this attitude endemic to ostensibly mainstream cultural criticism, which is that it's okay to know SOMETHING, sort of, but not to know TOO MUCH, because that makes you some kind of snobby weirdo who's creepy to talk to at parties, or something. Hence, pieces such as this, or the Jonah Weiner thing at Slate (which, when you come right down to it, is not exactly INCORRECT in its assumption that Clarence Clemons is the world's most famous sax player), or whatever. Because expertise and/or sensibility is a liability if it presents any kind of potential conflict with the ostensible reader's elevated self-image. I call the whole thing "Dan Kois Disease," because, yeah, I AM a jerk like that.


Another sad still standing example is the current Voice/New Times review of THOR where the critic refers to "Peter Yate's FLASH GORDON".

Janet Rose

Yes, I noticed that (Bunuel error) also yesterday and sent JB a message. I guess the error was already printed in the paper NYT, but it is totally ERADICATED as though it had never been from the on-line version.


"Some years ago, when a veteran film critic [Derek Malcolm] on one of the quality dailies [The Guardian] took his retirement, everyone expected his extremely competent young deputy [Jonathan Romney] to take over the job. However, this was not to be because, according to the editor of the paper, 'he knows too much about cinema'."



Hoo boy, that's embarrassing.

But at least the big city papers have film critics. Twenty-odd years ago, when the reviewer for my small Kentucky hometown's newspaper quit, I applied for the gig, only to be told they wouldn't be replacing him. They were afraid bad reviews might alienate the owner of the only cinema in town, who might pull his ads from the paper. Why this wasn't a problem before, or why a theater owner would stop the most effective method of advertising his business, I don't know.

The newspaper of a nearby, larger town ran the reviews of a rather hefty woman who rated movies on her patented "candy bar" scale, from Zero (the worst) to Powerhouse (the best). In between were such choices as Bit 'o Honey and Snickers. Thank God the local library carried the New Yorker and the Village Voice.


I wonder why they didn't just correct the error. It's what's usually done. It's a peculiar article, sort of a Cliff Note's edition of the movie for people who need the Times to tell them that "Picasso was famous for mistresses." I don't see what it could possibly add to anyone's enjoyment of the film.

Kevyn Knox

But no one will pay me to write about cinema? I realize I am far from a complete expert on the subject, but I certainly can tell the difference between these two Bunuels.

Simon Abrams

I like being a snobby weirdo who's creepy to talk to at parties. It's fun. And creepy!


A touchy subject perhaps, and only tangential to the point of the initial post (being that someone who is being paid to discuss film should know their stuff, which I agree with though honestly this error seems to be minor stuff). But out of curiosity, can someone offer a compelling reason why remuneration should be expected for knowing a lot about cinema?

I woudn't mind living in a world where I could earn my income pursuing my interests, but I don't particularly think I'm entitled to such an ideal environment. Interests and occupation don't align for most people and the sort of "pursue your dream-as-a-job" nonsense that's fed to youngsters, I think, does a lot of damage. A job is a job and a passion is a passion. If the two can align, congrats, you're one of the lucky few in this world but I think for most it's probably wiser to expect the dreams & passion to be fulfilled in your free time, not the working day - why is it assumed success can only arrive between the hours of 9 to 5 (not literally, but you know what I mean)?

After all it's unsurprising that, in a world where movies are of less and less interest to the general public (thanks in large part to the dearth of imagination or invention offered by the film industry) there will be less and less of a demand in the marketplace for deep discussions about movies. I'd be interested in an argument on why newspapers and other publications should be inclined to employ film critics at all - other than that it would be cool for those of us who know and love movies to share our talents and passion and get paid at the same time. I.e. what's in it for the employers, or for the readership?

Now, if a wider interest were to arise in film - for example, something akin the current interest in television (the two topics overlap but not in the most fundamental ways), then perhaps there would once again be a growing market for writing on said subject. (And yes, I'm aware there are other factors in the demise of criticism but this to me seems the most pertinent and compelling.) I would not expect any exciting developments from Hollywood though, which I suspect is washed up as a source of innovation or excitement.

Having turned the perception of American cinema into an also-ran form (one that plays catch-up to video games, comic books, and other mediums rather than leading the way), they are still turning a profit and so there's no reason for them to change course. We can rail against the philistines in power there but really, for the investment they make who can blame them for wanting a safe bet? They are, after all, businessmen not artists and the only thing that really turns my stomach is not the cold-hearted executives looking to run a profitable enterprise but the apologists/promoters who try to cover up the drab pragmatism of accounting with the accoutrements of culture - as if the movie biz is run any differently than any other capitalistic venture. Just good advertising I suppose, increases desire for the product they're selling, but vaguely nauseating nonetheless.

I think the future of film lies in the internet, among passionate amateurs (who, for the most part, will be doing other things for a living) and any of us who are young and have ambitions to working with or writing about the medium should perhaps look in that direction and start thinking about what we can do with it.

/rambling digression

Glenn Kenny

Hey man, don't look at me. If I could go back in time and learn a trade I would, believe me. I just wanna be some kind of responsible adult and breadwinner and I'm 52 years old and I don't have a helluva lot of options open. Shit, if I could get a union card and some kinda regular gig, I'd be the fuck out of here before Malcolm Gladwell could blink. You think daily life isn't insulting enough, and then I have to think about all these yoyos I'm ostensibly competing with for work? Later for that shit. "Oh Glenn, writing's in your blood, you'd never give it up," certain people tell me. Well: try me. Seriously. Because this, all this, is BULLSHIT.


Yeah, don't get me wrong - my musings weren't directed at you; they were more general, inspired indirectly by the "why can't I get paid to write?" comments here and perhaps my own previous naivitee on the subject (not that I don't still dream of earning my living and fulfilling my interest in the same place, though then again they say don't shit where you sleep, or eat or something like that...)

And your last point certainly resonates. As someone who has written a fair amount (not all of it particularly strong, mind you, but still - how much of what's published is particularly strong? case in point see above) and been paid a grand total of $90 for said effort in the past 27 years, I find amusing the implication that "not getting paid to write" = "giving it up".

I'm sure if you're lucky enough to find a more profitable enterprise you'll still be putting pen to paper, virtual or otherwise. Heck that's pretty much what you did when Premiere canned you, no?

Glenn Kenny

@ MovieMan: Yeah, I hear you. Like Thers of Whiskey Fire once said, the only legit reason to blog is for spite. I founded this blog out of spite when Premiere canned me. Well, spite and the desire to create a place setting, remind people I was still "around," all that.

And of course one can STOP blogging out of spite too. Between some guy from Germany calling me a moron (I deleted him), Bilge Ebiri getting all pissed at me for dissing his newsgroup because all I did was make a fucking joke (it was JUST A JOKE!), and that philistine douchebag Kois gloating all on Twitter over what a "normal" guy he is (normal and chubby), and so much more, the attraction of going full Bartleby is stronger now than usual. If I sold a book or some such thing, disappearing wouldn't be an option–as Anne Thompson never tires of telling me, EVERY print writer needs a STRONG INTERNET PRESENCE—but if I sold a script? Got behind-the-scenes revision work, what have you? Yeah; promotional duties aside, the lure to withdraw would be even stronger, AND the move itself would be practical/practicable, and I'd take it. And if a bag of money were to just fall into my lap? Hell, I'd like to cover Cannes one more time before I die, and do it in style, and I'd have to write SOMETHING to earn the press pass. And after that? Who knows...


"I just wanna be some kind of responsible adult and breadwinner and I'm 52 years old and I don't have a helluva lot of options open." Well, substitute 35 for 52, and this is pretty much why I'm studying for the bar exam right now, in the worst legal job market in history, with people a decade younger than I am. Also, it's why I find that Fogle section of The Pale King to be so moving. I'll keep praying for that bag of money to fall in your lap. Good writers should always get paid to write about movies.


"Good writers should always get paid to write about movies."

I agree, but I'm afraid that world is vanishing, at least in print.

Richard Schickel has made some idiotic statements lately (like his screed about Altman), but one thing he said that made sense was his comment that most editors come from "shoe leather journalism" (hard news reporting) and have never understood why their publications devoted valuable space to critics and commentators. Having toiled in newspapers for years, I can tell you that editors' favorite word for such writing is "thumb-sucking."

When newspapers were obliged to make serious cuts in staff and budget -- to keep the shareholders happy -- it's not surprising that local critics and columnists got the axe.

BTW, most editors also don't understand why their papers run comic strips, but that's another story.


JBryant said: "But at least the big city papers have film critics."

The nearest "big city paper" to me is in Nashville, Tenn. Their movie critic retired almost 10 years ago, and they never replaced him. They've run wire reviews ever since. (They also never replaced their editorial cartoonist when he retired. That's how you save money and phase out positions without going through the trauma of firing someone. You just let the position go dark when someone leaves.)

The Siren

Nobody's perfect, but that's an error you should be able to expect the many layers of editing at the A&L section to catch. Over the years I've made a small mental collection of NYT movie howlers, including the fall movie roundup that told me Oscar & Lucinda was about Oscar Wilde and the interview with Paul Schrader that identified him as the director of Taxi Driver. I don't think anything is ever going to top that last one, but it's good to know they're still trying. Another favorite, from the WSJ: the editorial thundering over the honorary Oscar awarded to Elia Kazan, and how it was high time since he'd never gotten one before. The editorial page doesn't run formal corrections, so all that got was a letter a few days later politely pointing out Kazan's two competitive Oscars.

Kevyn Knox

I was only being tongue-in-cheek about my comment - in case anyone was pointing to that at any point. I am not about to give up writing about cinema even if I never get paid for it. And btw, I have been paid on occasion (including a bi-monthly film column in a local alt paper and the every-now-and-then article for the local Harrisburg Patriot-News.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Following up on the tangent about writing and money...

The weird thing is, we are now in an absolute fucking Golden Age of film criticism. There are scads--metric scads!---of people doing great film writing, including our esteemed host, the folks on o.e.h.'s blogroll, and thousands of other people scattered across the internet, doing blog-a-thons, or just posting once or twice a year when something occurs to them. Some know more than others, some are better writers than others, but love is all around. As a reader of film criticism, there's never been a better time to be alive.

But for a writer... It's a different story. Newspapers aren't hiring. Web advertising is still a nascent industry (I think web advertising is wildly underpriced, and things will get a little better when it catches up to overpriced TV and newspaper advertising, but it's going to be 5-10 years before that happens). There's just not much delicious monetization-flavored pie to go around. Arts criticism has sort of returned to the position it had through the 18th and early 19th century, when it was an activity done for pleasure and social approval by those who had enough leisure time and education (a much larger cohort than was possible then), rather than the profession it became through the growth of newspapers.

If the tip jar were more dependable, deep knowledge of the kind GK has might become more remunerative, as a writer would be answerable to the vast hive-mind of the internet, rather than some dipshit editor. But then one has to confront the ugly possibility that the readership for good, thoughtful, informed film writing might just not be that big. That might not be a dealbreaker---if there's three thousand people reading this site, and we all chipped in $20, that'd be a decent annual income---but it's a grim thought, especially when one considers that there's probably a much larger market for critics who are so uneducated that they can accurately reflect the tastes of "simple people! Ranchers, farmers, salt of the earth! you know---morons!"

It's depressing to think that the interests of readers and writers could be so misaligned, yet here we are: Readers have never had it better, writers have rarely had it worse. We can post in esteemed host's tip jar (and I sure wouldn't mind if there were more regular 'hey-don't-you-wanna-donate?' telethon-style reminders to support a site I read daily!---I hadn't even noticed the tip jar button on the front before now), but that's tough to maintain as a year-to-year business model (it's working for Michael Totten, who has higher expenses than most, but he also suckles off the conservative lecture-circuit teat, which is always looking to spray cash at anyone who will reinforce the beliefs of the rich). Hopefully maybe possibly web ad revenue will go up, tip jar donation will become more common, and while lots of people will continue doing unpaid but enjoyable film writing, the really, really, really good will be able to build a middleish classish income. Anyway---tipping now!


Great points all around, FB. My take is that unpaid writing, while often less polished than published prose, is often more insightful and passionate (if often a bit too long-winded), unbounded as it is by editorial or marketplace requirements. A golden age for readers, a dismal time for writers...well-put.

Brian Dauth

Expertise is desired in one's auto mechanic, orthopedic surgeon, and tax adviser, but in the aesthetic realm, expertise is frowned upon since it enables enhanced opinion, making the majority of college-educated Biffs and Muffys uncomfortable. There is a peculiar phenomenon whereby people become overly-degreed, and yet fail to realize that they remain under-educated in many areas. The idea of a gracious admission that a person has a specific set of competencies has gone by the boards – it seems that proficiency in one art form is now seen to confer expertise in all aesthetic areas. I know nothing about dance, except that I like it when male dancers wear as little as possible and are tall. Why a particular sequence of steps/movement is expressive and another indicative of klutziness is beyond me. It seems people are afraid to admit that there are art forms they enjoy at a rudimentary level.

As for being paid to write well about movies (or any art form): that is not the culture that was built. The case for the need and importance of art to the life of a society was never successfully argued. What occurred was a historical aberration in post-WWII America where it seemed possible that the less entrepreneurial/more artistic ambitions of a certain cohort of citizens could lead to actual life-sustaining jobs. But that shift in thinking (and the concomitant transfer of wealth that accompanied it) was given a decisive slap down with the rise of Reagan and the Volcker recession (“We need a recession so horrible it breaks the back of inflation” – the only backs broken were those of the working class whose gains of the 1950’s and 1960’s were becoming institutionalized, but which were upended by a handy recession reversing the historically anomalous redistribution of wealth that New Deal policies had inaugurated). We are experiencing a variation on the model FB pointed out: excellent criticism is produced, but the people doing the work lack the support and wherewithal of leisure class status. Maybe we need to follow the advice of Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others (even Alan Greenspan in a moment of delirium) who advocated for a guaranteed minimum income so that great criticism will continue to flourish.


Perhaps the fact that excellent criticism is being produced suggests that we don't need critics to make all that much money in order for great criticism to continue to flourish. To say nothing of a guaranteed minimum income.

Glenn Kenny

Wow, many thanks, Mr. TFB, for both the kind words and the actual tip. As it happens, I tend to call attention to the Tip Jar button more aggressively when I've done a piece of traditional service journalism, such as a Blu-ray Consumer Guide...and one of those is soon to come, and I hope to follow it with another one in reasonably short order. But thanks for being something as an advance man for it as well...

BTW it should be understood that rants such as those I indulged in in comments above this one are kind of deliberately hyperbolized for shock value/comic effect. I'm not really approaching an emotional breakdown, just so y'all know...only a little...

John Keefer

I'm 28 and dumb. I fully believe that I will make a feature length film someday. I don't know when, if it will be successful, or if I will be paid to do it or do it again. I make short films in my spare time, am also in a band, and I work at a call center in which logic and polite discourse are rare commodities. I used to have nothing but despair for my current state...and that hasn't really changed. But the other day, instead of worrying over the usual thoughts of "will this ever happen" I committed myself to a simple idea: "It will". This simple idea cannot be disputed since no one knows the future and any who claim to are usually proven...doomsday prophets.
I take comfort in this simple thought and the ever-looming threat of finishing a screenplay does not seem so daunting a thing. I either do it or I don't do it. Pretty simple. Harsh realities of economics are harsh realities indeed and they can force us into positions we would otherwise not wish to be in. But we're all going to die someday, most likely under very painful and very cruel circumstances. And who knows what after that? So better to dream and pursue dreams, because fuck it. You're going to die right? So pursue them because most things are absolutely mad anyway. So fuck it. I'll be a filmmaker, no fuck it, I am a filmmaker and its great! If I get paid, nice, if not...fuck it. The "rare few" who achieve their exact dreams (exact! otherwise it doesn't count!) are a fallacy of the weakminded. "They" can but I can't?...fuck it. They don't exist. So foolishly, ill-preparedly, stumbling moron-like rush to your dreams. Because there is no cosmic scoreboard and we're all totally fucked in this adventure so fuck it. Say it with me now...fuck it!

And go to 51deep.com and watch my movies because fuck it, how many times can you watch that fucking cat play that fucking keyboard...millions! I know, it's adorable, don't even get me started on the cat hugging the kitten video, that's adorable!...

...fuck it!

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