DAILY | Critical Moves

Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris: Expressive Esoterica, a thirteen-film program at Anthology guided by Sarris’s connoisseurship, overlaps with the Anthology’s salute to another influential, recently departed critic, Amos Vogel, and his own signature work. And while Sarris’s The American Cinema doesn’t have as sexy and gauntlet-throwing a title as Vogel’s generally left-wing, anti-Hollywood Film as a Subversive Art, it is every bit as provocative in its way.”

That’s a snippet from the last piece Nick Pinkerton will be writing for the Voice. When he announced it as such on Twitter, Criticwire‘s Matt Singer followed up via email, and Pinkerton confirmed that he had indeed “parted company with The Village Voice and Voice Media Group papers of my own free will.” The focus of the Voice, it seems, is going to be “more national and current, less local and repertory,” and that’s a direction, as anyone who reads Pinkerton will know, that, to put it mildly, runs counter to his interests.

But Pinkerton doesn’t leave it there:

That VMG is, on the whole, a dumb, wanton, soulless, and wicked corporate entity is something that no-one could seriously question. Maybe I shouldn’t have stuck around as long as I did; I thought I could harness its not-inconsiderable power for good, and generally think I succeeded. Those remaining likely have the same ambition, and I wish them the best of luck. I don’t know anyone more steeped in film culture than staff critic Scott Foundas; film section editor Alan Scherstuhl is a man of boundless enthusiasm, and was very accommodating in letting me have my outro piece of choice, on the subject of Andrew Sarris. With the likes of Sarris and [Jonas] Mekas and [Molly] Haskell and [Dennis] Lim and [J.] Hoberman and Tom Allen and Elliott Stein in the roster, the Voice film section’s history is unbelievable, and its nice to have been able to participate, even as a footnote of a footnote.

Fortunately, we’ll be able to carry on reading Nick Pinkerton. The previous entry, the one on Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, opens by pointing to his terrific piece on the film for Sight & Sound. Moreover, besides such high-profile freelancing gigs, Pinkerton’s got a weekly column at Sundance NOW, “Bombast“: personal and political, at times discursive, always insightful, it’s a must-read. A sample from the latest:

Coming before a movie, the name “Allan Dwan” under the director’s credit connotes a no-frills simplicity—his nickname was “Practicality Dwan”—a simplicity touching on purity. Dwan learned his craft by studying (and frequently knocking off) Griffith, then proceeded to shoot with the director’s clean, elementary screen grammar for three decades longer than Griffith himself managed to. (Dwan finished his career in 1961.) When I am exhausted with movies, movies, ever more movies, all clangorously insisting on making their impression felt, I need only return to the healing springs of Allan Dwan, and a measure of innocence is regained.

Another critic’s announced that she’s moving on this week. Bidding farewell to her readers after “22 years at Entertainment Weekly, 19 of them as a critic,” Lisa Schwarzbaum focuses on the to and fro she’s enjoyed with them in the breezy-but-nailing-it tone that’s made her such an engaging writer:

My part of the conversation is to use my own experience, analytic ability, aesthetic understanding, points of reference, writing skills, and—lucky me!—EW platform to explain how I come to, say, adore the Lord of the Rings trilogy or despair of the hideous Saw sensibility…. Your mission is to read with an open mind, watch movies with an open mind, and use the places where we diverge as inspiration for an ongoing conversation about this ever-changing medium we love together.

Trying to earn a living writing about movies is tough enough without being saddled with the blame for Newtown. Particularly when the writer doing the saddling is one you’ve long admired. Evidently, though, in his latest column for Harper’s, Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Pity the Billionaire, founder of The Baffler, is that writer. And fellow admirer Andrew O’Hehir is taking him on in Salon: “Mind you, along the way to his bewildering tirade against film critics and their sins, Frank provides an entertaining ride, as usual. He’s always an enjoyable stylist, as well as an expert at skewering the idiocies and pieties of American ideology.”

The Baffler

O’Hehir goes out of his way, too, to make clear that Frank, taking aim at Hollywood, scores a few hits and that he himself (O’Hehir) has no clean-cut, sure-fire answer to the question of the industry’s culpability with regard to gun violence. But: “In rapid succession, Frank goes from blaming violence on mindless action movies to blaming the success of those movies on the media. Journalists have enabled the sadistic crimes of Hollywood, he suggests, through ‘puff pieces and softball interviews and a thousand “press junkets.”‘ (Why the scare quotes? Are those not familiar English words?) Bootlicking movie critics have crowned Tarantino as a genius, and have refused ‘to tell the world what god-awful heaps of cliché and fake profundity and commercialized sadism this industry produces.’ … Frank appears to believe that critics can actually affect the commercial success or failure of the kinds of big, violent spectacles he deplores, which is touching and also extremely silly…. He conflates the lightweight celebrity interviews of the junket circuit with film criticism, when they’re distinct journalistic genres with entirely different goals.”

And: “[W]ith his final, totalizing declaration about the ‘fake profundity and commercialized sadism’ of (apparently) any and all violent Hollywood movies, Frank appears to reject the very basis of criticism, which is the idea that individual works are ambiguous phenomena that can be understood in different ways. I assume he doesn’t mean it this way, but this reads like a passionate defense of Philistinism.”

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