Thursday, August 03, 2006

Smile, goddammit!

My life is pretty much a Woody Guthrie Dustbowl ballad, but that doesn't mean the whole world has to wear a frown. Does it? Maybe it's the heat, or the approaching end of life on earth, but everybody seems to be in a really cranky mood. Especially those who appear fairly well blessed to the naked eye.

Take Ann Coulter, or as I think of her, Annsie, She-Wolf of the GOP. You can tell she isn't worried about cortisol, that pesky hormone that turns post-menopausal gals into sumos. She lives under the most right-wing regime since Hitler's. She makes a truckload of money spewing invective -- plagiarized invective, according to the New York Post, but still. Is she happy? I have never seen her when she wasn't mad enough to bite the claws off living lobsters.

Then there's Dave Chappelle. Some people gave him millions of dollars to be funny on basic cable, but they neglected to tell him that white people would be allowed to watch. And laugh. He took off for South Africa, apparently hoping to perform before black-only audiences. But apartheid had ended years earlier, so he was forced to return to the United States. He's still far from contented, but he is resting comfortably after surgery to remove James Lipton's tongue from his rectum.

By any standard, A.O. Scott has one of the world's great jobs: film critic for The New York Times. That means he not only gets paid to write about movies, he also gets in free. He goes to Cannes, and Sundance, and even Toronto, and he's glad to be alive, right? Oh, come on. Mr. Scott is practically Cassandra, cursed by the gods. He told us how bad "The DaVinci Code" was -- he even took a swipe at the book in his review -- and people lined up as if the 'plexes were giving away gravy boats. He warned us that "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" was even worse than the first one, and was nearly trampled by stampeding ticket-buyers. He's always right, and no one will listen. He was so depressed, the Times had to give him space to tell us how much we have disappointed him.

I'm sure Mr. Scott speaks for many critics. People who review books must die a little every time they look at the best-seller lists. Architecture critics know that whatever they write, that damn building will be there for decades. Good plays struggle to stay open, while "Mamma Mia!" rolls on and on. Television -- but what's the use? It's the profession that gets no respect.

Should it? Mr. Scott did some research in the newspaper archives and discovered that his predecessors were right more than they were wrong. Had he gone back more than twenty years, however, he might have found that they missed the boat on "Bonnie and Clyde," "2001:
A Space Odyssey," "Vertigo," "Singin' In the Rain," and other now-iconic films. They were busy sending moviegoers to wan black-and-white exercises where three people sit in an empty house, chain-smoking and murmuring about The Bomb -- in French, of course. Today they're frantically directing us to equally engrossing pictures about a village boy and his blind goat -- in Farsi, or Welsh, or Klingon. Anything but the brain-deadening product of Hollywood.

Like most moviegoers, I'd rather be entertained than enlightened. I'd prefer both at the same time, but I only get angry when neither takes place. A.O. Scott is a fine writer who expresses his opinions in concise paragraphs rather than by the twitching of his thumbs. No one would ever confuse him with that ass at Rolling Stone who loves everything. His bad reviews are even more fun than the good ones, but he should be satisfied with that. Even the mighty Times is no match for the Hollywood publicity machine, and whining about it is unattractive. Of course, any time the job gets to be too much for him, I can be found right here. I'll buy my own popcorn.


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