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Dark Knight' mob attacks defenseless film critic

Darkknight Not that it matters of course, when it comes to a pop-culture tsunami like "The Dark Knight," but so far most of America's much-maligned film critics have embraced the Christopher Nolan-directed film, which is due to set all sorts of obscure box-office records this weekend. (Is there, for example, a record for biggest July opening during a presidential campaign year?) But there's always a skunk at every wedding. When it comes to "Dark Knight" fans, the skunk is New York magazine critic David Edelstein, who had the temerity to slag off the new Batman film, calling it "noisy, jumbled and sadistic."

And that was just the beginning: Edelstein hooted at the action scenes ("spectacularly incoherent"), the director ("Nolan appears to have no clue how to stage or shoot action") and the movie in general ("it's all fits and starts, fitfully suspenseful, fitfully scary... with jolts of brutality to keep you revved up"). "Dark Knight" loyalists did not take this lying down. Edelstein has been bombarded with so much e-mail abuse since his review posted that he felt obligated to respond to the vitriol. (The New Yorker's David Denby didn't like the movie much either, but he's somehow escaped being tarred and feathered by the angry mob, perhaps because everyone was more enraged by the Obama cartoon on the cover of this week's magazine.)

I'm not going to get in the middle of this maelstrom, since sadly, I'm such a cultural slacker that I haven't seen the movie yet. But I feel a pang of sympathy for Edelstein, who notes that the Batman fanboys seem to want to have it both ways--calling him a snob for taking the movie seriously, then mocking his pretentiousness for offering more than a "Wow!" as a critical response. The ranting and name-calling all takes us back to the primal question of today's moviegoing age: Do critics still matter?

You should read Edelstein's entire response, but here, in a nutshell, is his argument, which is worth pondering:

"There has been a lot of chatter in the last few years that criticism is a dying profession, having been supplanted by the democratic voices of the Web. Not to get all Lee Siegel on you, but the Internet has a mob mentality that can overwhelm serious criticism. There is superb writing in blogs and discussion groups ... but there are also thousands of semi-literate tirades that actually reinforce the Hollywood status quo, that say: 'If you do not like "The Dark Knight,'" you should be fired because you do not speak for the people.' Well, the people don't need to be spoken for. And a critic's job is not only to steer you to movies you might not have heard of or that died at the box-office. It's also to bring a different, much-needed perspective on blockbusters like 'The Dark Knight.' " 

Photo of Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight" from Warner Bros.

 
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Edelstein reminds me of Anton Ego, the stuck-up critic from Ratatouille (great film, by the way) - but without the conversion moment where Anton recognizes, "We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."
And Dark Knight being widely recognized as far more than an average piece of junk, it's fair to say Edelstein's review is lacking in meaning. Sure, he has a right to not like a movie, but he also has the far more important right to be irrelevant, and I affirm his right to be so.

lol, "obscure box office records?" More like the biggest opening weekend ever, with $158.4 million. A solid 7 million more than Spiderman 3, also making the opening weekends of Spiderman 1 and all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies look like those of indie films.

I've been a critic for nearly 30 years -- of stage, not film, but the same skill sets apply, and I've been enamored of the film world since college, with emphasis on film history and the golden age (early sound era through mid-'70s).
A critic's job is not to lead the public around by the nose, bully them, force his opinions down their throat, prove that he is "right" and they are "wrong" or to try to either urge the public to see a film or to avoid seeing it. A critic's job is to lend thoughtful (as in having given something a great deal of thought), informed evaluation of a film within the context of film history, the film's genre and the previous work of its director, stars, scenarist, etc., through the prism of his knowledge of film and his understanding of the world and of human nature. While I'm unable to watch anything without automatically picking it apart in my mind (occupational hazard!), I'm also able to enjoy movies on their own merits precisely because of the sort of self-induced schizophrenia that is necessary to become a competent critic.
Yes, there are now far too many in the world who are referred to as "critics" who are undeserving of that title and have proven their unworthiness time and again -- not necessarily by panning most films but by hitting below the belt rather than offering a balanced evaluation. Unfortunately, the advent of the 'net has brought us to the point where the voices of the few -- those trained in the art and craft of criticism -- are being drowned out by the shouts of the masses. Democratization of access to the public, yes... democratization of journalism, no, because journalism is a skill that takes years to perfect. Logging onto your PC and adding your words to a bulletin board is akin to scrawling on the bathroom wall in magic marker.

I do not believe there has ever been a best picture oscar winner that every critic loved. Every film will have its detractors. But if 95% of the critics love a film, this usually indicates the film is a great film, 95% is not normal for a film, this how The Dark Night has been reviewed as seen on Rotton Tomatoes. Hancock is reviewd postitive by 38%, Moma Mia has a 53% rating.

It's not immediately clear either of you understands your job description. The duty of a critic is to ENCOURAGE discussion and opinion at all turns. Not the opinions that bolster your own. Not the opinions that make you look smart. Not the opinions that sycophantically defer to your "authority." ALL OPINIONS.

Of course when an elite East Coast reviewer with an office shoots off a dissenting article, THAT is heroic. It's epic even. Yet when the rabble in middle america shoots off a dissenting email to that dissenting article... it's HARASSMENT? GROUPTHINK? An Internet-driven witch-hunt perhaps?

I've read FIVE separate articles on the Internet independently pointing to Edelstein's suffering. Someone's working doubletime behind the scenes to get the word out of Job Edelstein's epic struggle. The man in very poor form, not only seeks to garner publicity by slamming his own readers but is very smug in dismissing all opinions that differ from his own as stemming from ignorance or intolerance. After all, what can any opinion be that disagrees with his own... save ignorance? And what is criticism of his work... other than testament to the wide resonance of his own voice and testament to the vast masses of rabble arrayed against him? Oy vey, how I SUFFER for my work.

What exactly is the problem here? Edelstein wrote a review and people gave him feedback in the comments section of his own page established expressedly for that purpose. He doesn't like what is being written so he sics the literary equivalent of the dogs (via publicist) on his own readers in retribution for them daring to have an opinion that contradicts his own. If you go to the blog and actually read the comments, each of these PR-based articles attesting to this virtual pogrom at his door deliberately and unethically characterizes the posters when they're merely disagreeing with Edelstein's review or taking issue with it. How terribly terribly unfair it must be for Edelstein who criticizes others' professional work for a living to have to swallow a bit of his own medicine.

Tellingly, there IS a side of this argument that's driven by groupthink, a slavish devotion to any semblance of "authority" and a need to universally demonize all those who disagree with them... Take a good look around. You might not be on the side you think you are. If that's the type of critic you support.. one who can dish it out but cant take it. One that publicly attacks his own readers for differing from his opinion. One that has no qualms in making HIMSELF the story instead of the featured movie. By all means go at it. Other than that there's nothing much to see here other than a nasty mix of persecution complex, an unsupported feeling of elitism, and smug outrage at actually being called on crap you spew.

All I can say is thank God there are still critics out there who aren't afraid to critically examine a movie and that there are still papers out there that will publish them. I, personally, quite agree with Mr. Edelstein's assessment of the movie. The filming was awful and seemed to rely more on shock factor and brutality than any other storytelling element. That being said, it's okay to like it. It's just dandy to say it's your favorite movie of all time.

But for people to blindly assault Mr. Edelstein with e-mails that (knowing Internet culture as I do) most likely contain only personal threats and insults to his intelligence is unacceptable. Shockingly, there is room in the world for differing opinions. If you don't like his, simply don't continue to read his work. If you're so blindly driven to declare this movie "THE BESTEST MOVIE EVARS OMG HOW DARE YOU SAY IT ISNT" be prepared to defend your response with something that at least begins to resemble an intelligent counterpoint. Otherwise, just keep it to yourself, okay?

DARK KNIGHT SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've read several negative reactions from film critics. And I even have a friend (albeit just one, but one nonetheless) who dislikes "The Dark Knight." I love engaging in all of these discussions because while I love the film, it's by no means a perfect film and because I recognize that, I've got no pure Batty gospel movie to protect. Success doesn't always equal perfection, after all. I think it's silly for so many fans to pretend that "The Dark Knight" is the most amazing movie ever made. Sorry - it's not. So many fans think that those who attack "The Dark Knight" are heathen. Sorry - they are not. The movie is among my favorites, but again - I don't attach dogma to it.

However, Edelstein is not one of these people who give good, healthy criticism of the film. The most offense parts of his second response, for me, are the parts where he first swears on Heath Ledger's grave and then calls Heath Ledger an addict. Edelstein can be forgiven for mistaking Chicago for New York (to a degree, I guess...it's really not that hard to tell them apart, and I've lived in a small town my whole never visiting either of them).

But when he claims to swear something on Heath Ledger's grave, he's not only trivializing his death but making a "sacred" status out of his grave. And I suspect he does this because he thinks that fanboys will listen to him since, as I'm sure he assumes, fanboys consider Heath Ledger's grave "holy." By using this dogmatic attribution, he's really just falling prey to exactly what he claims viewers have done with the film. So he discredits a lot of his own argument.

Worse: Anyone who's anyone in the journalistic world knows that Heath Ledger was not a drug addict; he had insomnia and overdosed on sleeping pills. It frustrates me to no end when people confuse his sleeping pills with a drug addiction. It's ignorant, and it's ridiculous.

THAT is what makes Edelstein a pretentious prick. By figuratively doing a disservice to Heath Ledger's memory. That, and not knowing how to discuss terrorism in a comic book film without wetting his pants.

 
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