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The Reeler Blog

Lower Your Voice: Nathan Lee Laid Off For "Economic Reasons"

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Hardly 18 months after signing on as a full-time critic at The Village Voice, Nathan Lee is out for what he disclosed in an e-mail to colleagues as, well, I'll leave it to him:

In great Village Voice tradition, I was abruptly laid off today for "economic reasons." My employment at the paper ends immediately: someone else, alas, will be tasked with specifying the precise shade of periwinkle frosting atop the cupcakes in My Blueberry Nights.

And so I am, as they say, "looking for work," though presumably not as a staff film critic as such jobs no longer appear to exist.

Indeed, as I reported in part last week at Defamer, New York newspapers have now lost four full-time film critics in the last month. If this keeps up, who will compose the New York Film Critics Circle? At this rate, it'll be Armond White splitting the Jim Hoberman and Rex Reed votes, with Indiana Jones 4 ekeing out a narrow Best Picture victory come December. Online critics, get your campaigns mounted now.

Posted at March 24, 2008 9:17 PM

Comments (41)

at this rate, i'll be a senior member of the nyffc within the year.

thank god.

*note: still won't be allowed in the nyfcc.

I know I'm probably persona non grata here to even comment on this, but is it possible his recent extended leave for unspecified personal reasons had something to do with this?

I claim no insider knowledge and don't know the answer. But it seems possible.

Thank goodness. It's about time his miserable snark was removed from the Voice. Now...for the rest of their shitty critics.

I wanted to just post my sympathies to Mr. Lee, who's been a solid presence at that great sinking ship, the Voice--if he never quite filled the void left by the departures of Michael Atkinson, Jessica Winter, et al, it wasn't entirely his fault--you can't fight Rampant Bad Decisions. His writing is sometimes snarky and self-conscious, yes, but always lively, and his taste is always adventurous.

I wanted to post on just that.

But I can't let this slide. Luke Y. Thompson (LYT, in the above comment), who last time I checked actually works for the same paper/conglomerate/blob that just fired Nathan Lee, has struck yet another strident blow of idiocy by trying to submarine a former colleague--one who just got canned, no less--by airing what, under civilized terms, might accurately be called "none of his fucking business."

I'm sorry, what business of it is ours that he took an extended leave recently? What are you going for here--you're trying to plant a seed of suspicion? Who are you, Karl Rove?

You're a ladder-climbing dumb-fuck snake.

Luke, seriously, just slither back down to Fraggle Rock and write more sixth-string reviews of Mad Money and Drillbit Taylor; that is, the movies no one else over twelve wants to review. Try as you might, no one will ever take you seriously, no matter how many prestige brands you luck into.

He fired a similar round of comments like this during the first critic cuts at the Voice. It's pretty hilarious..he just gets pummeled--give it a read. (And yes, I'm one of the commenters...God, this guy pisses me off):

http://davekehr.com/?p=81

Oh, but maybe you're just trying to provoke, to get more views on your little website--in that case, SURE, just keep spreading rumors about co-workers, former and current. Why stop there? I'm sure there are family and friends ripe for the pickin'.

In the meantime, grab some pride, loser.

hey, john m.

i owe you a beer the next time you're at grassroots.

and hey "LYT."

way to be a brown-trout son of a bitch.

Excellent! Film Critics fighting. Can't wait till it degenerates to criticizing each others' favorite movies!

Luke, your comment strikes me as useless at best and quite possibly vile. You're a colleague of his; playing gossip at this moment, publicly no less, is just bad.

There are plenty of lousy critics who also manage to be good colleagues and good people. Nathan Lee is a good critic and a good colleague.

Luke Y. Thompson, who is neither, shows his class is every bit equal to his critical acumen by pedaling gossip about a colleague who has just lost his job.

Luke, why don't you see if they need film critics in Iraq? Preferably outside the Green Zone.

No one reads the Voice anyway.

What's funny is the comment about Nathan Lee dispensing "miserable snark." Lee is one of the least miserable-sounding critics around. Dude always sounds like he loves his work, love movies, laughs easily.

C'mon! Hair-pulling!

"Au hasard Balthazar is ass!"

"It's not The Rules of the Game it's La Regle du jeu!"

"Godard is God!"

"God is dead!"

This isn't good news for anyone...not the Voice, not criticism in general, and certainly not for Nathan, who has done nothing but lively, provocative work. Well put, Steven Boone.

As someone who works the books and film beats, I should point out that arts journalism as a whole is currently a considerably insecure place. Arthur Salm was also canned today as books editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune. At Tribune newspapers, arts critics await layoffs. A hiring freeze at the New York Times has caused some staffers to perform double duty. A casual run through Romenensko will see a remarkable casualty list.

If "lively, provocative work" is falling asunder and the decline of print arts journalism is an inevitability, then perhaps the better question we should ask ourselves is what we can do about it. Do critics seize the means of production and initiate a venture of their own? Or do critics continue to face the bane of "economic problems" -- shorthand for "We can hire someone younger, cheaper, and less experienced to do your job, just because we can" -- instead of fighting hard for their turf?

Nathan Lee is an excellent critic who is also not ashamed of a little showmanship--he trumpets what he loves and hurls gauntlets left and right. We need more and not fewer critics with his kind of passion. I have heard through the grapevine (as long as we're gossiping) that the Voice would use him regularly and hire him back with benefits as soon as its bottom line changed for the better. I only mention that to show that a) he was not let go because of some dark secret or because he's not exceptional at what he does and b) that letters to the editor might help. As long as no bridges have been burned, this doesn't have to be a permanent state of affairs. Now let's see what we can do for another vital critical voice... with the initials CT.

Nathan deserves his job back for many reasons--not least of all, so the children of America don't think all film writers look like me. Nathan should be our recruiting poster!

I'd like to apologize, here and now.

I posted late at night and it was ill-considered. Others had publicly discussed the time off before and it didn't seem like "leaking" anything.

My perspective was more of a "holy shit, you take time off and this happens?" reaction. It didn't come out that way. I don't know Nathan and have no knowledge of the situation.

Those of you who dislike me, continue to do so. Those who know me know I shoot my mouth off sometimes. Comes with being a critic.

Luke,

If that's the case, then I apologize for some of the severe tone in my post. (Though I still wish you'd put a lot more effort into your criticism.)

Next time, yeah, just sleep on it.

And I agree wholeheartedly that maybe the best tactic from now on is to move past who gets fired from where, and concentrate on where all these fine writers can go...surely there's a billionaire out there who'd support a publication dedicated to the arts.

Right?

Meanwhile, the New York Times just looks better and better, eh?

You know, John, even if you don't like me, I think I do kinda like you -- the Fraggle Rock line was good.

Sleeping on it is indeed the right advice.

John M, this is the second time I've read the call to a new pub for the arts in as many weeks, and I think it's a really viable idea and since it would be built from scratch, I'd like to suggest the Bocephus Minority Report model (comment #11 on down at the link below). Many of us realize criticism is entertainment on its own, irrespective of whether some believe it tells them whether or not to partake in the pleasures of any piece of art or work, and in its developed form is one of the most enjoyable and informative forms of writing to read. So hell ya, there'd be a market for it in the BMR model. P.S. I'm a terrible writer, so thanks for getting to The End.

http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2008/03/death_be_not_pr.php

It’s interesting to see the wagons circle around Nathan Lee: consequently, it seems that he will probably end up on his feet, with such warm concern. I bear no malice toward Nathan Lee, but I am not an admirer of his (sometimes I have found his work intelligent and entertaining; sometimes I have found his work glib and irritating). There is, obviously, as some people have noted, a larger political economy at work in what has happened to him. (One clue: if an institution fires, for whatever reason, someone you think is good at what he does, be wary if it places an ad a month or six months or a year later for someone to do the exact same job. Lee came in after several respected people were let go—people whom, without ill will toward them, I also didn’t particularly admire; and it’s possible that in six months, after he moves on to something else, the publication will be seeking some new victim, I mean hire. After working for a couple of organizations in different fields, I got into the habit of asking about the “stability” of a place as part of the job interview: in one case, I was told things were stable and about a week after being hired my department head resigned; and in another case, again about two weeks after being hired, I was told the office was in the middle of a budget crisis and was desperately seeking a grant to stay afloat. Trouble doesn’t go away just because someone is offering you a job.) Publishing, in general, is going through shaky times, as is much of the American economy, evidenced by job cuts even among the most well-established institutions. To think that a smart remedy is simply to seek a Daddy Big Pockets for an “independent-minded” publication is faulty thinking: Mr. Big will still have all the power, since he has the money, even if he lets you think he respects you (those few situations, when genuinely respectful, are rare: and remember the Voice used to be a writers publications: life is change). It might make more sense for writers to establish some kind of writers collective and put out a journal or magazine, investing their own money and raising money through public fundraisers and individual grants, etc. (It would be important, for such a project, to have people who know something about business/economics and psychology—even some old-fashion Marxists and Freudians—on board, as issues are going to come up that will require acute attention.)

I remain perplexed about a couple of things—one, why people keep talking about the internet as the wave of the present and the future when hardly anyone (any publication) knows how to make money from it; two, the nature of cultural authority--and that few people now seem to achieve it (which is different from mere fame, or money, or "success")--and the fact that the remaining lions (such as Stanley Kauffmann and Andrew Sarris) are mostly ignored--I'm not talking about someone like Kent Jones writing an abusive defense of Sarris in which he denigrates Kael, as if destroying one person's cultural authority automatically enhances another: in fact, lasting traditions build on the cultural authority of ancestors/predecessors, even critical traditions. Is that something people have forgotten? How many people quote Kauffmann and Sarris’s current work?). Kael may in fact be one of the keys to mastering the moment: she wrote in a language that was accessible without betraying her intelligence; and she made film criticism an extension of her personal conversation as well as a deepening of public discourse, so that we knew that film-going and film criticism were another part of life. She came at film from so many different directions that it was hard not to "hit the target" sometimes if not all times, whereas most film writers have one approach (or two approaches, at best: reverential or mocking) for everything...Anyway, I'm sure some will survive, and something will survive--the question is always, in what form?...A more fundamental question or couple of questions: why read or write film criticism in the first place? (Why see films?) I don't think I have met anyone (who wasn't a film critic) in the last decade who reads film criticism for intellectual reasons. Most people read a little of it as a consumer guide (is that a fun movie to see, is that movie too dumb?). I have read film criticism principally because I didn't want to miss the "details" in certain films and I wanted to have better access to what films "mean." But in enjoying a film, it's not always or even often the details or the meaning that's important--there's a sensuality that matters more to me: I can think of a couple of films--like Memoirs of a Geisha, and Cold Mountain (films I might have "reservations" about from an intellectual point of view)--that were so gorgeous, so rich and delicious in terms of their looks, I felt almost as if I was swimming in chocolate. (Kael captures that sense of being overwhelmed very well--better than anyone, probably). Finally, the point I am making, is that film and film criticism and being a film critic are all part of the larger culture, part of a larger world: and to figure out any film-related event or subject is to deal, at some point, with that larger world. For myself, I want to see more African-American critics, of film, of literature, of music, of everything (and more Hispanic critics, Asian critics, etc.): and I am not at all confused about why there are so few…

Mr. Garrett –

I never realized that I’d destroyed Pauline Kael’s cultural authority, let alone intended to do so. And just think: it was pointed out to me in a post about a writer who was just fired from his job, and who you wasted no time in denigrating.

Do you really believe that I, or anyone else for that matter, is capable of lessening Pauline Kael’s cultural authority, let alone destroying it? Find me a film critic who is more widely cited in the mainstream press and I’ll send you all the money in my pocket. There are no entries on Andrew Sarris or Manny Farber in A Biographical Dictionary of Film. Louis Menand would never dream of writing a New Yorker piece on Stanley Kauffman. No one is quoted more frequently, and apart from James Agee no one else’s writings have been so lovingly and exhaustively collected. Almost seven years after her death, she remains a powerful cultural force.

With good reason. She was a brilliant writer, an opinion I expressed in the piece I wrote on Andrew. If you’re looking for a full-fledged attack on Kael’s writing, I refer you to Renata Adler, John Gregory Dunne, or the many younger people who reflexively focus on her problematic side and fail to recognize her gifts.

I met her only once, at her 80th birthday party, to which I was invited by a mutual friend. She did not strike me as a delicate flower. Nonetheless, every time someone writes anything less than flattering about her, it’s as if she was a virginal debutante who’d been defiled on her way to the ball. I can’t think of a comparable public figure, dead or alive, who has been so staunchly defended so often.

Why is that? Friendship, of course. But I suspect that it also has something to do with a perceived threat. As in: If we’re not vigilant, the cultural mandarins (such as myself, I presume) will take over and drain the infectious fun out of the moviegoing experience. In other words, the “sensuality” that matters so much to you, and the “sense of being overwhelmed” that Kael did indeed describe so well, will be slowly but surely annihilated.

Why did I write a piece on Andrew Sarris? Because “the remaining lions…are mostly ignored,” as you put it. Why did I compare him with Pauline Kael? Because when they were both at their most influential, they were like the heads of two warring states, with diametrically opposed visions of film and film criticism. As David Edelstein reminded me, Andrew was the one who constantly referred to of this opposition in print. Nonetheless, the opposition was real, and it was very exciting and quite entertaining.

Kael was a prodigiously brilliant and gifted writer. Her prose popped like nobody’s business. I compared it to Tommy James’ music and meant it as high praise: when she was at her best (which was most of the time – only Manny worked harder on language and rhythm), her writing shimmered and gleamed. I admire Renata Adler, but her schoolmarm-ish attack on Kael’s language was useless. And you are correct – no one was better at describing the intoxication that sometimes comes with the moviegoing experience. I have no problems at all with her prose.

Her critical thinking, on the other hand, often seems to me to be flawed. I feel obliged to explain, so I’ll try. Her essay on Citizen Kane was once commended for being so refreshingly provocative that to zero in on its disregard for the facts was to nitpick – in other words, don’t pay attention to the details, keep your eye on the big picture. I’ve heard that one before, mostly from politicians, and it’s no more palatable when it’s coming from film critics. Moreover, who exactly was she provoking? The academy? The literary bias in film criticism? Of course not. She was provoking the auteurists, just as she was with “Circles and Squares,” which is, in my eyes, an equally haphazard piece. Now, auteurism was not, and still isn’t, the norm in film criticism. Yet she often acted as if it was. I wonder why.

I also that that she recoiled a little too often from what I suppose we can call “difficult” cinema. Again, she was doing battle with a phantom enemy: the post-60s Godards and Claude Lanzmanns of this world have never even come close to infecting the purity of the “pop” experience, but she acted as if it was neck and neck. The kinds of gestures she could tolerate in writers and composers were not supposed to enter into the movies. In the matter of directorial artistry and ambition, she tended to favor an aesthetic strategy in which the sensuality you speak of was the central event. The list of ambitious films and filmmakers she more or less dismissed is absolutely staggering, by any measure.

So why not just admit that she was a great writer and leave it at that? First of all, because whether you like it or not, she was and still is an enormously influential figure, and all influential figures merit scrutiny. Second of all, she sent a lot of readers away from a lot of films and filmmakers, and that always deserves scrutiny, don’t you agree? In essence, at least for me, what she’s saying about Shoah or Hiroshima, mon amour or Days of Heaven is: don’t be bullied into thinking that you have to waste your time on this. Her opinions don’t bother me, she’s entitled to them, but I do care about how she positions the reader in relation to those films. She frequently lets them off the hook, assures them that they don’t have to go through the motions of struggling with Barry Lyndon or Fassbinder. I believe that what I wrote in the piece on Andrew is accurate: for him, the filmmaker is innocent until proven guilty, while for her it’s more often the reverse. Art is always suspect in a consumer world, and I don’t think it’s such a good thing for a critic to discourage readers from artistic challenges, for whatever reason. She was extremely clever about it, because, of course, she was no philistine. She took a populist angle, finding legions of films and filmmakers guilty of “dishonesty,” of angling in to the most intellectually vulnerable side of their audience. This was the way she excluded a lot of movies from that great national conversation, like a parent reassuring a child that it’s okay not to take chances.

I don’t often go back to watch Hiroshima, mon amour. When I do, I can’t say that I recognize the film Kael describes in “Fantasies of the Arthouse Audience.” When I go back to watch Raging Bull, I actually do recognize the film that Kael describes in her review, but her unwillingness to take the film on its own terms is the sticking point. Let’s face it: Raging Bull, Barry Lyndon and Hiroshima, mon amour are not intoxicating experiences. They are overwhelming, but they are often harsh and finally unsettling, and they short-circuit the potential rapture of the moviegoing experience.

Finally, I think that the feeling of sitting in the dark and being overwhelmed by movies was her true subject, more than the individual movies themselves (as Menand points out in his admiring piece, she found her rapture in some questionable items right before she retired). In essence, she didn’t actually lead that national conversation, because it happened between the audiences, the theaters (most of which are now gone and replaced with uninviting multiplexes in which you’re constantly reminded of your status as a consumer), and, of course, the movies. Rather, she chronicled the sensation of taking part in the conversation, with devotion and care, and that was her great achievement. As a critic, however, I think that she assured her audience that they could take a pass on way too many movies – movies that necessarily disrupted the conversation, movies that were finally the inconvenient guests at the party. None of which tarnishes her extraordinary writing on Welles (despite that crazy essay), early Godard, or so many others.

If this counts in your eyes as another “attack,” there’s nothing I can do about that. I thought I’d take a stab at explaining myself a little more clearly, and I apologize to Stu for taking up so much space.

I’d like to end by saying that I agree with your final points. That there need to be more African-American, Asian-American, or Hispanic voices in criticism is incontestable. Film and film criticism are indeed part of the larger world, and the ultimate objective is to deal with that larger world. Unfortunately, very few writers have the patience or the inclination to do so.

Thanks.


Kent Jones

Oh man. This is just kind of extraordinary. Thanks Kent.

Good going, Kent. Although I've got to say you gave Mr. Garrett's sniffy little upturning of his nose more than it, and he, deserved. Jesus.

Ha! Take as much space as you need, Kent. Mi blog es tu blog.

Thanks Vadim, Glenn and Stu. Glenn, I guess I feel that if someone brings up a point about something I've written that they find objectionable, I feel obliged to dig a little deeper and attempt to explain myself. I also welcome the opportunity, even when it comes in the form of an attack. Of course, Garrett took my comments on Kael in that piece to be an attack too, so he was rising to her defense. I just feel that at a certain point, the level of the dialogue has to become more civilized. and Garrett has a point about different schools of criticism joining together rather than endlessly rehashing the same conflicts. In France right now, Cahiers du Cinéma is still at war with Positif. It's silly, but I think they feel that to abandon their opposition to Positif would be to abandon their identity (just like Bergman resisting psychoanalytic therapy for fear that the abandonment of his neuroses would spell the end of his identity as an artist). I was Andrew's intern, so I came from that background, and when Brother Tom Allen was alive the more or less total war between Kael and Sarris was at its peak. But the further I get from those days, the more I see them as two very different mirrors of the same moment, rather than in strictly oppositional terms. Obviously, I didn't express that in the piece on Andrew, because it was meant as a reminder that there was someone else who was just as foundational as Kael. I did the same in my piece on Manny. Personally speaking, I don't share her point of view a lot of the time - I don't just mean opinions, but basic ideas of what a movie is, of the many different ways a movie can work. But to deny her greatness, as a lot of people do, is pretty silly.

Thanks again.

Kent

"Find me a film critic who is more widely cited in the mainstream press and I’ll send you all the money in my pocket."

Not to deny the fact that Kael was hugely influential in critical circles, as far as the mainstream goes, I'd have to argue that Roger Ebert is probably better known.

I mean, if you were stand outside of a Wal Mart and ask people about film critics, I would guess that 9 out of 10, especially of those under 40, would have little idea who Pauline Kael was.

Since she hasn't published in 17 years, and Ebert had until recently a weekly show that was probably seen by more people a week than read THE NEW YORKER, I would guess that he has the bigger awareness today.

But then again, both Kael and Ebert are probably less well known by most Wal Mart shoppers than, say, the stars of THE HILLS.

Kent Jones, Kent Jones, Kent Jones, what do I say to you, to you whom I do not want to say anything at all? I find that your correspondence is shot through with intellectual dishonesty; and evinces such hysteria, misrepresentation of others' ideas and statements, and just plain wrongheadness that I find myself curious about how much editing by others goes into your work before it is presented to the public. (Glenny Kenny is pathetic and his childish note simply affirms my sense of the cliquish nature of Nathan Lee's support, as well as yours. Jones, you and your kind seem absolutely surpised not to find yourselves universally respected and loved. It's hilarious. I have neither affirmed nor dismissed Nathan Lee; and, I have certainly not denigrated him at all, as any good reader of plain English can see. That you have trouble reading plain English suggests to me the real root of your problem with Kael.)

Pauline Kael is valued by people who enjoy her writing and her insights; and it's not at all necessary for anyone, including her admirers, to accept without question everything she said or did. I do not at all object to a criticism of Pauline Kael. I object to criticism of Kael that is inaccurate and inadequate, or merely malicious. I noted in my comments that it is not necessary to reject one critic in order to praise another, and that is a practice that does little to build a critical tradition.

Okay. I guess I'd better get home and work on my reading and writing skills. After the clique meeting is over, that is.


Kent Jones

This has been an education and an extention of the reeling in my brain from "Stop-Loss." The world better let Kimberly Peirce make another movie. Matt Zoller Seitz directed me back here, and since this post is about a layoff and news broke today that David Ansen was bought out, I thought I'd bring it back to that.

Remember Napster? Say hello to my illegal Google, because it's not web content that's killing print, it's the web that's killing content. I'd pay at least the price of a NYTimes digital subscription (I tried it, it's ridiculous, who wants a screen shot of the NYT on their computer?) for a service where I can access a vast array of the days news and blog content, updated continuously, which has been scanned and organized into a database by a computer program, that I can interface with and pull reports from to appear on my computer screen which resemble a newspaper, with ads and links back to the source, whatever. Big Daddy Pockets, please develop this right away.

BTW, if anyone's here for an education, it wouldn't be complete without Jim Emerson's take (which also links to this and Matt Zoller Seitz'.)

T.Holly

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2008/03/movie_critics_pros_and_cons.html#more

Kent Jones’s tirades here are quite revealing, though, alas, they don’t reveal anything we didn’t already know or suspect about the buddy system that keeps the same old baker’s dozen of hack reviewers clogging the arteries of film “criticism.” The reference to Kael and Jones in Garrett’s initial post was such a minor component in what was, overall, a thoughtful, insightful chiming-in on Lee’s dismissal and some of the larger issues surrounding it. I found what Garrett had to say and his means of expression to be refreshingly clear-eyed and, yes, enjoyable.

The response from Jones is overlong. It is overbearing. It not only distorts the meaning of what is plainly there in Garrett’s sentences, but does so with a glee and an abandon that is as utterly tasteless as it is relentlessly self-serving (and hardly a “defense” at all). Furthermore, Jones’s bombastic reprimand, which could serve as a case study in missing the point, is not at all surprising. That last snickering phrase of Jones’s – “After the clique meeting is over, that is” – is meant as a joke, and yet it isn’t.

Then to have a “writer” as overtly untalented, jejune, and sickening as Glenn Kenny pop up with this hectoring riposte – “Good going, Kent…I've got to say you gave Mr. Garrett's sniffy little upturning of his nose more than it, and he, deserved. Jesus” – gives the whole sordid show away. The unwritten commandment has been broken: Thou shalt not disagree with the gilded idiots who have somehow become our cultural gatekeepers and who are not about to cede the floor to an outsider.

I stopped reading Film Comment two years ago because of Nathan Lee. He is a horrible writer. Period. He is no critic at all. I’ve often wondered how Lee got on at his seemingly endless roster of outlets. He has an aggressively rancid prose style that relies on a false kind of energy – the kind of energy akin to shaking up a coca-cola can to watch it hiss and fizz – to disguise the absence in his writing of anything that might bear resemblance to thought or perception. Lee strings together spasmodic, jerky, onamatapoeic phrases into a structure that seems to be trying to outpace a pinball machine. This is not fast, lively prose – it is lazy, trashy, “pop” writing at its absolute worst.

Therefore, I was pleased to learn that Nathan Lee had been fired from the Voice. I’m sure he’ll be recruited by Indiewire any moment now, because bad reviewers simply do not go away.

Had I time or space (or commission from one of those daring film outlets) I’d love to write a line-by-line Renata Adler-esque vivisection of what might be deemed Nathan Lee’s “critical vocabulary,” just to lay it all out in front where we could see how unequivocally limited he is. In lieu of that, I can only point to Lee’s insistence on interjecting, “I’m not that gay!” in his Film Comment appraisal of The Devil Wears Prada as an emblem for everything that is so appalling (and empty) re his hipster posturing. In that same issue, near Lee’s, there was a review by another overexposed writer of underdeveloped ability, Rob Nelson. I don’t remember now what he was going on about, just that Nelson and Lee (like so many of their brethren) sounded alike to the point of being interchangeable. Nelson may be a bit more fuddy-duddy and Lee a bit more downtown art-fag, yet their underlying sensibilities were identical – identically impoverished and banal. Sandwiched in between these two illiterates, there was a critique written by Phillip Lopate of a French movie, a costume piece, whose title now escapes me. Lopate’s review was what I expect film criticism to be: he drew on subjects outside of movies/pop culture, for one thing; he incorporated references to painting and to literature, and he did so eloquently and believably. When you have Lopate’s effortless authoritativeness side by side with Nathan Lee’s jawboned glibness, well, then, that chasm says it all, doesn’t it?

Sometimes a point arrives when actual communication is no longer possible. It seems to arrive quickly and with great frequency on the internet.

I have no desire to continue with my “tasteless,” “bombastic” and “hysterical” reprimands and tirades. I’d felt that Garrett misrepresented me (and I realize that I did misrepresent his point about Nathan Lee, for which I’m sorry). But of course, I was WRONG and he was RIGHT, as he pointed out in PLAIN ENGLISH.

Meanwhile, the idea that Glenn's posting "gives the game away" is indicative of a ferocious resentment. What exactly is the clique? Who started it? Who do you have to fuck to get in? Or out?

I guess the clique is print journalism, or maybe just those print journalists whose critical voices aren’t to your liking, like Nathan or Glenn, both of whom are good friends (the truth revealed!), or myself. But not Philip Lopate, another good friend. Who will certainly be pleased to learn of his effortless authoritativeness, and just as certainly disgusted by the incivility of this thread.

I’m bombastic. Glenn is pathetic. Nathan is no critic at all. Rob Nelson is a fuddy-duddy. And so on and on and on. And on. What adjectives are left? Why did you leave out pretentious, glib, affected, pompous and grandiloquent? I’m sure they’re on the way.

What can I say to defend us? And when I use the word “us,” I certainly don’t mean “the clique.” I mean us as individuals, as writers, who (believe it or not) constantly question ourselves, who are always working toward greater clarity. What can I possibly say? Nothing much that would have any meaning in this invective-ridden context.

I’ll end by expressing my sadness over Nathan’s firing, the latest of New Times’ ongoing efforts to remake the Voice in the image of Time Out New York. I’d also like to acknowledge the untimely passing of Paul Arthur, another friend, another fine writer.

Thank you.


Kent Jones

I really don't have a lot of sympathy for Nathan, as many of his reviews were overly snarky and very, very childish. I remember his review of Manoel de Oliveira's The Fifth Empire, which mocked de Oliveira's age (he was 98 when he made the film), complained about its length, its dialogue, but didn't comment at all on the merits of the film, which were numerous. He hardly talked about the film at all, and that's not the job of a critic. I am concerned that many newspapers have no film critics (or cultural) critics, but I don't consider Nathan one of the better ones.

questions of the civility of online debate aside, just like you said it would be might be on to something in the decision to stop reading film comment and perhaps other publications which feature apparently informed film criticism. the fact is, much of the sort of top drawer criticism out there really kind of sucks and film comment seems to epitomize this. it is difficult to figure out if film comment is some kind of elitist artsy film magazine or it is some sort of contrarian populist film magazine. a friend and i are currently working on a conversation to post on our respective blogs on precisely this topic. the question is: if the critical voices out there were really saying something, would the readers and therefore the jobs be there?

A footnote (and query) regarding film criticism:

Film criticism now occurs in a world in which there is so much information about many films on offer--interviews with and articles on directors, stars, and writers, and also with cinematographers, costume designers, and other film production participants, that by the time a film opens we are aware of its participants, purpose, and strategies, leaving less for a film critic as interpreter to do. (What is a film critic to do but say whether or not the film has failed; and if it has failed, why?) I am thinking, especialy, of a publication such as American Cinematographer, which explains so much about film intentions and strategies, possibly making much of the work that film professors and film critics (the scene by scene, or frame by frame analysis) more than a little redundant. A read-through of sites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes shows many reviews that rarely add anything new to one's own sense of the film, whether or not one has seen the film. (There are still print and online critics I read, respect, and look forward to, critics who fulfill my expectations for criticism.) There are only a few reviews that stand up beyond their moment of publication as good writing, as an expression of a complete complex thought, as a vision of the world, as literature, and not merely as well-transcribed notes of film viewing. Obviously, much of the film criticism that gets attention is attached to well-financed publications, as others have pointed out; and those publications sometimes present good work and sometimes, too often, do not. Web journals and web blogs, manned by people of idiosyncrasy, passion, and ideas, offer another way, though sometimes, again too often, there are problems of language and thought. (Independence of mind is important, no matter what one reads.) I would very much like to see a film criticism that is intelligent, sensitive, witty, useful, broadly circulated, understood, popular, and well-rewarded (so the writers can pay the rent, without worry).


FYI:

On Malick's New World:
http://cinetext.philo.at/magazine/garrett/thenewworld.html

On Brokeback Mountain:
http://www.filmint.nu/?q=node/94

On Various films:
http://www.offscreen.com/biblio/phile/essays/year_2004/

"What is a film critic to do but say whether or not the film has failed; and if it has failed, why?"

Oh god. Please no one tell this man about auteurism.

Is anybody affiliated with Andrew Sarris capable of coherent thought?

Vadim and others have been sucking off Sarris's hatred for so long, they swallow some it, and spew the rest...

No, on second thought, I think Vadim usually swallows more than some of it...most of it. That's why he has so little to say...

OK, that's a wrap on this thread. What started out as well-intentioned discussion as digressed into full-on pissing contest bullshit, so the referee is calling the play dead and moving on to the next one. Thanks for chiming in, even those of you who made it personal. Your engaged readership is much, much appreciated.

People always hate to talk about when they are laid off. But as it has become every day's news headline since Yahoo started it with cutting 1500 of its task force last year, now a need of platform has been in demand where people can express their selves in words how they are feeling about their company, whey the got laid off was that justified or not.
And every thing they want to tell anonymously.And www.layoffgossip.com is providing you that platform.

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