Thursday, March 26, 2009

"All it takes is no talent..."

From a display ad for "Duplicity":

A really smart, slick, cool espionage movie"
In the musical "Gypsy," when it's suggested to the young Gypsy Rose Lee that she consider stripping," she replies, "I don't have any talent."

To which her unofficial mentor, Tessie Tura, replies, "You think they have?," pointing to other strippers. "All you need to have is no talent."

Arthur Laurents wrote the line in 1959 and Leonard Spielgass retained it for the 1962 film of "Gypsy." Fifty years later, it efficiently sums up what happened to film criticism in the last few years. Those newspapers that haven't closed have opted to lay off their movie critics. Unfortunately, it seems as if it's been only the good ones that that been shown the door.

What we're left with are the no-talents - the toxic, ambitious hangers-on.

I'm happy to no longer be a member of the club. I dropped out a few years ago while I was still young enough to enjoy my life - get it back, actually - and long before the current newsprint crisis (which must be terribly difficult to witness from the confines of a newsroom) took hold.

It's also nice to see films selectively and leisurely, without deadlines.

Anyway, about the hangers-on... These are people whose idea of "critiquing" movies is to write/say, "ABSOLUTELY SEE IT."

But, wait. Almost anyone can say "ABSOLUTELY SEE IT," right?

All it takes is ... no talent.

This is nothing new.

Pauline Kael predicted the trend way back in 1971 when she wrote in her fabulous essay, "Notes of Hearts and Minds": "To be a movie critic, no training or background is necessary; 'too much' interest in movies may be a disqualification." Well, folks, the good people have been disqualified.

And that's how we've ended up with "critics" who brainlessly chirp - and who are gleefully quoted in the ads as chirping - "ABSOLUTELY SEE IT."

All caps, natch.


Ginger said...

I couldn't have said it better!!!

Anonymous said...

Leonard, Jeffrey and Ben. How many bad critics can there be in one family?

jbryant said...

I used to proof and edit Jeffrey Lyons' capsule reviews for a website. Granted, he probably dashed them off, knowing I'd be cleaning them up, but sheesh! One tiny paragraph would have a score of misspellings, typos and grammatical errors. I quickly realized why he made his name on camera as opposed to in print. And now we get the SECOND generation. Double sheesh!

joe baltake said...


Actually, as Anonymous pointed out, it's three generations of Lyons. Leonard started it all. He was another tube movie critic, apparently liked by Scorsese who used him in a cameo in "Taxi Driver." To paraphrase you, triple sheesh!

jbryant said...

Oh that's right. Do you know what Lyons' cameo was in Taxi Driver? He's not on the film's imdb page.

And what about that other Leonard in Taxi Driver -- Leonard Harris, who played Senator Palantine? That guy just fell off the face of the earth, didn't he?

joe baltake said...

Ooops! Sorry, Jay, but I confused Leonard Lyons with Leonard Harris. Harris is the one who was used by Scorsese in "Taxi Driver," not Lyons. Harris also did a turn in John Ritter's "Hero at Large" and then, as you say, fell off the map. He's difficult to research, but I am 99% certain that he was also a critic, one who reviewed locally on TV in New York.

As for Lyons, He was the show-biz columnist for The New York Post whose column was called The Lyons Den, a moniker that I believe both Jeffrey and Ben have invoked. In his position, Lyons covered everything - Broadway plays, films, concerts and café acts.

Still, Harris remains a curiosity. Another critic from that era who is now inexplicably forgotten: Judith Crist. A tough reviewer and a nice lady.

Giancarlo said...

I pay no heed to critics, talented or not.

jbryant said...

Joe: Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've seen Harris referred to as a critic in reviews or articles about Taxi Driver over the years. But most of the Google hits on him are related to that movie and make no mention of his other career. Odd. (Or maybe there's something a bit deeper into the Results pages -- I'm not curious enough to spend hours wading through them!)

joe baltake said...


I've also become somwhat obsessed with Leonard Harris. Yes, he was a big-time New York critic at the time. I believe Woody Allen was also smitten with him. Like you, I can't understand why he seems to to have fallen throught the cracks. I can't find anything about where or for whom he reviewed or even if he is still among us. I'll have to check with my critics-friends and see if they have a clue. But, again, he reigned - albeit on TV - during the time when Kael, Sarris, Reed and Crist were the final words on anything cinematic.