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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


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The Los Angeles Times -- which likes to fancy itself as the "paper of record" for the entertainment industry -- has officially jumped the shark. Wednesday it inaugurated a weekly column by Jay A. Fernandez called Scriptland, which is to be dedicated to "the work and professional lives of screenwriters." What this means, evidently, is that the L.A. Times is now in the business of providing free script coverage for the studios, because the first column features a gushy mini-review of a draft of a script by Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation."). I could barely make it past this without gagging:

I have the new Charlie Kaufman screenplay on my desk.

I've read it — no, lived it. I've been moved and astounded by it. And I'm tortured by the dilemma of what I should or should not say about it here. I feel a bit like Frodo palming the One Ring. [...]

But many people, beginning with Kaufman, do not want me to have the script, do not want me to read the script, and without question do not want me to write anything about the script. Words like "super-sensitive," "invasive" and "freaked" have been cautiously leveled at me as I've reached out to those involved with the project to get their thoughts on it.

In other words: "Hey, I got ahold of something I'm not supposed to have and I feel kinda bad about it, and I don't have any good reason to write about it, but I just had to tell you! Ain't it cool?!?!"

No. It's not. Fernandez isn't a journalist and he isn't a critic; he's a leech, on the level of those self-aggrandizing amateur web trolls who think their premature, uninformed opinions about an unfinished work are "news." If the L.A. Times is going to play by these rules, it will be publishing its writers' opinions about leaked manuscripts of books before they are edited or revised by the authors, and unmixed rehearsal tapes of recording sessions. In the interest of fairness, the paper should also run commentary on early versions of L.A. Times stories before they appear in print, so we can see how that sausage is made. Everything needs to be pre-digested, doesn't it? Meanwhile, expect Times employees to spend a lot of time going through showbiz garbage cans. I'm sure readers will find all this extra groundless speculation -- and spoilers -- terribly useful and informative.

I hope that movie critics, and actual journalists, will protest. Loudly. This really is a new ethical low, tarring the efforts of the paper's real reporters by sticking their work with gossip and innuendo. What is newsworthy about a work-in-progress -- unless (like Emilio Estevez's "Bobby" in Toronto) its makers have decided to screen it for the press and ticket-buying public? Fernandez hasn't seen the movie in any form. Kaufman is set to direct it himself, but hasn't even finished casting it yet. "Meanwhile," Fernandez concludes his item (after telling us an image that appears on "Page 1"), "I feel terribly sick to my stomach." Yeah, he's not the only one. What a self-serving piece of crap. I have a great idea, L.A. Times: Why don't you go put your Calendar entertainment coverage behind a web subscription wall again?

(Tip: Hot Blog.)

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