Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Quest for conformity

In the past few weeks I’ve encountered the concept of the unassailable, unimpeachable, untouchable “classic”—both old and new—from readers. It wasn’t brought into play unkindly, and in most cases it was done by readers I know personally. But in all cases, they were working more or less on the basis that certain films have achieved an inviolable state and that to not recognize that fact imperils one’s cinematic soul to the degree that actual excommunication might have to be considered. To this I say—also not unkindly—not only stuff and nonsense, but balder and dash, and perhaps even poppy and cock.

This isn’t new. I was once deemed completely unfit for functioning as a critic because I did not properly revere The Wizard of Oz (1939), which, as everyone seemingly knows, is utterly beyond criticism of any kind. I was never sure why it should be beyond criticism, but I was assured that its position as a “universally” acknowledged classic deemed it so. So who exactly decided this? Is it simply a case of “if enough people say it’s great, then it follows that it is great?” That’s certainly part of it. In fact that argument was used. It’s also, I suspect, partly due to the fact that it’s a movie that has a great personal resonance to a lot of people’s childhood. This, I believe, is borne out by the fact that I could express—and have expressed—less than complete adoration for Gone with the Wind (1939) and not unleash any such wrath. Yet not only is it generally rated higher, it’s also made by the same director (to the extent that any one name can be pinned to either film)—Victor Fleming— and in the same year.

The same is probably true for the defense mounted against my inability to concede the greatness of Back to the Future (1985) and The Princess Bride (1987). In another—later in the day—sense, I think youthful enthusiasm plays a part in the perception of Se7en (1995) The Fight Club (1999).  But the reason behind the concept of loving these films isn’t particularly significant. What I find troubling is the idea that not loving them causes such fretting. Are we becoming so unsure of our own judgment that we feel threatened by the lack of validation when someone doesn’t share that enthusiasm?

I should note that I am not directing this specifically or even necessarily at anyone who suggested that my own lack of appreciation for any of the titles mentioned was questionable.  In this first place, I’ve no problem with anyone expressing an opinion. Whether I agree with the opinion or not is immaterial, and how much weight I give the opinion is variable. Moreover, the only films I could be said to have “gone after” are the David Fincher ones, Se7en and Fight Club. The others I’m merely ambivalent about. (And I grant you that that may be more upsetting in some quarters.)

More to the point, I realize that we all have movies about which we’re protective. In my own case, I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t like Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975), Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932), Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972), Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932), Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) chances are pretty good that I wouldn’t consider taking you home to meet mother. (No, that’s not a complete list, but it’ll serve for illustration.) Does that mean, however, that I immediately think you’ve nothing of value to offer in terms of critical acumen? No, not in the least. It strongly suggests that there’s a pretty large disconnect between the way you view movies and the way I do. But it doesn’t make you “wrong,” it doesn’t make me “right,” and perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t cause me to question the value of my own judgment.

It can be argued that my sample list is generational—that it’s very much a baby boomer list. I can’t deny that, nor have I any reason to want to. Also, it does reflect films I saw for the first time between the ages of ten and 20, so it’s a list from my youth. Granted. That’s not entirely accidental, but it has more to do with staying power than with when I saw them. And part of that staying power stems from the fact that my appreciation for them has grown and changed over the intervening years. I don’t get the same thing from, say, Bride of Frankenstein now that I did when I was ten. If I did—or if that’s all I got—I doubt very much it would be on that list. I might not even still be watching it.

I have nothing against validation. No one does. When we recently ran Tommy for an audience of 100-plus viewers, of course I was pleased that the film drew applause and that all but one person who stopped to talk to me afterwards had liked or even loved the film. When we ran Love Me Tonight at one of the free Asheville Film Society screenings a couple weeks ago, did it make me happy that the audience of about 60 responded in a strongly positive matter? Of course, it did. It made me even happier to find someone I knew immediately calling a friend afterwards and telling her to put the film on her Netflix queue. It’s a very pleasant thing when you find people liking something you like. It’s human nature.

At the same time, I think dissent has its place. Granted, I find it sometimes curiously presented. The other night for example we screened Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man (1994) to a largely appreciative audience. I introduced the movie and referred to it as easily my favorite Italian horror film. I wasn’t surprised or upset when someone came up afterwards and told me how awful it was. That’s fine.

No movie’s going to please everyone. I don’t expect it to and would in fact be alarmed if it did. But I was puzzled by the fact that the person in question was clearly expecting me to agree with that assessment—as if telling me it was bad was clearly going to alter my view. When it didn’t, the person conceded that it started out all right, but really “went downhill” in the second half. I didn’t agree with that either, but I found nowhere to go with that argument since at no point was any attempt made to explain why it was awful or in what way it went downhill in the second half. Some years ago someone came into my house and spying a poster for Ken Russell’s The Rainbow (1989) remarked, “That movie was a real piece of sh*t, wasn’t it?” All I could think to say was, “Yes, I often frame and hang posters for movies I don’t like.” Really, what else was there to say?

But I’m getting away from the point somewhat, since what I’m seeing more and more—thanks to the explosion of film criticism (using the term in a loose sense) on the internet and the democratization of the process by allowing for reader commentary—a move toward a desire for conformist thought. I find this troubling. It’s not something we see much of on the Xpress movie forums.

The worst we get—apart from the rumblings generated if Mr. Souther or I don’t happen to be swept away in a euphoric frenzy by the latest “edgy” comedy, and those occasions when something that has nothing to do with film as such comes up—is usually limited to the same predictable responses made by the same predictable voices that the reviews were exactly what they expected. It would be quite remarkable actually if you weren’t able to generally guess whether or not any critic you read regularly was going to like a given movie. There’s no need to concern ourselves here with responses to reviews of faith-based and politically-motivated films, since the responses are more grounded in the subject matter than the movie.

In the broader world, however, there is a clear lockstep mentality at work. You see it every time something of pop culture note comes out. Rotten Tomatoes is the absolute worst where this is concerned. People get bent out of shape the moment some movie they’re all jazzed about (regardless of whether or not they’ve seen it) loses its 100 percent positive review status. They lie in wait for the first hapless reviewer—hoping against hope that it will be the almost universally despised Armond White—who dares not to love the film in question. And then they pounce in some weird form of cyber-bullying to eviscerate said reviewer. It’s as if they’ve banded together to in some huge internet dare in an effort to suppress all thought that doesn’t agree with theirs.

This doesn’t necessarily end with reviews that challenge the popular notion. Right now, for instance, you can venture onto Rotten Tomatoes and go to the reviews for Wes Craven’s new picture My Soul to Take. I haven’t seen the film yet, so as of this writing I have no dog in this fight. But if you’ll look at the Slant Magazine review (credited on the main page to Ed Gonzalez, but actually the work of Simon Abrams, due to Rotten Tomatoes unfathomable policies), you’ll find it’s one of two positive ones. (The other one hasn’t been spotted yet.) It has generated nine comments, one of which “invalidates” the critic for not liking Craven’s Red Eye (2005) and concludes, “Why is this fu*king moron considered a critic?” Possibly because said “moron” doesn’t troll movie sites using a name from a Reservoir Dogs character (how passe) spewing pointless bile? Just a guess.

We live in an age where everyone with a computer and in internet connection has been given a voice. In most ways, that strikes me as a good thing, even though it inevitably results in a great deal of rubbish and just plain noise. I was never a fan of the old boy network that often pervaded—and to some degree still pervades—the print media. I am, by the way, not a member of that network. Four books, essays in at least eight others (not counting an essay I did for Films in Review that somehow ended up in a book on Tim Burton without my permission), 25 years of articles in various magazines, ten years of weekly reviews. etc. and I could still name you some film-related publications where I wouldn’t even be given a hearing. So I have no reason to be a fan of that network, though I’ve long ceased to really care.

I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to set themselves up as a reviewer with his or her own website. I view it as not that much different from all those non-paying (or “pays in contributor copies”) gigs we used to do in the typewriter age. But for better or worse, our work was filtered, edited and smoothed out by professionals. Generally, I think it was for the better, but setting that aside, there’s often a too easy acceptance of these sites—and more than a few of the critics on some of them are posers of the “be a movie critic or just look like one” school. And there are some who think that saying a movie is “fu*king awesome” is actually criticism. I name no names, even though I don’t personally know any of these folks. I figure they will sort themselves out in time. The internet is already littered with the remains of dead review sites.

What I do begrudge, however, is the idea that critics should be bullied into agreeing with the mood of the moment. I don’t like the idea that I should pretend to like something because fanboys—and anyone who goes around doing nothing but shouting down critics he or she doesn’t like deserves the term—are going to try to make things difficult for me if I don’t. You see the threat of that all the time when it comes to the notorious Armond White, who is mostly notorious for exercising extremely poor judgment. Considering the fact that White thinks Michael Bay is a great filmmaker, it might be said that he comes by his debatable judgment honestly.

I don’t especially like White, but I’m not sent into a tizzy by him. With the Rotten Tomatoes fanboy crowd, it’s another matter. They seriously call for him to be fired by his publisher and constantly implore Rotten Tomatoes to ban him from the site. It’s an unlikely scenario, of course, because White’s contrarian stance is good for website traffic both at the New York Press and Rotten Tomatoes. The real question is whether or not White believes what he writes or—as is widely assumed—it’s an attention-getting device. Without having access into the man’s mind—and I’m not sure that would be much fun—it’s impossible to say. I will say that there are a number of critics I’m less likely to read than White. That doesn’t mean I take him seriously—merely that I find him interesting.

In general, though, I simply don’t like the idea that there is some particular set of movies that is immune from criticism, or that to suggest that something not on that hypothetical list is not great is foolish. It reminds me of that sentence in Josef von Sternberg’s autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, “One who praises as great art only that which has become popular and about which there can no longer be any dispute is qualified to discuss art only with a child.”

Film criticism is a relative youngster in the world of letters. After all, film itself hasn’t a history that is anywhere near as long as that of any other art form. And both can be said to be sort of mongrels. Film draws from a wide mixture of sources—theater, painting, literature, myth, music, and, as the movies demonstrate over and over, other movies. So too does film criticism, which requires—or should require—a frame of reference. I remember cringing in 2002 when it became clear that at least one critic had no clue that Jonthan Demme’s The Truth About Charlie was a reworking of Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963). Now, that strikes me as a case where it’s permissible to ask why someone is even considered a critic.

But we all stumble through this to some degree and learn as we go because we see and experience more as we live. When I was 16 I thought the opening of Leo McCarey’s Duck Soup (1933) was brilliantly original. When I was 19 I finally saw Victor Heerman’s earlier Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers (1930) and realized McCarey had merely honed, refined and tightened the opening of that film, which I realized was itself drawn from the 1928 stage play of Animal Crackers. It would be years later that I realized both owed a heavy debt to Gilbert and Sullivan. A frame of reference doesn’t arrive by magic, though some people believe it does.

The other night while watching Cemetery Man, I asked a friend—in his early 20s—who was seated next to me if he caught the fact that the kissing scene with the covered faces in the ossurary was a reference to Rene Magritte’s painting The Lovers. He didn’t, but he’s also in his early 20s and I wasn’t surprised by this. I wouldn’t have known it myself at his age. And I’m sure that there are all sorts of areas where my frame of reference is lacking—which is one reason I continue reading other people’s takes on movies and revisiting movies I saw years ago.

It’s that same thought that make me skeptical of unquestioned classics. If our assessment of movies stopped at some point, the notions of unquestioned classics would be radically different than they are now. The Wizard of Oz would be a reasonably successful movie from 1939 and nothing more. Nearly every horror film from the 1930s would have been forgotten some time ago. The Marx Brothers would have been said to have reached their peak with A Night at the Opera in 1935—the film that for years was credited with rescuing from the “shambles” of their Paramount years, neatly disposing of what is now generally considered their best work. Mark Sandrich’s Top Hat (1935) would still be considered the pinnacle of the Astaire-Rogers movies, not George Stevens’ Swing Time (1936), which tends to hold that spot now. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) would be written off as a failure—critically and commercially.

The fact is that our perception of movies is fluid to a great degree, and it requires re-evaluation. And it should. The constant honest debating of movies shouldn’t stop. And when I say “honest debating,” I don’t mean prove a film’s merits because of all the accolades you can produce for it. I mean prove it by telling why you consider it great. And that has nothing to do with its “approval rating” on Rotten Tomatoes, the AFI list of 100 Greatest Insert-Genre-Here Films or the even more fallacious IMDb ranking of the 250 greatest movies. These are all snapshots. Moreover to announce a film as great without the possibility of a varying opinion is to condemn that film to death by ossification. Films should be seen and discussed, not consigned to pedestals. Of course, all this goes to hell if you try to tell me that William Beaudine’s 1944 Bela Lugosi picture Voodoo Man isn’t an unassailable existential trash masterpiece. When that happens, you and I need to step outside and settle this.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

42 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Quest for conformity

  1. This is even trickier to navigate when you start getting into subsets of film fandom. Depending on who you’re talking to, preferring a certain DRACULA film over another would set you up for a tongue lashing.
    I’ve been accused of being both ‘not a real Batman fan’ and being ‘ungrateful’ for not appreciating THE DARK KNIGHT enough. And I like that film – just not to the required extent.

  2. DrSerizawa

    I still stand by my belief that Machete was full of “awesome awesomeness” though and that the intestinal rope trick was the single greatest B movie stunt I’ve ever encountered. Don’t you dare disagree or I’ll start an Anti-Cranky website because I have no life.

    Seriously, I think you are coming up against the very factor that has made life on Earth such a hell so often. The irrational need for too many people to be “right” forces them to attack anyone who disagrees with their opinion. It also makes them incapable of self-inspection. When you add this to the ease that people “mob up” you get the Fanboy Brigade. Some people just never grow up. The modern fad of teaching what is basically undeserved “self-esteem” in schools exacerbates the usual generational gulf. When one’s idea of self-worth is not based on achievement it becomes quite fragile.

  3. luluthebeast

    I have to agree that the intestinal rope trick was a wonderful bit. That being said, I tend to ignore the “fanboy critic”, simply because they seem to lack the cinematic background knowledge for me to take them seriously.

  4. Ken Hanke

    This is even trickier to navigate when you start getting into subsets of film fandom.

    I think a lot of this is an outgrowth of the fandom mindset of which you speak.

    Depending on who you’re talking to, preferring a certain DRACULA film over another would set you up for a tongue lashing.

    “Talking to” is the operative phrase here (assuming it means actual face-to-face encounters), because the prospect of a tongue lashing there can come under the heading of “lively discussion.” And that’s okay, but I do not recommending put a bunch of Universal fans in the same room as a group of Hammer ones for an extended period.

    I’ve been accused of being both ‘not a real Batman fan’ and being ‘ungrateful’ for not appreciating THE DARK KNIGHT enough. And I like that film – just not to the required extent.

    Yes, well, that’s like my review of the first Harry Potter movie where I got crap for not loving it enough. I don’t suppose if we — which in this case mostly means Justin and I — ever figure out what picture to use for a shirt featuring a certain well-known British director’s personal assessment of Christian Bale’s Batman — “And that Batman — Ick!” — you’d want one for special fan events?

  5. Ken Hanke

    I still stand by my belief that Machete was full of “awesome awesomeness” though and that the intestinal rope trick was the single greatest B movie stunt I’ve ever encountered. Don’t you dare disagree or I’ll start an Anti-Cranky website because I have no life.

    The problem with this concept, Doctor, is that I fully support your view that Machete attains complete awesomosity. You need to find something else for me to disagree with. However, I have to admit I’ve toyed with the idea of running an “I Can’t Stand Ken Hanke Because” contest.

    Seriously, I think you are coming up against the very factor that has made life on Earth such a hell so often.

    I want to make it clear that I am not personally coming up against this for the most part — and certainly not on the Xpress site. My concerns here do not include personal experiences for the most part — or at least have no relation to the civilly expressed dismay over my feelings for Back to the Future, Fight Club or The Princess Bride.

    The modern fad of teaching what is basically undeserved “self-esteem” in schools exacerbates the usual generational gulf. When one’s idea of self-worth is not based on achievement it becomes quite fragile.

    Is that actually taught in schools? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that something like it does exist. A few years back I had the interesting experience of working with a young fellow who delighted in an ignorance of every event that took place prior to his arrival in the world — apparently, everything that ever happened prior to that was mere prologue to his arrival on the scene. I pointed out to him that his frame of reference was awful to the point of non-existent, which he excused on his age, claiming that when he was my age he would know everything that I know simply by existing. No effort to learn or study was involved. I have yet to decide whether I was more appalled or fascinated by this mindset.

  6. Ken Hanke

    That being said, I tend to ignore the “fanboy critic”, simply because they seem to lack the cinematic background knowledge for me to take them seriously.

    If it was only that, I would only find it annoying, but when you mix in the bullying factor and the basic lack of even rudimentary reasoning skills (the notions of how Rotten Tomatoes works and what “Top Critic” means are pathetically inadequate), it becomes disturbing. Throw in wearing ignorance like a badge of honor — I’ve actually seen critics dismissed as valueless because they’ve used words the poster didn’t know the meanings of — and it verges on the scary. Come to think of it, someone once went out of his way to complain that I’d used “avoirdupois afflicted” instead of calling a character “fat,” claiming that I was using an archaic term from 1950s detective fiction (huh?) and that I was obviously writing from a Thesaurus (which I don’t even own). Apparently, it should be forbidden to use words for the sheer enjoyment of them.

  7. Dionysis

    “I do not recommending put a bunch of Universal fans in the same room as a group of Hammer ones for an extended period.”

    What you one is a fan of both? Does that imply a split personality? I am, and have spent vast stretches of time in the same room with myself.

  8. Ken Hanke

    What you one is a fan of both? Does that imply a split personality? I am, and have spent vast stretches of time in the same room with myself.

    An interesting question. My impression is that you are more rational about these things than many — probably more than I am at my worst, since if it came down to a dust-up on the topic, I’ll end up choosing a side. It’s the old Chaplin/Keaton, Lugosi/Karloff, Mamoulian/Lubitsch, Sarris/Kael business, I guess.

  9. Dionysis

    “if it came down to a dust-up on the topic, I’ll end up choosing a side.”

    I’m not sure I could pick a side, really, as far as the Universal vs. Hammer issue goes. While my memory is sketchy, I’m pretty sure I saw most of the Universal horror films as a very, very young child on television, and loved them. However, I saw the Hammer films on the big screen, and they left a huge impression on me. I loved that Hammer ‘look’ as much (in some cases, maybe more) as the actual story. But I never tire of watching the Universal horror films. In fact, while I own 67 Hammer titles, I’ll pull out a Universal title more frequently.

  10. Ken Hanke

    But I never tire of watching the Universal horror films. In fact, while I own 67 Hammer titles, I’ll pull out a Universal title more frequently.

    I find that interesting in itself. I own a mere fraction of that number of Hammer title, but I own every available (and a few that aren’t) Universal title from Dracula through House of Dracula. For me, the Universals — at their best — are simply better and offer more repeat viewing value. The only Universal I saw originally on the big screen was The Old Dark House. Everything else was a TV experience on the first go around, but the struck a chord the Hammers never did, even though I did see Kiss of the Vampire, The Gorgon, Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Nightmare, Evil of Frankenstein, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Satanic Rites of Dracula and To the Devil a Daughter originally on the big screen. That ought to have given them the edge, but it didn’t. I’m actually coming to appreciate them more in my later years, but they still don’t have the same resonance for me.

  11. DrSerizawa

    I want to make it clear that I am not personally coming up against this for the most part—and certainly not on the Xpress site.

    Well, certainly not. The patrons of the Xpress are wordly-wise and highly educated with excellent taste and an abiding dedication to the free exchange of ideas. (We’ll make little mention of the fact that the “worldly-wisdom” comes from years of homelessness). I understood that you were referring elsewhere, places where true simian cinema action is not properly appreciated.

  12. Ken Hanke

    The patrons of the Xpress are wordly-wise and highly educated with excellent taste and an abiding dedication to the free exchange of ideas.

    Let’s not get carried away here. I mostly wished to make sure that Messrs. Dread P. Roberts, T-Rex, and LYT were aware I was not referring to them. And to be honest, occasionally we do have the hit-and-run versions of the Rotten Tomato stripe, but we don’t have them as a matter of course.

    places where true simian cinema action is not properly appreciated.

    When simian value is properly appreciated in the movie world at large, it will be a day of much rejoicing.

  13. So what spurned this article, Fincher and THE SOCIAL NETWORK?

    I don’t mind Armond White. However, I feel he writes contrary reviews just to piss off fanboys… which to me compromises his ability as a critic.

    Good article again, Ken.

  14. Ken Hanke

    So what spurned this article, Fincher and THE SOCIAL NETWORK?

    It played into it, though, frankly, I expected fanboy backlash on that review and it hasn’t happened. The eight comments aren’t fanboy stuff and only one is even especially gung-ho about the movie. It probably had more to do with the fanboy pile-on on RT over that movie. It also has something to do with the fact I have to come up with a subject every week. How many of these things have I done now?

    I don’t mind Armond White. However, I feel he writes contrary reviews just to piss off fanboys… which to me compromises his ability as a critic.

    I only know one person who knows White — and not very well — but I have the feeling he thinks White is quite serious and a little bit scary. I don’t know how serious he is, but he usually loses me somewhere along the way in everything he writes — either through getting it all balled up in academic twaddle, or by citing something so off the wall that I stop taking him seriously. Still, anyone who talks about the “beauty” of The Darjeeling Limited catches my interest and his observation that orgies of critical gush like what we’ve seen with Social Network are getting perilously close to advertising needed saying. Anyway, the fanboys need him. Otherwise, they’re gonna have to go after Victoria Alexander and they won’t enjoy that nearly so much. She’s a lot more vapid, but not nearly pompous enough.

    Good article again, Ken.

    Thank you.

  15. luluthebeast

    ” Apparently, it should be forbidden to use words for the sheer enjoyment of them.”

    It’s probably better that I do not meet these sniveling galactophages in person or else I may be arrested on a charge of defenestration!

  16. Ken Hanke

    It’s probably better that I do not meet these sniveling galactophages in person or else I may be arrested on a charge of defenestration!

    Just be sure you’re at least above the second floor or the effect will be diminished.

  17. Paddy

    I have to say the main problem that you overlooked is that most of what you reference is online. Online in the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, is a jerk. It is just the nature of internet culture. Every forum/blog/site no matter what the topic will have more expletives used than at a truck stop on fire. People type quick messages going on there gut reaction and tend to be completely sure no matter what the issue. Talk to the same person in real life and they most likely will not be so obstinate.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I have to say the main problem that you overlooked is that most of what you reference is online.

    Well, since what I’m talking about deals with internet “bullying,” that’s kind of a given.

    Online in the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, is a jerk. It is just the nature of internet culture.

    Do you include yourself in that? I mean, you don’t seem to be a jerk. And while there is some truth in that statement, I don’t find it be 100 percent true, nor do I think that calling it “the nature of internet culture” and just accepting it is a reasonable response.

    Every forum/blog/site no matter what the topic will have more expletives used than at a truck stop on fire.

    Unmoderated forums certainly because people can’t realize that having an internet connection doesn’t automatically mean they have something of value to say. Now, this is a moderated forum — though it’s a fairly mildly moderated one — but it generally doesn’t fit that description.

    Talk to the same person in real life and they most likely will not be so obstinate

    Do you think that’s because they’re better people in person or simply more afraid of confrontation? You don’t, after all, risk much online, especially if no one knows who’s doing the typing.

  19. Me

    I would love to know if Jonathan Rosenbaum saw The Social Network and what he thinks of it.

  20. luluthebeast

    “Just be sure you’re at least above the second floor or the effect will be diminished.”

    Geez, I’m not as dumb as I look!

    And how do you make sentences bold on this site?

  21. Ken Hanke

    I would love to know if Jonathan Rosenbaum saw The Social Network and what he thinks of it.

    Why don’t you check the paper he writes for? I can tell you this much, his review isn’t on Rotten Tomatoes, unless the alphabetizing is off.

  22. Ken Hanke

    And how do you make sentences bold on this site?

    Okay, here we go (I am not good at explaining this, it seems) — you precede what you want bold with a b inside <> and you follow it with a /b inside <>

  23. Ken Hanke

    BARRY LYNDON ROCKS!

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  24. Jonathan Barnard

    I have nothing against validation. No one does. … It’s a very pleasant thing when you find people liking something you like. It’s human nature.

    That’s true—to a degree. But the opposite of that can also be true: People may prefer sharing at least a few likes with only a small group. I think those preferences shared by only a few give us a stronger sense of personal identity. I’ll give you an example: About a month or so ago, you wrote a column about pre-1965 talkies (plus Chaplin films) that would be considered essential (the idea was to create a list for a teenage girl). At one point in the discussion that followed, you and I disagreed about a bunch of films that you had selected that I regarded as conventional choices but that you thought would be unlikely choices for “a best 100 list.” The disagreement intrigued me, so I went on line and consulted three lists: one by Leonard Matlin (because you had mentioned him as having particularly conventional taste), one list that I think had been generated by computer from other lists, and one from a society of American film critics. Almost all of the 15-20 films I had pegged as likely candidates for such a list were on at least one of those three. (The sole exception was The Thin Man, which nonetheless made “the second 100” of the computer generated list.) Their inclusion pleased me mildly, because it made me feel that I wasn’t clueless about what most viewers liked. But that small pleasure was outweighed by a greater disappointment: Two films that I thought were idiosyncratic loves of mine–Ashes and Diamonds and Raise the Red Lantern–were also on the top 100 list by that American film critics group. Had I previously been asked to make a list of personal favorites that wouldn’t make a typical “best 100” list, those two would have been at the top of it. (I guess because I’ve never read any reviews of them and spoken to few people who have even seen them, save for my wife and one very close friend.) Oh well, I thought, I guess my tastes aren’t so special after all. It’s a stupid and immature reaction, I know, but that’s the truth of it. And I suspect it’s not a particularly unusual emotional response. We humans are a pretty conflicted bunch: we want our tastes to be validated but also to be unique.

  25. Ken Hanke

    That’s true—to a degree. But the opposite of that can also be true: People may prefer sharing at least a few likes with only a small group.

    But even that small group provides validation. Even those who thrive on the latest and most obscure art titles are looking for validation within that group. Validation is a pretty strong motivator. Weren’t you looking for validation by going to a degree of trouble to invalidate my notion that Horse Feathers, You’re Telling Me, Imitation of Life, Road to Rio, Flying Down to Rio and Charlie Chan at the Race Track are relatively unorthodox choices to introduce a young person to movies?

    I may be unusual, but I can’t think of a single movie — or book or musical piece — that I have any desire to keep to myself or even to some small group. That doesn’t mean that there mayn’t be things I see no percentage in trying to sell to the general public, e.g., I see little point in trying to sell anyone on the charms of the “Crime Club” mysteries Universal brought out from 1937 to 1939. (That they’re not commercially available and haven’t been TV staples since the demise of the “Shock Theater” packages in the 1960s enters into it.)

  26. Dread P. Roberts

    “One who praises as great art only that which has become popular and about which there can no longer be any dispute is qualified to discuss art only with a child.”

    I simply love this quote. I’ve never heard it before – thanks for this. Great article Ken.

  27. Dread P. Roberts

    The other night while watching Cemetery Man, I asked a friend—in his early 20s—who was seated next to me if he caught the fact that the kissing scene with the covered faces in the ossurary was a reference to Rene Magritte’s painting The Lovers. He didn’t, but he’s also in his early 20s and I wasn’t surprised by this. I wouldn’t have known it myself at his age.

    This amuses me, because in my senior year of high school I once scoffed at a friend for not catching the deliberate reference to René Magritte in Being There (1979)… foolish bastard. Of course, I was sort of going through a ‘surrealist art phase’ at the time, and my interests/knowledge was probably not normal (to say the least) for someone my age.

  28. Dread P. Roberts

    I have to admit I’ve toyed with the idea of running an “I Can’t Stand Ken Hanke Because” contest.

    I can’t stand Ken Hanke because… he smells of elderberries!

  29. Jonathan Barnard

    As always Ken, it’s a thought-provoking pleasure to read your columns.

    I’m not trying to argue that validation isn’t a strong motivator. I’m just pointing out that in our culture there is also strong motivation to stand apart from the crowd (even if that means standing within a smaller crowd). That’s why “unorthodox,” “unconventional,” and “alternative” in advertising copy are almost always used as positives.

    I think you were astute in mentioning generational issues in this column (with regard to your baby-boomer tastes), because psychological conflicts involving belonging/standing apart are particularly strong in adolescence, when both individuals and generations gain a strong sense of their separate identities. That’s also the time when we tend to fix in our heads what we regard as “conventional.” In our earlier discussion I remember that you had suggested that Duck Soup wouldn’t be on a typical “best 50” list because it wasn’t reevaluated in a more positive light until the early 70s. (Dude, that was more than 35 years ago!)

    P.S. You had many choices I regarded as idiosyncratic. I wasn’t suggesting that “You’re Telling Me, Imitation of Life, Road to Rio, Flying Down to Rio and Charlie Chan at the Race Track were typical. I was suggesting the Lawrence of Arabia, 8 1/2, The Seventh Seal, The Maltese Falcon and so forth were. And again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing some of those too. Many more conventional choices would be on my list (and even more, it turns out, than I had previously thought). I was just surprised when you said you had intentionally avoided choices that would be on a typical list.

  30. Ken Hanke

    I simply love this quote. I’ve never heard it before – thanks for this

    You’re quite welcome.

    Great article Ken

    Thank you.

    This amuses me, because in my senior year of high school I once scoffed at a friend for not catching the deliberate reference to René Magritte in Being There (1979)… foolish bastard. Of course, I was sort of going through a ‘surrealist art phase’ at the time, and my interests/knowledge was probably not normal (to say the least) for someone my age.

    I think the first Magritte association I came up with was the Apple Records logo — that was probably my early 20s, I think.

    I can’t stand Ken Hanke because… he smells of elderberries!

    Could you notice it from where you were standing? Gad.

  31. Ken Hanke

    As always Ken, it’s a thought-provoking pleasure to read your columns

    Thank you.

    I think you were astute in mentioning generational issues in this column (with regard to your baby-boomer tastes), because psychological conflicts involving belonging/standing apart are particularly strong in adolescence, when both individuals and generations gain a strong sense of their separate identities.

    Which is precisely why I think it’s generally fruitless to argue with people over just about anything they saw at an impressionable age.

    Duck Soup wouldn’t be on a typical “best 50” list because it wasn’t reevaluated in a more positive light until the early 70s. (Dude, that was more than 35 years ago!)

    Good point, but I’d be surprised (and you’re at liberty to prove me wrong) if Maltin has recanted his Night at the Opera stance.

    I was suggesting the Lawrence of Arabia, 8 1/2, The Seventh Seal, The Maltese Falcon and so forth were.

    The amusing thing is we’ve been arguing over a misperception. Those weren’t titles I was selecting the way I had the others, but things I threw in because they were inescapable. And I’d be surprised if any of those were unusual choices on best of lists!

  32. Jonathan Barnard

    Good point, but I’d be surprised (and you’re at liberty to prove me wrong) if Maltin has recanted his Night at the Opera stance.

    I think Duck Soup was on all three lists (though I think Night at the Opera made Matlin’s as well).

    By the way, I think viewer recastings might be a good topic for a future column–you know the phenomenon of saying, “If only so-and-so was playing that part instead of so-and-so.”

  33. Jonathan Barnard

    The amusing thing is we’ve been arguing over a misperception

    Not exactly. To be a jerk and beat a dead horse, I was originally making the point that you had included conventional “inescapable choices” from the 30s, 40s, and early 60s, but almost none from the 50s. (Or no American ones at least.) And I think that the omission on your part probably involves generational identity issues. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with generational bias in a critic, and on numerous occasions, including this column, you have freely admitted you are at least partly a product of your era, as we all are.

  34. Ken Hanke

    I think Duck Soup was on all three lists (though I think Night at the Opera made Matlin’s as well).

    I don’t doubt that it’s on there — wherever there is exactly, since I don’t know what this is a list of (general films? genre films?). What would surprise me is if he’d come to rate it over the later movie.

    By the way, I think viewer recastings might be a good topic for a future column—you know the phenomenon of saying, “If only so-and-so was playing that part instead of so-and-so.”

    Possibly, though not a lot of examples are hitting me off the bat.

    I was originally making the point that you had included conventional “inescapable choices” from the 30s, 40s, and early 60s, but almost none from the 50s. (Or no American ones at least.) And I think that the omission on your part probably involves generational identity issues.

    I don’t like 1950s American film as a rule, but I’m not quite sure how that’s a generational issue. I’d need to know how that issue has bearing on not liking — essentially — a style of film and to some degree acting. I’d think I should be comfortable with it, since it’s what I first saw.

  35. Ken Hanke

    http://www.filmsite.org/maltin.html

    Doesn’t really help to settle the question of his stance on Marxian supremacy, since the films aren’t ranked, but are in chronological order. That list, however, is probably a testament to generational thinking, though — the 80s are represented by two movies and the 90s by four.

  36. brianpaige

    I am convinced that Armond White is a gimmick critic. There’s no other way to rationalize the guy. Let’s face it, he’s one of maybe 3 people on RT that gives Toy Story 3 a bad review, ditto Social Network. And he’s one of maybe 3 people that likes Jonah Hex.

    Victoria Alexander though? She does seem like someone that means what she says, even if it is in fact vapid.

    I can detect patterns in what Maltin likes and doesn’t like. Darker films just do not get good reviews from Maltin. Sin City? *1/2. Dark Knight? **. Hell, he still has Taxi Driver listed at **.

    As far as Fincher goes, I’d probably fall in the middle. I liked Seven when it first came out, but the lame plot twist in Fight Club kills it for me.

  37. Ken Hanke

    I am convinced that Armond White is a gimmick critic.

    I’m not.

    Victoria Alexander though? She does seem like someone that means what she says, even if it is in fact vapid

    “Vapid” barely touches the surface.

    I can detect patterns in what Maltin likes and doesn’t like. Darker films just do not get good reviews from Maltin. Sin City? *1/2. Dark Knight? **. Hell, he still has Taxi Driver listed at **.

    Are these from his TV movie guide book? Because if they are you can’t even be sure that the reviews are his. Maltin hardly provides all the reviews in those books and never has.

  38. brianpaige

    Yeah those are from his main TV guide. I do recall that he didn’t like Dark Knight, so that ** fits. It’s just a pattern over the years: If a film is dark and unsettling, chances are Maltin doesn’t approve. Would he allow something to be printed that was way out of line with his personal star rating?

    I can kinda see where White is coming from. He does actually give good reviews to several well received films, and he likes occasional trash like Jonah Hex. I’ve been known to like some crap too, haha.

  39. Ken Hanke

    Would he allow something to be printed that was way out of line with his personal star rating?

    I doubt he’s that hands-on with the book really. After all, one of his original reviewers stuck a totally made-up movie in the very first edition and it remained for at least 30 years. It may still be there, for all I know.

    I can kinda see where White is coming from. He does actually give good reviews to several well received films, and he likes occasional trash like Jonah Hex. I’ve been known to like some crap too, haha.

    Wherever White is now, I think he was originally sincere, but I also think he wants to think of himself as an original thinker and as a result takes a contrarian stance partly on that basis. As for liking crap — everybody like some crap. White differs by trying to make a case for it as art.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.