Reel World

A Better Tomorrow
Congratulations to Film Comment and Bay Guardian contributor Chuck Stephens on his recent induction into the National Society of Film Critics. Stephens joins SF Weekly's own Michael Sragow (a member since 1979) as the only Bay Area writers admitted to the ranks of the prestigious -- at least to other movie critics and journalists -- organization since its founding in 1966. In case you were wondering, nothing in the society's bylaws prohibits Chuck from continuing to piss buckets on Miramax every chance he gets.

Do the Right Thing
Elsewhere on the local film beat, the Examiner finally got around to hiring a lead critic a mere six months after Barbara Shulgasser vacated the post. Wesley Morris, a 23-year-old Yale grad with a degree in film studies and literature, filed his first review three weeks ago. Since Reel World could barely navigate public transportation when he was 23 (although he could roll his own joints), he predicts some painful on-the-job training for the bright new guy. After all, in recent years the Examiner hasn't demanded anything more from its film critics than a marginally clever lead, a few celebrity cheap shots, acres of plot summary, and an overwhelming tone of superficiality.

Morris aimed high (to his credit) but shot wide with the rambling "film critic's manifesto" his editors presumably made him write for a recent Sunday edition. By asserting arbitrary positions and assigning instant value judgments -- rather than articulating a coherent philosophy -- Morris made the classic mistake of young writers. As my Uncle Ralph used to say, experience, not attitude, is the mother of insight.

Nonetheless, Reel World is rooting for Morris to mature into a strong, unique voice. Simply put, the number of minority film critics in the entire country can be counted on two hands. Luckily for Morris, he can develop out of the spotlight; the only thing ignored more than Friday's Examiner is Saturday's Examiner.

Ace in the Hole
At the other end of the Examiner food chain, Executive Editor Phil Bronstein whines aplenty in the April issue of Brill's Content about the modern-day hell of being married to a movie star -- all those irresponsible tabloid journalists printing false rumors and dubbing him "Mr. Sharon Stone" and "El Macho." Eventually Bronstein tires of bragging about his personal life and riffs pompously about the journalistic difference between "the search for the truth and the intentional publication of bullshit." (Bullshit, my Hemingway Manual explains, is a macho word.)

If it's any consolation to Bronstein, his life in the "scorching white heat of the celebrity-media spotlight" (his phrase) won't continue forever. In fact, with three flops in a row (Sphere, The Mighty, and Gloria), Ms. Stone may have to start thinking about accepting those cable movie offers. Then Bronstein will really have something to complain about.

Wagon Master
"Projects like these, as well as restorations in general, are driven by the home video market," editor Paul Seydor confided when the new short documentary A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne & The Searchers screened a few weeks back at the ninth San Jose Film Festival (aka Cinequest). Financed by Warner Bros. Home Video (as was The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage), Earth marries outtakes and home movies to John Milius' overblown narration; it's a curiosity rather than a revelation. And yes, you can find it at certain video stores.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

 
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