Peter Bart has set up a straw-man argument about critics, Academy voters and "entertainment value." Erik Childress takes it apart.
It's a sunny, unseasonable 80 degrees as the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicks in, but all I want is to be indoors. When you peer at a schedule listing nearly 200 films jammed into 10 days, and you just can't wait, you know you're an addict. This is my third SBIFF so I recognize the signs.
Suddenly each January, there's an extra bustle in this appealing, laid-back town. Downtown on lower State Street, trucks appear bearing vivid banners, soon to be festooned overhead. Special lights and rigging go up at 2 central venues - the precisely restored, historic Lobero and Arlington Theatres. Locals watch to see whether Festival Director Roger Durling changes his hair: one year it was spikey, another year purple. This time it's rather like Heathcliff - longer, romantic.
A foggy morning on the last day of the festival. One more week of movie-going, as Egypt totters and my native Midwest suffers another snowstorm, has caused both guilt and gratitude. But before I describe what I've been experiencing in balmy Santa Barbara, an upfront mea culpa, as earlier I mangled the name of a delightful film and want to correct it here. "Good for Nothing" comes from New Zealand, a spaghetti western with a bit of "Unforgiven" tossed in. Well acted and very scenic, the story centers on an Eastwood-like lone cowboy, who says little, thinks guns are meant for killing and women for --- When he kidnaps a young English traveler, rather than dominating her as he evidently intends, she gains control, ultimately humanizing the guy and helping him unfold his hidden heart. A man at the festival suggested that, "as a woman," I wouldn't like this film at all - but he was wrong.
"I will smite thee for being a dunderhead."
Or: That's Entertainment Reporting!
Have entertainment industry "reporters" lost all touch with the reality of the business they're supposedly covering? In a world where... "Entertainment Tonight," Entertainment Weekly, Variety, the New York and Los Angeles Times, the Star, the Inquirer, People, Gawker, Defamer, Perez Hilton and anybody else with a blog all recycle the same trivial non-stories, is there anything more overdone and superfluous than another entertainment reporter writing another trite, misconceived "trend piece" about (of all things) box office results?
OK, I'm being facetious. Kind of. Peter Bart, the editor of Variety -- who, it appears, has lost or at least misplaced his marbles -- started this latest round of "oh, the critics are out of touch" speculation (a non-story that will outlive all remaining film critics, just as it has the dead ones) last week with an inane diatribe worthy of, say, David O. Russell. (See how this stuff keeps getting recycled?) Bart wrote: In reviewing "300" last week... A.O. (Tony) Scott of the New York Times, said the movie was "as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid."
That comment reflected the consensus among critics not only on "300" but also on "Ghost Rider," "Wild Hogs," "Norbit" and the other movie miscreants unleashed on the public since Oscar time.
The situation underscores yet again the disconnect between the cinematic appetites of critics vs. those of the popcorn crowd. The kids who storm their multiplexes to catch the opening of "Night at the Museum" don't give a damn what the critics think... Bart is four paragraphs into his piece and he's already writing in circles: The critics, he complains, don't like the big "popcorn" movies that are attended by kids who don't care what the critics think. So, the point is... what? What has changed over the last 80 years or so? Did the kids storming the multiplexes -- er, ornate movie palaces -- suddenly stop basing their moviegoing decisions on the New York Times reviews? (Bart neglects to mention that "300" got mostly positive reviews, and currently has a 61 percent favorable rating on RottenTomatoes -- and a 50 percent split decision among its "cream of the crop" critics, including those who write for the New York Times.) So, is Bart saying the disconnect is due to the fact that today's modern young a-go-go people don't read newspapers much anymore? Or that they used to pay attention to film critics, but now they don't?
Q. Kenneth Anger's appearance at the Siskel Film Center prompted me to browse through my copy of his book, Hollywood Babylon. I was surprised to see that Anger's chapter on the mysterious death of Thomas Ince is virtually identical to the version related in Peter Bogdanovich's film "The Cat's Meow"--including the suggestion that Louella Parsons was given a lifetime contract in return for her silence. I was under the impression that film's depiction of Parsons as an eyewitness was an original idea, but obviously that is not the case. (Rich Gallagher, Fishkill NY)
TORONTO--Seventy-five of his old friends turned up for lunch Saturday with George Christy. Many of them had logged 10 years or more at his annual soiree at the Four Seasons, where the top stars and directors at the Toronto Film Festival mix with Canadian tycoons and political leaders.
Q. My question concerns the backwards speech read over the speakers in the initial (pre-rumpy pumpy) gathering at the masquerade ball in "Eyes Wide Shut." It is obvious that something is being said backwards, but I don't particularly want to bring recording equipment into the theater to find out what it is. (Matt Thiesen, Maple Grove, MN)