The Classical

Bosch PinkertonThe Critic’s Self-Portrait.

I should begin by saying that it is hard to imagine a pleasanter existence, on the whole, than that of the aesthete: Had I a hundred lives to live, I would devote them all to art-faggotry. The fact that anyone does otherwise is an ongoing source of bemusement and bewilderment to me.

Among the many faintly artsy careers in which one can while away the broad, barren stretch of existence while providing society not one jot of undue practical benefit, the lot of the critic is not a bad one. Not only is one able to deepen one’s appreciation of the arts, which render habitable this cesspool Earth, by trying to better understand and quantify them in relation to one’s self and society, but one gets to play an important role in the very ecosystem of art.

“Thank you very much for your article in the Mercure de France,” Vincent Van Gogh wrote
to the critic Albert Aurier in 1890, “I like it very much as a work of art in itself, I feel that you
create colors with your words; anyway I rediscover my canvases in your article, but better than they really are—richer, more significant.” And what a pleasure this is, indeed! The experience of receiving words of appreciation from one who has enriched your life with their work, thanking you in kind!

As with anyone living in the public eye, the critic also receives a great deal of unsolicited, less-welcome feedback. This has been compounded in the internet era—the only one I have known—with the proliferation of “Comments” sections attached to one’s work as it appears on-line, which allow the gormless rabble public a direct link of communication to their tastemaking aristocracy, with none of the selective filtering of the classic Letters to the Editor section.

As anyone who has perused the Comments section of virtually any YouTube posting can tell you, these forums function principally as a clearing house for semiliterate jeremiads and jaw-dropping racism. The average film review is not much better favored by the plebes. Unfortunately, as the great personal wealth that I’ve accrued through a life in letters means that my leisure time is increasingly occupied by ceaseless yachting, I have found it difficult to set aside the time to scroll through the Comments left by my dear readers. Most responses might best be limited to the classical Mad Magazine sendoff (“Fa fa fa!”) or Joan Didion’s rejoinder to a reader’s overheated response to her criticism of Woody Allen’s Manhattan in the New York Review of Books (“Oh, wow.”) I have, however, sorted through my fan mail often enough to have detected certain recurring themes in Comments section leavings, which I would like to address below, as I have not in the past had occasion to.

Without further ado – Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frère!

STATEMENT: “Those who can’t, criticize.”

Those who can’t criticize…

 

STATEMENT: “What the writer fails to note is that there is a parallel scene in 1921’s Once
There Was a Dainty Dell (made for Monogram Photoplays of Secaucus, with terrific views of the old 5th Street train station) in which Maude Tierney—a high-spirited Colleen who later put her stamp on Abie’s Irish Rose—outdoes Pola Negri at her most insouciantly blah blah blah Blah Blah Blah BLAH BLAH BLAH…

What the Commenter fails to comprehend is that the writer is charged with the task of giving a broad overview of the topic in question within the constraints of an assigned word count. The intention of this is to, relatively succinctly, open up the subject to a virgin, potentially interested audience by the illumination of a few key points, rather than to choke and obscure the topic in vines of minutiae and secret-society obscurity, as the Commenter would have it. If the writer performs his task well, this will hopefully bring a new generation of fans into the fold, increase public appreciation of film history and funding for film preservations, and perhaps make repertory film house crowds look somewhat less like homeless shelters/pensioner’s homes/Potter’s fields. The Commenter and his creep friends can talk inside-baseball on their creepy messageboards, which they probably access from the public library.

 

STATEMENT: “Did the reviewer even see the movie???

Most of it, anyways.

 

Mad MagazineSTATEMENT: “The reviewer is most probably a homosexual

I decline to answer this outrageous accusation, as I am presently distracted by the delicious, vein-wreathed male cock hemorrhaging ropes of hot jism into the back of my throat gmmmGMMGHmmmmm.

 

STATEMENT: (Anything by a Commenter whose name has appeared more than once under the critic’s byline.)

Ha ha ha look at the fan club over here. Anything you write is basically a Valentine, you obsessed, thwarted demi-man.

 

STATEMENT: “‘Excerpted sentence’ is poorly-written

(Re-reads) Fuck.

 

STATEMENT: “Why go after this hard-working indie filmmaker?

We often hear about what hard work it is to get films made, “indies” particularly. This is usually contrasted with the act of criticism, which not only is not at all time-consuming, but is also apparently done automatically, often from an “armchair.”

Notwithstanding what I said earlier about non-arty careers, which I now disavow (a critic’s privilege!), working on an “indie” does not warrant reverence beyond what’s due to anyone who works a regular job or devotes time to a private hobby. A lot of people have worked long and hard at a lot of undertakings that provide a lot more practical benefit, with a lot less public recognition, and towards very possibly nobler ends. The “indie director” with a movie in theatrical release is living the dream and, for every uncooperative member of the press, will find a half-dozen hacks eager to regurgitate their presskit for them. Criticism is not a forum for anyone who has the work ethic to make a movie and get it distributed to go to for their congratulatory A-for-effort gold star and grade-curved pull-quote.

I would look up an apposite Karl Kraus quote, but I’m not getting out of my armchair.

 

STATEMENT: “Enough already, JUST TELL US IF THE MOVIE IS WORTH SEEING!!!

The continuing popularity of this particular complaint surprises me in these free-range internet times, when anyone so inclined can pretty easily find star-rating consumer guide reviews, not to speak of those curious aggregating sites (MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes) which discover the objective worth of movie-product through some mysterious, ritualistic process, probably involving rolling bones or entrails. Just go to one of those sites, you analphabetic boor.

 

STATEMENT: (Anything about “New York critics”)

Squint as I may, I cannot even comprehend you for your insignificance, flyover speck.

 

STATEMENT: (Anything incensed by a Liberal)

Far more insidious than the censorship you loudly decry, you glut the world with fraudulent art, progressive dogma under a thin veneer of human inquiry. You’re a wet blanket on the culture and almost certainly a depressing person. Choke on a tote bag.

 

STATEMENT: (Anything incensed by a Conservative)

I don’t deal with you guys much because you’re generally too hung up on lucre, meaningless status-symbol acquisition, and vigorously profaning the Sermon on the Mount to care about art’s capacity for intellectual, moral, and spiritual expansion, but rest assured you appall me beyond words.

 

STATEMENT: “Finally someone said it…”/ “Great review”/ “I thought I was alone…”/ “What one has thought so often but never said so well.”/ “This is dead-on”/ “Like”/ “Tweet”/ “Etc.

You, Sir or Madame, are a person of distinguished taste.

Sheer Terror

I should, in conclusion, add that the abovementioned explanations, defenses, calumnies etc. should be applied only to the corpus of Nick Pinkerton, and not to the work of his “reviewer” colleagues, who really and truly are an irredeemable bunch of weasels I mean my God you just have no idea.


Nick Pinkerton is a regular contributor to The Village Voice film section, Sight & Sound Magazine, and sundry other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

 

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