Telling lies about Poliwood
November 10, 2009 7:34 PM   Subscribe

As I write this, I realize I am about to do something that, for the most part, is never done. I am going to criticize a critic. Filmmakers are never supposed to respond to a critic about their work. It's an unspoken rule of engagement. But in this case, I feel compelled.

Barry Levinson (film maker) versus Alessandra Stanley (TV critic for the New York Times) on the topic of her getting her facts WRONG about his latest film Poliwood an "essay" which looks at celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Apparently, this is not the first time Ms. Stanley has got it wrong, wrong, wrong.
posted by philip-random (54 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
[criticism]

Q: What's less relevant than celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions?

A: A documentary about celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

[/criticism]
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:40 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


ZenMasterThis, I got one for ya.

How about a bitchy critique to a critique of a documentary about celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions?

The first three or four paragraphs made me intensely disinterested in the topic.
posted by pmv at 7:42 PM on November 10, 2009


[criticism]

Q: What's less relevant than celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions?

A: A documentary about celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

B: Criticism of a documentary about celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

C: A criticism of a the criticism of a documentary about celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

D: This post.

E. All of the above.

[/criticism]
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:44 PM on November 10, 2009


dammit pmv.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:45 PM on November 10, 2009


Obvious joke is obvious.

You still saved it with D and E, Lutoslawski ;).
posted by pmv at 7:46 PM on November 10, 2009


This is beneath you, Mr. Levinson. I have NEVER seen an artist come out looking by better by responding to anything written or said about him, no matter how vicious the critique was.

The most brilliant thing Sam Goldwyn ever said was, "Don't listen to your critics. Don't even ignore them."
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:50 PM on November 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Q: What's less relevant than celebrity involvement in the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions?

The hurt feelings of the auteur that gave us RV?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:53 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought there would be choreographed dancing.


I am disappointed.
posted by oddman at 7:54 PM on November 10, 2009


This is beneath you, Mr. Levinson. I have NEVER seen an artist come out looking by better by responding to anything written or said about him, no matter how vicious the critique was.

Yeah, well I'd agree normally, but look at the bottom of this article. I don't really read Stanley's work, but I sure am hell aren't going to trust the writing of a writer who can't get, among other things, the date of MLK's assassination wrong. And this is an article written right after Cronkite's death, almost like a semi-obit? Geez. In that context, I can see how a response would make total sense.
posted by suedehead at 8:02 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


At least Rob Schneider ponies up for the full page ad. And he sucks in ways Levinson can only dream of achieving.
posted by mikoroshi at 8:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I sure am hell aren't going to trust the writing of a writer who can't get, among other things, the date of MLK's assassination wrong

As any U2 fan knows, it's "early morning, April 4".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:05 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


While I don't believe an artist should ever call out a critic because they disagree with the critic's opinion, if a critic has their facts wrong, they are fair game. And I say this as a critic.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:07 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nobody cares.
posted by unSane at 8:15 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Nobody cares.

I care.

*clicks link*

No, nevermind. The "factual inaccuracy" is that she didn't get the point of his film, apparently. I imagine that is how every single artist who has criticism levied against them feels, and it's still a bad idea to whine about it.
posted by cj_ at 8:30 PM on November 10, 2009


He should have challenged her to a boxing match. That is what civilized media people do.
posted by birdherder at 8:34 PM on November 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't wish to cherry-pick a critical line of hers from within her overall review, but it is the opening sentence.

That was a pretty good jab.
posted by dhartung at 8:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Levinson's essay is tedious and whiny, but the CJR catalog of Stanley's errors is interesting.
posted by brain_drain at 8:41 PM on November 10, 2009


That wrong, wrong, wrong link is full of journalistic WTF. The NYT is one of the most sought-after journalism jobs in the world. How the hell is someone this sloppy still working there? The freaking Nashville Tennessean wouldn't tolerate a correction that large without some kind of punishment.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:42 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


The NYT is one of the most sought-after journalism jobs in the world. How the hell is someone this sloppy still working there?

Well, she's good at it. Being wrong that is.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 PM on November 10, 2009


The NYT is one of the most sought-after journalism jobs in the world. How the hell is someone this sloppy still working there?

Consider that Tom Friedman is still working there. That says it all.
posted by grounded at 8:59 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I sympathize with Levinson, but when he says that rule is "unspoken"? It's spoken ALL THE FUCKING TIME, because it's true.

middleclasstool, prestigious doesn't mean they don't suck.
posted by shetterly at 9:02 PM on November 10, 2009


Alessandra Stanley has an inexcusable history of blatant factual errors, but Levinson's essay accuses her of "fraudulent" statements when it appears that she just didn't get his film's thesis.

So basically I don't know who to root against here.
posted by lalex at 9:02 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pieces like Levinson's drive me away from the Huffington Post. What a stupid use of a platform like that.
posted by mediareport at 9:11 PM on November 10, 2009


Consider that Tom Friedman is still working there. That says it all.

God, he is the worst thing in the NYT, isn't he? Christ even David Brooks critiques of his own made-up facts about everything are better than Friedman's usual distillation of some complex phenomena into three words. The sad part is he's not talking down to you, he actually believes the essence of things can be meaningfully distilled into three words.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:47 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Optimus Chyme covered this in an earlier thread, but I'm grateful for Thomas Friedman. Without him, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of reading Matt Taibbi's viciously accurate takedowns or the dead-on classic "Create Your Own Thomas Friedman Column".

If Thomas Friedman didn't exist, I hope someone would make him up.
posted by lalex at 10:10 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


As I write this, I realize I am about to do something that, for the most part, is never done. I am going to criticize a critic. Filmmakers are never supposed to respond to a critic about their work. It's an unspoken rule of engagement.

Since when has this applied to documentary films? Documentary filmmakers respond to their critics all the time. A large part of Michael Moore's website is him responding to his critics.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:14 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with so many critics is that the criticism too-often circles around to being about them. They take themselves seriously; this is always a mistake, because that kind of criticism smacks of intellectual inferiority (as in Inferiority Complex), meaning the critic has something to prove. The latter is death to good criticism. Criticism itself can be an art form, but self-prepossession in criticism comes off as amateurish, and not at all shedding light on the subject of the criticism. It's just as hard to create a great critical piece as a great work of art; that's why good critics, like good artists, are rare.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:05 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


When Wolcott Gibbs, an ancillary member of the Algonquin Roundtable, became theater critic for The New Yorker in 1938, he answered all letters criticizing his work with a form letter:

Dear Sir:
You may be right.
Sincerely,
Wolcott Gibbs.
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:14 AM on November 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


why can't artists be involved in criticism? This seems very strange.
posted by honest knave at 2:28 AM on November 11, 2009


That has the ring to it of that email you sent to your boss that you wish you didn't
posted by mattoxic at 3:10 AM on November 11, 2009


That was really poorly written, on Levinson's part. I like his movies, though, so I'll just ignore his little foray into, uh, whateverthefuckingpointofthiswas.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:28 AM on November 11, 2009


As most of the articles state, everyone makes mistakes. However, one item from this long list of Stanley-column corrections (covering only four years) jumped out at me;
July 23, 2004
The TV Watch column in Weekend yesterday gave an incorrect cable channel in some copies for ''John Kerry: Bringing the War Home,'' on Sunday night. It will be on MSNBC, as shown in the program listing, not on ESPN.
That a TV critic, of all people, would mistakenly have that program on a sports network is pretty amazing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:49 AM on November 11, 2009


The hurt feelings of the auteur that gave us RV?

Wrong Barry. RV was by Barry Sonnenfeld.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:01 AM on November 11, 2009


Consider that Tom Friedman is still working there. That says it all.God, he is the worst thing in the NYT, isn't he? Christ even David Brooks critiques of his own made-up facts about everything are better than Friedman's usual distillation of some complex phenomena into three words. The sad part is he's not talking down to you, he actually believes the essence of things can be meaningfully distilled into three words.

I wrote that last night. This morning I grab my Blackberry and scan the NYT. Friedman's column is entitled "Trains, Trucks and Trees."
posted by Ironmouth at 5:48 AM on November 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


While I don't believe an artist should ever call out a critic because they disagree with the critic's opinion, if a critic has their facts wrong, they are fair game.

I agree with the principle, but it's irrelevant to this particular case, as Levinson fails to identify even one factual error in Stanley's review of Poliwood.

[From Levinson's piece] WARNING: to any thin-skinned filmmaker, get out of this line of work quickly or you'll die a hemophiliac.

I can only hope that Levinson never attempts to make a medical documentary.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:12 AM on November 11, 2009


Someone who makes that many mistakes should not have a job as a writer, 'opinion' or 'critic' or whatever. It shows an appalling lack of engagement in what she's writing about. If I can't trust you to get simple facts right, I cannot trust you to have any sort of informed opinion. Plus you can't write well. Its simple. People who write well take the time to check their facts. Especially when they are crucial to the piece they are writing.

I pretty much don't care about Levinson.
posted by sandraregina at 6:28 AM on November 11, 2009


I can't remember the last time I would have been surprised to hear that The New York Times is an indifferent fact checker. But it would have been sometime before Judith Miller. And that was quite a while ago. So you can add a "noshitsherlock" tag to this.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:42 AM on November 11, 2009


His point is she didn't WTFM, as she talked about the wrong campaign, fair enough.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:55 AM on November 11, 2009


why can't artists be involved in criticism? This seems very strange.

They often are; at least in major book reviews, other authors are often the ones writing reviews. But a big reason that artists aren't involved in criticism more widely, as has been mentioned upthread, is that most of them would be terrible at it. I'm a musician, and I know more than a few really fantastic players, composers, conductors, etc., and could count on one hand the ones I'd trust as critic.

But perhaps the biggest reason is that artistic circles, even among prominent, successful artists, are very small. How long would I survive being publicly critical of people I will likely have to work with at some point in the future? Or whose opinion of me might impact my career?
posted by LooseFilter at 8:02 AM on November 11, 2009


A large part of Michael Moore's website is him responding to his critics.

Doesn't Moore confine himself to facts about his subjects, not facts about his work? I think this may be one of the exceptions that proves the rule.

why can't artists be involved in criticism? This seems very strange.

Because no matter how well you do it, you'll look like a whiny baby. It's a total lose-lose situation. It's like the rule about wrestling with pigs.
posted by shetterly at 8:03 AM on November 11, 2009


Wow, the huffpo gave space to a whiny hollywood D-Lister to vent about his personal bugaboo?

I'm shocked.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


a whiny hollywood D-Lister

Um... Wow. you know less about Levinson than Stanley if you're making statements like that.

Let's just look at the movies he's directed, not the ones he's produced or written, shall we? A subset of those includes:

Diner
The Natural
Young Sherlock Holmes
Good Morning Vietnam
Rain Man
Avalon
Bugsy
Toys
Sleepers
Wag The Dog

He's hardly a "D-Lister" as you call him.
posted by hippybear at 9:28 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wrong Barry. RV was by Barry Sonnenfeld.

[facepalm] I looked at that several times and still got that wrong. I really do know the difference.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:23 AM on November 11, 2009


Wrong Barry. RV was by Barry Sonnenfeld.

And I'm standing by my favoriting of the original comment ... because it made me laugh, and that cannot be taken back.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2009


> He should have challenged her to a boxing match duel with cavalry broadswords in a pit. That is what civilized media people do.
posted by Minus215Cee at 11:22 AM on November 11, 2009


Alessandra Stanley is the worst newspaper writer ever. Every single time she writes an article or review, there is at least one substantive error that requires an entry in the "Corrections" later on.

I have no idea how she keeps her job. Did she save the entire Sulzberger family from drowning or something?

That said, this makes Barry Levinson look like an abject douchenozzle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:39 AM on November 11, 2009


Also, none of us namby-pamby modern journalists would survive a day in Mark Twain's time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


CORRECTION: For "namby-pamby", read "niminy-piminy".
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:42 AM on November 11, 2009


I refuse to entertain a single argument about how tough it is for the mainstream media until Alessandra Stanley is fired. She is proof that there is too much fat in the budget.
posted by palliser at 12:07 PM on November 11, 2009


So far I haven't seen anyone link to Stanley's column. Here 'tis (may require free registration). After reading it, I think Levinson is way off-base.
posted by CCBC at 2:02 PM on November 11, 2009




He's hardly a "D-Lister" as you call him.

Ok, so change delmoi's comment to this:

Wow, the huffpo gave space to a whiny hollywood B-Lister to vent about his personal bugaboo? I'm shocked.

Still works.
posted by mediareport at 7:58 PM on November 11, 2009


Correction:
In a comment yesterday, Minus215Cee wrote,
He should have challenged her to a boxing match duel with cavalry broadswords in a pit.

The correct weapons would be sabers.

We regret the error.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:11 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry.
posted by Minus215Cee at 10:33 PM on November 12, 2009


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