Thursday, February 17, 2005

NOTES FROM THE TRENCHES: Dargis, Lumet, Poland and Eastwood

I used to have such issues with Manohla Dargis when she wrote for the L.A. Weekly. Though she never approached the level of pugilistic contrarianism that informs much of Armond White's criticism, it always seemed to me that she frequently tried too hard to wear her hipster credentials on her sleeve in some of her off-the-cuff remarks. But either Dargis is getting better, or I am, because since she left for the Los Angeles Times two years ago, and since arriving at the New York Times, for whom she currently writes, Dargis' writing has been, while not always 100% agreeable, a lot like a breath of fresh air in a film culture of TV blockheads and junket whores. In her current assessment of the career of Sidney Lumet, who is to receive an honorary Oscar at this year's Academy Awards ceremony, she probably has Pauline Kael in mind, but it's hard to imagine she's not including her past self in the group of critics she describes here:

"Film critics like to champion the humanism of artists like Jean Renoir, as if their genius - and historical distance - gave us license to applaud their decency. It is no small irony that many of those same critics, many of whom lean to the left, are often tougher on filmmakers like Mr. Lumet, whose artistry doesn't always match their good intentions. We mock the do-gooders even as we refuse to take issue with the dehumanizing violence and various "isms" that passes for entertainment on our screens. Politics may be cool, at least in documentaries, but forget about social engagement, fighting the good fight, moral outrage."

Dargis's writing has really become, for me, one of the high points of American film criticism, and her levelheaded Lumet piece is just one more reason why.

And the op-ed browbeating over Million Dollar Baby marches on. David Poland, in today's Hot Button column makes a pretty eloquent case against the narrow-minded reductivism currently blowing hard against Eastwood's film. He takes "Maggie Gallagher's remarkably bent piece" lucidly to task, and pointedly wonders, regarding her column and, by extension, this entire type of argument, "How much less interested in a real discussion can you get?" Good question, one that cuts to the heart of the kind of circus tent shout-down that seems to have replaced cogent, intuitive thinking (and listening, and perceiving) in the entertainment press, as well as the media as a whole.


Thom McGregor said...

Hey, Stoogie, he's writing about Million Dollar Baby again. What are you gonna do about it? Huh? Huh?

Anonymous said...

Alas, I don't wanna register with the NY Times, so I'll take your word for it that it's a good piece. I realize when looking at IMDb that I have seen a number of Lumet's films. It is an impressive body of work, one that has been overlooked for too long. The academy has done a good job in going back to honor the likes of Lumet and Blake Edwards, the solid craftsmen of the film trade.

Somewhere I once heard someone describe a Lumet movie as one where you are in a small office and you hear a commotion in the hallway outside, and it gets louder, and it's a man shouting at the top of his lungs, and then the door burst open and the man enters the office and proceeds to shout at the top of his lungs and then he leaves, slamming the door behind him, and you can hear him, still shouting, as he goes back down the hall.

You think it's a safe bet that Peter Finch's "I'm mad as hell" speech is the clip they play just before Sidney comes out on stage?