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The Reeler Blog

An Open Letter to James Rocchi

TO: James Rocchi, Cinematical Editor-in-Chief

Dear James,

I wanted to take a moment to write in response to your piece "From the Editor's Desk: Top Ten-dinitis and the Science of Scent" as published late Tuesday on Cinematical. You took some pretty vicious swipes at me for lumping you and three of your critics among my Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2006; I'm a "mean-spirited" purveyor of "playground bullying," you wrote, guilty of "the sort of piece you'd imagine Antony [sic] Lane writing if he had the misfortune of being young today -- if young Lane had never read a book or traveled or had any reason or preparation for being anything other than a smug, gifted master of blanket dismissals."

Well, James, I'm awfully sorry you feel that way. You must have missed my introduction, in which I explained that Top 10 lists -- yours, your staff's, anybody's, really -- aren't about movies, but they are about the playground: They're about filling space with purplish, interchangeable prose addressing the same 10 percent of the year's releases as everybody else. It's a critic-club pissing contest, anti-cinema and anti-reader. It's also a seasonal sell; to me, a critic's job is to introduce new ways of looking at art, not to lobby for Scorsese's Oscar or to rank A Prairie Home Companion in relation to its director's heart rate.

I also thought my comments made an efficient, emphatic point about the perils of complacency -- say, copying and pasting one's top 10 list before deigning to write one out, leaving a vacuum of imagination so immense it needs its own server at AOL. Naturally this impacts your writers, who, under previous editorial regimes, had the guidance, encouragement and institutional mandate to publish intelligent film writing and who have since seen their work buried under untold hundreds of posts per month in dozens of categories lacking any real order, direction or ingenuity. For this privilege, of course, they are grossly underpaid -- caught up in their own "misfortune of being young today," I suppose, working for the Weblogs Inc. family.

Certainly, that's not your fault, and I don’t intend this correspondence in mean spirits or as a personal attack. Ask around, James: It's just bad work, and at any rate, you should know from your own recent writings that calling "bullshit" is as necessarily redeeming (if not more so, in the long run) as issuing boilerplate plaudits. Thank heavens that the directors you targeted in your own 10-worst list -- human beings doing a job just like the rest of us -- possess thicker skin than ours and haven't gone calling all of us out for exercising our indiscreet, holier-than-thou film critic/journalist prerogatives.

And even if they did -- really, so what, right? That's why I sincerely appreciate you directing your readers to The Reeler, where a micro-staff of freelancers and I are doing our best -- and I admit we have a ways to go -- to build a comprehensive, pro-cinema, reader-friendly resource dedicated to what's happening in New York City film. Permit me this aside to those visiting from Cinematical: I hope you'll stick around for a while and have a look at our exclusive features like this one about the upheaval in The Village Voice film section or our great package of stories about the ongoing Woody Allen retrospective at Film Forum. We have regular reporting on art cinema, foreign films, undistributed indies and mainstream Hollywood fare. We're at premieres and events around town, and offer a calendar of listings of film-related things to do in the city. We have New York festival updates, with exhaustive coverage planned at the end of this month for local filmmakers going to Sundance.

I'm especially proud of our reviews section, with top-flight writers like Michelle Orange, Eric Kohn, Vadim Rizov, Matt Singer and Aaron Hillis contributing outstanding work week-in, week-out. Then there's The Blog, which I update two or three times daily with reported bits (like this one featuring Guillermo Del Toro, or this one about Inland Empire's box office score at IFC Center) and other odds and ends from New York media. It's not bad for a 3-month-old, and I hope you'll bookmark us and/or add The Reeler to your RSS feeds to pass along your comments, counsel and support as we continue to grow.

The same goes for you, James -- you're welcome here any time. Now would Anthony Lane extend such an invitation?

All best for 2007,


Posted at January 3, 2007 9:47 AM

Comments (1)

You should've just posted a camera phone photo of your butt.

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