The Quick and the Dead (1995) – Movie Review

On the surface, everything needed for a thrilling Western seems to be there: we have gun-duels, a revenge plot, a cheesy score (replete with whipping sounds,) explosions, bodies getting tossed about, tits, etc. However, despite containing all of these elements the movie is missing one key thing: excitement. Everything in the film that is supposed to be tense or gratifying is completely undermined by how predictable it all seems. The Quick and the Dead (directed by Sam Raimi) is supposed to be a love letter to the genre, but the problem is that anyone who has seen even only a few Westerns will likely be bored by this film. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a homage, but it’s as if they just took every trope and cobbled them together with little regard for things like narrative, imagery and character development. A movie can’t just be a collection of references and cliches; it has to be able to stand on its own; it has to have something.

The Quick and the Boring begins with Sharon Stone as a gunslinger who strolls into town after stealing a horse from some bloke. The wide-shots of the plains and the shots of the drunkards and prostitutes already indicates to the audience that this movie has no original ideas. Sharon Stone’s character, especially, is a stoic dressed-up as Clint Eastwood; she isn’t even given a name as she’s mostly referred to as “The Lady.” It’s almost as if they were attempting to create a mythic character out of her a la “The Man With No Name,” but it doesn’t work. This is because 1.) Sharon Stone just doesn’t have the same presence as a Clint Eastwood to totally pull this off and 2.) the writing doesn’t do anything with the potential archetype; we’re just expected to accept the nature of her character despite not being offered anything original or interesting to latch onto.

Anyway, the town, called Redemption (do I need to tell you that this is going to be a theme of the film?), is holding an annual dueling competition. We are soon introduced to a flurry of characters including the town’s tyrant Herod (Gene Hackman), a preacher and Herod’s former henchman Cort (Russel Crowe) and The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) who we later find out is Herod’s illegitimate son. The aforementioned competition and characters are all introduced within a single, quickly-paced saloon scene. The problem with this is that it’s information overload to the point that, when Herod finally enters and nearly hangs Cort for refusing to enter the contest (Herod is obsessed with showing that Cort is, deep-down, still a killer,) and The Lady intervenes we sort of don’t give a shit. There is hardly any tension, just the empty spectacle of Cort nearly being hanged within the bar. It’s also obvious that The Lady has something against Herod (though what is revealed, gradually, over time,) but instead of the audience wondering about her possible motivations all we’re thinking is “Oh, I guess there’s a past between them suddenly. Okay. Whatever.” This is because it’s all shoved into the scene so swiftly and with nary any subtlety. We’re just supposed to accept and care about these characters.

After all of the major characters sign-up for the competition we basically know how things pan out. As Herod tries to coerce Cort he isn’t go to fully revert back to his old ways; The Kid is going to get cocky and get killed; The Lady is going to have a number of opportunities to kill Herod, but the audience knows that they are destined to duel at the end, making such scenes where she is seemingly going to kill him seem pointless and drawn-out; etc.

There are no interesting narrative twists, no character or image that compels; basically nothing to offer aside from a rather predictable and rote story. There are also some rather inexcusable cliches, like when Herod makes his entrance the saloon doors open and a breeze moves across The Lady’s hair; we then get an intense close-up of her eyes as Herod enters as flames dance in the background (there is a “Day of the Dead” celebration happening outside with firelight.) Another notable example is at the film’s “low point,” which is so over-the-top that it’s nearly painful. The Lady, after killing a local asshole (she has a thing against killing,) abandons town only to find her father’s grave (we learn that she used to be marshal of the town.) She’s crying, it’s raining, she’s standing near tombstones, and an old fuck hands her her father’s badge. Do I need to tell you that this scene just plain sucks? You can’t even say the scene feels manipulative; it’s not clever enough to be even that. The audience just feels embarrassed. In order to present a character’s or narrative’s “low point” you have to do so less ham-fistedly lest the audience starts tuning-out. The Lady returns to the town and goes down on Cort after they have shared a few scenes together. We already knew that they were going to get together because there always has to be some sort of romance (has to be!); and, since we know this, we also know that it’s inevitable that they are going to have to duel each other. But, of course, when The Lady is shot we know that she isn’t dead. As the film progresses we are just waiting for her to return, making the part where she blows up half the town seem less exciting.

But, ultimately, like a lot of films, the reason this movie fails is because of the characters. They are all one-note, following a single, predictable trajectory. Not much else defines them. Just because a character has a backstory, or has an established arc, doesn’t mean the character is good; it just means the character is basic. We don’t really get “into” the characters. There lacks seemingly little moments that help define the figures on screen as human rather than stereotypes or props serving the narrative. Possibly the best major character is Cort, but even then we don’t get much out of him other than that he’s trying to redeem himself by becoming a preacher, a cliche that could work if something was done with it. We don’t get to explore Cort’s guilt, nor his animosity towards killing. The only real, “small” moment, that works decently is when he wins his first duel he looks down at his gun with surprise, as if the thing that killed his opponent wasn’t himself, but rather some other second nature that he’s been attempting to bury. Instead of capitalizing on such a moment and what it represents we instead get an awful scene in which Herod takes Cort to the gun shop ran by The Kid. As the Kid pulls out fancier, and fancier pistols we get close-ups of Cort’s eyes, filled with temptation. “Hey audience. This is how we want you to think of Cort. Get it?” Again, The Slow and the Dread really lacks subtlety. 

The Lady could have been a good character. After the saloon scene she wakes up in The Kid’s bed, hungover. This is a twist on the audience’s expectations because before we’ve seen The Lady as this complete stoic; now we see how much of this is a facade. But, again, the movie doesn’t really capitalize on this potential character development. What we really needed is an exchange between The Lady and Cort where they implicitly challenge the other’s motivations and character. The Lady could imply that Cort’s becoming a preacher is just a superficial “fix”: an easy and obvious way to deny one’s past sins; at the same time, Cort could question what The Lady will do once she got her revenge. Their reactions to such queries will open the characters up, and, as well, make their relationship more human, allowing the audience to care more deeply. The Lady could also describe how, in her attempts to save her father, ended-up killing him and she could explain that as the reasoning for saving Cort. It might be far-fetched for her character to doll such information out explicitly, but she could at least attempt to, but then slink back into herself. This would show us her vulnerability and her inability to connect with others. It’s stuff like that that allows us to give a shit about these characters as human.

The Kid, on the other hand, needs something more as well. Perhaps, as the film pushes forth, we see that he is just like his father or, perhaps, even worse. This could be shown in how he treats the other characters, or how he acts in private. Instead of him merely being one thing throughout, our expectations would become subverted. When a character seemingly changes direction halfway, but in a way that seems organic to the narrative, the audience is more inclined to want to see what happens next for how the events of the film will unfold becomes an even greater question.

So, in conclusion, I would not recommend The Quick and the Dead. Unlike some people I know, I don’t think it’s amazing. I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s still a pretty empty experience, like drinking alone or going to your grandmother’s birthday. A film, in order to be good, needs to do more than just go from A to B to C whilst hitting every beat; that shit might impress a Screenwriting 101 course, but a film needs to go beyond fulfilling technique in order to be truly successful. There needs to be inspiration. Something to grasp onto. You may like the film for whatever reason, but otherwise, it is just a barren plane.

The House on Mango Street – Book Review

You can find a recent review I did on Cosmoetica, this one being on The House on Mango Street, the famous novel by Sandra Cisneros.

I may post the review in full on this site as well, but in the meantime here are some points that I make in regards to art that were, in the end, excised from the review due to length:

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The problem, however, is when people start to conflate the comfort Cisneros provides with things of actual depth. Despite its being considered Chicano Lit it doesn’t do much to expand the reader’s purview or understanding, opting instead to provide confirmation of certain views. Do we really need to be told that Mexican-Americans are human, or that societal expectations affect women for the ill? Instead of exploring the substance of bigotry and its origins Cisneros is fine with feeding the reader the answers he is already aware of and in ways that are accessible and easy to swallow. The reader’s feelings of comfort are mistaken with the consumption of something substantial for ideas contained in the novel are “important.” As a result, you have a book that you can hold-up and say “See, this book talks about important things! It must be good, and I’m a good person for advocating such tripe!” But if you want a story to survive you have to do more than cater to the reader’s feelings and expectations. You have to do more than mimic what people want to “hear.” More has to be done.

When Moby-Dick was first published hardly anyone wanted to read it. Yet, it has managed to survive and is, rightfully, considered a classic today. It did not serve the needs or desires of the people in Melville’s time, but greatness does more than act as a gentle service for an individual or population. One could argue that The House on Mango Street has “survived” and, therefore, is a great work, but that just makes it an exception. Mango Street is an example of “The Bukowski Effect.” Despite Charles Bukowski’s mediocrity he is still being read two decades after his death; however, this isn’t because he actually provides anything to the reader of artistic or philosophical worth, but rather because he provides an “image” that people like to latch onto. His poetry isn’t very good, but his work in conjunction with “the man” conjures up an attractive image, that of the rebellious and tragic drunkard. One might call Bukowski “an original,” and in some ways he was, but I bet that you, the reader, can write a poem in his style that is equal to some of his best with little to no effort. Now, attempt the same with the style of a Yeats or Rilke. Even if you manage to capture Rilke’s voice I doubt that you would be able to write something as great as “The Panther.” Bukowski, despite his originality, is far easier to emulate both stylistically and qualitatively. Just because he was “the first” doesn’t mean that he was good.

Now let’s look at Mango Street with the same lens. It was first published in the eighties but is still being read today. Classes, from middle school to college, are assigned this dreck largely because of what it represents rather than what it accomplishes. Sure, it might have been a “first,” in the sense that it was a flagship book for Chicano Lit, introducing the literary world to Mexican-American and Latino Literature, but let’s consider something: if Mango Street was never written, would Chicano Lit be in an entirely different place as it is now within the mainstream? Perhaps, though I have a feeling that if Mango Street was never around some other book would have taken its place. Like Bukowski’s poetry, Mango Street is completely replicable and replaceable, regardless of the quality of its sentiments or the things it represents.

The point is is that the lasting popularity of works like Mango Street is largely due to chance and people’s artificial prolonging of its legacy. And besides, will Mango Street still be read a hundred years from now? What about 500? The book’s popularity hinges on its subject matter and accessibility and the times we currently live in. I doubt the claims for its “novelty” and “importance” would be enough to save it from becoming negated by time. There is simply no reason for a person in the year 2525 to read this piece of shit (hell, there’s no reason to read it now.) However, there would still be reason to read Black Boy or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for greatness always has something to offer that goes beyond the ephemeral. A thousand years from now, notions of “blackness” or “whiteness” may have long been dissolved, but Black Boy would still be relevant for it gets at the core of not just racism, but certain aspects human nature that allow such prejudice to arise. This is because Richard Wright was a writer who put his art at the forefront. Maybe Sandra Cisneros really prioritized “the art” when writing her book, but regardless of intentions her book fails because she is a lousy artist, not because of its message or subject matter.

How 2 Writ Gud: On Why Writing Guides and Tips are Bullshit

Lately, I’ve been looking at some of the articles dedicated to writing here on Medium and I can’t help but wonder: who are these even for? Most of the “tips” that these articles proffer are so generic that they cannot be of any use to anyone, let alone beginning writers. But instead of telling you what I think of writing guides, let me show you instead. Here are some of the more ubiquitous tips that I’ve come across:

“Write everyday.” Okay, I get it! Stop telling me to write everyday! I don’t need a billion articles telling me the same shit over and over as if this particular tip was the one, true ticket to greatness. Shit, Stephen King writes ten books a day and I doubt many people would call him one of the greats.

“Write for yourself.” God, I hate this “tip.” The reason why the internet is aflood with so many trite poems is because all people ever do is “write for themselves” instead of for others or for higher things. Writing isn’t just about me, me, me. And no, I don’t mean you should cater to the reader’s desires and emotions; you should, however, not insult the writer or pretend that art isn’t about communication. What are you communicating to me that hasn’t been said before when you’re writing a screed against your boss in prose broken-up into lines? Expressing yourself is fine, but if you want to be a serious writer you’re going to have to do more. You need to communicate ideas, and you need to do so well.

“Read and write.” No shit.

“Write in the morning.” Not terrible advice as you’re usually without distraction and your mind is, at least, somewhat alert, but it’s not as if this piece of advice guarantees anything. Besides, Wallace Stevens wrote his poetry at night and on weekends. So, how about just write whenever you can? Who gives a shit?

“Write clearly.” This is obvious, of course, but what they really mean by this is that one should avoid long sentences and complexity. This is good advice for hacks who are trying to emulate David Foster Wallace, but imagine someone telling this to Herman Melville, or James Joyce, or Hermann Hesse. Simplicity is good, sometimes, but so is intricacy and ambition.

“Show, don’t tell.” This advice is just dumb. If the author wants to get through information quickly then there’s nothing wrong with merely telling. Not every little detail or movement needs to be tossed at the reader’s face.

“Avoid passive voice.” Yes, your writing should be active and dynamic! Or else you will bore the poor monkey-brains that are trying to finish your novel! Look, there is nothing inherently wrong with passive voice. It’s just another tool that may or may not result in good writing.

“Avoid using cliches.” Yes, cliches like “write everyday” and “write for yourself.”

“Write original characters.” Well, duh. The problem lies in how one should go about this. “Wait, how about giving your character a flaw! What about a special quirk! Make your character wear a funny hat or have a passion for rainbow sherbet! Have you tried giving your character three arms? After all, this is something no one has ever done before!”

“And, most importantly, just do it!” Do what? Go outside? Call your parents? Stick your head in the oven? What? Why are you speaking in riddles?!

Okay, enough of this horse-hockey, I haven’t even gotten to the underlying problem with writing guides: not only are they condescending, but they push an idea that suggests that good writing is something that can be taught. What should be realized is that the best writers came into their own. The greats all have unique voices, disparate not just from one another, but from mediocrities. And this is because a writer, in order to be successful artistically, must take onto his own path. This means that a writer cannot simply read and absorb some advice for writing is a continual process that is most likely going to lead to failure; this is something that writing guides tend to avoid saying, but it’s the truth. Yes, there are some good tips out there, like “read and learn from the masters,” but I never needed to be told that. I’m a talentless hack and I already knew that that was something I should be doing. Humans, whenever they attempt something, always look to others as examples; it’s just a natural part of our collective behavior. What matters is how one absorbs the masters and utilizes what he has gained, but such an ability isn’t taught, nor is it given.

So, why all the articles on writing? Maybe they offer a myth that is comforting not just to the reader, but to the person writing the article, that good writing can be achieved from easily-applicable tips and not just from talent, which is something beyond our control. Maybe writing guides are just easy to write, but the ease probably comes from the fact that the only advice that one can offer in regards to writing is banal. It’s kind of like how certain artists think that the duty of art is to “speak the truth,” but what is the truth exactly? Instead of trying to dissect such an abstraction it’s easier to just offer things everyone has acknowledged to be the truth or a truth. How many poems or stories have you read that have declaimed the shittiness of war, or how about how awful rape is? With writing guides, we get the regurging of the same crap over and over because that is the crap that everyone thinks is good or that works. So, in order to write an article that will be “useful” you gotta write in banalities, but, as a result, the article turns into a nothingness that washes over the wannabee writer.

There is also the fact that there really isn’t anything aside from banalities that one can offer when it comes to writing, or at least when you’re writing an article that targets everyone. As mentioned before, becoming a writer is a solitary task, or succession of tasks. This means that writing guides and tips aren’t really much use for the individual because the individual is already on his path, trying to find his own way; a tip like “be more clear” will just bounce off of him for he’s attempting to discover how he write himself writes. Not saying that there isn’t advice people can offer, but the advice has to be specific to the writer’s needs in order to matter, it can’t be tripe like “don’t use semicolons!” or “not too many run-ons now!”

Originally posted on Medium.

On Writing: Communication v. Self-Expression

A few days ago I read an article someone posted on Medium advocating the idea that one should “write for one’s self” rather than sweating over being read or unread by anyone. Here was my response:

“I just want to write for myself.” There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, and sometimes it’s this mindset that is most beneficial, but I think a lot of serious writers also want to be read, i.e. they’re not just writing for themselves, but are seeking an audience as well.

If you want to be read there are a few basic approaches. One is that you write something that will appeal to the majority. The problem with this is that there are a lot of mediocrities out there doing the same thing. So in order to stand-out you could either have an “original” premise, or market yourself. But, ultimately, the best, most substantial approach lies in not so much the content of the story, but the way it’s written. You could write a mediocre piece of crap that people will care about now, but does that mean it will be continued to be read 100 years from now? If you want to be read I think the reader should always be kept in mind, but that doesn’t mean you should merely appeal to his “likes” and “dislikes”; you should write something that is intellectually great, something that not only contains ideas, but carries those ideas to the reader in an interesting way. The works of Melville and Kafka, while neglected during their lifetimes, are today read all-over because they aren’t masturbatory journals, nor crappy pulp-novels that appeal to the lowest common denominator, but works of literature that actually offer something to the reader.

While I do think that a writer shouldn’t just cater to the biases and desires of the reader, the reader should still always been in mind when one writes. Despite some overlap there is a distinction between mere self-expression and communication. With the former all the writer cares about is putting himself out there. Yes, good writing and art can arise from this, but for the most part communicating ideas isn’t what’s pertinent, but rather it’s the ego of the writer. I sometimes scroll through WordPress and other sites, surveying some of the poetry that is constantly posted and 99 percent of it is garbage; this is largely because the people posting the poems don’t care about effectively communicating something to the reader, but are more concerned about just putting whatever thoughts and feelings they have onto a screen. A lot of “poets” don’t pay attention to the art of writing because there is no reason to; they’re just writing for themselves and that’s okay; but, if you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to do more than just write for yourself: you have to write well which means taking into account the reader’s intellect (not just his emotions!)

Bob Chipman (aka Movie Bob): Just Another Fraudulent Critic

Bob Chipman isn’t very good. He’s a fairly typical internet reviewer and wannabe media critic, except, unlike the milquetoast Chris Stuckmann or the noxious Jeremy Jahns, Chipman (who goes by the moniker, Movie Bob) is far more pretentious and self-satisfied despite his mediocrity. In addition, not only is he like Crawford in that he doesn’t “get it” when it comes to art, he actually has something of a following as evidenced by his Patreon where he receives nearly four-thousand American dollars (probably less depending on the percentage Patreon pockets for itself) from patrons each month to produce lengthy analyses on Mario. It’s a little disconcerting that such an obvious hack has managed to delude people into thinking he possesses any sort of insight into cinema and art, but, then again, that only makes him one of the hundreds of “critics” throughout history that have conned their audiences. However, instead of doing something productive let us grab a seat and watch as this conman puts on his performance. The show is about to begin…

Okay, Bob isn’t exactly the most entertaining or riveting swindler, but, apparently, he manages to convince people that he is the real deal. Before plowing through the horseshit perhaps some context should be provided: this is one part of Chipman’s series on movies that are either universally deemed as “good” or popular with the masses; he tries to proffer reasons as to why the particular movie is deserving of its praise and ubiquity. Not a bad idea for often we are told that X is an excellent film, but never given concrete reasons as to why. But you, the reader, may have noticed something: even if you didn’t click on it you can see that the video is over thirty minutes long…that’s right; Bob wants to spend half an hour of your life explaining why Independence Day is amazing. But maybe he has some decent points to make. Let’s find out…

The first couple of minutes are dedicated to limning the influence of the film; a fine, if rather pedestrian, way to introduce something especially if that something is a well-known blockbuster. Then after his personal logos “Bob Chipman Presents…,” etc. he spends two-three minutes comparing ID to the X-Files movie, which is also about aliens invading. He sarcastically laughs, for quite some time, at a piss-take X-Files directs at ID and goes on about how ID is still relevant and quoted while X-Files is not. Because, you know, just because something is remembered that means it’s good. Granted, the usual metric for a film’s worth if it survives the generations, but ID is an exception for it’s schlock that has remained popular for it manages to do a couple of calculated things correctly, but that doesn’t automatically make the movie good.

Bob goes on to talk about how ID, while seemingly simplistic, manages to be universal, hence its popularity. This is partially true, but Bob argues that despite admitting that the movie uses “stock-plot, stock-characters” and archetypes (they’re more like stereotypes, but whatever) it all somehow works.

Beginning at around 8:40 (yes, it took him that long for him to establish his premise) things start to fall apart when he is forced to actually argue his position. He argues that, despite the characters seeming like archetypes, their “arch-ness” is really just a quick way for the audience to connect to the character and become compelled when the established archetype is subverted. One example he uses is the president (played, atrociously if I may add, by Bill Pullman):

…President Whitmore always looks and sounds so much like “the guy in charge” that when the story reveals that he struggles as a public figure frustration is already shared by the audience.

Uh, no. Sorry, but that arc is still rather stock and, therefore, fairly predictable. As a result, it doesn’t deepen the character nor make him more engaging to the audience. Bob describes the two other leads as archetypes, as well, but Chipman makes some rather shallow explanations as to why their characters “work”: Jeff Goldblum’s character is the “heroic nerd,” but he’s not that nerdy, and Will Smith’s character distills everything about action movie heroes up to that point but is played, in a novel move at that time, by Will Smith. However, such things don’t make the characters that much better than their stereotypes nor do they help elevate the movie above mediocrity. None of the characters possess any dimension aside from “off-the-rack” motivations that any hack screenwriter is aware of and thinks are necessary to make audiences care. Just because casting Will Smith at that time as an action-movie lead was a “brave move” doesn’t thicken the pallid construction of the character itself.

He then goes on to justify Randy Quaid’s character by stating that while possessing a couple of blatantly stereotypical traits, he happens to not be racist and has mixed-race children. This, according to Bob, absolves the character’s being poorly-wrought because the movie was, back in the nineties, “progressive” thanks to the inclusion of a mixed-race family and not making a big deal about it. Hey Bob, how about instead of looking at the race of the characters and placing import there, how about looking at what they’re doing and why? We see that Quaid’s character’s family, especially his eldest son, is disappointed in him; this is a beacon to an intelligent viewer that Quaid’s arc, inevitably, is one of redemption. We just know, right from the start, the trajectory of his character and the subplot dedicated to him. The characters and their arcs are so predictable because of their “stock-ness”; this is, in no shape or form, a virtue. The predictability of the film is a bigger issue that should be focused on, not the superficial things the movie does differently from other blockbusters.

Once again, we see ID4 as Roland Emmerich and his then-partner Dean Devlin using stock character archetypes for narrative shorthand and also deliberately tweaking those characters to challenge and change the ideas of what those archetypes should be in the first place.

If this sounds like bullshit masquerading as insight to you then you’re not mistaken. The president is a terrible character with typical marriage issues and some hammy lines (Bob actually thinks his infamous speech is somehow “deep”); Jeff Goldblum’s character, despite being the best thing about the film, is slightly more interesting than the archetype he represents, but that doesn’t make him a good or compelling character; and Will Smith’s character is practically a cardboard cutout with some charisma added, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t completely one-dimensional. Bob also mentions the stripper-wife character and believes that the fact that she also happens to be a caring mother is good writing, but that’s just silliness–what Chipman is praising is a character trope that’s been in numerous other media. Just because the archetypes are altered “slightly” doesn’t mean that they’re not still stereotypes. Does he really think the “leader with anxiety” or the “stripper who is also a mom” challenges the audience or changes anything at all? The fact that the movie is constantly played on cable is because it’s safe; it does absolutely nothing subversive–Chipman just wants it to be, more on that later.

Fourteen minutes in he praises the film for avoiding traditional Christian spirituality to represent unity amongst the characters and, instead, features Judaism. So…replacing one western religion with another somehow makes the movie good? He doesn’t even mention, of course, the biggest stereotype (I mean *ahem* archetype) in the film: Judd Hirsch’s Jewish caricature. Here Chipman really comes off as a critic who misses the obvious and instead bloviates on things barely there. The fact that the Judiasm point is the one he concludes with for his argument on archetypes further emphasizes his stolidity.

If his argument on archetypes is ridiculous, his analysis on how the film portrays its message is downright bizarre. Don’t worry; I’ll be much briefer here. He goes at length to describe the film’s theme, unity, and how the aliens are defeated when all humans, regardless of national and ethnic borders, join together and shoot flying saucers, as if the theme wasn’t obvious to everyone watching. Then he argues that, despite everything presented within the film, the movie is, somehow, not patriotic. Bob asserts that the fact that the movie takes place largely in the U.S. and follows mostly American characters is actually a “Trojan Horse” in to which the movie can somehow push a more subtle meaning that isn’t patriotic. He thinks Emmerich is somehow “smuggling” some subversive message, via a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, the message being that national borders should be dissolved for human advancement. This is, of course, bullshit. Despite what Bob believes, ID is a thoroughly patriotic film: it follows American characters while the other nations are depicted as merely following in the United States’ footsteps; the other countries’ victories are, mostly, depicted off-screen as we watch the president fly around in a jet fighter. And even if Bob’s dubious analysis is correct, so what? A movie having a particular message doesn’t make the movie good–all that matters is how the movie goes about expressing its message. But Bob, in order to justify his attraction towards ID, really needs to make the movie deeper and, since he’s a PC-liberal, less patriotic than it actually is. He simply can’t like a dumb, America-centric film for its own sake, but has to twist its reality for his own wants and needs. A sign of a terrible critic, or of a non-critic, is that he projects things onto the screen that are not there instead of illuminating the things that are actually there. Instead of attempting to enlighten his audience, Bob is more interested in masturbating and then trying to intellectually justify the resulting stain.

He makes some points about the movie’s flaws, like how disappointing the aliens themselves are, but, again, he misses the big picture. At least he does mention, very briefly, that some of the other countries are depicted as caricatures. I can go on about how silly it is for Bob to defend the movie’s usage of a computer virus to defeat super-advanced aliens (he thinks it would be “nitpicky” to point out how fucking stupid it is,) but do I really have to at this point? I’ll just say that it’s funny how it’s enough for him that the “shock” the aliens have when they realize they’ve been duped to disregard the ridiculousness of the whole thing. He then ends his critique with a few nauseating minutes about how watching the movie makes him feel good. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the film, but Bob is just being self-indulgent and attempting to place himself above the perceived cynicism of other critics.

With that out of the way here’s a forty-minute review of The Avengers:

Barely a minute in and the train is has already been flung from its rails thanks to this impressive hyperbole:

We’re not going to look at recent movies too often on this series, mainly because our focus is on works that conventional wisdom has already agreed upon is good to the point that being skeptical or Contrarian is the only way to say anything relevant about them, and for most movies that takes a long time, but The Avengers is not most movies. Part of what makes The Avengers such a fascinating spectacle in the decidedly non-fascinating world of 21st-Century blockbusters is that it’s one of those rare films that it’s impact is so massive so immediately that almost over-night it becomes difficult how things were before it. Was it really only three short years ago that what turned out to be a billion-dollar cash-cow in the new template of superhero movies and every other type of action blockbuster seem like an insane risk, that words like “shared universe” and “genre-fusion” can get you laughed-out of any Hollywood pitch-meeting?

This goes back to my comparison with Crawford. Bob Chipman is simply someone who “doesn’t get it” and probably never will; all he has are his biases (in this case his adoration for all things Marvel) which he justifies with statements that are untethered to reason. Here he is massively overselling the impact and import of The Avengers to a laughable degree. Has The Avengers really changed anything aside from the ephemeral? And isn’t it too soon to figure out just how much of its impact is substantial or not? Five years from now superhero/comic book films could be completely out of vogue (a possibility Chipman perhaps doesn’t want to even consider) and The Avengers a forgotten name. Okay, sure, the movie did change some things, but mostly in the financial and technical sense, where crossovers are now a-okay to produce; however, for the most part, it’s just another superhero film with snappier dialogue. This just shows how much Bob really likes to hone in on superficial shit and blow said shit out of proportion. If Chipman is a legitimate critic then he would know better than to let his biases control him and cause him to make claims that, even if they were defended by reality, wouldn’t really matter in any artistic or cosmic sense. And if Bob was a legitimate critic he wouldn’t be taking forty fucking minutes of your time to explain how awesome The Avengers; all you need are eight words: “tons of explosions and the Hulk punching things.” You don’t even need a complete sentence; a measly fragment is enough to suffice.

Before going on to showcase his failure as a media and video game critic let’s look at some of his other, shorter, film reviews. From 2009 to earlier this year when he was fired from The Escapist he used to be that gaming site’s resident movie reviewer; his reviews, were, unlike the ones above, brief and aimed toward the consumer. However, Chipman’s ineptitude still managed to rear its bulbous head even in these bite-sized videos. For one thing, as mentioned before, it’s evident that he is a Marvel fanboy. This is a fact that has been widely acknowledged by both his critics and fans. Most of his comments regarding Guardians of the Galaxyfor example, are mostly along the lines of its being “fun” and and having “charismatic” characters despite them being basically the same archetypes we’ve seen in other films done not-so-differently. Untouched is the fact that Guardians opens with one of the tritest sequences I’ve seen in any comic-book film (which is saying something.) The movie opens with the main character as a child depressed because his mother has cancer. Then after some piss-poor and cliched dialogue he starts running (yes, they did this bullshit) and then is suddenly abducted by aliens. I imagine Bob thought this was “good writing” that allows us “care” about the main character.

Let us further observe his vacuity. He is correct in calling 12 Years a Slave a good movie, but feels to truly understand why it is. He doesn’t acknowledge what elevates the film above other slave-narratives and instead compares it to Django Unchained, a piece of schlock, as if they were on a similar plane. In fact, his lone, major criticism is of McQueen’s direction. He asserts that McQueen, somehow “strains to be grand and memorable.” Such a criticism is, of course, not backed-up and downright silly. It seems like Chipman simply didn’t like McQueen’s direction and attempted to come up with some bullshit explanation to justify his dislike, but, of course, what makes the film great is largely because of McQueen’s direction. Those “stylistic flourishes” (not an actual quote from Bob, but it might as well be) heighten what could have been an overly-familiar and banal scene for white-guilt liberals to masturbate to as, through the numerous whippings, not only get Solomon’s anguish, but how the other characters interact and impel each others’ suffering. What about the excellent scene in which Solomon is forced to act as his owner’s hand as he is commanded to whip Patsey? How does McQueen’s “stylistic urges” deter this scene’s impact? I’m willing to bet that Chipman was offended by the prospect of an artist putting art above all else when it came to McQueen making a movie about slavery.

There is also Bob’s condescension toward his audience. He claims that one of the reasons the movie succeeds is that it manages to get “the audience into a headspace where [the premise of the film] makes sense” and that it defies a “typical narrative” structure. This is true, but he goes on to imply that most audience members, if the movie were less successful in this regard, would be asking questions like “why doesn’t Soloman just tell people who he is? Where is the Underground Railroad?” etc. But what Bob doesn’t realize is that people are a bit smarter than that. Even someone with a cursory understanding of slavery in the South would understand that Soloman wouldn’t be able to walk up to his slave-owner and state that he is a free-man and that there has been a misunderstanding. If this review was one’s only exposure to Bob then that person would perceive him as just another generic internet reviewer lacking in insight, but also containing a slight undercurrent of condescension towards the average movie-goer.

Let’s go back to his relationship with Marvel. Here’s his review of the recently-released Ant-Man:

Thirty seconds in and his fanboyism is already aglow as he suggests that Marvel, somehow, has managed to not churn out a bad or flawed film (I bet even the most adamant Marvelite would scoff at such a sentiment.) He then says that the movie in question is solid despite its genericism (I haven’t seen the film myself–this is Bob himself calling it “standard”); he claims that the plot needs to be simple so the drama and humor can have enough space, but, of course, he fails to give specific examples; the viewer is forced to take his word for it despite the film seeming like it’s just going to be bland fluff. The only example he provides of the movie being worth something is of a fight scene that takes place on moving toy-trains. I understand that there’s only so much that one can cover in five minutes, but, in Bob’s case, he manages to stuff five minutes with a whole lot of nothing. And it’s not like this is a time restraint that’s been imposed on him; since he is no longer with The Escapist he can, technically, make videos of any length, hence the long-winded absurdity of his Really That Good series. If he really needs more time to elaborate on his points he could just tack on a couple of minutes onto his normal video reviews and no one would care.

On his blog he occasionally makes comments on movie trailers, but even these innocuous posts demonstrate his obliviousness as a film viewer and critic. Here’s his reaction to the trailer for upcoming boxing film Creed which takes place in the Rocky universe:

WOW.

This project sounded good, but who could’ve anticipated it’d look THIS GOOD? Love how they’re leaning hard on “No. This is Michael B. Jordan’s movie first and foremost,” holding back on the idea that this isn’t an entirely new franchise until the perfect moment to reveal you-know-who.

And then… Holy hell. You had to know he’d end up wearing… yeah. But still…

However, if you actually watch the trailer, you will see how easily impressed and manipulated Bob is. The movie may or may not turn out to be good, but does Chipman not see the visual, verbal and narrative cliches the trailer presents and hints at? The trailer opens with the main character shadow-boxing before a match. We get lines like “you’re not built for this,” “I’ve been fighting my whole life. It’s not a choice for me,” “A great fighter once said, ‘it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit.” We are fed shots of training, of the love-interest, of the poverty the main character witnesses daily, etc. Bob’s brain must have short-circuited after the reveal of Rocky Balboa as the main character’s trainer because this trailer sucks. Hell, there’s even the final image which depicts the main character facing his reflection and Rocky informing him that that’s “going to be your toughest opponent you have to face.” How can anyone who has the audacity to call himself a film expert think that this is good?

So Movie Bob isn’t exactly that great when it comes to looking at and critiquing movies. However, his purview isn’t merely confined to the realm of cinema; he also reviews video games and believes that they are a genuine art-form. He has also released a number of videos critiquing the media and the video game industry. Here is a video he has recently put-out through ScrewAttack under his other moniker, The Game Overthinker (an apt title):

First off, do video games, a billion-dollar industry, need to be defended? And from whom? One might counter that he is defending the legitimacy of video games as an art-form, but his defense is still unnecessary. This “powerful, vibrant, meaningful art-form” (yes, this is the trite language Chipman likes to indulge in) is anything but. No matter what Bob might think, video games aren’t that great and this is coming from someone who has acknowledged that some games, like the Fallout series, contain writing that’s better than a lot of television shows. But, most of the time, even if a game has clever writing or well-crafted characters, those positives are usually to the service of entertainment rather than art. Picasso wrote that the best art comes from an artist trying to present the viewer with something the artist has discovered. A very good video game like Fallout New Vegas, by contrast, merely gives the player a sandbox to muck around in; the game is more about the player disintegrating mutants with a laser than an artist communicating ideas; New Vegas has ideas, certainly, but they are mostly incidental whereas ninety-percent of the game is dedicated to the player’s escapism. Most video games are also designed to serve a simple function, one that is diversionary while art has no practical function. A video game might be well-made in the same way that a table or automobile might be, but just being able to fulfill a function doesn’t make something art. A work of art can be diversionary and entertaining, but a work of art usually does something, if it’s successful, higher as well, beyond the mere functionary.

Yes, 90 percent of films are not art, but mere entertainment (maybe Bob has the two mixed-up which would explain his lauding something like The Avengers as if it were Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy); however, there is no video game equivalent to Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike Bob I think video games have the potential to be art, but that potential has yet to be realized. For now most people approach video games as something to calm the nerves after a shitty day at work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Like his masturbating over Independence Day Bob has to justify liking Super Smash Brothers by pretending there is more to it than leaping over blocks. Not only is it ridiculous, but it also lowers art to something that is tawdry and puerile.

Back to the video, Chipman manages to make a couple of keen points. First, he points out the futility of linking video games to violent behavior. While video games, like anything, can leave an impression on one the consequences of that impression are nigh-impossible to predict due to numerous variables. Another good point he makes is how social critics often rely on hyperbole but, in doing so, undermine their arguments. These two points are valid, if a bit obvious. But by the four minute mark Chipman starts to do some undermining himself. He starts to go on to list some positives in regards to video games, but his examples are rather shallow and just plain odd. Chipman points out how the most famous video game character, Mario, stands in contrast with other video game characters that promote negative body images: Mario is middle-aged and has a respectable, blue-collar job. But so what? First off, yes some video game characters represent highly-idealized body images, but video games, unlike images in fashion and body-building magazines are usually dedicated to escapism. It would be interesting to play a character that isn’t the usual, bland exemplar of masculinity, but there’s nothing really wrong with playing as such. Again, this goes back to a point Chipman himself has made: it is difficult to gauge how someone might be influenced by any type of medium, but I highly doubt the body-types that are rampant in video games do much harm as Chipman believes. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism. If anything video games allow players to vent their frustrations and realize fantasies within a safe and insulated world. Secondly, does it really mean anything that Mario is overweight, or repairs plumbing for a living? I really doubt people are influenced by such things and see Mario as not even an avatar, but as an object they help navigate on screen. Way to make something out of nothing, Bob.

He then points out that some video games have helped westerners become entrenched and empathetic of Japanese culture especially in the eighties where the U.S. thought that Japan was going to take-over the world economically. This is another shallow and questionable assertion. Yes, it’s good to be exposed to other cultures, I guess, but Chipman, again, seems to be overselling the impact of Japanese video games on the American psyche. However, he does make a decent point about how some shooters are basically propaganda and present some xenophobic ideas whereas other games, like Metal Gear Solid, question militarism. But the problem you may have noticed, however, is that a lot of the “positives” Chipman have pointed out really fail to show how “progressive” games are; if anything his points just show show how flimsy and irrelevant the claims made by critics of the medium are. The issue of diversity, for an example, doesn’t really matter that much. Are a lot of game protagonists grizzled white men? Yes. And do some games, in contrast, feature characters of varying ethnicity and background? Yes. But so what? The issue of diversity in games isn’t so much a social or political one, but an aesthetic and, perhaps, an artistic one at times. Most players don’t care about the race of the character they’re playing and if they do it’s usually because they want the character to resemble themselves (again, for escapism.) What Social Justice Warriors like to argue is that the ubiquity of “whiteness” brainwashes people into thinking that is the proper norm, or that “whiteness” is superior. But this is a highly questionable argument. I think the fact that most players don’t care if a game’s main character is white is because they probably don’t care, not because they’re indoctrinated to think nothing of it.

Another thing to mention is that he has a thing against games like Call of Duty, calling them “cancerous” to the medium. This reminds me of how some critics assert that Transformers is ruining cinema, but then go on to praise the shit Spielberg subjects his audiences to. Even before the era of blockbusters there has always been schlock, most of it forgotten now. But there is nothing wrong with schlock, there is however something wrong with declaring a piece of schlock a masterpiece. Games like Call of Duty are such easy targets, but Chipman doesn’t realize the irony of calling them samey and monotonous when Nintendo has been pumping out the same crap ad naseum. This shows the need for people like Chipman to have either an enemy, or a cause to uphold; people like him aren’t real critics, but boring assholes with an agenda. The video, on the surface, extols the virtues of enlightenment and open-mindedness, but underneath it all it’s just a feeble attempt at propaganda.

Chipman does end-up making some decent points but he mostly falters in attempting to heighten a medium dedicated to passing one’s time. And notice the way he presents himself in the video. Is Bob Chipman in space? Bob, you’re not Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson marveling at the cosmos, you’re talking about Mario. The music and the way he speaks suggests that Chipman is making some grand declaration on the import of video games, but it all comes off as forced and, here’s that word again, pretentious.

I can dig deeper and cover his Big Picture series that he used to have on The Escapist or some more videos he has done for ScrewAttack; I could also mention some of the nonsensical ideas he’s spouted on Twitter. I could also touch on his earlier GameOverthinker videos where he had the brilliant idea of inserting a “plot” where he runs around in a trench coat fighting baddies. But I simply do not have the stomach to watch those again. The well is quite deep, but I think I have presented enough evidence to make my case.

So, what remains? What was the point of going on about a figure who’s irrelevant even within the realms of internet celebrity? To answer this I could turn to, once more, to Bob’s Patreon page, but I really don’t think that is indicative of much aside from the fact that a certain number of people with disposable income are aligned with the messages he puts out. But, in five or ten years, Chipman will barely be a speck in anyone’s mind. He might still put pumping out videos and ranting on Twitter or whatever future-equivalent, but his place will most likely be filled by another hack. That’s the nature of things: mediocrities and illegitimate critics are easily replaceable for they act and behave like one another; whatever relevancy and popularity one might happen to receive is largely dependent on being at the right place and time. One then might suggest that I retract my earlier comparison of Chipman being similar to a con artist for at least con artists possess cunning and intelligence. To this I would say that Chipman is certainly trying to sell a particular brand of snake-oil, however, it’s debatable as to whether he knows it himself or not. He could, in fact, know that he is a fraud and not the true critic that he might imply that he is. For one thing, as if you may have noticed, his in-depth analyses aren’t on art-films or classics where such dissections might be more fruitful and apropos. Instead of discussing something like Werckmeister Harmonies we get Chipman breaking-down Ghostbusters. One could argue that he mostly sticks to critiquing movies that will get him more views, but it’s not like he can’t, on occasion, put out a video dedicated to some indie-flick or obscure drama a la Your Movie Sucks Dot Org. In fact, it’s actually surprising that he doesn’t do this for you would think that someone who is interested in dissecting a movie at length would at least consider doing a film where it would be more appropriate and beneficial to do so, not The Avengers. The fact that he doesn’t even dare go near “real films” (he’s obviously reviewed non-schlock in the past, but has never done an extended critique for a film where it might be good to do so) might suggest that he knows he has nothing to offer and no insight into film; instead of deconstructing a film that might require some thought or knowledge about the medium Bob pontificates over peanuts. Outside of film, Chipman likes to debate others on Twitter wan issues like Gamergate in the same way an intellect might debate the nuances of global politics. This leads me to believe that Chipman is aware, consciously or not, that he is a fraud and therefore attempts to compensate by, and to use the cliche, becoming a sizable fish in a small bowl, the small bowl being the world of internet and geek culture. If he tried to swim within the oceans of highbrow art and politics he wouldn’t be able to traverse the depths, being instead drowned by his illegitimacy as a critic and thinker. There is also the possibility that he is not only trying to con his audience, but trying to con himself as well; the fact that he doesn’t do an in-depth analysis of something like The Double Life of Veronique is because he’s afraid he would be faced with his own intellectual lack.

Okay, I know I still haven’t answered my initial question. Here’s the thing: exposing Bob Chipman isn’t pertinent in and of itself, but revealing the things he represents is. Even though I believe that if Chipman were to try to write something more academic or “elevated,” his foolishness would truly surface and generate laughter. But, if he were just a tad more intelligent he could have made for a better con and, therefore, perhaps be seen as successor to either an elitist critic like Pauline Kael, or heir to populist-king Roger Ebert’s throne. He would still be a complete phoney, but at least he would be better at selling others his false authority. His audience would also expand beyond a certain subsection of nerd culture and, perhaps, he would be more convinced of himself as well. But this means that as bad as Bob Chipman is, he isn’t that much worse than ninety percent of “critics” out there. Most critics attempt to sell themselves as some sort of authority, but suffer from the same ills and mental poisons as Bob: they are ruled by biases, they are overly-verbose, they are pretentious, they don’t believe in objectivity in art (a lot of critics try to argue their assessment but, when challenged enough, they pull out the “art is subjective” card to cover their asses), they lack consistency, and they don’t know much about the field in which they proclaim to be experts in (beyond, perhaps, the technical or minute.) This describes not just Bob, but a majority of critics out there. The faults, however, are more apparent when watching the inept sideshow Bob puts on. But this is where his usefulness lies: if one can easily see Chipman for who he is then maybe that same person can finally see similar behaviors among so-called “true critics,” if he knows how to look.

To conclude I would like to address this paragraph to Bob personally (I doubt he’ll ever read this, but my advice could easily extend to other talentless wannabes like him.) Bob, maybe you know that you are just babbling and are doing this because you’re an attention whore, but if you truly think that you are a legitimate critic: you are not. This is not your thing. Perhaps it could be a hobby, but, for the most part, a serious career in this field is not for you. As I have shown, you simply do not have the capacity to understand art or entertainment even at the most rudimentary levels. Even when Roger Ebert had his critical misfires he still made up for it with excellent prose, wit and grace, but you don’t even have above-average communication skills and humor isn’t exactly your forte either. You don’t have a lot to offer to people aside from those who already happen to be on the same wavelength as you; however, this guarantees your descent into obscurity as you have no relevance in the minds of people unlike yourself. But that’s okay. Not everyone has to be a critic in the same sense that not everyone has to be a professional athlete or an artist. Perhaps you have a superior aptitude in some other field; perhaps, you have a gift in the sciences or you are really good with a bow and arrow. I don’t know, but consider possibilities outside of criticism. The world doesn’t need another hack expounding on nothingness. The world doesn’t need more misinformation and pretentiousness. You will do society and the world better by applying yourself in an area where you are gifted. Stop wasting our time and yours. And, with this, I leave you with a quote from Alex Sheremet’s book, Woody Allen: Reel to Real, a true example of film criticism at its highest form that deepens the reader’s understanding of not just a particular film, Stardust Memories, but of film and art as things unto themselves, managing to provide the reader with something instead of prattling for the sake of a single ego. Behold:

Sandy: But shouldn’t I stop making movies and do something that counts, like, helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?

Alien: Let me tell you. You’re not the missionary type. You’d never last. And, incidentally, you’re also not Superman. You’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes!

Sandy: Yeah, but I gotta find meaning!

This is Woody Allen–not the ‘masochist’ or the hypercritical being who sees his sycophants as nigh-monstrosities, nor the obsessiveness personified through Sandy Bates, but the artist who wrote the exchange above, which not only makes fun of the things that engender the character’s way of thinking, but also offer some truly great wisdom.

Here we get the debunking of a critical myth (that Sandy Bates is a mere stand-in for Allen) and also how the above dialogue is an example of effective writing. And pay attention to the last word: wisdom. Bob, you don’t need extraterrestrials to tell you what’s best for yourself when great films like Stardust Memories contain such answers. If only you could take heed to the art and not the endless cavity of your ego.

A Review of a Review of Citizen Kane–God Help Me

You have to marvel at those poor souls who look at a portrait by Rembrandt as they would floral wallpaper, or read a poem by Yeats and register it in the same way they would an article on fly-fishing; people who simply don’t get it and most likely never will regardless of education or experience. I’m not suggesting that everyone has to have a passion for the arts, but there are those who, while mostly indifferent when it comes to art, know that there is just something to a Rembrandt or a Goya that a typical painting simply does not possess, even if they are unable to express what that particular thing might be. Then there are folks like Harrison Crawford whose review of Citizen Kane begins, after describing, briefly, Welles’ infamous tenure as a wine salesman, as thus:

It wasn’t until college that I had a chance to see Kane on a big screen in an actual movie theater. And at the time I parroted the enthusiasm it had generated in many of the intellectual pillars of the arts crowd, the same analysts who adored the movies of Jean Renoir, Francois Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman. “Wow! Magnificent! An unbelievable cinematic achievement! Orson Welles, the original auteur! All hail, Caesar!”

Last week, I saw the movie again. This time the youthful enthusiasm I originally had for it was mostly absent. In my maturity I tend to agree with the mature judgment of Orson Welles himself, who near the end of his life told a friend he thought a “cold wind” ran through Citizen Kane.

For those unfamiliar with the movie (and that would probably be almost every reader under the age of 40), let me summarize it: A reporter fails to find the meaning of a lonely tycoon’s dying word.

Yes, you read it correctly. Does this sound like a riveting story? Would a millennial nerd, hearing that tagline, be energized to cast away his iPod and his Twitter surfing, put on his jeans and run to the nearest art house to see a revival of it? Ahem, I DON’T THINK SO!

It is true: there are numerous film students and critics who claim to appreciate great works, including Citizen Kane, without actually understanding why those works are great and end-up “parroting” what others I have said. Crawford claims to have grown out of this, developing a perspective independent of others, but while he didn’t truly understand why Kane was great when he was a student he still manages to be clueless despite his “maturity.”

First off, look at his synopsis of the film: “A reporter fails to find the meaning of a lonely tycoon’s dying word.” This is more like a succinct description of the film’s ending, but whatever. The main issue is that Crawford simply doesn’t get that whether a story is “riveting” or not comes from how the story is constructed. This means that a movie merely about a man going for a walk on a Tuesday could potentially be great, or riveting. “Would a millennial nerd…” This is just silly. It’s as if Crawford is still the student in college for he’s evoking some rather sophomoric ideas in regards to art. So what if a nerd living in 2015 or 2265 or 2982 wouldn’t be excited by (Crawford’s) tagline? What does that have to do with the movie’s quality, which isn’t dependent on one’s emotional relationship towards it? Citizen Kane was great when it came out and it is still great now whether or not a film nerd today may or may not like watching it. Crawford almost has the right idea, that great art should have a timelessness, but he’s just one of those people who doesn’t quite get it.

He moves beyond his own synopsis and summarizes the film in some length. Here’s how he describes the ending:

Though revealing much about Kane’s character—namely, that he was an arrogant, self-centered, manipulative jerk who consistently betrayed his friends and threw money at his problems— the various interviewees leave Thompson’s original inquiry unanswered. At Xanadu, Kane’s massive Florida pleasure palace (modeled after William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, as is much of Kane’s life and career modeled after Hearst), Thompson observes some of Kane’s bric-a-brac being thrown into an incinerator. One of the items is the snow sled from his Colorado childhood. Unbeknownst to Thompson or anyone else, the burning flames reveal “Rosebud” on the sled as the movie closes. A yearning for the lost innocence of childhood, perhaps? We can’t tell.

Note his disingenuous use of “the royal we” and how he claims to not understand the symbolism of Rosebud despite claiming that it represents “the lost innocence of childhood.” Yes, he puts what the symbol means in the form of a question, but that’s just a ruse: he knows that’s what the sleigh represents, but putting it in question-form is Crawford’s special way of implying that the movie has somehow failed in expressing this, and that he is, somehow, above the film itself. Of course, Crawford isn’t going to touch on the ending beyond its basic meaning (no mention of the fact that the symbolic sleigh is now not only lost to Kane, but to everyone else as well, especially to those who were searching for a way to understand Kane as a person.) He knows what he is supposed to get, but he perhaps isn’t impressed and, instead of trying to think about what the film does at a level deeper than what Sparknotes suggests, he blames the film itself.

Moving on:

But, alas, there’s more to drama than mere technical excellence and brilliant acting, just as there’s more to dentistry than successfully pulling teeth. The dentist who pulls out a tooth painlessly and thoroughly—but who pulls out the wrong tooth—would have done better to leave the patient alone. And, in making a movie about a man who shows no redeeming virtues of any sort, Welles has pulled the wrong tooth out of his audience.

For all people, even all villains, have some redeeming virtue. Evil monsters, from Goliath to Captain Ahab, have always had something about them, some talent or capacity for achievement, some quirky bit of charisma to remind us that, if they ever learned to switch sides and fight for good, we might actually learn to like them. But Charles Foster Kane has no shred of any of this. We are told repeatedly, ad nauseum, by the likes of Susan Alexander Kane and Jed Leland, that Kane lived only for Kane. We do not see that he has really earned anything that he has been given in his life. In consequence, we get bored after a while. The uniformly selfish spectacle of his personality gets tiresome.

A selfish, rich and manipulative male—what is compelling or unusual about this? History, drama and literature are awash with the stereotype. Welles, and perhaps even more guiltily, Herman Mankiewicz, the co-credited screenwriter who was older than Welles and should have known better, went over the top. Didn’t they realize the monotony of egotism needed at least a little moderation?

Crawford is correct, despite the clunky comparison to dentistry, that technical excellence does not automatically equate to artistic greatness. And he’s also correct that villains in real-life aren’t merely villains, but contain, with varying degrees, nuance (though I would have used a different word instead of the over-the-top “virtue,”) but look at how he describes a villain that is redeemable: someone who is charismatic, talented and, if things were different, might have been on the “right side”; now, doesn’t this fit Charles Foster Kane to a fucking tee? Isn’t one of the reasons why Kane is considered a tragedy because it depicts a great man (charismatic, passionate, ambitious, and ingenious enough to expand his empire) who, despite his greatness, dies alone? Did Crawford even watch the film? Or, better yet, did he watch the film with blinders willingly, or unwillingly?

“The uniformly selfish spectacle of his personality gets tiresome.” This criticism would apply to a movie like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that is nothing but drug-addicts doing silly, drug-addict things; however, in Citizen Kane we get not only Kane’s selfishness, but the impact and various consequences of his selfishness. And it’s not like Kane just does a bunch of self-serving shit (Kane ends up doing things for others as well, but whatever) and then end-credits. Did Crawford miss the irony at the end that, despite Kane’s commitment to filling his inner-lacks, is alone and utterly lost to himself? What about the ways Kane’s life is depicted? Going back to technical excellence, Kane is a great film that uses lighting and editing and a (somewhat) nonlinear structure to make the watching experience more interesting. Instead of a continuous stream of selfishness, we swerve between moments, via other characters’ perspectives, to try to cohere a portrait of someone. In various scenes, we see Kane looming larger than all else within the frame; we see Kane in focus while objects in the foreground are in a haze; we see Kane trapped within an infinite reflection of himself through the mirrors at the end. Such things are the result of excellent technique in the service of narrative; Citizen Kane becomes not just some story of a selfish oaf, but an interesting and well-crafted tale of a man who happens to be selfish amongst many other things.

“A selfish, rich and manipulative male—what is compelling or unusual about this? History, drama and literature are awash with the stereotype.” Do I even have to address such stolidity? Fine. This goes back to a point I made earlier, that you can make a movie about nearly anything and it could potentially be supernal if in capable hands. Kane is excellent because it is not only a great portrait of a singular entity, but it’s also applicable to the thousands or millions of “great men” that have traversed human history. This is because, while it’s great in its depiction of a single person, it’s outwardly great for it touches on things universal, going beyond shallow and transitory explanations. Timelessness is one of the requisites for a great work of art, and Citizen Kane proves itself.

So, that shows how–oh wait, there’s more? Great.

Younger generations today, in trying to find a parallel to Hearst/Kane in their own experience, might consider Rupert Murdoch, the distant and mysterious majordomo of the Fox News empire. But Murdoch as a young man was not well-known. Perhaps a more easily decipherable young gun, a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg, might resonate with them more and suggest some type of modern day incarnation of Kane. But Jobs and Zuckerberg both illustrate the complexity of fascination: though arrogant, wealthy, domineering and opportunistic, these men had a palpable genius, a sense of innovation which lent itself to humanitarianism. Welles and Mankiewicz, despite their flair for drama, deprived their Charles Foster Kane of this.

Crawford must have watched the movie in the same way a dullard looks at Monet and only sees the colors and shapes. He just sees some bloke being selfish on the screen whilst missing pretty much everything else. However, you, the reader, might have managed to see something yourself: a running theme in Crawford’s “review”–the suggestion that Kane doesn’t “hold-up” in the new century. Here he implies that Kane is somehow now irrelevant to millennials for they have such archetypical figures as Jobs and Zuckerberg. But anyone can see how Jobs and Zuckerberg are often compared, rightly or not, to Kane and it’s not because the character just happens to be wealthy. Hell, Crawford even admits to this: younger generations filter certain real-life figures through Kane because they represent much of what Kane does. If Kane didn’t have a “palpable genius, a sense of innovation which lent itself to humanitarianism,” then why would people use him as a point of reference? Crawford is trying to make a point, but, unfortunately, reality keeps undermining him. Boo.

Here’s how Crawford concludes his review:

Largely as a result, it is unlikely anyone in today’s world who is not a cinema aficionado, a cognoscente of craft, will find Citizen Kane appealing. Unlike George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life or Rick Blaine in Casablanca, torn and tortured heroes of two other classics of the 1940’s, Charles Foster Kane doesn’t seem to know the difference between good or evil, or to care. In retrospect, he resembles the aging, obese caricature Welles himself became: rich but totally irrelevant.

Bullshit. Plenty of people appreciate Citizen Kane because they actually watched the movie, unlike you. And even if a small fraction of the populace doesn’t care about the film currently, or films in general as an art-form, that doesn’t make Kane less relevant. If we’re going to use time as a measurement of greatness then it would behoove us not to measure how many people approach a work in a single decade or generation, but rather if that particular work survives after numerous decades. If not many people watch Kane now, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop watching it in 2095. In contrast, a million people might watch Terminator: Genysis this year, but is anyone even going to know its name twenty years from now? And another thing: is knowing the difference between good and evil really your metric for measuring the quality of a character? Get the fuck out of here. I would say Kane knows the difference, but, screw it, it’s redundant at this point to argue at this point.

Is Citizen Kane the greatest movie ever? Perhaps not. Hell, I would argue that it’s not even Welles’s best film, but it’s still a damned fine film, one that is not just innovative but whose numerous innovations help serve the story and deepen it. Crawford, in writing his review, probably felt the need to form a corrective to the popular perception that Kane is the “greatest movie in the history of forever ever,” but, while he’s not calling it the worst, he seems to be trying way too hard to adopt the other extreme. You see such behavior from teenagers and hipsters whose response to a superlative is to take on the polar opposite position: “Dark Side of the Moon isn’t the best album ever–in fact, it sucks fucking doggy dick!” But neither side realizes that the truth usually, though not always, lies in between the opposites of the spectrum. Crawford falls for a very peculiar trap: he really, desperately, wants to be the guy that sees “the light” whilst everyone else remains fixed to the shadows on the cavern wall. But, at least when it comes to assessing art, he is blind. Despite what he might think of himself, he really isn’t that different from the guy he was in college–he just happens to represent a different camp.

I imagine Crawford at an art museum, shuffling past the various exhibits, shaking his head and muttering to himself as he looks at Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais and then Duchamp’s terrible conceptual art, viewing both with the same, uncomprehending gaze. Some people, bless them, can’t tell the difference between greatness and crap and only have silly justifications to provide for their lack of sight. The answer gets lost in the clutter and, like the reporter who’s given-up on his search for meaning behind a man’s final utterance, Crawford leaves the building unknowing of what will survive the generations and what will vanish in the fire.

Okay, enough of these pseudo-critics. I now want to get back to posting movie reviews and crappy poems. I just need to…wait…

What is that?

oh.

oh dear…