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September 22, 2006

Moviegoing: "The Black Dahlia"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Do we all have a geeky side? Ie., some topic or subject in which we so love to lose ourselves that we just don't care whether it speaks to -- or is of any conceivable use to -- outsiders?

My own geekiness has to do with movies. Oh, I can be (and I enjoy being) an adult about movies. I'm interested in the art, the craft, the audiences, the technology, the history, the experience, etc. And my responsible artsguy side is ever-wary of over-specialization and ingrown-ness. I'm convinced that artforms thrive only when sparky exchanges are taking place between artists, audiences, businesspeople, critics, etc.

Still, still ... I do have my reckless-film-geek side too. It doesn't matter to me in the least, for instance, that Robert Altman hasn't connected with a big audience since "M*A*S*H", or that almost everyone despises the films of Catherine Breillat. I love some Altman and Breillat movies with an unreasonable passion, and that's all that really matters to me. In fact, I'd hardly have any interest in movies at all if it weren't for the highs of such experiences.

(I wrote here about the joys of indulging my edgy-movieguy side; here about "Brief Crossing," a Breillat picture that I adored; and here about Altman's recent, and lovely, "A Prairie Home Companion.")

Josh and Scarlett

Which leads me to "The Black Dahlia," Brian De Palma's film of James Ellroy's novel. Amazon viewer-reviews are barely nudging into the three-star region; mainstream critic-reviews have been lukewarm at best.

I have no trouble understanding why most moviegoers would leave the film feeling dissatisfied. On a conventional story-and-character level, the film is clearly both hard to engage with and tough to follow. 90% of the time, I'm someone who's eager to argue that the story-and-character level is the most fundamental level that a work of narrative fiction exists on.

But, y'know, I have (and had) no interest in judging "The Black Dahlia." What am I, a critic? I should think not! And I can report that I watched "The Black Dahlia" in a state of near-complete bliss. Narrative, character, and clarity -- pffft to all that! With the film's opening shots, my Inner Film Geek kicked in. I spent the next couple of hours completely absorbed in abstract film-geek concerns: staging, lighting, editing, composition, style, film-history mischief, movement. What could be more fun?

Among directors of big-budget, narrative-driven films Brian De Palma is a unique case. Though he has an avant-garde mind and talent -- he's a film geek himself, and nothing if not provocative and style-obsessed -- he's also drawn to large-scale popular entertainments. For a few years, he had the public's pulse. The hits he made during that stretch ("Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "Scarface") made him a major director of commercial films -- a status he still enjoys even though he has since lost his feeling for the taste of the general public.

These days, he makes big narrative movies that are about as abstract as big narrative movies can be. (I wrote here about "Femme Fatale," his 2002 meditation on thriller themes.) On the geeky level I connect with his work on, De Palma's movies are arrangements of color, movement, gesture, sound and ideas; they're almost completely divorced from anything resembling conventional content. They're film-geek games executed on a cartoon-operatic scale that geeks seldom get a chance to work on.

"The Black Dahlia" doesn't deliver the really-super-ultra giddy / kinky highs of some of De Palma's movies, and I'm sorry that De Palma's interest in eroticism didn't find a way to contribute to this project. But that's quibbling. The staging! The conceptual audacity! The way the p-o-v moves about! The way the action, the camera, and the editing all dance together! And those gorgeous diagonals!!! Have I ever seen such thrillingly-placed diagonals? The whole over-engineered contraption purrs like a Mercedes. And when De Palma revs the engine up it attains some impressive RPMs, especially in a few crazy-rich-family scenes that feature a very brilliant Fiona Shaw.

Just to bow politely to conventional complaints for a sec ... The film's main character, an ex-boxer cop played by Josh Hartnett, is infuriatingly passive and sensitive; despite the film's title, its action doesn't really much concern the Black Dahlia murder case; and the storyline keeps branching into ever-new, ever-more-bewildering forks. Frustrating!

But for geeky me, watching "The Black Dahlia" was heaven -- like experiencing a '40s noir, but one as seen backwards and upside down, as well as through the lens of an Italian giallo director such as Dario Argento or Mario Bava. (De Palma has always crossed abstract elegance with a lot of boyish prankishness.) The film is pure design that has been pushed into freakishness yet that never loses its poise. This is "the movies" conceived of as the ultimate psychedelic, and not as a waking dream but as a waking nightmare.

The acting is mostly far-out and daring -- as downtown-bizarro as anything Richard Foreman or the Wooster Group might present. Where his performers go, De Palma sometimes struggles with the basics. This time around, though, I thought he and his cast did well. Scarlett Johansson may be too young for her role, but when she's wearing blonde waves, white Lana Turner cashmere, and red gun-moll lipstick, and she's being teased into glowing receptivity by Vilmos Zsigmond's camera, who's gonna complain? Visually, Scarlett is first-class, hardboiled, angel-food cake.

To my mind, though, the film's revelation was Hillary Swank, who is luscious, scary, and comic as a decadent vixen/vamp heiress. Swank gets a chance to show what she can do along the lines of sultry and smokin'-hot, and she nails the challenge good.

Swank, Hartnett

So far as the narrative/character end of the film went ... Well, perhaps unfairly I blame the film's problems on James Ellory and not on Brian De Palma. I've never been crazy about Ellroy's novels, which seem to me less like crime fiction than they do like over-the-top critical essays on the theme of great crime fiction. Time and again, reading his books, I think: "But why are these people acting like this? And why has the story gone this way and not that way?" The only explanation I can ever come up with is that Ellroy likes his themes, his icons, and his statements more than he does his characters and his situations.

To my mind, most of the best crime fiction is taut and unpretentious. It's demotic -- and often modest -- narrative poetry. Even "Chinatown," great though it is, comes dangerously close to being too self-conscious and portentous -- too deliberately metaphorical. James Ellroy is anything but unself-conscious. He's one of those writers who can't help watching himself write. He does all the critics' work for them; he writes crime fiction that's as full of itself as the kind of criticism that's sometimes written in praise of crime fiction. Plus I find Ellroy's amped-up, excess-above-all-things, wildman act tiresome. But maybe I'm being unfair! And maybe I'd like him personally! Who can ever really be sure about these things?

Related: Surfing the web, it was fun to learn that the movie was in gestation for more than a decade; that it had many different directors attached (including, just before De Palma, David Fincher); and that it was largely shot in Bulgaria.

Andy Horbal wrestles with the split between the avant-garde brilliance of the filmmaking in "The Black Dahlia" and the film's problems with story.

Recent interviews with Brian De Palma can be found here, here, here, and here.

Scarlett says that what surprised her most about working with De Palma was that he's a very funny guy. It was interesting to learn from Wikipedia that Scarlett is of half-Danish and half-Jewish descent. She certainly makes the combo look good.

Asked to describe today's L.A., James Ellroy calls it "a multi-cultural hellhole, overpopulated, egregiously smoggy." Ellroy fans won't want to miss his recent, and characteristically gonzo, autobiographical essay for the LA Times.

There's a certain kind of film geek that really gets Brian De Palma ...

Which of the arts are you geekiest about?



UPDATE: Colleen quarrels with the acting in "The Black Dahlia." Colleen has a brand-new design-biz site up too.

posted by Michael at September 22, 2006


I love movies. When I was a kid I used to go to the movies almost every Saturday. In college I belonged to a couple of film societies. I can geek out on films with the best of them.

Brian De Palma bores the life out of me even though I have followed his career and have seen most of his films including his early experimental work with De Niro and others. Hell, I still even remember some of the “New Yorker” reviews in which Pauline Kael furiously defended De Palma’s work. I remain unconvinced.

He has tried to imitate his betters, especially Hitchcock (e.g. “Obsession,” a sad, pale imitation of “Vertigo”), but he lacks the Master’s imagination and understanding of audiences. Worse, there is something soulless about De Palma. Hitch loved to shock or surprise audiences, to play with them. De Palma (who equals Hitchcock with respect to technique) would rather be a smartass who can’t suspend his own disbelief at the often obvious artificiality of his work. Michael describes De Palma’s work as a kind of abstract cartoon, but even a Road Runner short has more heart than De Palma’s best work (and is equally abstract).

Hitchcock often picked great source material, chose his screenwriter collaborators well and used narrative as a jumping-off point for his cinematic dexterity. It may have helped him tremendously that he began in the silent era, where a strong, easily understandable story had to be at the core of every film. De Palma seems to suffer under the burden of film history and has never shaken off the influence of filmmakers he copies and admires.

By the way, Hitchcock is famous for making a cameo appearance in all his films. But I also think that in his modern work he almost always included a pivotal scene without dialog, another kind of in-joke, but also a demonstration that if you get audiences involved they can follow the flow of the movie without being hit over the head with stuff that they can figure out for themselves. So, for example, in “North by Northwest,” when Leo G. Carroll explains to Cary Grant that Eva Marie Saint is a government agent, the entire scene is done as a pantomime as noise drowns out the conversation. Sidney Lumet perhaps quotes this scene in “The Verdict” when Jack Warden tells Paul Newman how Charlotte Rampling has betrayed them. Both directors know that the audience is more interested to the characters’ reaction to the revelation than to the specifics of the dialog.

I don’t have much to say about “The Black Dahlia” except that I dutifully went to see it and was disappointed. I love film noir (e.g. “Out of the Past,” one of the best of the best), but I don’t particularly need to see it endlessly recreated. The casting, particularly of the leads, was uninspired, which is a fatal error for a project that probably resonated more with the Hollywood crowd than it ever could with younger audiences, a problem shared with the recent film about the death of George “Superman” Reeves. But “Hollywoodland,” despite its awkward title and equally poor lead casting, is a much more interesting film than “Dahlia.”

I agree that it may have been a strategic mistake for De Palma to use Ellroy’s work as source material (Cinematic Baroque meets Literary Baroque, not a good match). An alternate video recommendation: 1981’s “True Confessions,” which also deals indirectly with the “Black Dahlia” murder, with Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro.

Posted by: Alec on September 22, 2006 3:13 PM

"Scarlett Johansson...who's gonna complain?"

I am - she can't act for toffee.

Wet paper bag... out of...

...not going to happen.

Posted by: Nigel on September 22, 2006 3:21 PM

Alec -- Nice rant! I'll try to make the case that looking for human content in De Palma's work (aside from thrills and sexiness) is missing the point, which is Aspie-style ingrown thrills. He's cold and inhuman (if in a gleeful way), and doesn't have a lick of "True Confessions" (let alone Sidney Lumet) in him. But then I'll let it go. As far as I can tell, there are just those who groove on De Palma and those who don't. Neither's right or wrong. Is "Hollywoodland" worth a theater visit for? I like noir, I love Diane Lane ... But waiting for the DVD always beckons ...

Nigel -- In addition to all her other assets, you want her to be able to act? Lordy.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 22, 2006 4:02 PM

Hell. I started to leave a brief comment disagreeing with you wholeheartedly and it turned into a overly-long diatribe.

As usual.

Well, suffice to say, I disagree. Except, of course, on the advantages of being half-Jewish, half-Nordic. On that, we're in 100% agreement...

Posted by: communicatrix on September 22, 2006 4:27 PM

We disagree about the movie? About geekiness? And where'd that long diatribe go anyway? I want it!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 22, 2006 5:06 PM

I really liked 'Scarface'. Yes I know it was a trashy movie but it was great fun. And I like the way it shows Tony's glimmerings of conscience (not wiping out the dude with his kids) being the thing that gets him killed. No American optimism here: sure you can get to the top from the bottom, but you have to kill for it.

Posted by: SFG on September 22, 2006 5:54 PM

I'm with Alec on this one.

Scarlett Johannsen plays every role the same way: narcotized vacuousness.

Hillary Swank looks like skater Nancy Kerrigan's double, and acts about as well.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 22, 2006 6:08 PM

Is there something about LA? It seems that so many film makers fall into a self-induced swoon about the place; and feel that representing that swoon in a film is reason enough for that film to be.

Posted by: ricpic on September 22, 2006 7:09 PM

Scarlett Johannsen: the only thing Jewish about her is how she shows you those tits and at the same time disavows any connection to them.

Posted by: ricpic on September 22, 2006 7:33 PM

Johannson played the Woody Allen role in Scoop a while back; that was pretty Jewish.

As for film geekery: if you say Mizoguchi, I shall become more geeky than you can possibly imagine. (Or Victor Seastrom, or Robert Flaherty for gosh sakes, or Sven Nikvist who just died, sadly.) I'll watch anything from Scandinavian silents to women-in-prison pictures to Third World arthouse to the latest digital noisefest. I recently had a Curtis Harrington festival and I was the only one invited.* But DePalma? Hmmm. Always missed the boat on him.

He reminds me of that other filmgeek's filmgeek, Quentin. Supposedly they both make fast and furious, no holds barred celebrations of pure cinemaaaaaaaah. Fine. They fill their pictures with non-stop action and rule-breaking glee. Fine. And I'm told that no filmbuff could possibly resist their cine-geek appeal. Fine again. But why do they both make me so sleepy?

I think I'll check out TBD on your say so, Michael. You hipped me to The Island after all.

* - (I recommend Night Tide if you like moody chillers with a good dollop of real-life grit thrown in. Dennis Hopper's in it!)

Posted by: Brian on September 22, 2006 8:23 PM

Alec, Nigel, Peter, Ricpic -- Hold on a minute, dudes. You can't get out of this one without volunteering what your own arts-geekery focuses on. What are you completely don't-give-a-damn-what- anyone-else-thinks bonkers about in the arts?

SFG -- "sure you can get to the top from the bottom, but you have to kill for it." A nice way of putting it!

Brian -- Put me down on your Mizoguchi and Seastrom-geek list. Yeah, I get the similarity between Quentin and De Palma too, though I don't actually enjoy Quentin much. He always strikes me as mighty stiff-jointed, where De Palma can really fly. I think part of what's great about De Palma is that he doesn't so much make a movie as manage to put on screen how some people experience movies, or maybe dream about them. But it must look flat as a pancake to people who aren't on the same wavelength. I don't think "Black Dahlia" is going to convert anyone who isn't already a De Palma buff into one, btw ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 22, 2006 9:03 PM

I know this is an obvious choice, but Scorsese's "Goodfellas" struck me as the most vertiginous, bravura, fun exploration of the way movie technique can illuminate theme. He's never equalled it since.

Normally I like stuff influenced by neorealism, which is the very opposite of bravura. I think Satyajit Ray is a genius.

Posted by: MQ on September 22, 2006 9:45 PM

Dear Michael:

OK, I'll volunteer three personal geekazoid subjects: Yves Tanguy, Philip Wylie, and Jack Woodford.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 22, 2006 9:48 PM

Oh, Michael--there's no way I could disagree with you on geekery. My own fave geekouts are more idiosyncratic and narrowly-focused, but they exist in multitude: Eric Rohmer, Dragnet, photos and memoribilia of mid-century Los Angeles & SoCal suburbia, pretty much anything to do with retro L.A., Charles Bukowski, telephone equipment, authentic southern Italian 'gravy' and meatball recipes and black, high-heeled pumps.

Hell, ANY high-heeled pumps.

And I spared you the diatribe on your site. This time...

Posted by: communicatrix on September 22, 2006 11:01 PM

It's not Mizoguchi but Kurosawa that comes to mind when I see a De Palma film, and it's what Michael might call the lush cinematics. I also Gothic and Baroque architecture--art that is acquisitive and generous. Kurosawa, De Palma, Stan Brakhage--a handful of film makers have actually influenced the way my eye processes visual stimuli in my own world, have helped me to sense the Baroque spectacle that holds up the mundane. And thereby enriched me.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on September 23, 2006 1:17 AM

My admiration for De Palma is virtually unlimited, but I really disliked this movie and thought it would never end. It contains only one great De Palma Moment, the scene in which Lee is killed, and as I watched I was wishing I were watching on DVD so I could play this scene over and over again, something I'll certainly do when the DVD is released. The problem, I think, is that De Palma is just the wrong director for this material. Ellroy's novel is plot plot plot, and De Palma just doesn't care enough about plot to make the story make sense on any level. David Fincher would have been a much better choice, even though he's far from being in De Palma's league.

A director I'd recommend for fellow De Palma geeks is Nicolas Roeg, who reminds me of De Palma in some ways but isn't nearly as famous. I'd suggest "Don't Look Now" and "Bad Timing" for starters, but anything he's done is worth seeing.

Posted by: Michael P on September 23, 2006 9:57 AM

MQ -- Satyajit Ray *is* a genius, no?

Peter -- I'm impressed by the geekery! I had to go to Wikipedia to find out who Wylie and Woodford are. What do you love about their work?

Colleen -- Did you see that there's a new Criterion set of Rohmers? I hadn't checked Rohmer out on DVD because I'd heard the Fox Lorber DVDs bit. But maybe Criterion has done the movies justice. The Wife loves "Dragnet," though not in a geeky way. We both love Bukowski. Have you caught the recent docu about him? We're halfway thru -- it's interesting, if (as you'd expect) not a pretty picture.

Francis -- That's nicely put, tks. One thing that I think often gets overlooked in discussions about De Palma is his interest in beauty per se. Not just the babes and gals, but the fabrics, light, locations, wallpaper, etc. It's all very specific, very lush. He seems to be fascinated too by what beauty can do to your brain and senses -- make you take leave of both, basically ...

Michael P -- I hear ya. I could have used two or three more Big Moments myself. Good to hear you enjoy Roeg too. The one Roeg I get a kick out of that I seldom hear discussed is "Castaway." Er, is that the title? Anyway, the one with Oliver Reed and the wonderful Amanda Donohoe. It seemed to me to be a comic retelling of his own fascination with Teresa Russell. And how about that "Full Body Massage," eh? I'm surprised when I look at IMDB on Roeg by how many of his films I've barely even heard of. Also by the fact that he's almost 80 years old now ...

Hey, a thought for anyone willing to roll it around? De Palma's movies are thought of as kicks for geeks, and I obviously semi-experience them as such. But I also take them as compositions. For some reason I have no interest in judging them or even thinking about them much as movies (characters, action, arcs, etc, enhance by visuals and sound). Instead they make me think of big murals. Big arrangements of movie elements on movie themes on a huge canvas, rather like the big mosaic murals at Radio City. I experience 'em as two-dimensional, hyper-stylized, glittery contraption/constructions. I never understood the critics who tried to justify his work in human terms (except maybe glee, briliance, wit, and sexiness). Well, I guess there are traces of 3D in "Blow Out" and "Casualties of War," and that's OK, but they're often awkward. And much of what I take to be the best De Palma is all about dementia -- those "have I just lost my mind? Why am I exeperiencing things in such a strange, distorted way?" moments. Like Kubrick, only more boyish and fluid.

But, of course, if it doesn't work for you it doesn't work for you ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2006 10:34 AM

I don't go to movies but Scarlett's photos are great.

She's from an atheist family and is in the atheist's hall of fame somewhere on the net.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 23, 2006 12:33 PM

Michael: The whole revelling in pure cinema business is fine and dandy - hell, lay it one me, it's what I came for! - but I get it from Eisenstein flicks or Griffith grand finales or Josef von Sternberg's "relentless exercise[s] in pure style", to name a few. The DePalma pictures I've seen strike me as too low-octane to sustain that kind of revelry on brilliance alone. Like you said about Quentin, he seems a bit stiff-jointed.

But maybe I haven't seen the right stuff. What would you say are the best DePalma flicks for the skeptic?

Posted by: Brian on September 23, 2006 3:03 PM

John -- Being a great still-camera subject is a big part of being a movie star.

Brian -- It sounds like you and De Palma are just on two different wavelengths. I mean, you're a film freak, you've seen at least some of the key De Palma's. If they didn't grab you then, why would they grab you now? I guess my own fave, FWIW, is "Dressed to Kill." I lit up like a Christmas blub and giggled like a fiend all the way through it. I wouldn't say he's reveling in pure cinema ... He says that, some of his fans say that. But I'm more on about how he manages to put on screen how some people experience and dream about movies, and how they're like glittering murals on movie themes. I take 'em more as downtown/college-type prankish-surreaslist experiments on feature-film riffs than as feature films themselves.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2006 3:21 PM

Michael – I’m not much into the geekdom and unreasonable passion thing. I see articulate appreciation, reflection and criticism as essential to all art. But there are a few artists of enduring personal interest. In film and TV, Hiroshi Inagaki, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Joss Whedon. Elsewhere, Phoebe Gloeckner, Larry Gonick, Marjane Satrapi and Robert W. Chambers.

By the way I think you hit on the essence of De Palma when you say, “I take 'em more as downtown/college-type prankish-surreaslist experiments on feature-film riffs than as feature films themselves.” The only problem is that he has been doing the same thing over and over again since his earlier, short films like “Greetings” or “Hi, Mom!” I got the joke the first time and don’t need to see it repeated for the umpteenth time with no variation.

Curious that there are some uber-intellectual film purists who eat De Palma up as well (“De Palma is a high formalist whose deliberately artificial constructions force audiences to confront the notion that mimetic representation in film is a hopeless enterprise …”).

Posted by: Alec on September 25, 2006 6:58 AM

Alec - Funny, my wife is an big Inagaki fan herself. But Robert W. Chambers I'm going to have to Google ...

As for the rationalizations the crix come up with to justify their enjoyment of De Palma -- well, the kinds of things intellectuals say to justify liking what they like is a good subject for a blog posting, isn't it? Hmm, maybe it's the diff between liking what you like and doing your best to talk about it (what civilians do) and liking what you like and having a whole ideology or at least raft of intellectual riffs to shore your tastes up (critics and intellectuals) ... Hmm.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 25, 2006 8:32 AM

About the original James Ellroy books, I don't think I've ever seen a leap of quality from one book to the next as I've seen from the ill-constructed, coarse "The Black Dahlia" to the terrifying, compelling "The Big Nowhere." Ellroy either got a really good new editor or he suddently mastered the craft of thriller-writing in about a year.

Also, no mention of the superb DeNiro/Duvall "True Confessions" (1981), a retelling of the Black Dahlia mystery from another perspective? Has everyone forgotten this film?

Posted by: jult52 on September 25, 2006 2:11 PM

Well, just got back from a matinee showing. Let's just say I'm still not a DePalma fan.

It's been said that the two formulas for a good story are ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, or extraordinary characters in ordinary situations. The Black Dahlia hits the sweet spot: ordinary characters in ordinary situations. I left early.

But I've noticed something interesting in current films, one of the main things that makes them so boring: the affectless nonentity, a character with no personality traits whatsoever.

Back in the old days, writers and actors without inspiration could fall back on stage types. If they didn't have a handle on the role, or if they just didn't have time to think of something new, they could simply rummage through their actor's bag of tricks and pull out an old and tested persona - the sensitive tough guy, the dashing romantic lead, the ingenue, the kindly parson, the society matron, and so forth.

But today's creative folk have no need for such traditional fallbacks! They eschew the hoary tropes of melodrama! They can create their own characters, by gum! Except oftentimes they can't. So with no genuinely interesting character being brought forth by creative actors, and no foolproof types to fall back on for coarse actors, we get the new hero for our time: the affectless nonentity.

In The Black Dahlia Josh Harnett plays an affectless nonentity, adding to his already considerable gallery of same. Mark Walberg is another master of the form, giving us what is perhaps the archetypal affectless nonentity in the Tim Burton travesty of Planet of the Apes.

I hate movies.

The only part I really liked was Stephen Fry's cameo as a top-hatted lesbian. I never even knew he could sing!

Posted by: Brian on September 25, 2006 6:24 PM

Michael – Re “Funny, my wife is an big Inagaki fan herself.” Are we talking “47 Ronin," "Samurai Trilogy” Inagaki here? I have met very few American women who are big fans of this director’s work.

Robert W. Chambers wrote an 1895 horror story collection called “The King In Yellow.” When I was a teenager, I bought a paperback copy of this book and the novel “Dune” from a liquor store that had a rack of used books in the rear of the store. They also nonchalantly sold small magazines featuring the photos of Bettie Paige to teens, so you can say that my adolescent universe expanded in all kinds of directions thanks to that store owner (though oddly enough, I never tried to buy liquor at the liquor store).

Geeks and intellectuals come up with similar rationalizations to justify their enjoyment of De Palma and other filmmakers. Neither stance is inherently true or false. Criticism, even informal, is a continual conversation about art. Everybody wins. Also, increasing sophistication in criticism is as natural as storytelling. Ask a 14 year old why he or she doesn’t read nursery rhymes anymore and you will get an obvious “Because I’m not a baby anymore. Duh!”

The primary difference between civilians and professionals is that the professional must bring a deeper knowledge of the subject (not just theory or intellectual riffs) to his or her work. I can understand it when a civilian says “I never watch black and white movies.” A professional critic saying this would be a fool. A De Palma fan who has never seen “Greetings” or 1932’s “Scarface” – no problem. A professional who would make definitive statements about De Palma without knowing these works would be an idiot. A civilian can get away with saying something like “I like John Wayne movies” as though Wayne himself authored his films. But even a talented amateur has to be able to distinguish between Howard Hawks and John Ford.

Posted by: Alec on September 26, 2006 5:37 PM

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