Monday, January 22, 2018

Critics and Criticism

“Are critics necessary?” a good many people ask, not a few of them the butts of some kind of criticism. Certainly if dray horses, victims of he whip, could speak, the answer would be No. Even someone who surely knows better, Samuel Beckett, arrogates to himself the fun of making the supreme insult meted out between his contentious tramps be “Crritic,” with a double R, to make it more explosive. But playwrights, directors and actors of stature would surely answer Yes.

I am inclined to aver that every activity needs its critics, from megalomaniacal narcissists bloviating in the White House to exhibitors of knee holes in their blue jeans byway of following a fad. So, too, tennis players and others wearing their caps bakward. There is, to be sure, only fairly innocuous folly in puncturing pants or reversing caps, but for political or artistic or religious twisting of thought or harboring holes in the head there is rather less excuse.

As my readers will recall, I have always inveighed against the bleary journalism practiced by newspaper reviewers, as opposed to the real criticism performed by, well, critics. The former are barely more often right than stopped watches managing it twice a day, or like that bore trying to justify himself to the great and witty French actor Lucien Guitry, by saying “I speak as I think.” “Yes,” agreed Lucien, “but more often.”

One might also designate differences as a matter of taste. Actually, the better reviewers can write fluent paragraphs and titillating sentences, but where exactly lies their taste? Most likely in the pages of Marvel Comics, the source of so much of our stage and screen fare.

Take our current musical theater, two of whose biggest hits are “Come from Away”and “Dear Evan Hansen,” one cheesier than the other. If newspaper criticism were not almost as lamentable as public taste, more people might read it or even believe it. In any case, theater criticism has seen its purveyors decimated, as more and more publications have dumped it, largely replaced by the Internet. On the other hand, in our time of few good shows and no more cheap seats, it is unlikely that theater could survive if it depended on artistic and journalistic quality.

Already some years ago, when The New York Times was desperately seeking a new drama critic, the most serious candidate they interviewed was Robert Brustein, who declared he would take the job if he could dismiss typical trash with just a few sentences. Whereupon he was no longer considered by the Times. The one minority most neglected and most underpaid in America is the intellectual one. Elitist, which rightfully should be a term of praise, is derogatory in the quasi-democratic U.S.A.

It was claimed by some that I modeled myself on my friend Dwight Macdonald, which I didn’t; we merely happened to agree on many things. Certainly with his self-defense when accused of excessive negative criticism: “I’ve always specialized in negative criticism—literary, political, cinematic, cultural—because I’ve found so few contemporary products about which I could be ‘constructive’’ without hating myself in the morning.” The only point with which I could not concur is the political, because it lies outside my scope. But there was never any question of mentorship or modeling between us. I can recall only one major disagreement: about Fellini’s  “8 ½,” which Dwight exulted in and I did not. In retrospect, he may have been right.

It was likewise claimed by some that I was the critic on whom my friend Wilfrid Sheed  modeled the protagonist of his novel “Max Jamison.” But as he told me, if Max was modeled on anyone, it was on himself. Two incidents only might be based on me. One was when upon my suggestion that Clive Barnes and Brendan Gill should not come to meetings drunk, Gill was barely restrained from fisticuffs with me. The other was when Manny Farber, a member of the National Critics’ Circle, stood up trembling with rage to deliver a lengthy and barely comprehensible philippic against the rest of us for not including film writers from obscure, hardly known publications. I suggested the desirabiiltiy for election to our group of a sanity test. Whereupon Manny stormed out and never showed up again.

Let me adduce an incident from the Tehran Film Festival in the time of the Shah. At a long table sat a number of attractive debutantes intended for whatever assistance a jury member might need. One of the young ladies asked me what I did for a  living. I said I was a film critic. Said she: “And for that you get paid?” Absurd as the question  was, it elicited my response: “Not a whole lot.” And so it is at the more intellectual weeklies and monthlies, to say nothing of the quarterlies.

But to advert to drama criticism, which, aside from some book reviews, is the only kind I still practice, to start with some typical misunderstandings. ln a context of movies, but applicable also to theater, John W. English, writes in his book “Criticizing the Critics”: “High-brow [sic] critics such as John Simon, are often intrigued by witticisms, puns ad cleverly reworked  phrases a form of intellectual gamesmanship. Simon, for example, has flippantly called ‘2000: A Space Odyssey’  a ‘Shaggy God Story.’ It’s a sign he’s not as serious as he might be.” In other words, wit does not belong in criticism, a notion funny enough in its own right. Long-faced prose seems solely admissible.

In Matt Windman’s book of interviews with theater reviewers, “The Critics Say . . . ,” we read this from John Lahr: “Anyone who talks about standards is a fool. There is no agreed-upon standard. A standard is an aesthetic or a taste that has evolved over time. That is all it is.” Agreed, and that is all that is needed. Lahr continues, “John Simon is always going on about his standards. But if you look at the standards he liked and those he didn’t like, you’ll find that his standards tend to overlook major work and praise a lot of terrible shows.”

Now, standards are what you derive from the criticism of major critics from Aristotle on, advocated and agreed upon. To be sure, it depends on whom you consider major, but certainly among those on my list, and surprisingly among some others too, you find a goodly measure of concord. And from that you get the notion of a standard. And if Lahr argues that there are wrong standards (mine), there must also be right ones (his). Which means that standards exist even for him, only they have to be his..

Furthermore, Lahr is wrong about my alleged always going on about standards. I hardly ever mention them, as they are not there to be pontificated about, but to be displayed and reaffirmed in one’s writing. Moreover, Lahr’s “always” implies that he has read me extensively, which I am inclined to doubt. If he had, he might have learned something from me as I have from him.

In that same book edited by Widman, Elisabeth Vincentelli opines: “I am ambivalent about John Simon. He’s such a great stylist and writer, but his meanness is just too much. It was delicious to read, but sometimes it got in the way of his critical acumen, and that kind of spoiled the pleasure of reading him. I didn’t feel like there was any generosity behind it. He often wrote about very real issues that nobody else would touch—the stuff that is very tricky to deal with, but he wrote about it with such a lack of empathy.”

This raises several questions, some of which my quote from Dwight Macdonald answered. Really though, if something is bad, why empathize? You don’t root for it. you try to uproot if. If, however, it is good, your positive review is all the empathy that is called for. Writing about lack of food in some countries, and lack of freedom in others, that is where empathy is appropriate.

The good critic notes details that might escape a lay viewer, as well as pinpointing implications and providing explications for what is not immediately apparent. He or she shows how a work fits into the history of its art form, and how it reflects and comments on its social context. If it is of performing art, he or she evaluates writers, directors and actors. In theater, there is also set, costume, and lighting design; in musicals, choreography, singing, and dancing, both as concept and execution for the critic to address.

But there is something else, too, and it is supreme. We also read a critic for the writing, as we read for their writing practitioners of other art forms: fiction, poetry, essay, drama. This is scarcely less important than the critic’s yea or nay: Kenneth Tynan, with his wit and elegance, his way with words and paragraphs, is vastly preferable to most of his more plodding colleagues, however dedicated--and, if you will, empathetic--they may be. “The critic is a man who knows the way, but cannot drive the car” Tynan has said. As oversimplifications go, not a bad epigram. Among the many writings about criticism, let me direct you to one essay: Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist.,” exaggerated but witty and brilliant..

If the critic goes beyond information and adjudication, if he or she can add wit to the review or critique, the resultant effect is at least doubled. Even intelligent digression can prove indirectly pertinent. The focus might well be narrow, but the relevance and resonance should be extensive. You might do worse than study “The Great Critics: An Anthology of Literary Criticism,” compiled and edited by James Harry Smith and Edd Winfield Parks.” Criticism should also be comprehensible, which is to say not written by Frenchmen with esoteric theories and befuddling jargon. And it should not present itself as written on Mosaic tablets by the likes of Harold Bloom. Above all, it should not be the voice of a publisher or editor or anybody else but independently his own.


  1. “Are critics necessary?”

    Criticisms is somewhere between reporting and academics.

    Reviewing is a form of judicious reporting. It can be done well but is limited by time and space. Has to make deadline. Also, as consumer report, it can't divulge spoilers.

    At the other end, there are scholars who write lengthy tomes about books, movies, and music. Scholars are different from critics in that they must immerse themselves even in things they don't particularly like. They are less about judgment than research and analysis.

    Critic obviously has less space than a scholar, but then, criticism is less about analysis and interpretation than judgment. A critic can probe deeper into the work, but his main purpose is to assess aesthetic and moral value of the work.

    John Simon wrote a scholarly analysis of Ingmar Bergman's four films. The chapter on PERSONA was pretty good, but the rest was rather obvious. Simon is a better critic than scholar.

  2. Critics were useful for three reasons.

    1. As so many works have been produced over the years, without the guide of critics, we wouldn't know where to start. Even if all critics are flawed, there is a general consensus among critics that is useful. For instance, if one knows nothing about cinema, the Sight and Sound List for greatest films is a useful guide. If critics didn't exist, the current generation just coming into art wouldn't know where to start. Readers can learn a lot about Past Films from bodies of criticism left by people like Simon, Kael, Sarris, MacDonald, and Kauffmann.

    2. Reading different critics is essential. Even though critics often disagree, the combination of contrasting views results in a kind of an intellectual cubism in the mind of the reader. The mind becomes an odd-angled intersection of incongruous views. In time, the mind learns to adapt and navigate through the seeming gridlock of views and formulate its own pathways.

    2. Critics, good or bad, right or wrong, become a useful guide to the attitudes, values, and mores of another time. So, when we read critics from the 19th century or early 20th century, we don't merely pay attention to the criticism but the sensibility of a bygone place. It teaches us something about how people used to think, feel, and believe.

  3. "One might also designate differences as a matter of taste. Actually, the better reviewers can write fluent paragraphs and titillating sentences, but where exactly lies their taste? Most likely in the pages of Marvel Comics, the source of so much of our stage and screen fare."

    Pop Culture and Political Correctness have done great damage to arts and criticism.

    Pop Culture used to be something like John Ford movies. But it got more childish over the years, and entire generations grew up on Disney-turning-young-girls-into-whores. In some ways, it was made worse by movies like STAR WARS. If Lucas had just made frivolous space movies, people would have grown out of them and put away childish things. But he presented his stuff as Modern Myth, and even adults began to take it seriously. Soon, discussing sci-fi movies and blockbuster movies took center stage in criticism.

    Also, critics and cultural scholars argued rappers are poets and whatever.
    And with the ebbing of culture of shame, every freak and lunatic -- the arts attract a lot of freaks and lunatics -- became over-indulgent, wallowing in their poo and vomit, splattering themselves with tattoos and doing dumb things to their hair(as a statement, LOL).
    Worse, PC came along and promoted pseudo-intellectual victimological self-aggrandizing as the essence of expression. All it does it encourage self-absorbed infantilism.

    So, the trashy infantilism of pop culture and radical infantilism of PC led to the current state of affairs where most people in the cultural community are either stupid/crazy or afraid to crack a joke about trannies who deserve to be ridiculed.

  4. Simon once said Time is the ultimate judge, and on that basis, Simon has not been an important critic of film. (As for theater criticism, how can we tell if past criticisms were valid since we can't revisit past performances?)Much of Simon's film criticism is excellent because he's a good writer. Also, Simon wrote with honesty and courage, qualities generally lacking among movie critics who tend to be nasty ideologues, toothless populists, fetishists, or cultists. Agree or disagree, the reader always knows Simon meant it from the bottom of his heart even if there isn't much of a heart there.
    Simon's film criticism is also invaluable because he was so at odds with the general community of critics and scholars who tended to form into 'schools' or 'cliques'. Simon didn't belong to any group. He wasn't partisan but his own man. We need more such loner personalities who, like Sinatra, do it 'my way'.

    That said, Time has judged Simon wrong about so many movies. Even though Simon appreciated the art of cinema, he was more at home with the mechanics of poetry, novels, and plays. He focused on plot, characters, and thematic development.
    But movies can be much more with dimensions of expression that can't be appreciated by rules of the Other arts. This was probably why Simon missed out on the greatness of 8 1/2 and 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY.
    When watching a play, one needs to pay attention to characters and dialogue. In a musical, it's the singing and dances that matter.
    In contrast, cinema can sustain time in strange ways, like in a dream, and one has to play to that logic. Simon never got this, which is why he failed to appreciate Dreyer, Mizoguchi, and Tarkovsky. He always focuses on characters than took in the full gestalt of the works.

    1. I agree that Simon's strength is his ability to write, and not necessarily his taste in any one particular film. However, if he didn't like a film he always had specific and solid reasons for not liking it. His knowledge of production design, cinematography, music scores (etc) is undeniable.

    2. Also, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy nowadays to look back and reexamine films with a vast knowledge of criticism to help form an opinion. It's quite another to be on a deadline and in one day have to come up with a valid and entertaining assessment that your reader (and editor) will enjoy.

    3. "if he didn't like a film he always had specific and solid reasons for not liking it."

      No, too often he didn't and just piled on the epithets, calling it 'moronic'. Or, he would throw out the baby with the bathwater, like he did with Kurosawa;s RAN, which, for all its flaws, has some magnificent passages.

      Also, film appreciation is about more than technique. It is about impression, and Simon simply had inadequate appreciation for certain expressions that were unique to cinema and alien to literature.

      Simon often complained that great literature can't be expressed in other mediums, yet he failed to appreciate the unique power of cinema that can't be understood by literary standards. The reason he liked Bergman most was because Bergmanism owes so much to drama and photography than the time-warping possibilities of cinema.

    4. I may be thinking of the wrong film, but I thought "Ran" was the film Simon decided not review. The only thing he put out was one paragraph explaining to his readers why he didn't critique the film. His reasons were he didn't want to disparage a master who had made a poor film. And, compared to Kurosawa's earlier films, it was a poor effort.

      I don't disagree, however, that Simon gravitated towards the more stagy/literature-like films. He did. Most of the time if a director used any kind artsy-fartsy type photography, set design, or time/space convention, he'd rip the film a new one. Films that come to mind are Blue Velvet, Pulp Fiction, Memento, etc. Of course, when it came to Bergman, he was allowed (Persona, *the film about playing chess with Death*, etc etc)

    5. Ran has problems but it has wonders too.

      Also, if Simon really felt it was so terrible, he should have explained as to why, especially since so many lavished great praise on it.

      The notion of sparing Kurosawa's feelings is bogus. Simon's ethos was saying it like it is and sparing no one.

    6. "Also, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy nowadays to look back and reexamine films with a vast knowledge of criticism to help form an opinion. It's quite another to be on a deadline"

      But Simon was a magazine critic, not a newspaper reporter/reviewer racing against time.

      Simon's failure to appreciate certain films had to do with his temperament and attitude. He came to the screening with snobbery and preconceived standards, and he was incapable of appreciating divergent forms of expressions in an art form that he wasn't the center of his attention.

      Ultimately, Simon's interest in cinema was as a dilettante, as with music.

    7. There were other (better) films to review when 'Ran' came out. Simon decided to review those instead. I don't know why he did it that way (the explanation thing). Write him a letter and ask him.

      On the 20/20 thing, magazine writers have deadlines too. Crimic (I'm assuming that may also be you) said that time had proven Simon wrong about many films. Well, you can say that about lots of reviewers. It's easy to look back after 40 plus years and cherry pick articles here and there.

      I'm not sure what your whole point about Simon is. You think he's a pretty good writer, but he doesn't like the films you like, and you don't approve of him because he doesn't like the correct movies and also you're pretty pissed at him because he doesn't like Trump? (deep breath!)

      (I'm guessing you're all of these other people considering the time the posts were made and writing style. If not, I may have to apologize. Talkin' about Shells Mcthuth that is)

    8. "There were other (better) films to review when 'Ran' came out. Simon decided to review those instead."

      RAN came out in 1985. There weren't many movies better than Ran. And even if Ran is deeply flawed, it was an important film with lots of wonderful stuff. For Simon to dismiss the ENTIRE film with sentences was wrong. I'm not saying he had to have liked it. I'm saying he should given a full review, even if a negative one. Also, he should admit a movie can be deeply flawed but still have amazing things in it. I
      t's like Simon's dismissal of Solaris by Tarkovsky is blinded by contempt. Yes, overall, I agree it's a failure too, but it has some amazing passages. But Simon just put it down in a short paragraph and mostly noticed tits on the actress. When Simon hates something about a movie, that hatred blinds him to everything that is nevertheless impressive about it.

      And no, I'm not saying Simon has to like Trump. Trump deserves lots of lumps. But Trump is at least trying to save the West from third world invasion. How can Simon, who claims to be a cultural elitist and defender of higher value, side with globalists who want to flood the West with African ugabugas and Muslim abdi-dadbis?

      Okay, Trump is a vulgarian and boor, BUT he is trying to save the West from barbarian invasion. It's the 68 generation in France and counterculture generation in the US that are celebrating the fact that the West will be turned into Afro-Islamic-mexican shithole.

      Did you see Simon's interview with some trashy funnyheaded tranny shit? That is the future of the West with diversity. Did Simon defend western culture all his life to welcome this shit?

      Race matters. Simon should know this because he's hated Indian civilization for being filled with stinky idiots who worship cows, pierce their noses, and bathe in shit water.

      But now, he's siding with globalists who want to inundate the West with Diversity? Are white elites so enamored of their preening PC virtue that they are afraid to defend the West from the Rest?

      They are so afraid of being called 'racist'? What's esp funny is Simon has expressed contempt for Muslims, but he sides with globalists who wants to fill up the West with not only barbaric Muslims but savage Africans.

      Also, Simon used to call out on homo ridiculousness. But now, he's afraid of homos and taking it up the ass from PC.

    9. Ran came out in the summer of 1985, and Simon chose to review 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' and 'Back to the Future' which both came out in that summer. Both were more important and better films than 'Ran'.

      'Spider' was heartfelt story of a straight guy who has an affair with a gay guy in prison. You may have enjoyed that one, I'm sure. And 'Future' was a rock'em sock'em robot of a film sure to please anyone. 'Ran' was an overblown cluster-fuck made by a senile Jap. Jeez, I wonder why Simon didn't review it.

    10. "Ran came out in the summer of 1985, and Simon chose to review 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' and 'Back to the Future' which both came out in that summer. Both were more important and better films than 'Ran'."

      You gotta be kidding me. You prefer a movie where a straight guy takes it up the ass from a fruitcake?

      I saw Back to the Future again. It's a fun movie but has faded. Ran, for all its faults, now seem better and grander than ever. Its big failure is Hidetora's tragic story is overshadowed by spectacle, but what spectacle it is.

      Kiss of the Spider Woman is a sick disgusting movie. I guess it was prophetic in the sense that worship of homos has become such a feature of the West. Take it up the ass from some fruitcake and it's redemption.

    11. I'm not gay, but I almost fell in love with Raul Julia. He was so rough and tumble! William Hurt was beautiful, and what a performance. A very romantic film. I'm pretty sure William "did" Raul, but the question is, did Raul return the favor???? I think so!!

  5. Ivan to be left alone

    Many an art experience streamed,
    Can be made doubly pleasurable,
    Or in the end half salvageable,
    By John Simon paeaned or reamed.

    1. The title is a hoot! (and the rest)

  6. "While literary criticism is not essential to literature, both are essential to civilization."
    Clive James

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. “While stupidity is not essential to bigotry, both are essential to Whacko World residents like yourself and Our Beloved Stable Genius.”
      Joe Carlson

  7. Occasionally, I have not found Mr. Simon's film reviews useful -- if by that I mean a recommendation of a film I would enjoy (example, the Andy Garcia movie "When A Man Loves A Woman"; he liked it, I found it boring). That's not why I read his reviews; I read them because they are chewy, nutritious morsels of prose in and of themselves. Often I don't even care what movie he's writing about (and half the time I haven't even seen or heard of them); I just revel in his his writing. The actors & actresses he mentions, however, do interest me, the better if I'm familiar with them, because I love it when he takes jabs at their personas. And contrary to popular opinion, Mr. Simon is not always a curmudgeonly snipe. It's almost startling how many films, plays, directors, actors and actresses he actually praises (perhaps it takes years of reading him to fully appreciate). His praise for all that is measured, not honeyed with "empathy", and therefore more substantial. Once in a review published in National Review decades ago, he mentioned fleetingly his esteem for Albert Finney: Merely the brief, parenthetical phrase "...Albert Finney, a true actor..." carried more weight than would a whole page.

    Back to my guilty pleasure: Mr. Simon mentions the opinion of Elisabeth Vincentelli: “I am ambivalent about John Simon. He’s such a great stylist and writer, but his meanness is just too much. It was delicious to read, but sometimes it got in the way of his critical acumen, and that kind of spoiled the pleasure of reading him." I agree he's delicious to read, but his barbs don't at all spoil it for me; I really dig his digs at actors & actresses (example, when he once observed that Glenn Close's profile "looks like a dime-store Indian" it filled my heart with great cheer).

    Others have mentioned Mr. Simon's "honesty" as a critic, by which I take it they mean his braving the tide of political correctness (perhaps "sociocultural correctness" is more apt). I think of his years of bucking the trend everyone else in his field seems to feel, that one must slavishly follow in lockstep -- namely, of praising Woody Allen no matter what he does (I recall at one point this cost him the privilege -- given to other critics -- of a private screening at one of the Woodman's new films; revealing the latter's pettiness). I sit up and take notice then, when with intelligent discrimination he commends a film or two -- "The Jade Scorpion" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors".

    1. If ALL the critics praised a film, you can be assured that Simon would cast a discerning eye. He hated agreeing with his peers if he could possibly avoid it.

    2. @hesperado > word.

    3. Points taken but there is a counterpoint: Joan Didion’s “In Hollywood” in THE WHITE ALBUM. Something of a touchstone essay on the crazy business of American filmmaking, soup to nuts. From a person inside rather than outside the process like film critics. Pauline Kael, John Simon, take their lumps, while Stanley Kauffmann gets pummeled:

      “A curious thing about Kauffmann is that in both his dogged right-mindedness and his flatulent diction he is indistinguishable from many members of the Industry itself. He is a man who finds R. D. Laing ‘blazingly humane.’ Lewis Mumford is ‘civilized and civilizing’ and someone to whom we owe ‘a long debt,’ Arthur Miller a ‘tragic agonist’ hampered in his artistry only by the ‘shackles of our time.’ It is the vocabulary of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.”

      Then the lady cuts to the quick:

      ”Making judgments on films is in many ways so peculiar vaporous an occupation that the only question is why, beyond the obvious opportunities for a few lecture fees and a little careerism at a dispiriting self-limiting level, anyone does it in the first place. A finished picture defies all attempts to analyze what makes it work or not work: the responsibility for its every frame is clouded not only in the accidents and compromises of production but in the clauses of its financing.”


    4. Here's a very good lecture on American fiction by Stanley Kauffmann, from 1968. He praises a lot of novels I'd never heard of:

      I thought 'When a Man Loves a Woman' was a good film, but then I also liked 'Stuart Saves His Family', so what do I know....

    5. Keenikanz:
      “Film criticism isn't to objectively what makes a film work or doesn't work.”
      You have a way with words! Like dull old Stanley!

    6. Simon did give positive reviews to those films Fokie mentions. I have the book in front of me. Puzzling to say the least. 'Boys on the Side' is a decent film, but the other two are not very good. But, again, those are films that are very much like plays. You could do those movies live on stage and no one would know the difference. Right down Simon's alley.

    7. “Film criticism isn't to objectively what makes a film work or doesn't work.”

      "You have a way with words! Like dull old Stanley!"

      You holocaust-denying freak. Don't you understand that some people intentionally leave out certain words to accentuate the ABSENCE of what should be there.

      Now, it's clear that Keenikanz intentionally left our a word between 'objectively' and 'what'. But why?

      It was to commemorate the holocaust where so many people went missing, and no one noticed for yrs.

      But you lack sensitivity. There you are mocking someone's respect for the holocaust. What kind of freak are you?

      Go back to your den of crazy nazis. It's no wonder you want to bring over all those Africans and Muslims to Europe. You want to use them as New Nazis to kill the Jews.


  8. What the groids have wrought to the West:

    Once great Mark Twain library in Detroit.

    Sheeeeeeeeeiiiiit, what books be?

  9. The problem with some critics is they are too dismissive.

    Now, most works should be dismissed because they aren't any good. Why waste time on the stuff?

    But there are lots of works that, while not entirely successful, have lots of interesting things in them. Problem with critics like Simon and MacDonald is their dismissive temperament or sensibility. Once they feel negativity about a work, they reject the whole thing and refuse to address the redeeming qualities and aspects.
    It's like MacDonald dismissed Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD as 'cops and robbers'. Now, he may have been right that Kurosawa's version simplified the psychological dimensions of Shakespeare's play, but he failed to consider the sheer cinematic force of the film. It may not work as Shakespeare in the dramatic sense but it sure works as cinema.

    Also, Simon could sometimes totally miss the point. Consider his review of Kubrick's THE SHINING. He complained that it didn't plays by the rules of logic in genre horror. But the logic of THE SHINING is more that of a Kafkaesque dream. It's a different kind of Horror.

    1. “He complained that it didn't plays by the rules of logic in genre horror.”
      Nicely put!

  10. how did junk become art?

    Get a load of THIS

  11. Lots of boys here. Not men, boys.

  12. Oddly Pauline Kael and Joan Didion crossed paths in the early Sixties at VOGUE. Kael wrote a movie column there, later moving to McCALLS, eventually to THE NEW YORKER. Didion wrote many pieces at VOGUE including a review of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, saying “it was like being trapped on a dance floor and crooned at by a drunk.” She departed to freelance elsewhere and write fiction.

  13. Elitist, which rightfully should be a term of praise, is derogatory in the quasi-democratic U.S.A.

    But most forms of elitism isn't about quality or meritocracy but about status, vanity, connections, greed, privilege, and snobbery.

    Just look at the EU elites. They will sell their own people down the river to keep their status and attend cocktail parties with the 'right' kind of people.

    Most members of the elite are total shit. Simon should know since he's been railing against corrupt and compromised elites all his life.

    Also, elitism doesn't sit well with humanism. If Simon is truly a humanist, he should find worth in the common man.

    America isn't about equality. It's about winnerism and championism. Not quite the same as elitism. It's more about everything as a kind of sport where winner takes all.

    Anyway, what has the elites given us? Harvard produced all those financial wizards who gave us Wall Street debacle. Ivy League and Deep State elites gave us lies and useless wars that destroyed millions of lives. The current elites of NYT praise garbage like Pussy Riot and some rap musical about Hamilton as a groid.

    And what did the elites do with the arts? Go to any contemporary museum, and it's about the corruption of elites. People don't like that shit. Elites go for that shit and pay big money for it.

    1. Crisis, Frulin Cup, Wonk Berry, Shells Mcthuth, Keenikanz, Otona Lopsickle - different names that yet seem oddly similar? Perhaps many masks for one person? Perhaps a lonely, isolated, frustrated individual? Perhaps disguising his “real” name: Travis Bickle? Perhaps? Perhaps?

      Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!

      Nuff said.

  14. Carlson, you're a cuckolding freak.

    1. This is really boring.

    2. Well, the trading of epithets isn't very interesting. But some of the substantive comments are. As much as I admire Simon's movie criticism, some of his later work was too much focused on plot, and in particular implausibilities in plot. And while Simon displayed erudition and intellectualism in spades in his criticism, I don't think his self-description as an elitist is an apt one. Simon had a lot of disdain for the elitist shapers of taste and standards in cinema and stage, and he relished bringing them down from their high horses. I don't understand the allusions to Simon's "globalist" political views, however. Simon's criticism was rarely overtly political and I am unaware that he has offered his viewpoints on any of the issues that are dominating political discourse today. When he wrote for National Review, I assumed without knowing for sure that he had a conservative political orientation. But that was not because of what he was writing in his film criticism, but instead because of where he was writing it. You would not expect Simon to write for the foremost conservative magazine of that era without sharing at least some of its philosophy.

    3. @artlover >> word.



  17. Mr. Simon didn't seem to like Neil LaBute's films, but I watched two by him in the past month that are amazingly good: 'Lakeview Terrace' (2008), with a shoulda-won-"Best Actor"-perf. by Samuel Jackson; and 'Some Velvet Morning' (2013), with amazing perf's by Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve.

    1. JS liked Nurse Betty, raved about RZ's performance. His description of Betty's "awakening" is why we read him. Like I said in my ditty, JS can make even a lousy movie seem worth watching just so we can savor how well he described it.

    2. I wonder if Mr. Simon liked LaBute's YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS (1998) --- I viddied it last night and thought it was amazingly good.

  18. Hey, maybe all these dark posters are Jim Goad.

  19. Speaking of Stanley Kauffmann, this is from his 1963 review of the film 'This Sporting Life'; this passage describes well methinks the horror of obsessive male "love":

    "His hunger for love, for *her* love, heedless of her condition, drives him to shatter her private sanctities and, in time, to shatter her....It is the story of an emotional need that is converted to egoism by rejection, that destroys what it prizes by insisting on loving without understanding."

  20. Stanley Kauffmann? Squaresville, Nooch, strictly Squaresville. Not only didn’t he get Godard but he didn’t even get the first three Truffaut films, which everyone else on the planet saw as seminal! Or 2001. Or THE GODFATHERS I and II. Or LAST TANGO IN PARIS. Or most of Robert Altman. Or PULP FICTION. He gets points for praising Elaine May’s MIKEY AND NICKY. A few for being a good critic of actors. Few more for editing THE MOVIEGOER and FAHRENHEIT 451. But that’s it.

    1. I like that 1963 Kauffmann quote---it challenges my tendency to look forgivingly on a man who persists in courting a woman despite her lack of interest. I see such persistence as crucial to the continuation of life, but perhaps I'm wrong to do so.

      Kauffmann was born in 1915, so film must not have been part of his early life. He was more of a literary guy, even wrote four or so novels. Not for him being scarred for life from watching LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR as a teen!

      Jim Goad was mentioned above, he just released today a con-Tarantino piece.

    2. My favorite movie critics are Kael and Simon. Does anyone have other recommendations? I love books on film.

    3. “Kauffmann was born in 1915, so film must not have been part of his early life. He was more of a literary guy, even wrote four or so novels.”

      That, Nooch, hits the nail on the head. Especially since “literary” includes theatre where, I believe, Kauffmann’s heart was. Early on he worked in theatre, even casting an unknown Marlon Brando in a children’s play he directed. While still reviewing films at THE NEW REPUBLIC, he was also theatre critic for the SATURDAY REVIEW until it folded in the 1980’s. Famously he was theatre critic for the NY Times for a brief spell in 1966 but walked away over a conflict with his bosses. Imagine that! Quitting the most prestigious theatre critic job in the country! No doubt he was a very intelligent man whose film criticism is filled with perceptive comments. But I wonder if he didn’t secretly regret leaving the Times’ job.

      Here he is with two other theatrical critic stalwarts, Robert Brustein and the irrepressible Eric Bentley who is still going at 101. They’re all a bit gassy but, hell, they have every right to settle some old scores, don’t they?

    4. GIRTH OF A NATION and BATTLESHIP POTOMAC - I'll have to check those two great films out!

  21. "Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger."
    Theodore Roosevelt.