Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Perspective on Celebrity Culture and Fillm Criticism


Newspaper and Movie Losses

This article from Roger Ebert spurred much thought. More media downsizing, more job losses, more decline in the shared public discussion arena. Is he correct that the gossip world drowns out the film critic?

Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!
By Roger Ebert on November 26, 2008 9:20 AM

A newspaper film critic is like a canary in a coal mine. When one croaks, get the hell out. The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American
newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip.

The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and “thinkers.” Oh, it can be done. But with “Synecdoche, New

Worse, the AP wants its writers on the entertainment beat to focus more on the kind of brief celebrity items its clients apparently hunger for. The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running
a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death
watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been “seen with” somebody, who has been “spotted with” somebody, and “top ten” lists of the above. (Celebs “seen with” desire to be seen, celebs “spotted with” do not desire to be seen.)

The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is
indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as “a Hollywood story.” I want to smash something against a wall.

In “Toots,” a new documentary about the legendary Manhattan saloon keeper Toots Shor, there is a shot so startling I had to reverse the DVD to see it again. After dinner, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe leave the restaurant, give their ticket to a valet, wait on the curb until their car arrives, tip the valet and then Joe opens the car door for Marilyn, walks around, gets in, and drives them away. This was in the 1950s. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have not been able to do that once in their adult lifetimes. Celebrities do not use limousines because of vanity. They use them as a protection against cannibalism.

As the CelebCult triumphs, major newspapers have been firing experienced film critics. They want to devote less of their space to considered prose, and more to ignorant gawking. What they require
doesn’t need to be paid for out of their payrolls. Why does the biggest story about “Twilight” involve its fans? Do we need interviews with 16-year-old girls about Robert Pattinson? When was the last time
they read a paper? Isn’t the movie obviously about sexual abstinence and the teen fascination with doomy Goth death-flirtation?

The age of film critics has come and gone. While the big papers on the coasts always had them (Bosley Crowther at the New York Times, Charles Champlin at the Los Angeles Times), many other major dailies had rotating bylines anybody might be writing under (“Kate Cameron” at the
New York Daily News, “Mae Tinay” at the Chicago Tribune–get it?). Judith Crist changed everything at the New York Herald-Tribune when she panned “Cleopatra” (1963) and was banned from 20th Century-Fox screenings. There was a big fuss, and suddenly every paper hungered for a “real” movie critic. The Film Generation was upon us.

In the coverage of new directors and the rediscovery of classic films, no paper was more influential than the weekly Village Voice, with such as Andrew Sarris and Jonas Mekas. Earlier this year the Voice fired Dennis Lim and Nathan Lee, and recently fired all the local movie critics in its national chain, to be replaced, Variety’s Anne Thompson reported, by syndicating their critics on the two coasts, the Voice’s J. Hoberman and the L.A. Weekly’s Scott Foundas. Serious writers, yes,

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free-Press has decided it needs no film critic at all. Michael Wilmington is gone from the Chicago Tribune, Jack Mathews and Jami Bernard from the New York Daily News, Kevin Thomas from the Los Angeles Times–and the internationally-respected film critic of the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum, has retired, accepted a buy-out, will write for his blog, or something. I still see him at all the screenings. My shining hero remains Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic, as incisive and penetrating as ever at 92. I don’t give him points for his age, which anyone can attain simply by living long enough, but for his criticism. Study any review and try to find a wrong or unnecessary word. There is your man for an intelligent 500-word review.

Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should “reflect the taste of the readers.” My friend said, “Does that mean the food critic should
love McDonald’s?” The editor: “Absolutely.” I don’t believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, “You are correct, sir!” A newspaper film critic should encourage critical
thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be
heartened, be outraged.

At one time all newspapers by definition did those things on everypage. Now they are lascivious gossips, covering invented beats. On one single day recently, I was informed that Tom and Katie’s daughter Suri “won’t wear pants” and shares matching designer sunglasses with her
mom. No, wait, they’re not matching, they’re only both wearing sunglasses. Eloping to Mexico: Heidi and Spencer. Britney is feeling old. Amy is in the hospital. George called Hugh in the middle of the
night to accuse him of waging a campaign to take away the title of “sexiest man alive.” Pete discussed naming his son Bronx Mowgli. Ann’s jaw was wired shut. Karolina’s belly button is missing. Madonna and A-Rod might, or might not, spend Thanksgiving together. Some of Valentino’s makeup rubbed off on Sarah Jessica. Miley and Justin went out to lunch. Justin and Jessica took their dogs for a walk.

Perhaps fearing the challenge of reading a newspaper will prove daunting, papers are using increasing portions of their shrinking news holes in providing guides to reading themselves. Before the Chicago
Tribune’s new design started self-correcting (i.e., rolling itself back), I fully expected a box at the top of a page steering me to a story lower on the same page.

The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious,
readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically. It is about the failure of our educational system. It is not about dumbing-down. It is about snuffing out.

The news is still big. It’s the newspapers that got small.

Hollywood Bohemians Virtual Tour

Date Site Name General or Specific Link
11/24 Pop Syndicate
11/25 Bookzillion
11/25 Joe MyGod
11/26 Bilerico Project
11/28 GoodReads
12/1 You Tube
12/1 Yahoo
12/1 My Space
12/1 Metacafe
12/1 Google
12/1 Rewer
12/1 AOL
12/1 Break
12/1 Daily Motion
12/1 Blip
12/1 Readers Entertainment
12/12 Writers in the Sky

Milk: Hollywood’s Lesbian Gay Hero

How far we have come from Vito Russo’s Celluloid Closet! we are reclaiming Hollywood’s bohemian past.

A biopic with a gay hero. Great performances.

Like other movies in that genre Milk places the San Francisco Supervisor in his times with vintage fashions, cars and images. For more details about other attributes there is George Custen’s 

For more on Milk see Life and Times of Harvey Milk

Caribbean Vacation

Back from Puerto Rico –my first time in the Caribbean. Great warm weather and wonderful pre-high season time to go. You get all the treatment without the crowds. Visited the Camuy River caves with only four other couples. Went to mountain town of Utuado and saw a vibrant 18th century plaza and street grid.

Old San Juan is worth two good days of exploring and we saw a dance performance at dusk at the Fort San cristobal. While El Morro is better known

we really liked this second fortress.

Ponce, despite a rave in the New York Times, is worth a day. There is a desert forest nearby that is stunning, with tons of butterflies.

On Vieques we had the beaches mostly to ourselves so we snorkeled at leisure. We took a great bike tour of 15 miles with Garry

and visited Biobay (a must)

The down side is that there are too few jobs for locals. Most of the new business owners come from the mainland US and have the capital to start B&Bs and restaurants that cater to the tourists.

Lesbian and Gay Hollywood

Lesbian, gays and adulterers then and now.Hollywood Bohemians by Brett Abrams

Lesbian Gay Bohemians Tour

bohemians-v-tourad1           Sex, Movies, Gays, Lesbians, gossip, Hollywood, marketing

Catch the Hollywood Bohemians Book Tour

Parsing the Cacophony on Financial Crisis

Home mortgage battle between two speaking on Newshour:

Agree on helping individual mortgage holders: one claims FannieMae announcement of support is one key

other says program rewards for being 90 days in debt before offering any help– which really is backwards reward. The program restructures payment to 38% of one’s income, which is still huge. Makes one wonder how anyone in their right mind would take a mortgage requiring them to pay so much more of their income prior to the restructuring!

The next segments pits two economists on issue of whether the bailout is working. Steiglitz makes the point that annoys me so much which is that the lenders of the debt to the AIGs and others are not taking on a portion of the losses that shareholders are shouldering and I fear, the taxpayers will have to bear.  Each agrees that bankruptcies for certain companies would be acceptable yet with great irony it is the economist who worked for Republican administrations that warns about the freezing up of the credit markets if the bankruptcy occurred.

However, bankruptcy might actually balance the load of the losses toward the responsible company and it’s foolish management!

Bailout Working?

Respected analyst Kevin Phillips appeared on Bill Moyers Journal on Friday and stirred my blood saying that the banks are using the bailout funds to pay off investors rather than help mortgage holders or pay off their bad debt. Next, they’ll give more money to their greedy selves!

Does anyone know what kinds of restrictions are on those loans?

Questions abound:

Is the bailout working? Not so far according to reporting

Who monitored the distribution?

Some of the biggest, most stable banks got the biggest checks. For instance, JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) led the pack with $25 billion in federal funding. Smaller banks are getting far less, and,some banks are using their loans to purchase smaller banks.

To what end goal? Even firms want more clarity,

If the automobile companies after their years of bs management are bellying up to the federal bar, are they not going to have to give over preferred shares in exchange? Is the government not going to restrict how they can use the loan money?

Marketing Books

McFarland Publishing released my book, Hollywood Bohemians and after a conversation with a friend I decided to hire a full-time publicist. This is a good choice but what I discovered is how much work there is for the author to do.

Admittedly, I did not know a lot about the publishing business beforehand. However, I’ve learned.

You edit a script for your book trailer; make suggestions for blogs to hit; coordinate between the publisher’s marketing department and your publicist, you write some questions.

lol; I’m trying to do this while working full-time. (grin)

Then, there are the pleasures: a nice promo: