Sunday, December 03, 2006

Steven Boone

5. Filmmaker Don McKellar’s review of the E.T. re-release in The Village Voice showed me how a cheap, snide, glancing, dismissive review of a beloved American classic… can also be right.

4. James Baldwin’s book The Devil Finds Work put everything that infuriates me about classical Hollywood into a handful of scalding essays, and a simple concept: White supremacy is at the core of even Ho'wood's gushiest liberal projects. (I want to dig him up so he can write something on Crash.)

3. Found footage collage films like the sly Rose Hobart (which I watched with my mouth stuck in a grin as a film student), and the psychotic Outer Space (which I watched my mouth hanging open at the ’99 New York Film Festival) showed me that film commentary can be written in actual film language.

2. Armond White’s dis review of Malcolm X in a 1992 issue of the long-gone radical black newspaper The City Sun knocked me to the floor. I was a black kid reading a black writer eviscerating The Black Movie of the Decade in a black newspaper. Balls. And White pinpointed a disappointment with the film I hadn't been able to articulate. He decried Spike’s heavy-handed “look-at-me tropes,” like the shot of those dastardly Klansmen riding off against a moon backdrop. The X review and the bizarre spectacle of full-page Antonioni analysis in a paper read in Harlem barbershops converted me to Whiteism as swiftly as Malcolm succumbed to Islam. After that, I had to read everything this crazy negro had to say. And I learned a hell of a lot.

1. This lucid rant from Ray Carney always chases the complacency cobwebs away.
Steven Boone is a New York-basic critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl is Heavy and the publisher of the pop culture blog Big Media Vandalism.


Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Carney's a towering figure for his scholarship on Cassavetes alone, but this rant, while bracing, is also incredibly reductive and close-minded. His insistence that only Cassavetes-style, actor-and-behavior driven realism can get at the truth just rings false with me; it's too much the guru cracking the whip over his acolytes' heads, and as such, it reminds me of Ayn Rand's essay on how Objectivist philosophy applied to art; it amounted to a long list of artists you weren't allowed to like or respect, and it included Beethoven, Mahler and Rembrandt!

Glad to see Armond's getting some love here. His review of The Color Purple -- reprinted in the 1994 National Society of Film Critics' anthology Love and Hisses -- was a pivotal read for me. It zeroed in on some of the same elements that vexed critics who panned the film -- chiefly, Spielberg's depicting the lesbian relationship in nonpoliticized, mainly emotional terms, and the movie's circa 1941 Hollywood classical appearance -- and built a case for why they were virtues, not flaws. Of Spielberg's John Ford/William Wyler/Orson Welles visuals, Armond said, in essence, "This is the lush 1940s MGM melodrama about black southern life that people of the time were not able to see, and what, exactly, is so wrong about making it?"

10:37 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Steve's got the chops to back it up. He has learned a lot about polemic reviews and rants and it's on full display in every essay he writes. But that's not to say he's simply flying off the handle every time. His appreciation and slap-you-silly reality check appraisal of BLOCK PARTY (& WATTSTAX) is worth a read. I'm sorry for the self-promotion conflict of interest but I just really dig his work -- and it happens to be on my blog. It may not be a part of the blogathon but I think it's perfectly apt for the spirit of Andy's endeavor.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Also, it's a rather weighty issue we welcome any thoughts on in our comments section.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

No problem on my end. In fact, you beat me to the punch linking to more Boone pieces. The one I was going to pick, though was this Fassbinder and Tyler Perry (!).

2:12 PM  
Blogger odienator said...

After that, I had to read everything this crazy negro had to say.

That "crazy negro" is this crazy negro's way of checking his sanity: If I agree with him, I've gone crazy. Still, I can't stop reading him, if only because he never fails to surprise me.

P.S. There are times when I've thought I've gone crazy.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Steven Boone said...


I can't argue that Carney's rant is fair or well reasoned, but the purpose it serves for me is as a line of cocaine. Like Rob Nilsson's drunken anti-everything exhortations in the back of RES magazine or Robert Rodriguez's guerilla filmmaker calls-to-arms, it just gets me going. Such writings get me writing, shooting, fussing, fighting.

On a related Armond tip: A lot of his slash-and-burns would/could/should be of invaluable use to young "urban" filmmakers: "Suppose the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree (who has gained gravity and skill he didn’t have back in 1971, but here is relegated to a smiling old-codger cameo), had reprised Shaft and brought with him some reflection on the past 30 years of racism, police brutality, ghetto nihilism? Paul Newman captured such depth in reprised roles of The Drowning Pool and Twilight. But Hollywood doesn’t allow black artists to create such continuity and exploration. Jackson takes over the Shaft franchise simply to deracinate and dilute it."

I take stuff like the above as my marching orders.

9:30 PM  

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