July 14, 2006

Kyrie Elesion

TRULY, THERE ARE few things more pathetic in life than a thin-skinned entertainment writer. One can only look on with pity at the poor sap who shrieks at the uncaring world for not recognizing his genius; not just long ago, when he still had dreams, but even now, when he has achieved some measure of accomplishment.

That was certainly how I felt when reading a recent essay from Mr Todd Leopold, a CNN entertainment producer. In his essay, Mr Leopold bravely but unwisely attempts to defend movie reviewers for practicing their craft. Unfortunately, he does a rather poor job of it. You see, instead of offering a well-reasoned and humble response to the craft's critics, Mr Leopold insults the general movie-going public, belittles their opinions, and generally presents himself as a preening fuckwit, viz. and to wit:

Reviewers are people, not royalty, and they aren't in the business of agreeing -- with the public, nor even with one another. They're in the business of giving you their opinion of a film. They're a guide. You can agree, you can disagree -- and you can always read somebody else.

Perhaps a small film can be damaged by bad reviews (or saved by good reviews), but a big-budget blockbuster like "Pirates" is going to do well regardless of what a critic thinks.

And yet so many readers take reviews personally, as if the reviewer impugned motherhood and not a two-hour slice of entertainment. Hey, the movie doesn't care -- it's an inanimate object, nothing more -- and as for the moviemakers, they know they're not going to please everybody.

For some reason, the idea persists that popular equals good. Popular equals popular. Few would argue that McDonald's makes the best hamburgers, or that the 1963-64 season of "The Beverly Hillbillies" is the greatest TV season of all time. They're satisfactory; they're entertaining; maybe they're good, maybe they're not.

"Good" usually lasts. The story goes that just 3,000 people bought 1967's "The Velvet Underground and Nico" when it came out, but every one of them started a band.

On the other hand, does anyone still listen to Mr. Mister's "Welcome to the Real World," one of the best-selling albums of 1986?

Kyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiie elesion! Kyyyyyyyyrrrrrrrrrr...

Oops. Sorry.

But anyway. As I said earlier, it is tough to work up anything more than pity for Mr Leopold, a balding hipster-type apparently prone to wearing tinted glasses indoors.

However, it can be done: and after a while, one can easily feel contempt for the poor schmuck. After all, Mr Leopold works for the same network which regularly airs Nancy Grace and Anderson Cooper. As such, broadcast boy has some hell of a nerve lecturing others about what's good and what isn't. I mean, this is the same network which sent out a "breaking news" e-mail announcing that Bob Denver died. Jesus Christ.

Besides, Mr Leopold's essay doesn't make much sense.

For instance, Mr Leopold claims that "big-budget blockbusters" are going to do well no matter what critics think. Well, if that were so, it would make absolutely no sense for critics to write about them. Yet bad critical reviews helped sink "The Hulk" a few years back, a movie which audiences also hated. Heck, even on a small scale -- by which I mean The Rant's "Bad Cinema With Ben" feature -- a bad review can prevent people from wasting their time and money at a bad movie. So reviews do matter and do have an impact.

Furthermore, it's only natural that people get worked up about things important to them. Why, some radio stations make amazing sums of money day after day by simply letting armchair sports fans call up and scream at each other for hours on end. This is no different.

Finally, though, there are Mr Leopold's strange views about popular culture. Mr Leopold doesn't seem willing to admit that popularity and quality can easily go hand-in-hand, and that popularity is inherently indicative of some base level of quality. After all, if a product was truly lousy, people wouldn't buy it. That state of affairs doesn't necessarily make McDonalds the best producer of hamburgers, to take one of Mr Leopold's examples, but it does mean that McDonalds' service is good enough to attract a good share of the market.

It's worth noting, by the by, that if someone really wants to pay top dollar for a top-notch hamburger, they can easily do so these days. Now, perhaps Mr Leopold, whom one can imagine likes smaller productions, might not like such an analogy applied to the movie business. But when one gets right down to it, is there really that much difference?

(via Emily Jones, who has also written an entry on the matter).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 14, 2006 12:24 PM | TrackBack
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