A.O. Scott

You are currently browsing articles tagged A.O. Scott.


Staring into the maw of an active volcano in Guadeloupe is inherently more dramatic than Googling or Tweeting, but it’s the latter that ultimately may have a larger-than-Krakatoa effect on the world. Werner Herzog, who was brave and foolish enough to drag a small camera crew to the gurgling La Soufrière in 1976, has now turned his attention to another unpredictable and potentially explosive source, though this time a human-made one, the Digital Revolution.

In a New York Times review, A.O. Scott trains his immaculate writing on the director’s latest, the impressionistic Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. The piece is far from a pan, though the critic asserts the auteur’s attempts to introduce poetry and wonder into the topic do not always survive the facts of our algorithmic era.

An excerpt:

The devices in our hands and on our desks, and the invisible, ubiquitous networks that link them, are often seen to be ushering us toward utopia or hastening the arrival of the apocalypse. Mr. Herzog, an unseen interviewer with an unmistakable voice, seems receptive to both views. He listens to scientists and entrepreneurs celebrate the expansion of knowledge and learning that the digital revolution has brought forth, and to others who lament the erosion of privacy and critical-thinking skills. The physicist Lucianne Walkowicz explains how a solar flare could bring the whole network — and with it our super-technologized way of life — crashing down in a matter of days. On the other hand, we might build self-driving cars, perfect artificial intelligence applications that permanently erase the boundary between people and machines or even create colonies on Mars.

At times, Mr. Herzog’s imagination leaps beyond even the more startling speculations of his subjects. He is not so much credulous as excitable, given to interrupting the prose of researchers and analysts with flights of poetry. He tries to press some of them to predict the future, something scientists are generally reluctant to do. And he poses a question that charms and stumps many of them: “Does the internet dream of itself?”

As its title suggests, “Lo and Behold” is to some extent Mr. Herzog’s dream of the internet. Divided into 10 brief chapters, it is impressionistic rather than comprehensive. Many of the ideas are familiar, and some important aspects of life in the digital era are examined superficially or not at all. Though Edward Snowden’s name is dropped, there is not much attention to surveillance or spying, and the uses and abuses of connectivity as a tool of corporate and state power are barely explored.

The interviews seem to have been conducted over a few years, which gives a curiously dated feeling to parts of the film. Sebastian Thrun, a founder of the online learning company Udacity, enthuses about the transformative potential of his courses, but the widely reported failure of those courses to realize their supposed potential does not come up. Skepticism is really not Mr. Herzog’s thing.•

Tags: ,


Some years ago, I began reading Martin Scorsese’s 1983 King of Comedy in a very different way. I stopped seeing it as merely a fantasy about one man living out America’s dark obsession with fame. It was (almost definitely by accident) a prophetic film about the rise of the fan, the storming of the gates, the decentralization of the media. It unwittingly told us that democracy was about to get much more democratic, which would be both boon and bane. The world was to be a more open and less-stable place, and the ramifications would impact politics just as readily as it would pop culture. As Rupert Pupkin stood nervously on the stage at film’s end, a recognition comes over his nervous face, the realization that it might be hard to maintain his footing on the earth he helped shift.

The Internet has aggressively trolled professionalism of all kinds. The faceless, unpaid crowd is now sufficient. We’ll do. I mean, if the Encyclopædia Britannica and its grand tradition could be swept from the shelf by a band of Wikipedians, what was safe? For all the early flak absorbed by Jimmy Wales’ site, it became undeniably a wonderful thing, but it proved to not be complementary.

An astute critic like A.O. Scott knew what was happening as the pieces were just beginning to move. He seems to have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. (Of course, you might ask, what choice does he have?) Scott’s career may be regarded as redundant in a society that loves Likes, but he has enough generosity to appreciate the good aspects of such a new normal, even if something has been lost in translation. Populism has its price.

The excellent Daniel Mendelsohn evaluates Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism for the NYT “Sunday Book Review.” He feels that on some level Scott’s egalitarian impulses are forced. An excerpt:

The problem here isn’t just one of tone or style — although a writer of Scott’s standing should know that both are crucial tools in the critic’s belt. Rather, you sense that the faux-populist diction doesn’t reflect this author’s real allegiances, which are evident in the works he selects for his loving and expert analyses: Rilke and Philip Larkin, Picasso and Henry James. (James’s 1877 novel The American, which begins with a scene in which a successful American businessman is overcome by tiredness in the Louvre, provides an amusing early example of “museum fatigue,” a phenomenon that the author investigates during a stimulating and subtle discussion about the difficulty of achieving “innocent” responses to art.) The admiring references you get here to hip-hop feel dutiful rather than deeply felt — attempts to demonstrate his pop bona fides.

So too with the halfhearted assertion — the focus of an entire chapter — that “it is . . . the job of the critic to be wrong.” To be sure, critics often turn out to be wrong, as Scott wittily reminds you during a recitation of some notorious critical gaffes: early and wince-inducing takedowns of John Keats’s poetry, of Moby-Dick, of Bringing Up Baby. But those errors of individual taste — the most crucial, if ­indefinable, qualification for serious criticism, along with expertise, both of which Scott (who has both) avoids talking about at length, as if to do so would offend the ­Amazon-rankers and cyber-tomato-throwers in his audience — are hardly proof that the critic’s duty is to be “wrong.” The critic’s job is to be more educated, articulate, stylish and tasteful — in a word, more worthy of “trust” — than her readers have the time or inclination to be; qualities eminently suited to a practice that (as Scott rightly if too glancingly points out) has validity and value only if it is conducted in public.

Whatever its occasional pandering, Better Living Through Criticism mostly exemplifies the rhetorical virtues it so enthusiastically celebrates as being peculiar to the critic: attentiveness to detail, alertness to context, a hunger for larger meanings. The critic, Scott declares in the book’s final dialogue, is “a person whose interest can help activate the interest of others.” In an era of reflexive contempt for erudition, taste and authority, qualities that Scott is perhaps too hesitant to name as the sine qua non of great critics, it is no mean feat to help activate, as this book will surely do, an interest in the genre of which he and others of his generation may be the last professional practitioners.•

Tags: ,

journalistcar (1)

Here are 50 ungated pieces of wonderful journalism from 2015, alphabetized by author name, which made me consider something new or reconsider old beliefs or just delighted me. (Some selections are from gated publications that allow a number of free articles per month.) If your excellent work isn’t on the list, that’s more my fault than yours.

  • Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?” (David Amsden, The New York Times Magazine) As private and public sector missions increasingly overlap, here’s an engaging look at the privatization of some policing in the French Quarter.
  • In the Beginning” (Ross Andersen, Aeon) A bold and epic essay about the elusive search for the origins of the universe.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anonymous, Reddit) A 92-year-old German woman who was born into Nazism (and participated in it) sadly absolves herself of all blame while answering questions about that horrible time.
  • Rethinking Extinction” (Stewart Brand, Aeon) The Whole Earth Catalog founder thinks the chance of climate-change catastrophe overrated, arguing we should utilize biotech to repopulate dwindling species.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Don Lemon” (Taffy Brodesser-Akner, GQ) A deeply entertaining look into the perplexing facehole of Jeff Zucker’s most gormless word-sayer and, by extension, the larger cable-news zeitgeist.
  • How Social Media Is Ruining Politics(Nicholas Carr, Politico) A lament that our shiny new tools have provided provocative trolls far more credibility than a centralized media ever allowed for.
  • Clans of the Cathode” (Tom Carson, The Baffler) One of our best culture critics looks at the meaning of various American sitcom families through the medium’s history.
  • The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic) The author examines the tragedy of the African-American community being turned into a penal colony, explaining the origins of the catastrophic policy failure.
  • Perfect Genetic Knowledge” (Dawn Field, Aeon) The essayist thinks about a future in which we’ve achieved “perfect knowledge” of whole-planet genetics.
  • A Strangely Funny Russian Genius” (Ian Frazier, The New York Review of Books) Daniil Kharms was a very funny writer, if you appreciate slapstick that ends in a body count.
  • Tomorrow’s Advance Man” (Tad Friend, The New Yorker) Profile of Silicon Valley strongman Marc Andreessen and his milieu, an enchanted land in which adults dream of riding unicorns.
  • Build-a-Brain” (Michael Graziano, Aeon) The neuroscientist’s ambitious thought experiment about machine intelligence is a piece I thought about continuously throughout the year.
  • Ask Me Anything (Stephen Hawking, Reddit) Among other things, the physicist warns that the real threat of superintelligent machines isn’t malice but relentless competence.
  • Engineering Humans for War” (Annie Jacobsen, The Atlantic) War is inhuman, it’s been said, and the Pentagon wants to make it more so by employing bleeding-edge biology and technology to create super soldiers.
  • The Wrong Head” (Mike Jay, London Review of Books) A look at insanity in 1840s France, which demonstrates that mental illness is often expressed in terms of the era in which it’s experienced.
  • Death Is Optional” (Daniel Kahneman and Noah Yuval Harari, Edge) Two of my favorite big thinkers discuss the road ahead, a highly automated tomorrow in which medicine, even mortality, may not be an egalitarian affair.
  • Where the Bodies Are Buried,” (Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker) Ceasefires, even treaties, don’t completely conclude wars, as evidenced by this haunting revisitation of the heartbreaking IRA era.
  • Porntopia” (Molly Lambert, Grantland) The annual Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, the Oscars of oral, allows the writer to look into a funhouse-mirror reflection of America.
  • The Robots Are Coming” (John Lanchester, London Review of Books) A remarkably lucid explanation of how quickly AI may remake our lives and labor in the coming decades.
  • Last Girl in Larchmont” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker) The great TV critic provides a postmortem of Joan Rivers and her singular (and sometimes disquieting) brand of feminism.
  • “President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation, Part 1 & Part 2” (Barack Obama and Marilynne Robinson, New York Review of Books) Two monumental Americans discuss the state of the novel and the state of the union.
  • Ask Me Anything (Elizabeth Parrish, Reddit) The CEO of BioViva announces she’s patient zero for the company’s experimental age-reversing gene therapies. Strangest thing I read all year.
  • Why Alien Life Will Be Robotic” (Sir Martin Rees, Nautilus) The astronomer argues that ETs in our inhospitable universe have likely already transitioned into conscious machines.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anders Sandberg, Reddit) Heady conversation about existential risks, Transhumanism, economics, space travel and future technologies conducted by the Oxford researcher. 
  • Alien Rights” (Lizzie Wade, Aeon) Manifest Destiny will, sooner or later, became a space odyssey. What ethics should govern exploration of the final frontier?
  • Peeling Back the Layers of a Born Salesman’s Life” (Michael Wilson, The New York Times) The paper’s gifted crime writer pens a posthumous profile of a protean con man, a Zelig on the make who crossed paths with Abbie Hoffman, Otto Preminger and Annie Leibovitz, among others.
  • The Pop Star and the Prophet” (Sam York, BBC Magazine) Philosopher Jacques Attali, who predicted, back in the ’70s, the downfall of the music business, tells the writer he now foresees similar turbulence for manufacturing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life to me is just about having a little fun and doing some good things for others before time runs out–and that’s what it’s doing, rapidly. So why would our comic-book culture depress me so? Clearly it’s fun for many people. It isn’t just because I’m not personally interested in the form. That’s true of many things that don’t make me sad.

Overall, I’m glad the “barbarians” have stormed the gates, pleased technology has allowed everyone in the audience to essentially be part of the show, as Glenn Gould long ago predicted it would. The economics aren’t good for many professionals, but I still vote for the mob. I have no problem with Kris Jenner being the new Joe Jackson and a big ass being the new moonwalk. It’s not nothing, just something different.

Still, sadness.

I guess what troubles me is that it’s all centered on consumerism. It’s not only about owning a product but becoming one. That’s true of people creating free content from their personal information for Facebook and citizens being considered brands and fans donning costumes of their favorite toys at conventions. We’ve run out of things to eat so now we’re eating ourselves. That’s what our mix of democracy and capitalism has led us to.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times went to Comic-Con in San Diego and saw himself when gawking at X-Men, Yodas and zombies. His resulting article is a brilliant summation of so many things in the culture, even if he’s not quite as somber as I am about this new normal. An excerpt:

For a long weekend in July, this city a few hours down the freeway from Hollywood and Disneyland becomes a pilgrimage site for something like 130,000 worshipers. It’s both ordeal and ecstasy, and the secular observer is in no real position to judge. You arrive as an ethnographer, evolve into a participant observer and start to feel like a convert, an addict to what is surely the modern-day opiate of the masses.

What are the doctrines and canons of this faith? In some ways, they aren’t so mysterious. The Comic-Con pilgrims, with their homemade costumes and branded bags of merchandise, represent the fundamentalist wing of the ecumenical creed of fandom. Almost everyone in the world outside falls somewhere on the spectrum of observance. We go to movies, we watch television, we build things out of Lego. I went to Comic-Con thinking I was going to study the folkways of an exotic tribe. I didn’t suspect I would find myself.

Literally where I found myself, for most of the four days, was in line. It’s the shared experience that unites the diverse subcultures, and the most available topic of conversation is just how long and how many those lines are. You could either figure out which line you wanted to join — would you rather be attacked by zombies or score swag from “The Peanuts Movie”? Cop an “exclusive” Marvel toy or a drawn-to-order sketch from the indie animator Bill Plympton? — or follow the herd. “What’s this line for?” is a question I heard most often from people who were already a dozen or more bodies into it.

In other eras and societies — the Great Depression, the Soviet Union — long lines signify scarcity or oppression. In the Bizarro World that is 21st-century America, it’s the opposite: Long lines are signs of abundance and hedonism. Much can be learned about a civilization from studying its queuing habits, and Comic-Con surpasses even the Disney theme parks in the sophistication of its crowd management and the variety of its arrangements.


In a New York Times review, A.O. Scott, who is quietly one of the funniest writers working anywhere, offers a largely positive review of philosopher Susan Neiman’s new book about perpetual adolescence, something that’s become the norm in this era of fanboy (and -girl) ascendancy, its commodification seemingly having reached a saturation point until, yes, the next comic-book or YA franchise. The opening:

A great deal of modern popular culture — including just about everything pertaining to what French savants like to call le nouvel âge d’or de la comédie américaine — runs on the disavowal of maturity. The ideal consumer is a mirror image of a familiar comic archetype: a man-child sitting in his parents’ basement with his video games and his Star Wars figurines; a postgraduate girl and her pals treating the world as their playground. Baby boomers pursue perpetual youth into retirement. Gen-Xers hold fast to their skateboards, their Pixies T-shirts and their Beastie Boys CDs. Nobody wants to be an adult anymore, and every so often someone writes an article blaming Hollywood, attachment parenting, global capitalism or the welfare state for this catastrophe. I’ve written one or two of those myself. It’s not a bad racket, and since I’m intimately acquainted, on a professional basis, with the cinematic oeuvre of Adam Sandler, I qualify as something of an expert. 

In the annals of anti-infantile cultural complaint, Susan Neiman’s new book, Why Grow Up?, is both exemplary and unusual. An American-born philosopher who lives in Berlin, Neiman has a pundit’s fondness for the sweeping generalization and the carefully hedged argumentative claim. “I’m not suggesting that we do without the web entirely,” she writes in one of her periodic reflections on life in the digital age, “just that we refuse to let it rule.” Elsewhere she observes that “if you spend your time in cyberspace watching something besides porn and Korean rap videos, you can gain a great deal,” a ­hypothesis I for one am eager to test.•

Tags: ,

Excerpts from two pieces about the sadness of David Carr’s passing. One is written by a former coworker of mine Jennifer Romolini, an excellent person who’s one of the many helped greatly in career direction by Carr; she now serves as the EIC at Hello Giggles, which has much more heft than the name suggests. The second is by A.O. Scott, the wonderful New York Times film critic, whom I associate most closely with Carr not just because they both did a lot of writing about movies but because they shared a down-to-earth sense of humor about the silliness of the NYC media world. 


From Romolini:

I met him at my first job in New York, a media and business website calledInside.com that was bustling with outrageously smart and serious reporters and editors doing outrageously serious and smart work. Or at least it seemed that way to me. I was too old for my assistant job and too inexperienced. I’d started late, I didn’t have the right pedigree. I’d spent my early 20s dropping in and out of college, in bad places, in a bad marriage. I was an outsider, but I wanted in. Luckily for me, I was just the type David took under his wing.

David Carr was unlike anyone you will ever meet at your first job, or any job. Though he was the most tireless reporter and writer I’ve ever worked near, he somehow made time to lift up everyone around him. He wanted to help you, he wanted you to be great. He loved misfits and outliers and any kind of bootstrap story and he took in strays and helped them find their way. He’d lived a full, complicated, and original life; he’d made tremendous mistakes and he’d come out the other side and was exceedingly generous with the wisdom that came from this. He made me feel like I was interesting and smart and unique and could make it when I believed none of those things. He made journalism seem like the most wonderful, exciting, sexy thing in the world and he made you feel lucky to be a part of it. When I was too scared to start writing, when I felt inadequate and unworthy, David told me “You tell good stories, that will translate, pal.” When I stalled, bouncing from one fact-checking job to another, he took me to coffee, and said, “If you’re going to do this thing, you just have to do it.” It was all simple and perfect and no-bullshit. He set me up for jobs I didn’t even know I wanted. He was warm and brilliant and funny and honest and I loved him intensely.•


From Scott:

When fishy memoirs of addiction and recovery began floating around in the publishing world, David set out to write his own memoir by applying the rules and techniques of reporting: interviewing sources, checking facts, subjecting his own memory to the scrutiny and skepticism that he brought to every assignment.

But he brought compassion too. A streak of Minnesota nice and Irish sentimentality. It was a bit startling to see David Carr emerge, in the wake of Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One and as a consequence of the importance of his beat, as the public face of The New York Times. It was kind of a beat-up face (though in its way a beautiful one), attached to a gangly, shambling body and speaking in a gravelly, prairie-flat voice.

But it was also fitting. David was our champion: the best we had and also the one who would go out into the world every week to make the case for what we do. He understood better than anyone how hard the job can be, how lonely, how confusing, how riddled with the temptations of cynicism and compromise. And yet he could make it look so easy, and like the most fun you could ever hope to have.•

Tags: , ,

All good citizens must be on alert for injustices, but I don’t think all good artists need be, at least not in their work. Inspiration is what it is, and a thing of beauty shouldn’t be discounted regardless of its topic. But I still enjoyed A.O. Scott’s New York Times roundtable about the role of creative people addressing race and class and other social issues. In the following excerpt, playwright Lisa D’Amour discusses the extreme difficulty of living in a city like New York as a starving artist. The economist Tyler Cowen has predicted that in the future, poorer Americans will be completely priced out of bustling cities, and while I don’t agree with that, I have to admit that many of the most interesting people I’ve met here have moved elsewhere, refusing the shoebox and the second-class status. 


A.O. Scott:

How do you think economic and other changes — growing inequality, the recession, digital technology — have affected the way artists work? What new obstacles and opportunities do you see?

Justin Torres:

To pretend that a robust middle class is good for everyone is a convenient justification of entrenched inequality; a robust middle class is good for the middle class. And the further you move up into the higher echelons of the middle class, the less you consider those below in real ways, the more remote the dramas of their lives seem.

Patricia Lockwood:

It would be silly to say that artists are poorer than they used to be. It’s been a hazard for us historically, and it’s a hazard now. However, we have entry now to an infinite library and an infinite community. Artists, too, tend to see where the dollar is strong and drift there. They’re capable of taking scrabbling, small advantage of a rich country’s misfortune, because they live in the cracks.

Justin Simien:

Raising the money to tell stories that are designed to do anything besides strictly entertain masses of people has always been difficult. What I have noticed in my industry is that the degree of distribution and promotion is tied to economic formulas used by studios to evaluate the worthiness of one project over the other. These formulas often function like self-fulfilling prophecies. The belief that a certain kind of film won’t make money leads to limits on its budget, distribution and promotion that will reinforce that belief.

David Simon:

The revenue stream for what I do is less and less guaranteed to the entities that fund my productions. The democratization of the digital age offers notable benefits, but nonetheless poses an equally extraordinary threat to the highest end in a variety of media. “Information wants to be free” is the cry of so many new-media mavens. But I’ve scanned my production budgets — which are far from the most costly outlays for HBO and Time Warner — and, hey, information is not free, at least not the information that I create.

Lisa D’Amour:

It is nearly impossible now to live in a city with a part-time “money job” and the rest of your week to discover your art. If you wake up every morning in a panic about money and security, it shuts down a lot of opportunity for creativity. This sentiment, of course, opens up a whole can of worms about privilege and who is allowed to take the risks of art making. I’m white and grew up middle class (academic dad, high school teacher mom). They rarely supported me financially in my art making, but they always supported me emotionally. I always had a stable home to return to, if the whole art making thing fell apart.”•

Tags: , , , ,

I have no interest in comic-book blockbusters or most of the contemporary culture aimed at aging fanboys (and girls) longing for YA comfort, but in his long-form New York Times Magazine essay, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” A.O. Scott finds solace in this regression. An excerpt:

“It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (‘wait until you’re older’), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.

I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”


I’m more sanguine about the future of the serious American novel than Philip Roth, even though I understand that literacy is changing in the Digital Age, that the term no longer refers to just reading words, that perhaps a world dominated by written matter was more exception than rule.

It’s been eight years since Sam Tanenhaus and A.O. Scott of the New York Times did their excellent survey of the best American novel from 1980-2005. Would they be able to do a good one 25 years from today? The first two paragraphs of Scott’s introductory essay, “In Search of the Best,” and the top selections from the list:

More than a century ago, Frank Norris wrote that ‘the Great American Novel is not extinct like the dodo, but mythical like the hippogriff,’ an observation that Philip Roth later used as the epigraph for a spoofy 1973 baseball fantasia called, naturally, The Great American Novel. It pointedly isn’t – no one counts it among Roth’s best novels, though what books people do place in that category will turn out to be relevant to our purpose here, which has to do with the eternal hunt for Norris’s legendary beast. The hippogriff, a monstrous hybrid of griffin and horse, is often taken as the very symbol of fantastical impossibility, a unicorn’s unicorn. But the Great American Novel, while also a hybrid (crossbred of romance and reportage, high philosophy and low gossip, wishful thinking and hard-nosed skepticism), may be more like the yeti or the Loch Ness monster – or sasquatch, if we want to keep things homegrown. It is, in other words, a creature that quite a few people – not all of them certifiably crazy, some of them bearing impressive documentation – claim to have seen. The Times Book Review, ever wary of hoaxes but always eager to test the boundary between empirical science and folk superstition, has commissioned a survey of recent sightings.

Or something like that. Early this year, the Book Review’s editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify ‘the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.’ The results – in some respects quite surprising, in others not at all – provide a rich, if partial and unscientific, picture of the state of American literature, a kind of composite self-portrait as interesting perhaps for its blind spots and distortions as for its details.”




Toni Morrison (1987)



Don DeLillo (1997)

Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels

John Updike (1995)

American Pastoral

Philip Roth (1997)

Tags: , ,

I’d be really happy if New York Times film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis were awarded Pulitzers in the same year. The quantity and quality of their writing is pretty stunning. The pair teamed up for a discussion about the legendary Pauline Kael, an influential scribe in her day (and ours, still) who was a thorny character, to say the least. An excerpt from Dargis about the erstwhile celebrity status of film critics:

“If she still casts a shadow it’s less because of her ideas, pugilistic writing style, ethical lapses and cruelties (and not merely in her reviews), and more because she was writing at a time when movies, their critics and, by extension, the mainstream media had a greater hold on American culture than they do now. In his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Peter Biskind relates a story from the mid-’80s when Kael turned to Richard Schickel at a meeting of film critics and said, ‘It isn’t any fun anymore.’ Mr. Schickel asked her why and she replied: ‘Remember how it was in the ’60s and ’70s, when movies were hot, whenwe were hot? Movies seemed to matter.’ The thing is, they did matter and still do, just differently.

One thing that changed was the role of the film critic, who by the mid-’80s no longer had to persuade a skeptical, sometimes hostile general audience that it was necessary to take movies seriously. In 1967, though, Kael had to explain in The New Yorker why and how Bonnie and Clyde was important (and in 9,000 words!). She was part of a critical vanguard spreading the new film gospel in reviews, books, talk shows, everywhere. They were true pop cultural figures. The critic Judith Crist even shilled for a feminine-hygiene spray. She later said that she did the ad because Richard Avedon took the photos, she could write most of the text and the ad would reach more than 100 million readers. Also: she got $5,000.”


Kael and other film critics were famous enough in 1977 to be spoofed by SCTV:

Tags: , , ,

You know I don’t bleg for me, but I am willing to bleg for a good cause or a good project. One such project is a documentary about the rock group the Mekons that is currently being made by Joe Angio, a former boss of mine and a fine filmmaker. He has finished shooting just about all the material and needs some money to begin the editing process. You can give by visiting his kickstarter site. But some questions you may want answered before you give:

Who are the Mekons?

An incredible and incredibly influential band that has stood the test of time for more than three decades, maintained integrity and still rocks on.

Who is the director?

Joe Angio is the talented filmmaker who made the smart and entertaining film, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), a documentary about Melvin Van Peebles. The film was critically acclaimed and called “an energetic and admiring biography” by the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott, who has read books and shit.

Should I give money if I like the director Joe Angio?

Yes, though I question your taste in people.

Should I give money if I hate the director Joe Angio?

Definitely. There’s no better way to stab someone in the back than to encourage that person to be an independent filmmaker. It’s an awful and unglamorous life. If you really want to twist the blade, encourage that person to be a documentarian. There’s no money in it, and it’s endless work. These are the kind of filmmakers who actually have to pay for their cocaine. Meanwhile, Brett Ratner dates Maggie Q. Unfair.

Why don’t the Mekons hold a benefit concert to raise funds?

They’re currently drunk, every last Mekon. It’s rock and roll.

Have any celebrities contributed to the cause so far?

Indeed they have!

Are there rewards?

Yes, there are. Go to kickstarter and see all the cool stuff you can get for a modest donation. You can probably resell most of it on eBay for at least twice what you pay for it. (Joe Angio is a filmmaker, not an accountant.)

Will my donation be used responsibly?

All contributions will go to editing this film and making it great. Every penny will be squeezed until Abraham Lincoln’s head wounds reopen.

Seriously, it’s a great project, so if you love the Mekons or independent film or people doing something creative because it’s good thing to do, please give.

And look for my documentary about Ke$ha in 2014. It will $uck.

Tags: , , , ,