Saturday, March 28, 2015
the cinéphilic circle jerk
Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient," Sam Mendes' "American Beauty," Rob Marshall's "Chicago," John Madden's "Shakespeare in Love," Paul Haggis' "Crash" and Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire."
These estimable films, all Oscar winners, have something else in common. They've all been the easy targets of the members of what I call "The Cinéphilic Circle Jerk" (CCJ). Much like the late, unlamented Mr. Blackwell, these guys - and, yes, they are all male - used to materialize only during the movies' awards season, coming out of their parents' basements or childhood bedrooms to attack those films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had foolishly honored with Oscars.
The very thought of this offended them, and although none of these grown men was ever employed as a working professional critic, each one found an online forum, many forums, on which to express their utter outrage.
Those films singled out for extermination by The Cinéphilic Circle Jerk are subjected to ridicule so intense that the way these guys carry on, one would think the group was declaring war on something the approximate size of the United States. They behave like schoolyard bullies - perhaps because they were once the victims of schoolyard bullies themselves.
Frankly, there's nothing much wrong with the films singled out, but The CCJ members become so inconsolably angry about whatever regard these titles receive that they lose all sense of magnitude and rationale.
The movie that best represents a CCJ's target is Haggis' "Crash" - the worst!, according to its panick-y members.
The Cinéphilic Circle Jerk isn't exactly new.
It's been around for ages (I just never had a name for it), although its members seem to have multiplied like rabbits in the past decade or so. Its beginnings can be charted back to the advent of Siskel and Ebert who, for better or worse, brought film criticism out of the closet, so to speak.
Before Gene and Roger hit it big on television, only a rare breed of moviegoer actually read reviews and even fewer thought about critics. And those thoughts were usually negative and hostile: A movie critic was a mean-spirited, miserable human being deserving of his/her misery.
But Siskel and Ebert popularized the form and indirectly inspired their viewers to become armchair critics. Like that famous Marshall McLuhan sequence from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," these days, one can no longer go anywhere without hearing some guy (again, it's always a guy) proudly, arrogantly pontificating his uneducated, mundane view of movies.
And as they've multiplied, they've also highjacked a few estimable and essential movie sites. Suddenly, the CCJ had an audience - an audience of other Js - to soak up their lame pontifications. To demonstrate their credentials, they often self-consciously invoke the names of Kael, Sarris, Agee and Thomson, while also demonstrating (inadvertently) they have learned absolutely nothing from Kael, Sarris, Agee and Thomson. They've simply read the same critiques that many of us have read.
Lately, some CCJ's members who have never worked as critics or had a single byline in a newspaper or a magazine, identify themselves as film historians which, I guess, gives the desired impression of credibility.
And, please, don't get me started on the creepy narcissism that has infested many movie sites and the CCJ members who patronize them.
Posted by joe baltake at 8:23 PM