the weather underground (sam green and bill siegel, 2002)
rescue me, ally

owen gleiberman

There's a terrific interview at with Entertainment Weekly movie critic Owen Gleiberman. I read EW every week, and I use their movie grades as one component of the decision-making process whereby I decide what to watch. Having said that, I think I've harbored an unrecognized snobbery about EW, because when I saw that Gleiberman was being interviewed, my first thought was "who cares about some EW critic?"

I was wrong. Gleiberman is entertaining and articulate in his interview, and I very much appreciated learning more about him and his work. The interview is just the thing to make future readings of his writing something to look forward to beyond checking the grade he gives. I have been working under the assumption that Gleiberman wrote reviews; now I see he's been writing criticism all along. My bad ... I look forward to rectifying my mistake.

Here are some good excerpts:

Pauline was more than a great critic. She re-invented the form, and pioneered an entire aesthetic of writing. She was like the Elvis or the Beatles of film criticism. Yet part of the complexity of her personality is that she was a pathological truth teller on the page who was capable of deep manipulation as a human being. She needed to be surrounded by admirers, and she knew just how to play them....

[S]ome of my best friends are rock critics, and I salute their valiant attempt to treat pop music as an art form like any other--that is, one you could theoretically be writing about when you're 85. But I also feel their secret pain, because let's be honest: You have a fundamentally different relation to the hormones, the anarchic smash, the whole youth/fashion/rebel-yell essence of rock & roll when you're in your 20s compared to your late 40s. Oddly enough, rock critics who thrive in the profession well into middle age often end up becoming more enthusiastic as they get older--it's as if they were scared of being left out of the next big thing. Suddenly, you've got these geezer geeks climbing over each other to see who can most fully embrace the band that's too cool for the room. It's not that I think they're dishonest, exactly, but that their enthusiasm can seem awfully academic....

I would say that I'm the TV equivalent of an art-house snob, in that I have an utter reverence for a lot of the stuff on HBO, to the point that it's ruined me for everything else. I mean, really, after you've plugged into Curb Your Enthusiasm, a comedy that's willing to touch the third rail of hilarity and truth, how much patience are you going to have for Everybody Loves Raymond? I'm as obsessed a fan of The Sopranos as you'll find, and that just makes it all the harder for me to accept the "edge" of, say, C.S.I. Of course, one of the things that makes The Sopranos such an anomaly is that on cable it's a major American cultural event, yet if it were a movie it would be an acclaimed indie struggling to make $18 million....

So what's the problem? Let me violate the ultimate critic's taboo and say: It's the audience. At the megaplex, everyone is addicted to fantasy and special effects and mad-dog action and so-dumb-it's-smart comedy, and with rare exceptions they won't turn out for anything else. Some of the films I'm talking about are superb--I'm not knocking escapism--but the lifeblood of movies, at least to me, is that they reflect back to us the drama of our own lives. Not the cartoon version of how we wish things would be, but the beauty of how they are. If movies stop doing that for the mass audience, then they stop being collective dreams. And we'll all be the emptier for it.


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