Back in 2003 I was heavy into writing theater, concert, and film reviews. Mostly because I got paid for it and got free tickets to almost everything New York had to offer. But also because I got a sweet self-righteous kick by thinking the world benefited from my warnings. I loved believing that.
In reality, the world didn’t give a flying fuck about me. Two of my worst-reviewed films that year, SWAT (the worst part of writing about SWAT is acknowledging that I went to see it) and Charlie’s Angels 2 (Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Díaz… Need I say more), squeezed as much box office blood out of their stony productions than most of my best reviewed films of 2013 put together (The Russian Ark, 21 Grams, American Splendor, Spider, The Fog of War, and Whale Rider).
Back then I was way more of an snobbish asshole about all things art than I am now, but despite the success of those films I stick with my reviews. I took my job as a critic with Samurai devotion and went to extremes to keep my taste from seppuku my neutrality. And by this I mean writing good/bad reviews even if films didn’t fit my taste.
I candidly disclosed this in my reviews. This play is not my cup of tea BUT… or … Just so you know, I liked Ang Lee’s Hulk! And at the end I always added a fake-humble warning that spoke volumes of my insecurities as a writer. Just like condoms, film reviews are not 100% effective. Consider your taste and mood before watching a film here recommended (or not).
I liked being a critic and always got an ego boner when reading my own stuff wherever it was published. But I’m not proud of all of it. Some stuff I like a lot. Some is OK. Some sucks hairy balls. Some I’d would sandblast from the Internet even if published under an alias. But I especially dislike the good reviews. My good reviews were always boring. I find good spectacles tricky when you’re trying to be neutral because most of the time they are just as they should be if everybody involved did their jobs right. Especially in Hollywood, were job descriptions weigh heavy upon anyone’s desire to act outside the proverbial box. That’s the real reason extraordinary films rarely come by. Everybody is just doing their job. No need to get all excited about it.
Bad reviews, on the other hand, are fun and easier to write. Except in cases where patience and open-mindedness is required (first-time filmmakers, indie/low budget features, and, of course, experimental stuff) well-budgeted poor filmmaking always makes me feel robbed. And feeling robbed is always a good excuse to go berserk. You are motivated not only by the dog puke you had to watch, but also because someone broke your trust, raped your eyes, and ran away laughing with your time, money, and faith in the arts. I rarely paid for those tickets but it always felt personal and produced a revenge-exacting rage that always ended up splashed in a 1500 word Kurosawa quoting tirade.
It wasn’t until I directed my first film (coming soon people) that I developed a sense of what filmmakers in Los Angeles call “respecting the craft”, so my negative reviews were really destructive and mean. Even now I have issues with this “craft” thingy when I watch something like The Avengers, but back then I felt it was my duty to save the planet of anything else produced by the same group of people and, in doing so, I wrote some of my funniest but ultimately most vicious reviews.
Because of this I know that no one in their right mind would share my negative reviews of their own work. You have to be a serious self-deprecating lunatic to expose yourself to that level of scorn and ridicule. So it was with great surprise that this week I received an email from a publicist praising one of my reviews. One that I wrote in 2003 about the over the top exhibition of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
I was surprised because, put elegantly, the review was not positive. I’m just not into incoherent self-indulgent bullshit that turns simple concepts into ridiculously grandiose and infantile metaphors. Outside production values, I wrote, The Cremaster series is the film equivalent of Taliban navel dirt. I disliked everything about it and went as far as to compare it to Jackass, Johnny Knoxville’s sadistic but more honest and entertaining vehicle. In fact, compared to the Cremaster films, Jackass looked like The Battle of Algiers. I think I also wrote that in the review.
Now, it is weird that a publicist took the time to praise (and by praise I mean, praise like in “thank you” and “great job!”) what may well be some of the meanest words ever written about, I assume, his/her client. In fact, I don’t even understand how they got to read the review at all since the title is blunt enough to save you the pain, Matthew Barney: The Artistry of Fraud. But what really made me scratch my head was that they were asking my permission to share the link on Matthew Barney’s website. What kind of crazy publicist was this?
And then it hit me. These people have no idea what my article was about because it was published in Spanish. Whoever sent me that email was just putting together links and didn’t read them. Perhaps they saw the word artistry and thought, wow, this must be good. But they were completely clueless over the depth of the cruelty they were about to share with the world, the idiocy I saw in the whole exhibition, and the extremes I went to keep people away from Matthew Barney’s show. For crying out loud, had it been up to me the Guggenheim would have closed after that show and turned into the most beautiful public school in Manhattan for their decision to fund such an idiotic artistic endeavor.
Regardless, it was quite amazing that they wanted my permission to post a link on Matthew Barney’s page, and even though I dislike his stuff, I wrote them a nice reply. They could link to my page any time on any website they wanted.
I checked Barney’s page to see if the link was posted somewhere, but so far it only has links to pages praising his work. Perhaps they haven’t done it yet. Or perhaps they got smart and found someone to read it in Spanish. Either way, I’m OK with it. After all, the e-mail itself includes a quote from Barney that I think supports my opinion.
“A lot of my work has to do with not allowing my characters to have an ego in a way that the stomach doesn’t have an ego when it’s wanting to throw up. It just does it.” Admitting your own work doesn’t involve a lot of thought is way worse than I anything I wrote in my review.
- When no publicity is bad publicity is taken too far