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. 

16 comments:

Brian said...

Great!

Pat said...

I've been iced out of a few of these sites by such guys. They just want to converse with each other. Given that I'm a woman, I've written it off as good, old-fashioned sexisim among male movie nerds.

joe baltake said...

Pat- Of course, it's sexism. These guys have relationships with movies, not women. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes.

john k. said...

"Cinephilic Circle Jerk".... sounds like an STD.

Alex said...

Wow, Joe! Are you saying that if I see a film and I hate it, I should just politely refuse to say so? Rhetorical, of course, but you know what I mean.

joe baltake said...

I'm talking about irrational gang-bangs, Alex - when guys log onto a film site and go on and on and on about some harmless movie. A circle jerk, as I put it.

Sheila said...

I once had a lot of favorite blogs but, as you write, they have been hijacked by the very people you mention, I used to love reading all the dialogue but no more. It's become really sickening.

joe baltake said...

Sheila- Unfortunately, the owner of a site has no control over who leaves opinions, but one can moderate. I also used to check out certain movie blogs regularly and post. Yes, it can be intimidating when the other posters take over and try to crowd you out. But it's worth it if the dialogue is stimulating. Too often, however, it's like watching someone masturbate. Again, hence the term "circle jerk."

Pete said...

I agree that backlash can be supremely annoying, especially since it's often coming from folks who have seen a film they would've otherwise avoided but just had to see what all the fuss is about.

debbie said...

Joe! Right on. Narcissism is the word. There's a female movie blogger whose site is adorned with picture after picture of her! Some of the guys are not much better, reminiscing about what they saw as kids. This is navel-gazing at its lowest!

Marlene said...

Now get off my lawn!

joe baltake said...

Marlene! I guess I do sound like a grumpy old man here - but hopefully one with a sense of humor. This was written as a joke, but I believe the situation is very real.

m.h. said...

Yes, Joe, it's a funny piece but also true. It's sickening that these arrogant guys dominate these movie sites with their long-winded diatribes. As the bard once said, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. And, I agree, the authors of these blogs often write too much about themselves and not enough about film.

Kiki said...

Count me in! I'm with the CCJs. Among the CCJ's! I wish The English Patient had never made it to the ER! What a boring movie. I once went to the Isle of Wight and there was an Italian Ice Cream parlor there called Minghella's. Yep, Minghella's family started out with pistachio.

As for American Beauty -- Spacey was so much better in Beyond the Sea (EVERYONE was better in Beyond the Sea). Don't even mention Shakeseare in Luv

joe baltake said...

Kiki! You’re a contrarian! Love it. -J

MGoetzeler said...

I hope you know there are two Marlenes here. That wasn't me, but I did chuckle. I agree with you. I don't know exactly which sites you are talking about specifically, but I know some of the ones I read go downhill pretty fast if someone doesn't agree with the op.