LETTERS – Letter to the Editor

LETTERS – Letter to the Editor

FAIR CRITICISM

I appreciate your move toward a new editorial focus, but did you have to turn the magazine into Vanity Fair? When I read FILM COMMENT, I want to know what’s going on in the world of film, specifically news that I can’t get from Premiere, Entertainment Weekly, or Movieline. Yet, in your Opening Shots section, you give me two pages of catty “items” that I’ve already read in other magazines of a lesser quality than FILM COMMENT.

Also, I notice a strong tendency in many articles of the writer to make “witty” asides to the reader. In reading about Terence Davies’ new film, I don’t need to be told that the film features “(of all people) Dan Aykroyd.” Just tell me he’s in the film and let me make my own judgement. This kind of writing style might be appropriate for a review of a current release, but in what is meant to be an exclusive look at a new film, it is simply tedious and annoying.

Also, despite the fact that you devote six whole words to Alain Resnais’ new work-in-progress in “Opening Shots,” you later feature a hagiographic article that makes it sound as if the man is as dead as Robert Bresson. “Time to Remember Resnais”? I hadn’t forgotten.

So please, before your target audience becomes the same as that of Teen Movieline, drop the Lukewarm List, the more-ironic-than-you-know Chatterbox, the careless approach to filmmakers, and the smug attitude so characteristic of current New York–based film criticism. And, for heaven’s sake, bring back the “Unclean! Unclean!” rating in the Critic’s Choice. Have you no shame?

Matt Bailey, University of Wisconsin

NOT RECONCILED

I am the unnamed “reviewer” denounced by Jonathan Rosenbaum in your Sept/Oct issue for describing David Gordon Green’s George Washington as “a Terrence Malick rethink of Gummo.” It is the second issue running in which Rosenbaum has founded a review on his irritation with something I’ve written: his feeble defense of Kurosawa’s Madadayo in your July/Aug issue started with his prim disapproval of the fact that I could write a brief obituary of Kurosawa without mentioning I Live in Fear.

It must go without saying that it’s a pleasure to get up the nose of a writer as boring, pedantic, and eager to pontificate as Rosenbaum is. But I don’t think FILM COMMENT should let him get away with castigating critics in general or me in particular for resembling publicists or aspiring filmmakers on the strength of my thumbnail characterization of Green’s film. The offending quote is taken from one very short paragraph on the film in a column on the Berlin Film Festival. Sight and Sound gave me precisely 600 words to report from Berlin, and so I used critical shorthand to cover as many titles as I could. If and when I get the chance to write about Green’s film in detail, I promise Rosenbaum that I will explore the implications of comparing it with Terrence Malick and Harmony Korine in full.

Tony Rayns, London

Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:

Considering how useful I’ve found both Rayns and Sight and Sound over the past 25 years, I’m appalled at the ways they’ve wasted one another’s resources. If the latter regarded the former as one informed voice among others about Asian cinema, then Rayns’ dismissal of Kurosawa’s entire oeuvre apart from three macho action films probably wouldn’t have run as an editorial, much less as the magazine’s only Kurosawa obituary.

Similarly, if criticism mattered more to the magazine in its recent dumbed-down phase than currency, the films at Berlin might have received a little less telegraphic merchandising and a bit more analysis.

Within the terms of such a reductive marriage, a mercantile either-or attitude seems inevitable, which I guess is why Tony can read my Madadayo review only as a “defense” — and why he still seems to think Green’s apparent derivations are more important than his freshness.

COMRADES-IN-ARMS

While we have always enjoyed reading FILM COMMENT, we were rather flabbergasted to read Joanne Koch’s introductory comments in the May/June issue, which described FILM COMMENT as “the only magazine of its kind in America — that is, a serious-minded but non-academic forum for discussion of movies as an art form and a cultural phenomenon.”

We can only assume that Ms. Koch unwittingly overlooked Cineaste — an independent, non-academic magazine, now starting its fifth decade of publication. Cineaste has long been recognized both in this country and abroad as one of America’s leading magazines of serious film criticism and commentary.

Gary Crowdus, Editor-in-Chief Cineaste m

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