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Blueprint for Backlash: Carr's Kid Twin Bill

I've been all over this film for a while now, but The NY Times's David Carr is playing catch up with a pair of pieces today about My Kid Could Paint That, Amir Bar-Lev's documentary on young art prodigy Marla Olmstead. In the print edition, Carr contributes an official version of the film's backstory and the questions it raises about media ethics. But over at The Carpetbagger, Carr has room to get a little more introspective -- and it kind of hurts:

(J)ournalism may aim at one thing but leave something else riddled with pellets, collateral damage in a process that never quite goes as you think it will. This morning, the Bagger got a nasty e-mail from a studio executive suggesting that he was vicious and stupid. He could care less about that stuff; she is a business person and writing about her business is just that: business. But it is the civilians, the people who don’t routinely spin or engage journalists, that make even the most careful practice of journalism uncertain over the long haul. Even when you are trying to do something nice, you sometimes do grievous harm.
On Tuesday night, (Marla's mother) Laura Olmstead gave him the courtesy of returning yet another reporter’s call, even though she knew no good would come of it. It was the Bagger’s job to talk her into talking and her job to engage, defending her family while he listened on a cell against the whizzing traffic on La Cienega. Neither of us really wanted to play a game that always seems fated from the start.

I've been thinking about this more and more over the last few days: This is a film that the Olmstead family has already come out against, and the concept of general culture's anti-art bias is one that Bar-Lev reviews in depth in his film. To the extent Sony Classics is expecting to make a splash with this film (and at nearly $2 million, it had better be a large splash), I wonder when the market factors invoked by both Carr and Bar-Lev might yield an equivalent backlash among observers who play the child exploitation card in critiques of Bar-Lev. Clearly the Olmsteads are neither art phobic nor anti-intellectual, but Laura Olmstead's statement read at Sunday's premiere -- "(W)e are heartbroken by some of the choices he made in his portrayal of our family in the editing of the film," for starters -- implies that they are victims. And I have doubts that any "judge for yourself" marketing campaign (already begun at Sundance with the installation of Marla's art at a gallery on Main Street) can trump the resentment of a devastated family.

Am I overthinking this, or are we gazing at a blueprint for bad buzz?

Posted at January 25, 2007 2:37 PM

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