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June 18, 2011


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Simon Abrams

For you: http://youtu.be/_QOnruGEB04


* Bashes head through computer screen *


"isn't even at the intellectual level of community college liberal arts discourse"

Gee, thanks.

Glenn Kenny

Um, Jake, don't willfully miss my point. I understand that intellectual excellence isn't the exclusive province of the Ivy League, etc. What I'm saying that Kois is a paid professional who should know better and yet insists on pitching his argument at a completely elementary, if not beside-the-actual-point, level. As you were.


I'm reminded of a little over a year ago when Dennis Cozzalio surprisingly praised the Slate Movie Club on his site. I chimed in that the participants were disappointing compared to previous years (Edelstein, Ebert, Scott, Kerr, Hoberman, Dargis, Foundas and Zacharek), and specifically complained about Kois' need to constantly try to be funny (emphasis on the "try"). I also couldn't believe he he took David O. Russell to task for doing a genre study by making "The Fighter." Kois responded by being snarky and sophomoric. I decided to pay as little attention to him as possible from that moment. It becomes more difficult, I suppose, when it appears in the Times.


"I like housework in my own home. I don't think I would like it in a rented house."

"I think a girl is growing into a young lady when she becomes 16."

"I used to wonder why the movies spent so much money on lovely fabrics and fine workmanship. It seemed to me that they at least could fudge a little on sewing the seams. But it turns out that the camera sees a lot more than the human eye does, and if a dress isn't exactly right on the screen, it looks sleazy."

Any other Deanna Durbin quotes spring to mind?

J Alary

Is Dan Kois one of those noxious Internet hipsters? His film articles--with the aforementioned attempts at humour--are replete with a self-congratulatory tone that is very grating. I'm reminded of Fight Club, where Brad Pitt's character, meeting Edward Norton's character on the plane, responds to Norton's "single-serving" comment: "How's that working out for you?" "What?" "Being clever."

Glenn Kenny

@ J Alary, I don't know that I'd call Kois a "hipster." I do understand that he once, in his capacity as a "professor of journalism" or something (I know, I know), invited the quite tragically hip Karina Longworth to address his charges, so there's that. (I suppose the solicitation of Longworth to address a body of young people could be interpreted as a gesture of diabolical Dadaist genius, or maybe a tendril of that "Scared Straight" prison thing, but I don't think Kois intended it in either of those senses.) On the other hand, he did begin his initial "cultural vegetables" piece with some dribble about his ostensibly adorable daughters, something no self-respecting "hipster" would do. No, Kois is more of a know-somethingish gentrifier by circumstance; someone who's annoyed at being priced out of Park Slope, decides to "settle" for Carroll Gardens because Kurt Andersen lives there, and then winds up pioneering Gowanus because the Gardens are too saturated too. Only in the case of Kois himself he's faked everyone out by living in a D.C. suburb. But you get the idea.


"I'm not surprised that the response from critics in particular has been mostly hostile; I made jokes, after all, about a lot of critics' favorite movies, and critics are critics because they take taste personally..."

I started reading the NYT piece but couldn't get past this. My self-serving-bullshit detector overrides my central nervous system. Why not go all the way and say "they hate me because I'm beautiful"?

Sam O. Brown

Stephanie Zacharek? The Stephanie "Godard went down hill after 1967 as written in her New York Times article back in 2008" Zacharek?!! Seems to me that Zacharek may be Kois' mentor.

Glenn Kenny

@ Jaime: I think one reason he won't go all the way and say "they hate me because I'm beautiful" is because he looks like Karl Rove auditioning for a spot on "Survivor" and seems to know it. Not that a whole lot of us in this you-know-what business are anything to write home about in the looks department but, hey. Still, your citation is damningly apposite; it nails the confident shittiness that animates most of Kois's writing and marks his project as deeply pernicious, AND reveals (not for the first time) that his "confessions" of "guilt" are unmitigated bullshit. Damn. I don't think I've ever wanted to punch in the face someone I'd never met before this.

@ Sam. O. Brown: I disagree with Stephanie Z. A LOT (to the extent that we kind of can't talk ALL that much about film if we want to remain friendly), but she's entirely upfront about her preferences, and not at all disingenuous about whatever agenda she's working. That said, the Godard book review WAS pretty unfortunate.

David Jameson

I don't know the guy, but honestly, he should not be writing for the Times at this point. This is like Bruni saying that he doesn't enjoy food when the service is good and that he would rather be eating at McDonald's. How could you trust his judgement unless that was your thing? Sure, there are times when films are difficult for whatever reason (too fast/too slow), but to admit that you can't even watch a film you've been tasked to see for your JOB? He should have kept his comment in his diary. The NYT should have writers with different perspectives, but an admission that one aspires to be on the same level as a Disney TV show (and we do love Disney, of course) requires that he connect with a different audience (Nickelodeon Jr., perhaps?).

Also, his style seems more fit for the Glenn Beck show. Maybe GB needs a TV/film reviewer.

He only seems to be proud of his introduction of this term (I don't even want to repeat it or I'm going to throw up my vegetables) into the vernacular. We should shut down the conversation so he has less to "chew" on.

Sam O. Brown


I find both Kois and Zachareck to be of the "don't do your homework" school of film criticism, which may I note does not belong to any certain age group.

Sam O. Brown

P.S.: I want to make it very clear that I was not inferring you, Mr. Kenny, as one of the school members.

Paul Anthony Johnson

I think for anybody who has ever taught film, Kois is an especially disturbing figure, because it's like your most problematic student has just been given his own New York Times column to talk about movies. Joy.


I think the point about subjectivity is absolutely correct. What bothered me so much about the original piece, something I've become more aware of when I talked to someone who didn't really have much of a problem with it, is that it sets up a false choice: either you "follow your heart" or you spend your precious time trying to like something without success (because, as we all know, you can't like everything). What annoys me about this is that it's entirely a false dichotomy, but it's one that many casual filmgoers are inclined to agree with, which for me poses problems. Because it can often seem like critics have a tendency to deny their own subjectivity (which is not exactly true, but yes, there's a reason why criticism is not informed exclusively or, usually, primarily by subjectivity), the public tends to be particularly willing to hear this kind of throw-your-hands-up-in-futility, "Well, at least I tried" confession of subjectivity. "Of course, not everyone likes everything," the average person will say, "What's the harm in admitting that?"

Well, yes, not everyone likes everything (a truism from the department of "duh!"), but Kois is drawing a lot, a lot of implications from that statement of fact. I think there's a pretty big difference between the general idea that, you know, we will not like every film equally (or even at all), and the idea this variance in taste should be what primarily dictates what we watch and how we approach it. I can respect (and even be intrigued by) a person who dislikes a film that I cherish if he/she has the knowledge to back it up and a well-defined sense of taste that makes his/her response understandable. But that necessitates that we actually spend time with films that we might initially resist and that we approach these films with curiosity and a desire to transcend our habits of thought and taste (our subjectivity). If I met someone who only saw one Tarkovsky film and then used that as an excuse not to see the others, and perhaps even not to see other similar films, I couldn't respect that. After all, what does that show about a person; what kind of integrity is that? Now, I'm not saying that Kois is doing this, but here's the thing: he certainly gives additional credibility to a person who would do that. He can't be unaware that writing something like works to normalize his behavior for others and even endorses the idea that "aspiring" to something higher is bad. That's kind of cheap, and only a naive person can suggest that it does not treat these aspirations as something unnecessary, even as hindrances.

And as we can see from the responses to the original piece, the conversation has taken a turn, as it always does, back to a "art film versus mainstream" discourse, which admittedly is not what Kois was trying to do (I'll give him that). The irony of this is that some of these so-called "boring" and slow films are not the oppressive, esoteric boogeymen that Kois, intentionally or not, paints them to be. I can't think of a director as kindly and gently inviting as Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and while I can understand why some might find his films boring (at least, initially), it is very destructive, in my opinion, to perpetuate these myths about these films. The only point on which I'm willing to give Kois some credit is that there can be an aura of difficulty and austerity around these films, and this genuinely does, I believe, keep the average filmgoer from seeking these films out. Because, why go to a film where there are already so many expectations put upon you--i.e. if you don't get it, it must mean you're a crass idiot--when you can go see something without any of these expectations whatsoever (without even the expectation that it could even be "great"). So while people continue to complain about the slop that Hollywood routinely dishes out, you can kind of understand the purpose here: no matter what, you'll never feel dumb or condescended to by these films. You'll also probably never really feel fulfilled in any way by them either. And our culture has been devolving to this point not necessarily out of some lowest-common-denominator trend, I think, but because, ultimately, people like Kois perpetuate this dichotomy. That's why the comparison to food was so appalling: it prevented anyone from countering Kois based on anything beyond subjectivity and immediate pleasure (who would rave about food they didn't find immediate pleasure in?). To bring it back to what I was saying about Hou, I don't think these assumptions about "art films" (et al.) have a ton to do with the films themselves; they are, rather, part of the discourse in our culture, a discourse which Kois perpetuates but pretends to absolve himself from. If we could talk about films in terms of what they actually are and do, rather than in terms of the ever-expanding set of expectations and assumptions that go along with them (and that Kois is helping to amplify), we might actually find that people do like the taste of vegetables after all (because, you know, vegetables are actually good too).

Jeff McMahon

I think the word everyone is looking for is 'Troll'.


@GK - Thanks, and kudos to your well-served (and non-honey-badger-like!!) drive-by over at DK.com. I feel like I know all I need to know about this Kois fuck with that highly Rovean pirouette, i.e. "Obviously I pissed them off because I told the truth." Oh yes, that's exactly it, you Rosa Parks you.

@Trevor - Good points all around, and @Jeff McMahon - Heh.

I dunno, this whole "discussion" (not here, but the Kois provocation and what has followed) feels like some 2002 Rotten Tomatoes Critics Discussion thread needlessly warmed over. Some folks (like Dargis/Scott) are opting for the smart/diplomatic combo, others are revealing their true colors as yokels in Dockers, and others still are somewhere inbetween.

What's amazing and depressing is that the discussion furthers the myth in our collective consciousness that cinema is one big shopping mall and there's a store called "Art Cinema," and in that store, Antonioni and Bergman and Resnais and Godard and Truffaut and Tarkovsky and all those guys are in the same aisle, look the same, feel the same, and are all "hard."

Well you know what? Those that need and use the dividing line between that store and the rest of the mall are the same people Kois is addressing. He doesn't give a shit about anybody who makes any further distinctions, i.e. someone who can talk about the difference between the way Truffaut would direct actors, versus Bertolucci or Chabrol or Desplechin. And you can forget about mise-en-scene, rhythm, the use of sound, etc.

But you know what else? Get the fuck ready for the future, which will be just like that. Kois (and countless like him) got the NYT nod because he "speaks" for a certain blandness and middle-of-the-road-ness that's linked directly to the blog's business model: traffic leads to click-thrus leads to revenue and revenue is king.

Anyway, I've had a glass of wine and I should probably stop before I call my mom an asshole or something. Night all.

David Ehrenstein

Quite right, Jeff. Kois is to be ignored.


I hope it's not out of order, but I decided to turn the comment I was going to leave here into a long blog post...


Glenn Kenny

Not out of order. Good post. Yeah, he could have saved us all a lot of time, but he wants to be important, and liked, and blah blah blah blah...whatta feeb.


"If I met someone who only saw one Tarkovsky film and then used that as an excuse not to see the others, and perhaps even not to see other similar films, I couldn't respect that. After all, what does that show about a person; what kind of integrity is that? Now, I'm not saying that Kois is doing this, but here's the thing: he certainly gives additional credibility to a person who would do that. He can't be unaware that writing something like works to normalize his behavior for others..."

Seriously? The measure of integrity is whether one sits through more films by a relatively esoteric director after having seen one of his films and not liking it? You can't respect someone who doesn't? How do you stomach living in a nation with hundreds of millions of people who have never watched a Tarkovsky film and would stop watching SOLARIS midway if they were to rent it by accident? And most ridiculously, the absurdity of thinking there are people in the world for whom this behavior could be "normalized," as if it weren't already the most normal and accepted thing in the world. To me, Kois is saying something rather trivial and entirely unexceptionable. He feels about Tarkovsky the way I feel about Mexican food. I do not deny that there is great Mexican food in the world; I just don't happen to like it. I am not going to keep trying when I know that I simply don't like the elements, the flavors, and the colors, presentationally speaking, of which Mexican food is comprised. You may say that food's different, but it's just as much of an art and someone who feels as passionately about food as you (or I) feel about film might say I lack integrity because I haven't tried dozens of Mexican restaurants in an effort to reeducate my palate. But as we all know, there are certain foods that, quite aside from their quality, we simply don't like, and as long as we don't make the mistake of confusing these merely personal idiosyncrasies with aesthetic judgments, we'll be fine.

As to films, if you find the culinary analogy strained, I saw UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, and though I thought it was a beautiful and deeply humane film, I simply have great difficulty enjoying anything so un-linear, loosely constructed, and interspersed with unannounced dream sequences, vaguely polemical series of stills of teenagers posing with men in gorilla suits, and alternate realities. I struggle to understand, when I watch such a film, why the narrative perspective is suddenly switching from Uncle Boonmee to that of a talking catfish, why the man in the gorilla suit, why the people are leaving their bodies while watching TV, and I begin to suspect the whole thing of being, in part, a series of unmotivated, random choices, though I know that can't be the case. On the other hand, I enjoy things that are much more experimental, but rigorously formalistic, like MARIENBAD, because there is a logic that governs that movie that I can understand; it's just not a narrative logic. The upshot is that I'm not in a great hurry to see more Weerasethakul, though I recognize him to be a major voice. That being the case, I am dismayed, but understanding, when people tell me - such people exist! - that they find 50s Minnelli or Sirk too soapy, though I value SOME CAME RUNNING and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS as much as any films I know. In a world of 6 billion people, it's inevitable that many people, including some intelligent ones, will never be able to enjoy Minnelli and Sirk's somewhat florid sensibility, or who find their manipulation of color, mise en scene, and actors too studied and overdetermined, the way I find parts of UNCLE BOONMEE underdetermined.


"I suppose the solicitation of Longworth to address a body of young people could be interpreted as a gesture of diabolical Dadaist genius, or maybe a tendril of that 'Scared Straight' prison thing, but I don't think Kois intended it in either of those senses."

I take it you and Miss Longworth don't get along these days, Glenn?

Dan Clinton

I modestly propose that we transfer the epithet of "cultural vegetables" from difficult films to their willfully befuddled spectators. That sounds like buckets of fun for everyone.

John M

Looking forward to seeing Asher's byline soon at the New York Times.

Jeff McMahon

Asher, I think the key distinction has to do with people who are attempting to be genuine cinephiles with a range of viewing experience, and not just a casual moviegoer. If someone came up to me saying that they were a dedicated movie-lover (maybe even a filmmaker) but had no time for Tarkovsky because of a single, boring experience, I'd have to call that person a dilettante. It demonstrates an essentially unserious, incurious mode of thought.

Glenn Kenny

Indeed Jeff. And I'll even be more generous and say the problem has to do with people who want to call themselves not necessarily "genuine cinephiles" but critics. I'm reluctant to apply that term to MYSELF a lot of the time, because frankly, what I'm doing for a living these days is reviewing that aspires to criticism; I'd say the last full-out piece of criticism I got paid to write was that Film Comment piece on IƱarittu last summer. That's not to say I take what I do lightly or any such thing; it's just the way it works out. And to go back to Sam O. Brown, a guy like the intemperate Andy Rector could accuse ME of being someone who doesn't do his homework, at least with respect to "Film Socialisme," and in a not insignificant sense he wouldn't be entirely wrong; I wrote that notice on a reviewer's timetable. Kois, bless his socks and his confidence, has zero problem calling himself a critic, and he wants respect for making his default position on "Solaris" "I didn't get it/like it." Period. End of story. No context, no struggle, no analysis, nothing. Just, "Fuck this guy, and on to the stuff I like. Hey, did you know I like Soderbergh films? HE'S kinda popular with some of you pointy-beards, right? By the way, did you know I was a CRITIC?" And so on. I'm having trouble understanding why Asher doesn't understand the distinction. Actually I think Asher does, but he just wants to be argumentative as is his wont. Also: Mmmmm, catfish.

@ George: I don't have any relationship with Longworth, nor any especial feeling of particular ill will toward her. Sometimes though, the jokes just write themselves, and I can't stop them.

That Fuzzy Bastard

"Cultural vegatables" isn't the worst term, actually. They take some adjusting of your tastebuds, and children hate 'em, but if you don't consume them regularly, you'll be weak, flabby, and expelling mere watery gunk from your holes.

Thomas D.

You should have two separate blogs: a regular movie one, and another for posts about other reviews or critics. You could call it "Glenn Kenny's Hackwatch", or "Glenn Kenny Heads Down to Where You Work and Knocks the Dick Out of Your Mouth", or something like that.

For me, the fundamental problem in these type of discussions is this belief that film (or any other art form, for that matter) needs to have a utilitarian purpose of sorts. Kois seems to butt this up against the idea that film critics are "supposed" to like "non-utilitarian" films. I propose that a good critic ignores both of these points.


If I love SOLARIS, Apichatpong, Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and even FILM SOCIALISME, does that make me a Cultural Vegetarian?

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