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July 18, 2012


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Shane Dobbie

I'm not writing anyone off Lex, merely noting that different generation approach things in different ways. I read Drew, Devin, FILMCRITHULK (loving your work by the way) just as much as I read Glenn, or David Poland etc. Choice is one of the joys of the internet. I also love having a purely emotional experience with a film. It doesn't happen very often unfortunately (The Avengers did it this year). Hell, I spent A LOT of time defending the Scott/Crowe Robin Hood because I had such a fun time watching it. Who cares if Crowe had a dodgy accent, it was a solid, well made and very entertaining film. In fact, I had a ...dialogue, with Drew Mcweeny about it on Twitter. He thinks it's Shit. End of. That's why I get annoyed at a lot of the younger critics. There is still a tendency towards "it's shit/it's awesome" but I'm not gonna explain why. That's fine when you're with friends in the pub, but I expect more from someone calling themselves a 'critic'.

Jaime N. Christley

@Josh Z, who wrote "Similar things can be said about "film snob" culture, which often takes pride based in knowing arcane trivia about 60+ year-old movies (to the exclusion of knowing or caring about newer pop culture matters) and lording that over younger or less experienced viewers who may have difficulty relating to that point of view."

That sounds like the whinging of a newbie who's never seen a clean print of an Andre de Toth western, projected at the *original* Film Forum.


In all seriousness: As a film snob, I have to protest that your characterization doesn't really ring true. We elitist film buffs/auteurists/whatever you want to call us see no percentage in "lording over" people who are younger or less experienced with away-from-the-main-boulevard classic cinema (if anything from before 1980 can, indeed, be said to be on the main boulevard at all). If anything we lord the arcane shit over *each other*, mostly good-naturedly, sometimes not so much, but last I checked such crimes are victimless.


Hey, being late to a thread has benefits; for example, I don't have to be the first one to scratch my head on the Lena Dunham mentions. Apparently they are obligatory, and I was not forwarded the memo.

Speaking of, fans of all sorts of programs or media will engage in online behavior that is entirely meant to be silencing while parading about as progressive, logical thought. Like Kimvoynar, I feel it has gotten worse over the last few years, but perhaps it's merely because the internet populace has grown.

That said, nearly five years ago my first blogging experience was discovering a big-name movie blogger declared my "store-bought blog" the ne plus ultra of what was wrong with allowing any ol' idiot to post their opinions online, which seems in retrospect to be the same kind of nerd culture attitude you describe; it may have a different color ribbon, but it's in the same package. And I do get a whiff of what the big-name blogger said in your post as well, Glenn, but I don't agree with the sentiment. Democracy doesn't inevitably lead to the loss of civil discourse.

The cultivation of personalities who cast themselves as hardcore nerdlingers with edgy talk and harsh judgments upon others doesn't exactly discourage the death threats, though, and on that we agree. I see it more in the SF/Fantasy book blogging world than I do in the film blogger world, but it's everywhere. It doesn't even have to be nerd culture, it's in politics and sports and knitting, and that last example is not hyperbole. One of the worst online group meltdowns I ever saw involved the idiots in a group called "The Bunker" (as in Hitler's bunker) on a knitting forum.

So I think what we are seeing with TDKR is really a symptom of a larger issue regarding socialization skills, anonymity, fan culture, learned and encouraged internet behavior, and a dozen other things we probably won't even identify until we're far enough away to judge it with some detachment.

Shane Dobbie

@Josh Z "Similar things can be said about "film snob" culture, which often takes pride based in knowing arcane trivia about 60+ year-old movies (to the exclusion of knowing or caring about newer pop culture matters) and lording that over younger or less experienced viewers who may have difficulty relating to that point of view."

It could also be considered, 'studying the subject matter you are claiming to be an expert in.' Whose opinion on film is more valid: The old critic who has studied and watched films their whole life, or the kid whose seen Star Wars 30 times? Why does everything have to be dumbed down to be palatable to the mall dwelling popcorn munchers. We should be raising intelligence instead of lowering it.

Glenn Kenny

To riff a little bit on Jaime's thoughts, I do think the perception of being lorded over by film snobs tends to derive from maybe two thirds projection, one third a bad experience with a clerk at the old Kim's or some sophomoric pedant at a cocktail party. Those bad encounters with Kim's clerks (or their musical coevals; see "High Fidelity") DO leave deep scar; David Kamp has expended about a third of his career working out his resentments on that score. And of course there's one in EVERY crowd. But this..BURLESQUE that animates so many know-somethingish pieces of sophistry, of how the writer is being OPPRESSED by these arcana-loving snobs was/is insufferable. I've said it a million times: I don't care one way or another what Dan Kois thinks of "Solaris." But if he wants to accuse its champions of being poobahs in a grand con game to try to bore him to death, I'll take that as an act of critical war.


Personally I would think the knowledge of these film "snobs" would be something to learn from. Back in my NME-reading youth a critic mentioning The Velvet Underground or Thelonious Monk or James Carr or George Orwell (The NME was a very cosmopolitan organ in the late 70s) would have me scurrying to investigate, not writing them off as arrogant know-it-alls.

Jaime N. Christley

@LondonLee - Yes, exactly, although (pace GK) there are occasional HIGH FIDELITY lapses into dickishness. But yeah, for the most part a little good faith can pay off big dividends.

I mean, at MoMA sometimes you'll witness some elderly (i.e. decomposing) cinephiles locking antlers with stuff like, "I've seen SEVENTY-FOUR John Ford films" "OH YEAH, well I've seen EIGHTY-NINE Raoul Walsh films." So it goes.

(Anecdote stolen, with some poetic license & apology, from somebody on the old a_film_by Yahoo! Group. Can't remember who.)

Glenn Kenny

@LondonLee, that was roughly my experience growing up too. First copy of NME I ever bought reported on the Henry Cow/Slapp happy collaboration and I couldn't find that record for another EIGHT YEARS! I also remember reading a stray reference to Gavin Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic" in a Lester-Bangs-penned (I later learned) letters-to-the-editor response in CREEM. Those mags sent me off on a LOT of scurrying, which helped make me the freak I am today.

N.b., citation of "High Fidelity" is not meant to imply a commendation of the behavior depicted therein. But through an accelerated course in socialization in the mid '80s, I learned the book/movie's mixtape lessons way ahead of the piece's existence. In a mild defense of some less personal-interaction-adept cinephiles, I'll allow that there can be a thin perceptual line between an enthusiastic "You GOTTA see this!" and a "What do you MEAN, you haven't seen this?"

David Ehrenstein

Lena Dunham doesn't get nearly enough shit.

Jesse M

Talking about the sad state of online discourse (and its close relative, cocktail-party and workplace media criticism) feels like talking about global warming (if there are any deniers here, sorry -- just assume I said "moral decline" or something). It's a planet-sized problem that we can all recognize, but nobody can really stop. All we can do is try to address whatever microcosmic part of it is within our domain of influence.

For me, the reason this bad mojo has become so unstoppable is that negativity has an insane gravitational force, like a black hole. Or you could say it's the most viral of viruses, pulling everything toward itself and affecting everything else in turn. Even well-informed critics constantly submit to the temptation to wield their credentials in order to stomp on things (movies, shows, editorials, other critics, etc). This causes two problems: 1) it causes massive feedback that just amplifies the negativity, especially from trolls and fanboys; and 2) it makes the amateurs feel that snarky negativity is justified, and maybe even NECESSARY, as a gateway to the world of pop criticism. The idea that nastiness and negativity is a bold, discerning, and/or intelligent way of expressing oneself is painfully widespread. It's caught hold in many very intelligent writers, and it's putrid and rampant in the trenches of comment-happy fanboys and forum lurkers.

I sometimes imagine a world where all truly intelligent, credible critics steer as far clear of snark and negativity as they can. In this world -- and many people will see this as very irresponsible -- the respected critics never write negative reviews or take-downs... they just refuse to make any comment on things they don't think are worth their time. The way to measure a great movie wouldn't be its percent of "positive reviews" but the simple aggregate number of reviews it received. Transformers 2 would have only been reviewed by about 10 critics, and you could be assured that those were the ones who were defending it. No troll or fanboy would have anything to latch onto... they would just have to recognize that they're the only person who enjoyed their precious property's newest offering. Eventually, reviews would stop being "positive" or "negative," and instead, they would serve the purpose of trying to dig more meaning out of those positive experiences, so that the good movies had more public presence and more intelligent reflection for people to talk about.

I honestly doubt this would be a better world, honestly. But all the stuff above that hypothetical paragraph -- about negativity being virulent -- I strongly believe, and as a writer, critic, and cinephile, I think about that every day.

Dan Coyle

"Lena Dunham doens't get nearly enough shit."

Neither does David Ehrenstein.

John M

My Lena Dunham mention was intended as 100% sarcasm, in response to...someone...up-thread. I'm tired.

Tom Block

I'm one of the people who, whenever he hears someone deplore the state of film criticism, always counters with "Nah, it's better than ever", but sideshows like these make me wonder. Whether it's Ebert saying video games aren't art or Kael/Sarris dying or Richard Schickel getting drunk and saying something stupid again, these rhubarbs keep coming and people seem to enjoy them more than they do writing or reading about actual movies. And all this over another goddam Batman movie and its fanboys? Between this mess and the professional critics--some of whom ought to know better--who are going nuts doing Facebook links to every fucking article that contains either of the words "bat" or "man", the folks in Warner's marketing department must be guzzling champagne and buttfucking each other in the hallway. When something actually good comes around, it's hard to find even a *third* this much crazy energy; it's definitely crossing over Kael's "the rest is advertising" line.

Josh Z

"It could also be considered, 'studying the subject matter you are claiming to be an expert in.' Whose opinion on film is more valid: The old critic who has studied and watched films their whole life, or the kid whose seen Star Wars 30 times? Why does everything have to be dumbed down to be palatable to the mall dwelling popcorn munchers. We should be raising intelligence instead of lowering it."

Should not the goal be to educate those popcorn munchers, or at least invite them to learn more, rather than to slam the door in their faces?

I think some of you missed the devil's advocate disclaimer in my earlier comment and immediately assumed a defensive posture, which kind of goes to the point I was making.

Jaime N. Christley

"Should not the goal be to educate those popcorn munchers"

With great emphasis: no.

If they want to consult the library of my mind, I'll keep that library open during reasonable hours. But your "Should not the goal be...", which I'm not pinning to you exclusively, as it is in fact a plea that we hear with regularity whenever this debate (and many other such debates) comes up, sounds like we are to Go out into the masses and preach, which, thanks but no thanks.


Anyone else want to work in the Warners marketing department now? At the very least, I want to wander onto their floor after they receive some good news...

Don R. Lewis

Jim Emerson is no stranger to fanboy attacks for his well reasoned thoughts on Nolan and his Batman films. He nails the whole conversation here without even admitting that he's talking about it, which is kinda awesome.

Another big issue is that , according to fanboy mentality, you either *like* or *hate* something. Apparently that means ALL of it. You are not allowed to say anything bad about a film that you or they *like*. In that sense, Devin is kinda right about the sports fan mentality. You're either a fan that defends bad decisions and cheers loudly and obnoxiously for your team or you suck. I'm NOT saying Devin says that or is like that, I'm just saying that's my take on these rabid responses to disagreeing about a film that's beloved by geeks.


I don't much like snobs, but the fact of the matter is that my life has been immeasurably enriched by what snobs routinely talk about. I'm much more interested in knowing about the good stuff that's been forgotten than the new stuff I'd know about anyway. I'm reading a novel by Nigel Balchin right now. Who's Nigel Balchin? Exactly. But he's awesome, that's who Nigel Balchin is.

And of course, as most other people have pointed out, not all "snobs" are snobs anyway. On the other hand, I was in a bookstore today where I was reminded of the existence of Harold Bloom's anthology STORIES AND POEMS FOR EXTREMELY INTELLIGENT CHILDREN OF ALL AGES, a title I personally find *hilarious*.

Shadow Ehrenstein

Lena Dunham is no Chantal Akerman, just as Adam Driver is no Cary Grant. Though he does have a smokin' bod. That one part where he's waxing his noodle was so hot I accidentally drooled on my limited edition Dziga Vertov Group hemp doily knitted by the lovely Anne Wiazemsky herself.

Otherwise GIRLS couldn't be any worse if it was made by Kenneth Lonergan, director of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, THE WORST AMERICAN FILM OF THE 21ST CENTURY.

Lex is a prime example of why heteronormativity is a drag.

Speaking of Gilberts, Stuart Gilbert wrote a fine early exegesis of Ulysses. James Joyce's middle name was Aloysius, which has 5 vowels in it. So does Jean-Luc Godard's full name. Think about it.

And I once ran into Gilbert Adair in Paris buying a picture of a shetland pony, which his hair sometimes vaguely resembled. Odd fellow, but dreamy.

And Todd Gilbert is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican, so who gives a shit.

Have I mentioned I'm not heterosexual? Well, I'm not.


Oh, we're at this stage of the thread now? I wish I'd known.

Glenn Kenny

But Bill, I think we can save the thread, if you and all the good people out there reading this blog can help! Think of this thread as Tinkerbelle. Only think "intelligent, reasoned, back-and-forth exchange of opinions and ideas!" And if you BELIEVE in intelligent, reasoned, back-and-forth exchange of opinions and ideas, post a comment! Under any name you like! As often as you like! And if enough of you post, we can bring this thread ba...ah, forget it.


"Please, everyone, if you feel sorry for us, please clap your hands. If you clap for us, I’m sure we’ll be able to hear the music."

-- 'One Wonderful Sunday' (Akira Kurosawa, 1947)

Jaime N. Christley

OH BOY FROM HOBOKEN, I'm outta here.


One thing that gets my goat about fan/nerd culture is that it wants its favorite objects elevated to a level of high-cultural seriousness and import that much of the time they don't really earn. You can see that anxiety about legitimacy reflected in the Nolan Batmans' quasi-Wagnerian bombast.

Most of the fans who make extravagant claims about comic/videogame/superhero movie/genre show X being the equivalent of great literature or challenging cinema, worthy of standing with the greatest there ever was, have never actually read any great literature or watched challenging cinema. And when confronted with examples of the great art whose cultural cachet they want to impute onto Batman, they will with rare exception greet it with a sneer or a snore. In my early-mid teens I was the kind of fanboy who'd get all weak in the knees when someone noted that one of my favorite videogames was loaded with Baudrillard references, but didn't ever feel compelled to read or understand Baudrillard. What's goat-getting is this kind of thing is happening on a mass scale, with people much older than 14.


This thread has been a highly entertaining potpourri of discourse. And apparently I really need to see Girls so I can take sides in The Battle of Lena Dunham.

David Ehrenstein

Being 65 I'm on the "Old Man Clock" -- though I feel younger than springtime.

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