Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Triumph of Derrièrism

Last year I identified an important new school of film criticism, which I called “derrièrism,” since all schools of film criticism are supposed to have French names. Derrièrists are inspired by Jack Warner (though some say it was Harry Cohn), who once said that he judged movies by whether his ass shifted in the seat while he was watching them. Like Warner (or Cohn), a derrièrist film critic judges movies by his ass. As I wrote last year: "Derrièrists are tired of liberal elites telling us what is good for us. They are tired of movies that are depressing and pretentious and difficult." At the time Variety magazine hailed derrièrism as “provocative” theory and said my piece “represents to some degree the thinking of the younger male online film community that recently voted for their Top 100 films,” whose virtues I extolled in my piece. While derrièrism was once an esoteric school of film criticism championed by a few forward-thinking critics, this year it has triumphed. Not only has Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Hollywood critic behind Breitbart.com, announced that he will start a new website, Big Hollywood, which promises to be a hotbed of derrièrist film criticism, such respected film critics as Roger Ebert and the critics at Cahiers du Cinema have jumped on the derrièrist bandwagon.

Breitbart’s site will feature film reviews and criticism from some of this country’s leading derrièrist film critics, people like House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, Reps. Thaddeus McCotter, Mary Bono Mack and Connie Mack, former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, MSNBC correspondent Tucker Carlson and conservative commentators Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and others. According to The Hill, “If Boehner, for instance, sees a movie, ‘I’d like for him … to do a movie review,’ Breitbart says. ‘Not everything is going to be a political dissertation,’ he says. In that vein, Cantor spokesman Rob Collins says he could see his boss writing a post on the television shows his three teenage children watch and how those programs affect them.” Breitbart wants to bring back the kind of crowd-pleasing movies Hollywood used to make, which encouraged people to pay their credit card bills on time. “The movies used to reinforce good behavior — that you should pay back your loans,” he says, apparently thinking of such films as The Grapes of Wrath, It's a Wonderful Life and Salt of the Earth. Because Breitbart's site will not pay its writers that should encourage good behavior like thrift.

Breitbart also wants Big Hollywood to change the image of conservatives in Hollywood, where they are cruelly oppressed. “We’re not bigoted, homophobic, racist, sexist monsters,” says the new blog’s editor-in-chief, John Nolte, the proprietor of Dirty Harry's Place. Nolte, who says that gay marriage “has nothing to with ‘rights’ and everything to do with hate, the tearing down of tradition, and seeking yet another excuse to attack conservatives and religion,” and who wrote after J.K. Rowling outted Dumbledore, “English and Gay is like Japan and China: you can’t really tell the difference,” is known for his trenchant film criticism. Although he has never seen such minor, really old movies as City Lights and The Passion of Joan of Arc, that hasn’t stopped him from weighing in on such important questions of film scholarship as whether Deuce Bigelow or The Searchers is the best film ever made.

While Big Hollywood should be a welcome relief from critics who think they know a lot about movies just because they have seen a lot of them, even some of the most respected film critics in the world have succumbed to derrièrism and are pulling film criticism out of their asses. Roger Ebert has seen his influence wane since he left At the Movies and was replaced by hipper, younger derrièrist critic Ben Lyons, who called I Am Legend “one of the greatest movies ever made” and named Superbad, which he just happened to have an acting role in, one of the ten best movies of last year. Then in October of this year Ebert joined the ranks of derrièrist critics with a big splash. He wrote a savage one-star review of the gay film Tru Loved after sitting through only eight minutes of it. It was only at the end of the review that he revealed he hadn’t watched the whole thing or even very much of it, so if readers got bored and decided they didn’t want to sit through Ebert’s entire review, they wouldn’t know how much of the movie he hadn't seen. Although Ebert’s editor wanted him to disclose this fact at the beginning of the review, Ebert argued that it would ruin his carefully constructed artistic prose if he did that. “I thought that would have made the review anticlimactic,” he said.

Ebert was slammed by some critics such as Margaret Nowak, who gave a derrièrist critique of Ebert’s derrièrist review: “After learning that Roger Ebert defends writing a full-column review based on an 8-minute scrap of film, I don't feel so bad about not reading movie reviews. I give a cursory glance to the score rating the movie received, and move on.” Ebert, however, was not amused: “I find it charming that Margaret Nowak was able to arrive at her scorched-earth opinion of me without reading either the review in question OR my linked blog entry that was posted simultaneously with the review on the same page.” He called her review of his review a “cheap shot.” If Nowak had just spent eight minutes reading the beginning of Ebert's review, she might have seen the error of her ways.

Unfortunately, under pressure from anti-derrièrists, Ebert eventually apologized for the review, watched the movie and wrote a new review. Derrièrist Ann Althouse was disappointed by Ebert’s capitulation to the anti-derrièrist mob, writing, “Walking out is an important form of judgment.” Althouse is one of the leading proponents of the idea that you don’t have to see or read something or really know much about it at all to criticize it, which has given hope to other aspiring critics who, like her, have the attention span of a two-year-old.

Unlike Ebert, Cahiers du Cinema had the courage of its convictions and defended its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. Abandoning its support of the tired old theory of auteurism, the critics at Cahiers put together a list steeped in derrièrism, which included not a single boring Tarkovsky film or any British movies at all, relegating such tedious efforts as Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia, The Third Man, and The Red Shoes to Le ashbin de l'histoire.

But it wasn’t just snooty French critics who embraced derrièrism. Entertainment Weekly published a list of 100 “classics” of the last 25 years that included only six excrutiatingly dull foreign movies. By redefining the word classic, EW was telling us that we don’t have to bother watching dreary old movies when we can watch such new and improved “classics” as The Breakfast Club, Naked Gun, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Ghostbusters instead. Meanwhile, Premiere.com, which started out as the website for a print magazine whose articles no one ever finished, this year introduced a new and improved template for film reviews made up of what bitter former Premiere writer Glenn Kenny calls “thematic modules.” But even Kenny could not resist the derrièrist onslaught and gave this ground-breaking approach to reviewing a shot, applying it to one of the most boring films ever made, Au Hasard Balthazar:

"The Pitch: A donkey in provincial France gets passed from owner to owner until it, like, dies.
What It Really Is: Apparently, a "meditation" on life, suffering, and grace, and that kind of stuff….
Can We Be Serious For A Moment?: Seriously? What this movie really needed was for Andy Samberg as Mark Wahlberg to show up and have a nice little chat with Balthazar."

Kenny has a long way to go before he reaches the scholarly heights of one of the deans of derrièrist film critics, John Podhoretz. Podhoretz didn’t bother to see Stop-Loss, yet another anti-war-in-Iraq movie, before he reviewed it because what would be the point? “It is high time to cease the armchair analysis of those who refuse to attend war-in-Iraq movies and ask them directly to explain their behavior,” writes Podhoretz, who then moves from the armchair to the divan to begin his analysis by interviewing himself. “I'm about to turn 47. I have seen thousands of movies in my time. Life is too short to spend even two hours in a theater watching Stop-Loss. Its virtues are, I expect, that it is very well made, with vivid scenes of terrifying battles in the streets of Karbala or Falluja--and touching moments of reconciliation. There's probably a well-done scene in or just outside a Wal-Mart. Its failings are that it tells a schematic story that stacks the deck.” Podhoretz was able to figure all this out from “three trailers and a few minutes watching Showbiz Tonight.” Podhoretz also wrote an entire column extolling the virtues of watching movies on an iPod: “Say you're watching a bad or boring movie on a subway train, a movie you nonetheless want to get to the end of. A distraction or two is not a bad thing; the movie turns into a radio show for a moment as you survey the other passengers. And if a homeless guy comes through asking you to help him in the name of Jesus, you can turn right back to the iPod, confident he will pass you by.” Isn’t that what movies are for anyway, to distract you from homeless people?

Sadly, one of the great proponents of derrièrism, Libertas, went defunct this year, but not before its founder Jason Apuzzo denounced the film WALL-E, which attacked everything derrièrism stands for. “Conservatives are understandably up in arms about what is apparently depicted in this film,” wrote Apuzzo before he had actually seen it. In the film humanity is depicted as a bunch of dim-witted, materialistic couch potatoes, which derrièrist film critics saw as a personal attack on their lifestyles.

Patrick Goldstein said the film slandered “the American way of life.” “If Michael Moore, or Oliver Stone, or, God forbid, some effete French director, had crafted a feature film that was a thinly disguised political broadside portraying Americans as recumbent tubbos who moved around on sliding barcaloungers with built-in video screens and soft drinks always at the ready, don’t you think there’d be some sort of notice taken?” wrote Bill Wyman, who is no film theorist. “I’m no film theorist, but I think what director Andrew Stanton is trying to tell us is that we humans eat so much and limit our movements to such a degree that we will soon become immobile whales unable to focus past the video screens permanently affixed in front of our field of vision.” Shannen Coffin lamented, “From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind.” And a reader of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism blog helpfully pointed out the film’s fascistic elements, such as the use of the color red, which was one of the colors on the Nazi flag and should never be used in a film unless accompanied by the colors white and blue.

Next year promises to be even better for derrièrism as many critics realize, like John Miller, that you don’t actually have to sit through all four hours of Ché to attack it. And who really wants to see crazy left-wing actor Sean Penn kiss a guy in Milk no matter how good his performance is supposed to be? I’m sure most critics would rather watch over and over again the oiled-up, musclebound actors of 2006's 300, a “classic” that brought back the “lost art of cinematic masculinity,” according to John Nolte, and wasn’t the least bit homoerotic no matter what left-wingers say. Why doesn’t Hollywood make classic movies like 300 anymore?

Crossposted at Newcritics

Update: The left-wing New York Times weighs in. And Roger Ebert replies: "The acid test of the ancient distributor's definition of a great picture--'a tukkus on every seat.'" Meanwhile, Josh Taylor writes "Note To Awards Givers: Ignore The Dark Knight At Your Own Peril," which may come to be known as one of the great manifestos of derrièrism: "Film critics can no longer afford to champion pet films which no one has ever seen, at the expense of what even they have to know is probably the better film. Here’s why: They’re all about to be out of a job....For print critics, a vote against The Dark Knight is a vote for your own irrelevancy. It’s a vote for the unemployment line."

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36 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Dude, what's the dealio with this elitist French cinema criticism shit? Why do you hate America?

Anonymous said...

Truth be told, I rather like a philosophy of film criticism that requires no effort whatever, even to watch a couple of hours of film.

parsec

Anonymous said...

I regret that I'm over-qualified to respond in that I accidentally read the entire post. I have no idea what caused such an attention span. I was even sitting. My deepest apologies.

yellojkt said...

The new At The Movies is way more pretentious than the classic Ebert version. The have changed the great Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down to Watch It/Rent It/Skip It. Who needs that kind of complexity?

Clark said...

I believe I will follow Mr. Swift's lead and begin to write book reviews without actually reading books.

Derrierist literary criticism.

Bukko_in_Australia said...

I have never liked derrierist reviews because they give me bum advice.

You still don't get it? Bum -- as in English slang for "derriere"? Bloody hopeless Yanks!

Bukko_in_Australia said...

Let me add that I read many of those blogs and reviews that the Hon. Rev. Swift linked to. (I'm working a midnight shift in hospital, and none of my patients are on the verge of dying, so I had time to kill, so to speak.) To quote some movie that I forgot most of, except the cool helicopter part, "The horror! The horror!"

I often forget how much horribly turgid prose there is in the blogosphere, because I do not read much of it besides Jon Swift and Matt Drudge. I pity Swifty, because he seems to have violated his book-review pledge and actually read the tedious things he linked to, and God knows what else that was so much worse that it didn't merit a mention.

Dear Lord, Mr. Swift -- help heal your brain! I reckon it's time for another month off between posts after the atrocities you've seen.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

By redefining the word classic, EW was telling us that we don’t have to bother watching dreary old movies when we can watch such new and improved “classics” as The Breakfast Club, Naked Gun, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Ghostbusters instead.

And that's why they call it Entertainment Weakly.

Clark said...

Anyway I thought we were having a war on derrierism.

kathleenmaher said...

What about those of us who feel compelled, often several times during a movie, to shift a good deal more than from one butt cheek to the other?
If someone really kind of squirms compulsively, are they booted out of the conservative camp?

Anonymous said...

It was in the old "Insight" magazine that John Podhoretz once wrote: "Judge Reinhold is the closest thing to Buster Keaton that we have."

Entropy said...

Undoubtedly, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Ghostbusters" are not "classics." Among the films, though, I'm sure you could have chosen two others, much more deserving of a bashing.

Hilarious post, nonetheless.

CrackerLilo said...

Breitbart's new movie review blog sounds great!

“We’re not bigoted, homophobic, racist, sexist monsters,” says the new blog’s editor-in-chief, John Nolte, the proprietor of Dirty Harry's Place.

I am so glad he clarified this. Otherwise, I might have been led to believe otherwise by PC Hollywood liberals! Thank you for telling the other side of the story!

I see only one problem. Movies may contain wonderful messages about thrift eventually, but it will take years to filter down to the masses. Too many people are cutting down on theater attendance, curbing it altogether, or dumping premium cable movie channels, thereby ruining the effectiveness of these good, moral messages.

J. said...

Dunno if Rod Blagojevich is a derrierist, but he is certainly an ass -- and shifty. Can a bio-pic on the Gov. of Illinois be far behind?

DavidEhrenstein said...

WALL-E is the most derriereist film ever made becuase it's a feature-lngth tribute to the Babs-starred, gene Kelly-directed megaflop Hello Dolly!

Sabelle said...

Le ashbin de l'histoire.

Ok. I fell off my chair laughing. The person at the next computer is eying me with some concern, given all the snorting.

Jon, you are back in my good graces again {after your fall from grace due to advocating feline deaths} and I feel you to be a real inspiration in my life. Sad, I know. Such an empty existence.

Anyhow, back to the point --

I'll take up Derrierist Restaurant Reviews of eateries I have never eaten in. Perhaps in my future, a Derrierist Travel Guide to Francophone and Francophobe Countries even. Yay. My life has a purpose. And Jon is again, beautiful and worthy for future proposals of matrimony.

Batocchio said...

Please keep these coming!

I'm disappointed by Ebert, because he has championed many an indie and foreign film. I guess he took Matt Groening's "How to Be a Clever Film Critic" too much to heart. At least he finally copped to his mistakes.

(And speaking of classic cinema, I actually just reviewed a Kurosawa exhibit out here in L.A....)

Jon Swift said...

No need to fear self-promoting on this blog. Here is a link to Mr. Batocchio's Kurosawa piece, for anyone not bored of dead Japanese directors.

James Higham said...

While Big Hollywood should be a welcome relief from critics who think they know a lot about movies just because they have seen a lot of them, even some of the most respected film critics in the world have succumbed to derrièrism and are pulling film criticism out of their asses.

Chuckle.

Shannon said...

Say - aren't you famous? Your name sounds very familiar....

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Grace Nearing said...

May I humbly suggest a subset of the derrierists -- the réservoirs souples dilatés, or dilatés for short? These are cineastes who consume 64 ounces of carbonated beverages either immediately before entering the cinema or during the coming attractions.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
Truth be told, I rather like a philosophy of film criticism that requires no effort whatever, even to watch a couple of hours of film.

parsec

12/09/2008 8:08 PM"


Note, ParsecAnonymous, that you share your general philosophy of criticism, as others have reminded us, with Jonny Swift himself.

Jonny: " ... you don't necessarily have to read books to review them, you would think that Amazon would be more appreciative of my work ..."

Now don't tell us that movie reviewers aren't entitled to the same latitude bloggers like Jon are. It's all just entertainment anyway.

Eight minutes of actual movie review, versus no pages read ...

I guess Jon just forgot about his own principles.

Unless it's somehow a different standard for Jon when buggers are involved.

By the way, anything satirical on Rahm Emmanuel appear here lately?

No?

Well, that in itself is good for a laugh ...

Keep up the wooden work, Jon.

Batocchio said...

You're too kind, Mr. Swift. Cheers.

Tuchus maven said...

Oy vey ist mir! This fahrblondzet goy Ebert knows bupkus about spelling Yiddish words in English. Perhaps he's better in Hebrew. But even my dog knows it's spelled "tuchus."

Anonymous said...

It was Harry Cohn. Herman Mankiewicz famously said, Imagine the world wired to Harry Cohn's ass."

Micgar said...

I don't know, Jon. I am getting the feeling that these critics are full of it. I mean, they stink. They're asses about this stuff-making cracks about movies. They are anal about their cause,I will give them that!

Micgar said...

In addition, there are numerous large gaping holes in their theories. I think that those asinine theories need to be wiped out!

Matt said...

The problem with Derrièrist film critics is the only movies they will like will either be G rated Disney films or glorified violent movies. Everything else they hate. In other words, Derrièrists are snobs.

Anonymous said...

Just give me lots of crashes, guns, talking animals, explosions, blood spurts, fart- and/or penis- and/or tit- and/or ass-jokes, two-second jump edits and good patriotic Americans kicking the shit out of terrorists, and my derriere will be way happy.

James Higham said...

Merry Christmas, Jon and may you have a relaxing time.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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