The Morning Read (2.19.09) Ebert remembers Siskel
It's been ten years since Gene Siskel died.
It's pretty amazing. My favorite sentence in the whole thing?
"Tim Wiegel, his roommate there, later a sportscaster, told me Gene was famous for wearing a Batman costume and dropping out of trees."
That's my favorite image of the day, no matter what else I see or read.
Tom Stempel's got a new edition of "Understanding Screenwriting" up over at The House Next Door, and there's some really good material in the column today.
You know, when I first started doing this, writing online about film, I didn't really know anyone else who was writing about film. I came to this community as a total outsider. And in the years since, I find that I still feel like an outsider a lot of the time. Some of the guys who were moving from traditional media to online while I was working on the early days of Ain't It Cool treated me like absolute garbage, and for the first few years I did this, I wondered if I really was screwing things up, or if there were rules that I needed to be following, and part of me really wanted to be treated "seriously" by these more established types.
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These days? I've been doing this long enough to realize that I got lucky. Because I came to this as an outsider, writing about something I loved because I enjoyed the act of writing about it, I never viewed this as a job. It was a hobby that I ended up doing professionally, and by maintaining a genuine passion for the material, and by refusing to play certain games or get turned into the "professional" version, I think I've dodged a bullet. The moment I turn cynical about movies, the moment I turn cynical about the business of writing about them, I will walk away from this. I don't ever want to turn into Jeffrey Wells, who runs campaigns to try to tear down people's awards prospects or burn down movies just because he wasn't invited to see them or because he fundamentally misunderstands what they're trying to do, and I sincerely pray that I never lose my mind and turn into the infantile and petty David Poland, whose brilliant commentary on "Watchmen" continues today with a song about a big blue penis. These guys are capable of good writing. They're capable of real conversation. They're capable of insight. But they are content to dish out this empty, stupid, venal nonsense instead, and it baffles me. Poland's fascinating because of the way he tries to position himself as the ethical ombudsman to the internet, the voice of reason. If his own actions weren't so mean-spirited so often, and if he didn't spend more time lecturing others instead of actually proving his points by example, he might be worth something as a columnist, but in the last year or two especially, he's disappeared into an endless cycle of complaining without any real content. It's easy to point your finger and criticise others when you don't offer anything of your own anymore. It's harder when you are consistently turning out work of any depth, because that's when you open yourself up for criticism. If this column ever turns into "a list of things I am smarter than and better than and that I hate," please feel free to tune me out. I'd rather spend my days doing my best to track down whatever there is of merit out there, passing along things that rekindle my love of film and the joy I get from discussing movies with other people who are equally engaged by the art form. Yes, occasionally we'll highlight something that frustrates or confounds, but that should never be the sole reason for the column. These guys aren't my peers... they're the Ghosts Of Bloggers Future, and consider me warned.
And seriously... if you want to see a perfect example of Wells in belligerant "I don't get it and I DON'T CARE!" mode, just check out his coverage on all things regarding "Sherlock Holmes." He ran a piece today about how the reshoot rumors that broke yesterday aren't true, an excuse for him to start beating this drum about how he's decided that the upcoming film is a violation of the character and a perversion of the original intent. And his first peeve seems to be a lack of a deerstalker. Talk about summing up a total lack of knowledge in one choice. Holmes never had a trademarked deerstalker hat in the stories, and since the only canon that matters when you're talking "Sherlock Holmes" is what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, I'd say the way he defined the character is what is is "real," and everything else is just someone else's riff on that. Doyle's Holmes knew martial arts. Doyle's Holmes was more than happy to carry a gun and use his fists if he needed to. Doyle's Watson was a good-looking military man who was very popular with the women who came to Holmes looking for help, not a bumbling fat man. Doyle's Holmes was a brilliant man who was only alive when working on a case, and who otherwise fell into deep depressions between cases, barely able to keep himself focused on anything aside from narcotic addiction. The truth is that we've never seen a traditional and faithful Holmes onscreen that fully mined the stories for character material, and what Guy Ritchie and his collaborators are up to is very, very, very true to the source material.
But don't tell Jeff Wells that, or he'll say this to you:
"You can summon the ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle and bring him over to my home and have him instruct me, Annie Hall-style, about what an ignoramus I am about Sherlock Holmes lore, and you'll still lose this argument. The Holmes character is about exceptional cerebral-intellectual derring-do...the sharpest detective who ever lived by virtue of his BRAIN....end of story. The legend says so and I don't want to know anything else along these lines. Don't try and blow smoke up my ass with the facts. The facts don't matter & nobody wants to know them. You can talk until you're blue in the face, but to go by all indications Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film is just more corporate, kick-boxing, martial-arts audience-pandering bullshit, and you know it. You know Ritchie, and so do I. He's a one-trick pony and in terms of being a potentially exciting guy with the potential of making something exceptional he's been "over" for years. Nobody knows anything but his Holmes pic will probably walk, talk, act and smell a lot like From Hell."
"I don't want to know anything else along these lines." And that, Jeff, is why you freak out publicists and get mocked by other film writers and why most of the interpersonal stories you publish on your site consist of you playing The World's Most Cantankerous Grampa and everyone else in the world playing Horrified Innocent Bystander. You don't want to know... and trust me, Jeff... it shows.
I love guys like A.O. Scott, who has an ongoing series where he talks about classic films, and even if something like "The Deer Hunter" is an easy choice, at least he's engaged in the discussion of movies.
And, hey, maybe all of this is just bloggers talking to bloggers at this point. Although... I think the potential is always there for us to be using this for more than we do. I've been making notes on a couple of new ongoing features I'm introducing next week, and I hope you'll see them as my attempt to put my money where my mouth is and actually raise the level of discourse instead of sinking to it.
Brett Ratner is still talking about "Conan," but is he still making it? God, I hope those producers move on instead of letting this one linger on Ratner's development plate, and maybe we'll hear news about potential new directors soon. Hint. Hint.
I don't want to see a single one of these proposed Tom Cruise projects. Maybe "The Hardy Men." Maybe. But it sounds like it could get really smug really fast.
One of the most interesting things about the film "I Love You, Man" is the quietly assured supporting performance by Andy Samberg, who plays Paul Rudd's gay brother. It's a very different performance than what you might typically expect from that archetype in that genre, and Samberg talks about the work with Out magazine.
Although it's not a done deal, if the initial release goes well, we might see the "Watchmen: Director's Cut" in theaters this July. Oh, by the way... Devin Faraci broke the story, and he's right: the S.Q.U.I.D. is indeed in "Watchmen." Now what will you cry about, fanboys?!?!
Harry's stepping back from his initial report that Schwarzenegger is going to be in "The Expendables," now pointing out that certain economic realities in our state might understandably keep our governor a little too busy to shoot cheesy cameos in action movies.
And finally today... a video that reminds me of a trip I took to London. Devin and I did this exact thing, going to Abbey Road to take pictures in the crosswalk, and also going by Baker Street so I could get some pictures of Moriarty outside Sherlock's house. It's so common that I would imagine this video is just a snippet of what happens on that particular corner all day every single day. It's pretty great.
As always, thanks for reading.
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