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Roger's little rule book
November 2, 2008 10:27 PM   Subscribe

It is acceptable, but rarely, to join in a general audience uproar, as at the first Cannes press screening of "The Brown Bunny." Even then, no cupping your hand under your armpit and producing fart noises. Roger Ebert's little rule book.
posted by Knappster (39 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
WTF? I just got done mocking another guy in another thread for the same thing I see Ebert doing here. The "prayer stare" is the affected post you can take for a photograph. When did this become so popular? What's the back story on this?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:06 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is permitted to laugh, or to scream when a movie scares the crap out of you. It's okay to join in the general chuckle after the It's only a cat! moment is over. There was a special amendment forgiving Pauline Kael for saying "Oh! Oh! Oh!" in astonishment.


I find it interesting that being expressive must be specifically mandated, and extra leeway is allowed for Kael, who was probably the only person to successfully embody both theorist and critic.

I totally relate to that weird social problem, of the critic in the theater. In school (I'm an MA student in Critical Studies in Film) the sort of VERY ATTENTIVE mood at screenings that seems to arise from unconscious cinephile phallus-measuring does not work for me, as a shrieker. Jubilance, fandom and engagement are like coffee, I need them to go on with the study. Sometimes I even have to lean to the person next to me and crack wise, or say who someone is so they can go "Oh, yeah!" Christian Metz, the wonderfully taxonomic film theorist, wrote that in order to be a film theorist, you have to first love cinema, and then have done with it. I think Cinema, the experience, and Cinema, the system, are separate in this regard, but even still, the relationship any "professional" has with Cinema is on again, off again, cycling at 24 frames per second.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:06 PM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


"the most affected pose" that is - I'm boiling with rage! My fingers are all sweaty and slippery on the keyboard!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:08 PM on November 2, 2008


Sometimes I even have to lean to the person next to me and crack wise, or say who someone is so they can go "Oh, yeah!"

Sometimes, I like to lean to the person next to me, usually a complete stranger, and say, "You know, it turns out at the end that she's a distant relative of Jesus Christ" or "Actually, he's a ghost right now. He's been dead the entire time."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:13 PM on November 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm not certain, Marisa, but in Ebert's case he may be covering a disfigurement.
posted by maxwelton at 11:17 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Marisa, etc, I'm not trying to change your rage factor, but:

It may be that Ebert is using that pose to hide his scars (please scroll down for thyroid cancer, tracheostomy, salivary gland and jaw surgery, etc.). Or maybe he's just really grateful to be alive and thanking whoever he's thankful to.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:26 PM on November 2, 2008


It may be that Ebert is using that pose to hide his scars (please scroll down for thyroid cancer, tracheostomy, salivary gland and jaw surgery, etc.). Or maybe he's just really grateful to be alive and thanking whoever he's thankful to.

Oh gawd. Well, now I feel like a douche. And I'm glad he's hanging in there; he's one of the few movie critics I've maintained respect for over the decades.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:30 PM on November 2, 2008


Please don't feel bad. He IS hanging in there. :)
posted by lilywing13 at 11:31 PM on November 2, 2008


Sit down, shut up, and pay attention. No cellphone use. No texting during the movie. No talking out loud. No sucking up the last Coke out of the Kidney-Buster.

Good rules for everyone.
posted by pracowity at 11:37 PM on November 2, 2008


Kael, who was probably the only person to successfully embody both theorist and critic.

Hmm. You must have a different set of criteria to me for that, because I think Ebert has generally done a pretty good job of that himself. And a better job of "fan".
posted by rodgerd at 12:10 AM on November 3, 2008


Yeah, and she herself would have hated that label, so I shouldn't presume to talk about her business. I just mean to commend Ebert for so deftly knowing which contexts are appropriate for each. He's taught Film Theory courses, after all, but I can't think of a review he's ever written or even an article, where he busts out apparatus theory or "The Gaze," etc., and I can't think of any contributions to that field he's made. But I'm trying to. Damn, I want to read that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:20 AM on November 3, 2008


The "prayer stare" that Ebert is using in the photo is from an older pic, pre-surgeries.

He looks very different from that photo these days.
posted by newfers at 12:27 AM on November 3, 2008


The "prayer stare" that Ebert is using in the photo is from an older pic, pre-surgeries.

. . .

I'm going to hold out on mocking the prayer stare any further until I see proof.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:14 AM on November 3, 2008


Ebert's blog is interesting in that he gets volumes of comments and they are largely thoughtful. Aside from his writing, which is generally top-notch. He would be very near the top of my list (assuming he could talk, alas) of famous people I'd like to have lunch with, I guarantee I'd learn a ton and have fun doing so.
posted by maxwelton at 2:43 AM on November 3, 2008


I never liked Ebert until his 'blog.' I don't like his writing style as a critic, I don't like his taste in movies. I never liked him when he was on tv with Gene Siskel. Though I liked the show generally I thought he was always full of dumb observations about the wrong things.

Over the last couple of years though I've come to admire the shit out of him. This article is full of all the reasons why.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:37 AM on November 3, 2008


The pose Ebert is affecting in that photo isn't the Prayer Stare. It's a subtle difference, but note that Ebert's hands are partially concealing his face. The true Prayer Stare, as demonstrated by this guy, has the hands lowered and leaves the full face unhidden. Ebert's pose is, in fact, the Brooding Supervillain. Just one more reason why Ebert is awesome.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:11 AM on November 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


Subjects very rarely pick their pose. That's the photographer's job. Subjects like Ebert very rarely get to pick their photographer, or the best shot from the session. That's the publicist's job. As Ebert is the most famous movie critic in America, I think his publicist can be forgiven one cheesy headshot.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:44 AM on November 3, 2008


I like Ebert because he does hold himself to a fairly consistent set of rigors, so that you can count on learning something useful from his reviews whether he likes the film or not.

Movie-going is becoming to cinema what bus-riding is to transportation. For a certain demographic in the age of Blu-ray, going to the movies seems like something that poor people do. Anyone with the means who wants a quality, customizable experience gets themselves a decent home theatre setup these days.

Until a couple years ago I attended the cinema twice per week on average. I quit going to the cinema altogether when Cineplex Odeon ruined my screening of The Dark Knight. With 20 minutes left in the movie, the house lights came on full blast for about a minute. With five minutes left in the movie, the house lights came on and the sound turned off for pretty much the rest of the movie.

When that happened, I went directly from the movie theatre out to buy a Blu-ray player. After that I got a 52 inch LCD panel, calibrated it, and have not been back to the movies since then except to use the free passes they gave me as consolation. With Blu-ray, a big screen, and some decent surround sound, watching movies at home is almost always more enjoyable than going to see something on the big screen.
posted by autodidact at 4:51 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I mean, "than going to see something at the movies."
posted by autodidact at 4:52 AM on November 3, 2008


It's a freakin' pose for a picture. No need to go Hulk and smash angry over it. Not to mention, it has nothing to do with the heart of this post.

As for the rule book, some of it seems rather common sense professionalism that anyone should know should they adopt a reviewer's job. Asking for a photo, autograph, etc, with the person you're interviewing? Not too classy. It's kind of sad if he feels that there's enough film critics out there acting like teenagers who need some basic "duh" advice.
posted by Atreides at 5:39 AM on November 3, 2008


Sit down, shut up, and pay attention. No cellphone use. No texting during the movie. No talking out loud. No sucking up the last Coke out of the Kidney-Buster.

Good rules for everyone.


Good rules for life.
posted by srboisvert at 5:47 AM on November 3, 2008


Now that you point it out, Marisa, I suddenly remember seeing it on the back of a ridiculous number of hardcovers. Someone should do a study on correlation between prayer-pose and amount of 'self-help' material in a book.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:51 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


My Ebert beef: look up and read his review for Hellraiser and ask yourself, "Did he watch the movie, or just skim it?" Because his rattling on about how a real estate agent wouldn't have left the house like this, and that the couple is dumb enough to buy the house anyway makes me ask that question.

It's okay not to "get" certain plot points in a film, but I think for that flick, he just threw it in the VCR and spent the first half hour getting the popcorn just right, because, hey, it's a horror flick and therefore not worthy of serious attention. This would be okay for a guy with a half-hearted blog; it's not okay for a serious reviewer with a TV show and a column.
posted by adipocere at 6:41 AM on November 3, 2008


My Ebert beef: look up and read his review for Hellraiser and ask yourself, "Did he watch the movie, or just skim it?"

Interesting example, because one of the many things that makes Ebert awesome is his love for genre films, and willingness to praise them. Unfortunately, he...um...is not always on the money, I think. I love that he loves the original Dawn of the Dead, for example; I am utterly baffled when it comes to his epic boner for Dark City.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:19 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I am utterly baffled when it comes to his epic boner for Dark City.
That makes two of us. I can see liking the film -- well, no, I can't, but anyway -- but the fact that he likes it to the extent that he did, and that he led his army of fanboys into liking it, makes me seriously question his critical faculties.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2008


Dark City was awesome! Not "I must do a commentary track for this film like I did for Citizen Kane" awesome, but still, pretty fun to watch. It preceeded the Matrix in a lot of ways, mainly making a "comic book" (hate taht term) movie with meticulous composition and framing of every single shot.
posted by autodidact at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2008


making a "comic book" (hate taht term) movie with meticulous composition and framing of every single shot.
You failed to mention some of the worst editing and most embarrassing performances ever committed to celluloid. I was cringing on behalf of Kiefer for a while there. And that poor editor must have been mainlining speed to cut like that.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2008


Well at that point it had the shortest average cut length of any Hollywood feature film, something like 3.4 seconds. It was a deliberate stylistic choice that I enjoyed despite usually favouring long-lasting shots.
posted by autodidact at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2008


Trailers. Have nothing to do with them. Gene Siskel hated them so much he would stand outside a theater until they were over. If he was already seated in the middle of a crowded theater, he would shout "fire!" plug his ears and stare at the floor. Trailers love to spoil all the best gags in a comedy, hint at plot twists in a thriller, and make every film, however dire, look upbeat..

See "Burn After Reading".
posted by docpops at 9:24 AM on November 3, 2008


It's now more than thirty years since my stepfather got catcalled for storming out of the then controversially sexually-explicit Japanese movie Ai No Corrida and he still gets furious about it.

He was - and still is a movie buff who prides himself on being the opposite of a prude. (He's a lovely guy but a bit pompous). He dragged my mother to see Ai No Corrida at an early London art cinema screening in 1976 - and decided after about ten minutes that it was insufferably pretentious. Unfortunately, he chose a very quiet moment during the movie to leave and - according to my mother - made somewhat of a production of it, making snorting noises and generally knocking over people's handbags in the dark.

Some people in the audience started calling out "hahaha - too filthy for you and your wife, is it mister?" and he tried to argue back - rather hotly - that, on the contrary - it wasn't the sex he disliked - it was the obviously feebly moribund erotic cliches - or something. Of course, this just made the rude catcalls ten times worse!

Whenever he tells us (his kids) this story (quite often) we wait until he's finished explaining how you should be able to tell a dreadful movie just from watching the first few scenes, then we ask: "wow - so just how filthy was it?".


I've still never seen it
and the story's probably funnier in my head than in writing!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:43 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


you can count on learning something useful from his reviews whether he likes the film or not

True. It's ironic though: While on the one hand he's arguably one of the best critics out there, he's also responsible for the whole Thumbs Up! baloney that has done nothing but a) cheapen all forms of criticism, and b) widen the chasm between mustachioed inanity and Lacanian beanplating.

Although, to his credit(?), it has become increasingly apparent over the last few years that Ebert's just been randomly awarding his star ratings. I like to think that's a conscious bit of subversion.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:45 AM on November 3, 2008


Though I liked the show generally I thought he was always full of dumb observations about the wrong things.

He was a blogger before his time?
posted by rokusan at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2008


He wrote about rating systems (both thumbs and stars) back in September.
posted by Knappster at 11:32 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am utterly baffled when it comes to his epic boner for Dark City.

I really liked Dark City. But then I live in Birmingham so it was like a sunny day in the park.
posted by srboisvert at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2008


Now that you point it out, Marisa, I suddenly remember seeing it on the back of a ridiculous number of hardcovers.

I think you're on to something about the self-help thing. I've always thought the prayer stare was supposed to convey thoughtfulness, contemplation, and wisdom. Personally, I'd like to see more chinfist.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:17 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only thing behind Roger Ebert's chinfist is another chinfist.

Add me to the list of folks who hate Ebert on TV but has since learned to really like him through his books and online writing. Get the guy out of a five-star, thumbs-up, black and white world and let him really explain himself, and he's much better.
posted by rokusan at 1:25 PM on November 3, 2008


Yeah, trailers suck. I went with some friends to see "Truman" and I was the only one who actually saw the secret revealed on-screen. My friends had already had the main plot device spoiled from seeing the trailer (and weren't too happy about it). Even they were polite enough not to reveal anything to me.
posted by telstar at 2:41 PM on November 3, 2008


but I can't think of a review he's ever written or even an article, where he busts out apparatus theory

Best left in the seventies where it belongs, in my view. Showing a camera in shot is no longer the fin du fin of materialism. Ditto Metz's grand syntagmatique.

Also, speaking of the snows of yesteryear, with Godard, you get the critic, the fan, the theorist and the filmmaker in the same packet.
posted by Wolof at 3:16 PM on November 3, 2008


This New York Times article about why author photos are so bad ran back in the early 90s, but sadly it remains relevant fifteen years later.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:29 PM on November 4, 2008


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