Monday, January 26, 2009

Let it be known that a certain famous film critic is an ass

I like Ebert. I think his form of film criticism is honest and deeply human. It is also deeply flawed. Ebert thinks that in order to determine the worth of a film you cannot make judgements about the content. This is inaccurate. Much of a film's worth has to do with the content. It isn't all about the "morals" of a film but in general we praise films that reflect our values, what we care about, and what we believe is good or bad. Take Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is a masterpiece of film making. It is difficult to watch though. It painstakingly details the events of one man's very depressing life. It watches like Ecclesiastes reads. It is the inverse of It's a Wonderful Life. And we praise both films for this singular virtue: truth. As much as we'd like to think that our aesthetic for interpreting and watching and valuing film is somehow removed from the vulgar world views that we all possess to some degree. This supposed unmasking is utter B.S. As it should be.

The title of this note is rather rude because I think that Ebert has been rather rude. Rude to Ben Stein. I still haven't seen the movie Religulous, and I still want to, but when reading Ebert's review of this film I was painfully aware that Mr. Ebert had not yet reviewed one of my favorite films of this past year: Expelled. I understand that Expelled is controversial, and that the scientific consensus is staunchly agaisnt it. But that was one of the reasons why I loved it so much. It had balls to put it lightly. What does Michael Moore really have to lose? His opinions are generally agreed with by his peers. What does Bill Maher have to lose by being rude to religious people? When people like that create controversy it is considered bold and entertaining. The religious right is easy to pick on. They don't have famous attractive people defending them in the media, they have middle aged mustached philosophers, and now we have Ben Stein. The whole sex sells thing isn't doing anything for conservatives in this country.

Anyway in his review Ebert stated his mantra that he grades a film based on how well it tells its story not what the story is about. And if he was consistent with this I don't think I would have a problem with him right now. But he is not consistent with this principle. And this isn't just about Expelled. Ever since I saw his review of Hoop Dreams (which if you haven't seen it you should) I realized that this man does deeply care about the content of the films he reviews. Hoop Dreams is an epic documentary. One of a kind. But it was not the best movie of the 90's, an opinion which Ebert will defend till his dying day. That's fine, he's got a right to an opinion. But don't tell us it was because of the artistry. He cared about those two boys who desperately wanted to play Basketball. He liked the fact that it was about the littlest guy in the world: high school boys from poor families. And that those boys happened to be real, not characters written for the screen. And that is probably the best thing about the film, it is real. But Schindler's List is a far superior film in every way, which is also real (at least based on historical fact).

Well finally Ebert decided to "review" Stein's film. What he actually did was make fun of Ben Stein and misrepresent the film's content. The links are here:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2008/12/ben_stein_no_argument_allowed.html

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/win_ben_steins_mind.html

Now regardless of how you feel about Expelled Ebert never gave it a chance. And while we are all hypocrites at some time or other Ebert's hypocrisy is available for everybody to look at on the internet. I loved Expelled, but I also own (not just watched but currently own) three Michael Moore documentaries. I believe that, for a mulitude of reasons, homosexuality is an immoral and unhealthy lifestyle but I actually own Brokeback Mountain (I think it was overrated but a good film non the less). If open mindedness, tolerance, and honesty are the three most exemplified virtues of my generation then I just beat Roger Ebert with a big dirty stick in terms of "cultural righteousness."

Ebert also knows next to nothing about the controversy over evolution, science, theology, and philosophy in general which he has displayed on numerous occasions. I think he is justified in making comments about the content of Expelled or any movie for that matter, but he is being overly dogmatic about something of which he is truly ignorant. The man has won a pulitzer prize, you'd think he'd display a little more intelligence on a regular basis. This is the heart of the problem with film criticism today. Most of it just has to do with a few scant historical references and stating whether you liked this or that. There is no attempt at being objective at all. I'm aware that we hold most of our beliefs subjectively anyway, not just opinions, but why should anybody care about what you have to say when you don't know anything? I will continue to like Ebert and read his reviews, I just think any future film critics out there reading this right now should seriously examine themselves and their opinions. Learn about things other than film. Learn about things other than your preferences. You will be better because of it.

So in conclusion while I also can be an ass from time to time let it be known that Roger Ebert is an ass as well.

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