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« Tacit Knowledge -- Authors and money | Main | Free Reads -- Felix on Film »

January 17, 2003

Free Reads -- David Thomson

Friedrich --

Robert Birnbaum's site Identity Theory is one of the best Web resources I know of for q&a's with interesting writers. Birnbaum's latest interview is with the film critic David Thomson, and it's a special treat. Have you kept up with Thomson over the years? He's a Brit who came over here and re-made himself into a bit of a populist-gonzo intellectual. He's still half-and-half, but in a good way: he's got all the brains and articulateness of an educated Englishman, but he's open and searching in an American way. In any case, a terrific interview, readable here.

Sample passage:

The truth of the matter is that it would be very depressing today to be a regular film critic, a regular film reviewer because it would mean that you would have to see all the junk. We live in a very strange culture where the New York Times and most of our papers take it as their duty, their obligation, to review every film that opens. Do they review every book that is published? Of course not. Do they review every concert? No. Do they review every art show? No. Does anyone think they should? No, of course not. There's a great fallacy there. A paper that showed the courage to say, "A lot of the movies that are opening do not merit our review space." That would be a refreshing attitude. But you have to bear in mind that the newspapers are horribly dependent on the advertising from the movies and that's where the commercialization of it has become terribly overpowering.

Which is pretty much what my film-critic friends tell me off the record and over drinks...



posted by Michael at January 17, 2003


I think it's absolutely wonderful that the Times reviews every film that opens. (I think Thomson's wrong that "most of our papers" do that: in fact, I think very few are quite as exhaustive as the Times.) I wouldn't want to see the New Yorker, say, review every film that came out, but the Times is the paper of record. The fact is that nearly every film released is the work of hundreds of people and cost millions of dollars: if a book, concert or art show was on a similar scale, I'm sure it would make it into the Times.

The fact that movie studios advertise in the Times and thereby subsidise the Times's independent reviewers is a cause for celebration, not indignation. The Times has four movie reviewers, who probably between them cost less than the ad revenue from the average summer Sunday. And the Times does have many ways of indicataing how review-worthy a film is: where is the review? How long is it? And if it is written by Dave Kehr, rather than one of the three lead reviewers (Mitchell, Scott, Holden) then one can assume it's not all that important.

The New York Times, thanks to its policy of exhaustiveness, has an invaluable archive of more than 1,500 free reviews of every film that has been released since 1996. If you're interested in the director of Personal Velocity, for instance, where else could you find a full length review of her obscure debut feature from 1995? It came and went without a trace, but people may (or may not) be a little more interested in it now.

I say the Times deserves our thanks (and not our scorn) for sending its reviewers out to review every piece of dreck that comes out – they go, so we don't have to. It might not make for the best life if you're Dave Kehr, but it does make the world a better place.

Posted by: Felix on January 17, 2003 2:15 PM

Ahh, what I'd thought was interesting about the Thomson quote was his judgment about the quality of current movies and the bit of info about how dependent newspapers are on the movie advertising buck, and the way the two come together to create an atmosphere of excitement about a movie scene that's really pretty weak and doesn't deserve the excitement. But good point, if the Times doesn't review every damn movie, which newspaper will? A newspaper of record has to busy itself with something, after all.

How'd you respond to the rest of the Thomson interview? I think what's especially fun about it is that he's saying what film buffs all know, but what professional film critics can only say in private. If they ever said it in public, they wouldn't be pros for much longer.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 17, 2003 3:38 PM

I don’t believe that Thomson was "heaping scorn" on the Times (by the way, most major metropolitan dailies review movies as thoroughly as the Times does) as much as he was suggesting the relationship of advertising revenues to editorial coverage.Does anyone believe that this "comprehensive"coverage is driven by a deep commitment to public service? By the way,what David does heap scorn on is the state of film criticism and scholarship that reduces to "Two thumbs up." Or something like that.

"That nearly every film released is the work of hundreds of people and cost millions of dollars: if a book, concert or art show was on a similar scale, I'm sure it would make it into the Times." The specious premise here leaves me aghast.Is a quantitative standard of worthiness of critical attention being suggested here? Why cover any books at all? Only one person wrote it and not much money was involved—although when money is involved such as the case of Justice Thomas’ recent 4.2 million dollar deal, that’s "news". You can bet his book will be reviewed but I guess that will be because he has proven himself to be a great legal scholar and world historical figure.

I’m almost as dismayed at the suggestion by the above worthy commentator" that reviewers are given such great powers— "they go, so we don't have to." I must say I have read many books, viewed countless movies, listened to innumerable recordings, that were dismissed by reviewers and critics and found something, and occasionally, much valuable in the object of their disdain. So there.

And while I’m at it I should say that I am not really inclined to read many reviews anyway (which is a longer digression) but I am very concerned with an issue that Eric Alterman recently raised about a particularly scathing book review:

The New York Times Book Review picks on John Szwed’s new biography of Miles Davis. I haven’t read the book yet, so maybe Adam Shatz is right about it in his screed. But the review itself points to a rarely discussed problem that seems to bother too few people, except authors who are powerless to address it. The point I wish editors would keep in mind is this: Good books are a lot harder to write than they appear to be. People who’ve never written a book have no idea how hard it is to get it right. It’s easy to take apart any book because we all would have done it differently than the author. But (in most cases) we didn’t. If you’ve never written a book, it is almost impossible to know what kinds of compromises and trade-offs are necessary just to get the thing into some coherent and readable form. Most authors — particularly those who have experienced bad reviews — have a great deal of empathy for this kind of thing. Reviewers who’ve never written a book — particularly young ones — are rarely so sensitive. I’m not saying that nobody who’s never written a book should be allowed to review. Some of the best reviewers alive fall under that category. But they are a rare breed indeed. I don’t trust this review because I’ve been watching Adam Shatz write Cockburn-like hatchet jobs on some of America’s most learned and thoughtful intellectual voices — like Paul Berman and Michael Walzer — in The Nation, to its shame, but I’ve yet to see him step up and face the music himself. Let’s see how he handles this kind of review once he does.

In Boston,curiously,for years the Globe’s Jay Carr exhibited the reverse inclination.Carr seemingly never saw a movie he didn’t like.Anyway, it appears to be a given in the media bath we live in that we need cultural arbiters. Paradoxically, it’s an issue that resolves (OR DEVOLVES?) to the next level:who are the good ones?

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 17, 2003 8:39 PM

Food fight! Food fight!

Felix, are you going to let Robert get away with this? Time to be a man, and not some overeducated, overarticulate English wuss!

Me, I'm stayin' outta this one. But will be an eager spectator!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 17, 2003 8:54 PM

No, of course I'm not going to let Robert get away with this. And I'm glad you're staying out of this one, Michael, because it will be a pleasure to prove to you that I can respond to others just as I do to you...

Let's see now.

Does anyone believe that this "comprehensive"coverage is driven by a deep commitment to public service?
Yes, I do. I do not think that the Times's advertising revenue from film studios would decline noticeably were it to stop reviewing every film released. It has a monopoly, it is the home town newspaper of the two most important film markets in the country, and distributors and studios need it to get their films noticed. I do not think that the Times's comprehensive coverage is some kind of reprehensible quid pro quo for ad pages.

what David does heap scorn on is the state of film criticism and scholarship that reduces to "Two thumbs up."
Robert, you cleverly don't quite say here whether you mean the Times or not. I think the state of criticism at the Times is generally excellent: obviously, I don't agree with all their reviews, and some could be better, but given the quantity of material, I think the quality is excellent. You try writing a full-length review of an uninspiring (either positively or negatively) film like Nicholas Nickleby some time. It's hard. David Thomson has it easy, because if he doesn't want to review a film, he doesn't have to. He can write about the films he feels strongly about, and leave the rest alone. Not all reviewers have that luxury, or should have it.
As for the "two thumbs up" – I hope that isn't a snipe at Roger Ebert, who is one of the most interesting and erudite film critics alive today.

"That nearly every film released is the work of hundreds of people and cost millions of dollars: if a book, concert or art show was on a similar scale, I'm sure it would make it into the Times." The specious premise here leaves me aghast.Is a quantitative standard of worthiness of critical attention being suggested here?
In a word, yes. Of course, there are other standards of worthiness of critical attention as well. If something is extremely good, it's worthy. If something is authored by someone who is extremely good, then it's worthy of critical attention too, even if this particular work isn't so good. Etc. There are lots of reasons why one might want to review something, and the fact that hundreds of people and millions of dollars went into it is definitely one of those reasons, and not a particularly bad one, either. It's certainly better than the fact that the author happens to write for the newspaper which is reviewing the book – and that happens the whole time.

I must say I have read many books, viewed countless movies, listened to innumerable recordings, that were dismissed by reviewers and critics and found something, and occasionally, much valuable in the object of their disdain. So there. And while I’m at it I should say that I am not really inclined to read many reviews anyway
Whatever. You're taking on a Britney Spears fan here, Robert. There's a lot of critically-panned stuff out there that I love, and in which I find something valuable. There are art critics out there who I trust negatively: if Hilton Kramer or Brian Sewell hates it, I'll probably like it. Of course no one should take any type of criticism at at face value. But it's still useful, in a world where one only goes to a small percentage of films which are released (and where one reads only a minuscule percentage of books released) to have reviews to help one decide. If you don't do that, good on you. Maybe you make your decisions on the basis of those ads in the Times you deplore so much. But if one reads reviews with a critical eye, one can learn a lot. At the very least, they tell you what's out there: I remember when I saw a review of a novel by Simon Armitage. The review was very negative, but I love Armitage's prose, so I went out and bought the book, and love it. I wouldn't have done that had I not seen the bad review.

a rarely discussed problem that seems to bother too few people, except authors who are powerless to address it. The point I wish editors would keep in mind is this: Good books are a lot harder to write than they appear to be
Oh, Robert, Robert, what are we to do with you? This isn't primary school, where you get an A for effort. Reviews aren't meant to praise people who have done a very difficult job just because it's difficult. What the author did or didn't go through in writing the book is usually (although not always) irrelevant. Sympathy for book-writers in general is not something I particularly want in my reviewers: I want somene who will represent me, the reader, and tell me if a book is not good to read no matter how hard it was to write. I honestly don't care whether Adam Shatz writes a book or not, and, if he does, whether it's any good or not. A good critic and a good writer are not necessarily the same thing: look at Salman Rushdie, who writes very good novels, but very weak criticism.

I'm the opposite of you: I love reading criticism, and most of the time I'd rather read an issue of the New York Review of Books than any actual book. I think that criticism, when it's good, is a wonderful thing – and of course, whether the criticism is good is largely unrelated to whether one agrees with the critic or not. I don't think we need cultural arbiters, I think we need cultural dialogue. And that happens as reviewers disagree with each other in print. Bring on the reviews! The more the better!

Posted by: Felix on January 18, 2003 4:34 PM

Oops, sorry, there's no preview button if you post from the fixed-link page. I meant, of course, "it is the home town newspaper of ONE OF the two most important film markets in the country".

Posted by: Felix on January 18, 2003 4:46 PM

Okay then.

I suppose if the price we must pay for Michael (& Friedrich) Blowhard’s good work is to allow Michael the pleasure of occasionally engineering some kind of 2 Blowhards Smackdown, I ‘m game.

As for comrade brother Felix, I am happy —well, not happy, exactly—to stand in as a surrogate for Dad here…

I’m not adverse to arguing against the evils of the Times’ monopoly — it’s power to make or break movies and restaurants and books and theatrical productions —it’s simply that that isn’t the point of David Thomson’s observation nor, I think, what Dad picked up on is his breakout quote. The main matter is that there are just many, many lousy movies being made. The proposition that movies involve serious dollars and large manpower and therefore are worthy of critical attention, as far as I can see, has still not been proved. Camouflaging the above with other good reasons for reviewing something doesn’t amount to a convincing argument for its validity

Now, brother Felix, I am glad that the Times employs four writers to cover movies (you won’t catch me advocating a shrinkage of our already embattled profession.) And I am not quibbling with the quality of its critical services (though we all know what havoc deadlines can wreak on intellectual honesty). Happily, I don’t usually avail myself of those services. Anyway, how could one argue with your conviction that the good souls at the Times would continue their beneficence even if, the greed meisters at the film companies, say, shifted their ad revenues to the Daily News or The Post?

I certainly did not mean to cause you anguish and hand wringing ("Oh Robert, Robert what are we to do with you?") by introducing Eric Alterman’s concerns about hatchet job and mean-spirited reviews. Brother Felix, brother Felix, no one was suggesting that anyone get "an A for effort." Considering the arbitrary nature of getting published and the byzantine processes of film production, I thought Alterman was calling for criticism that was more respectful of the manifold difficulties of writing and publishing (and film making) If I am going to read a review, I would rather work through Mark Costello’s very thoughtful and considered NYT commentary on Richard Price than Charles Taylor’s hack work on Elmore Leonard at Salon. Costello reread Price’s oeuvre ( wow, I got to use that word) and was considerate and measured in his disappointment with Samaritan,Price’s new novel.Taylor loved Leonard’s new collection and had the effrontery to dash off this conclusion, "My Christmas wish this year was that when Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje and Toni Morrison, to name but three, looked under their trees, they found that some kind soul had been thoughtful enough to send them a copy of Elmore Leonard's 'When the Women Come Out to Dance' ." Yup, that’s where I ask, "What was he on?"

Fundamentally,what separates us,comrade Felix is that you elevate criticism to it’s own platform while I think of it, when I think of it all, as subsidiary. I certainly wasn’t arguing for cultural arbiters but isn’t that what critics are—it seems to me that the deluge of cultural ‘product’ has assured their necessity.

Britney Spears, huh?

Fraternally yours,


Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 18, 2003 7:13 PM

Comrade Birnbaum!

The NYT. I think at the moment it might be able to make a restaurant, and it can definitely give a boost to a play or a book, but I don't think it can have a significant effect on movies. As for breaking, what once was true under Frank Rich I think obtains no longer.
As for my not proving my dollars-and-manpower assertion, how would you have me do so? Other than referring to a "specious premise", you haven't really provided any argument why it shouldn't be so. Remember that movie reviews serve two purposes: (1) to advance the critical discourse in le monde du cinéma, and (2) to help Joe New Yawker work out what he wants to see at the multiplex tonight. To refuse to review Scream 5 because it doesn't rise to the Times's elevated critical standards of artistry would be an elitist failure to serve the paper's readers.

The "greed meisters at the film companies" can't switch to the News and the Post. Too many important opinion formers don't read them. Pick up your Times today, and you'll see full-page adds for ancient films like Road to Perdition, playing at one theatre in NYC so that any Academy members who haven't seen it can go down there and vote for it to be nominated for Best Cinematography. You reach those people in the Times. Not in the Daily News.

We're going to have to agree to disagree on reviews, Comrade. (Don't worry, you won't get purged when I take over.) I like hatchet-jobs: I enjoy reading them. Have you ever read Clive James's review of Princess Daisy, by Judith Krantz? Or Anthony Lane's of, say, the Lion King? They're wonderful, and I say bring them on: the more the merrier we all will be.
Again, as a reader, or a moviegoer, I'm wholly uninterested in "the manifold difficulties of writing and publishing". I don't want my reviewer making allowances for manifold difficulties: I want to know what the finished product is like.
Which is not to say that Charles Taylor is a better critic than Mark Costello. It's just to say that a little bit of distance from the industry, whether it's publishing or moviemaking, is probably a good thing, not a bad thing, in a reviewer. It's one of those irregular verbs: I understand the manifold difficulties of film making, you do the reporting and research necessary for your job, he is a shameless junketeer.

Yours in eternal solidarity,


Posted by: Felix on January 19, 2003 12:30 PM

Damn! I was hoping for more in the way of brutality and bloodshed! Next time.

For what it's worth, Haruki Murakami once said something interesting to me (the one time I interviewed to him -- it's not as though we're buds). I'd asked him about reviews, criticism, etc. And he said something like, Well, my view of it is that critics are doing their own thing. They're making their own literature -- writing their own novels, in a funny way. The difference is that where fiction writers use, as raw material, stuff drawn mostly from life, critics use (as raw material) stuff that's already art and culture.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 19, 2003 2:36 PM

Comrade-Brother Felix:

Your commitment to the proposition that there is some egalitarian motive to be ascribed to the movie studios (other than the joy of taking everybody’s money) and the New York Times is further evidence of your generosity of spirit though it does cause me some concern about your reality testing faculties. Also, asking me to prove the negation of your "dollars-and-manpower assertion" is quite impossible, as you know.

I dare say that I am familiar with very few daily newspaper movie reviewers who " advance the critical discourse in le monde du cinéma." Even your hallowed Mr. Ebert didn’t seem to do that when he was at the Chicago Sun-Times (I lived in the great city of Chicago for a time, so I am familiar with Ebert, pre-Siskel & Ebert).

And your concern for the poor Motion Picture Academy members is also commendable, as is your need to give notice of the generosity of the Times in listing the exhibition venues of Oscar nominees and contenders. You must keep in mind the quandary thus being inflicted on those voting members, as they must now decide whether to go to the one theater showing whatever or rent the video. And then when the nominees are chosen, they will have to decide whether to leave their nests or watch the video that the Academy has so generously provided them with, along with their ballots. Hmmm.

I agree with you that we clearly disagree about reviews. Well, actually it’s really about critics. I relish reading Anthony Lane but because he is a good writer and a nimble mind. I loved reading Kael because she was a smart lady who wrote well enough to be able to articulate her highly original views and attitudes. And Sarris and Molly Haskell and so on. And not least of all David Thomson (whom, it appears to me, you denigrated somewhere in our discourse for having the luxury to pick and choose his subjects. This when you say something like,"I'm wholly uninterested in"the manifold difficulties of writing and publishing".I don't want my reviewer making allowances for manifold difficulties:I want to know what the finished product is like.")

Actually,I ‘d like to prove to you that you do not even mean such an over-statement. Have you never changed your mind about liking or disliking something on re-reading or re-viewing? I’ll wager my three volume set of The Works of Lenin that you have. Do you think that has only to do with "the finished product"? Doesn’t process—yours and the auteur’s —have some play here?

I think Don Miguel—our enlightened puppet master—has illuminated this matter with the choice Murakami insight… critics are doing something else. And again, they are not just giving us the "Thumbs up or down" criterion (now I understand the egalitarian nature of that standard.It might have worked in the Roman coliseum but I think purported works of art deserve better.) they are-Lane, Nancy Franklin, Daniel Mendelsohn (see his really smart essay on The Lovely Bones in the NYRB) Chris Hitchens, Sven Birkert—giving us something to ruminate on beyond the designated consumer item. That’s if they are doing their job well.

Brother Felix, do you think perhaps Michael didn’t realize we don’t cast shadows nor do we bleed when cut?



Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 19, 2003 5:29 PM

Greetings and salutations, Robert (that's a quote from, um, Heathers, I believe. Great film. Not sure if DT would want the NYT to review it or not.)

I have a feeling we're drifting apart here, not together, and as you know, there's a moral imperative that we workers of the paracinematic world unite. My hallowed Mr Ebert is still at the Chicago Sun-Times, he hasn't gone anywhere. My concern for Academy members and my belief in the egalitarian motives of either the film studios or the New York Times, when added together, come to precisely zero. And I didn't denigrate DT, honest! I fail to see how my changing my mind about an artwork means that I'm doing so because of the process that the auteur went through in making it. I do note that Lane, Hitchens, and, indeed, Mendelsohn, in his Lovely Bones review, are all masters of the critical hatchet-job which you elsewhere decry. As for the sanguinary nature of my self-lacerations, I note only that I've been having great difficulty shaving of late, due to my inability to see myself in the mirror...

Posted by: Felix on January 19, 2003 6:47 PM

Companero Felix:

Did you think that" David Thomson has it easy,because if he doesn't want to review a film, he doesn't have to.He can write about the films he feels strongly about, and leave the rest alone."was a laudatory remark? And if it is true that Thomson has it easier in some way what does that have to do with his "final product"?

This "process and final product" issue is finally jelling for me. Let’s see if I can explicate this thing.When I say it matters to me if Galen Rowell had to transverse dangerous terrain and deal with hazardous conditions to make his photographs,I feel like I am honoring part of the creative process.Chuck Close’s disability matters to me. Trumpeter Tom Herrell’s condition matters to me. If these things didn’t matter why do we (right fully) credit real people with the work they have created? When I suggest that the writing of a novel is a miracle of creation I am, again, honoring something that most of the human race neither cares to do nor can do.That’s on the affirmative side of the ledger. When one maintains that it’s only the book in front of them, the movie on the screen, the canvas on the wall and so on, what explains what happens when we change our minds? Did the thing change? I think not. I don’t think there are platonic forms. And I don’t think that the things we admire or detest inherently require that we remain unchanging and steadfast in such judgments. What fun is that?

If you think Mendelsohn’s observations about Siebold’s book was a hatchet- job, we must be using the word to mean different things( For example, I don’t think Hitchens’ books on Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton or Kissinger were hatchet jobs).I don’t equate a negative critique with a hatchet job.The folks I mentioned, whose writings I admire—I look upon them as samurai of critical judgment. If in the end of whatever they are writing, the publisher or the studio can’t pull any useful blurbs out,well,too bad. Me, I’m reading to experience the enlightenment one gains from proper exercise of the dialectic.

Do I get to keep my Works of Lenin?

Fond regards,


Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 19, 2003 10:12 PM

Sehr geehrte Herr Birnbaum,

When I said that DT had it easy, I wasn't criticising him. Similarly, if I say that Chuck Close has it hard, I'm not praising him. I love a good biography as much as the next man. I'm interested in artists, and what they go through to make their art. But would Mozart's symphonies have been any better had he been born with only one arm? Would Wittgenstein's philosophy have been any more insightful had he not been born into one of the richest families in the world? Be careful how far you go down this road you're following. Every time you praise Galen Garish for the hardships he went through, you're implicitly saying that the work of those artists who have it easy – well, it could be better, really. They could have had it hard, instead.

As I'm sure Michael Blowhard, Overlord of the Blogosphere, will confirm, it's a lot easier to write about things you want to write about, that you're passionate about. That makes your writings on such subjects better, not worse. Sometimes, easy is a good thing! Hell, easy is nearly always a good thing! I saw Bill Clinton give three speeches on Tuesday. They were three of the best speeches I've ever heard, and they were effortless: he's such a master of the form that he can get up and extemporise such things. If he'd spent weeks sweating them into their final form, then they would have been just as good, but I'm glad he didn't have to, and if anything the fact that they were made without notes makes them even better.

And at the risk of sounding stupidly tautological, when I change my mind about a work of art, the thing that changes is my mind. Not the art, and certainly not my epistemological status with regard to its author.

As for the hatchet-jobs, I was using the term in a purely value-neutral sense. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to say that Hitchens didn't perform a hatchet-job on Mother Theresa: it might have been a masterful one, but that doesn't make her any less hatcheted at the end. Although if you want to make a distinction between hatchet-jobs (any negative review you dislike) and samurai skewerings (any negative review you admire) then be my guest.

Ich verbleibe mit freundlichen Grüßen,


Posted by: Felix on January 20, 2003 9:16 AM

Oyez Perro!

My brother in solidarity it appears that mere contemplation of Viennese culture has you swooning and enraptured with this mantra "changing my mind means my mind has changed" Yes,cite the mighty Wittgenstein. He, polymath extra- ordinaire, of the three sibling suicides and the responsiblity for two 20th century strains of philosophy that are directly opposed to each other…

This,of course, leaves room for great Cartesian pseudo questions but what the hay (as they say in Maine) Don’t you worry about your first judgment when you know that it can change?

Anyway, I believe process is integral.You don’t. I look at some of Cartier-Bresson’s shots and marvel, "How did he get that?" It doesn’t matter to you.

I have never said that effort gets one an A .I never said that Mozart, one armed would have written better symphonies. I don’t know if Paul Wittgenstein was a better pianist before he lost his arm but something about Ravel writing a concerto for a left handed pianist is significant. Meaning, again, the process is part of it….

The difference between a hatchet job and a samurai skewering is simply the difference between a homicide and an execution.

I know it makes no difference for what lies here on the page and the validity of my propositions but my dog Rosie requires a stroll in the sub Arctic. I must hasten to oblige. Further elucidation on these issues must wait…

Keep on keeping on,


Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 20, 2003 10:42 AM

I'm glad you guys know what you're talking about, because you left me in the dust about ten comments ago. I have a dim impression, something along the lines of "Felix likes hell-for-leather, all guns loaded, criticism," and "Robert likes good criticism too, but saves a little more sympathy for the artist." Am I in the ballpark? Would either of you care to distill the central question at issue here down to about 50 clear and EZ words?

But, in any case, I am finding it very moving to see you two warriors, bloody yet unbowed, clanking tankards and singing sentimental old songs together ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 20, 2003 12:32 PM

Ah, Michael, good to have you back. I think the central point of disagreement is that Robert believes in the death penalty where I don't, and I believe in Arnie movies where he doesn't. Or something. I only wish for Robert's (and Rosie's) safe and warm return from the sub-Arctic. Without him it would be much harder to keep the red flag flying.

Posted by: Felix on January 20, 2003 5:33 PM


Okay, I think I am thawed out sufficiently to address poor Don Miguel’s cry for help and bring the clear light of reason to Felix’s dark life. Here are the points I was attempting to address, explicit and implicit:

1) The state of cinema is at a low point, perhaps even in a state of decline.

2) Cultural discourse and the common good would not suffer if every film was not reviewed by the daily newspapers (which, by the way, is not the same as saying that their venues and show times should not be listed)

3) David Thomson is great commentator on cinema and other matters.The Biographical Dictionary of Film is a treasure.

4) Something about the act/process of creation is germane to what has been created. Process and biography have relevance to art.

5) Art criticism is a refuge for scoundrels and hacks. Which is not to say every critic, every scholar, every reviewer is to be deprived of their writing utensils…

6) We live in an informational shit stream or media bath—depending on your frame of mind.

7) Who said lefties were dreary humorless technocrats? Felix has displayed an acerbic and deft wit and some out-sized cohones, in spite of his failure to comprehend the above mentioned eternal truths. But, I do believe there is hope for comrade Felix and even you Don Miguel…such are the wonders of the Dialectic

The voice of reason is small but persistent.

Robert & Rosie

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 20, 2003 9:34 PM

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