The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Fistfight at Sundance ends in shocker: Critic wins!

January 21, 2009 |  4:33 pm

I've been hearing good buzz from Sundance about "Thriller in Manila," an HBO documentary about the epic 1975 showdown between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier that finally gives Smokin' Joe his due. But how can a doc about a heavyweight fight compete with the real thing? Not long after this morning's screening of "Dirt! The Movie," a cosmic documentary about reconnecting with the Earth, John Anderson--who was reviewing the movie for Variety--and Jeff ("The Dude") Dowd, who was repping the film, got into a fistfight at a nearby hotel, causing the hotel to call police, though Dowd, who got the worst of it, didn't press charges.

Dowd_2Variety's Anne Thompson has posted a thorough blow-by-blow account of the pugilistic affair. As you can imagine, when it comes to a fight between a critic and a film rep, little actual damage was done. Most of the nastiness was of the verbal variety. Anderson dismissed the movie as "too simplistic, too redundant" while Dowd, never one to spend two minutes pitching his movie when he could spend 20 or 30, admonished Anderson that he should've paid more attention to the audience reaction, saying "You've got so much power--before you write this we should have more discussion."

Instead of responding to Dowd's acknowledgment of critical omnipotence by saying "Oh, my God, you really think we still matter--why thank you!," Anderson told him: "If you don't get away from me I'll punch you out!" In a twist that would be thrown out of a comedy script for being too wonderfully preposterous, Dowd left, only to return with Howard Stern gagster Jackie ("The Joke Man") Martling, convinced that the Joke Man could somehow persuade Anderson of the film's aesthetic value. Instead, Anderson got up and started pummeling Dowd. Chaos ensued.

Variety's Thompson, apparently an eternal optimist, concluded: "This blow-up could be just the thing to put Dowd's film on the map." But Anderson wasn't that generous, saying: "I'm not sure how good it is for publicity to harass a film critic into liking his movie."   

Photo of Jeff "The Dude" Dowd (left), who is, in fact, the real-life inspiration for Jeff Bridges' character in "The Big Lebowski," signing a shirt at the 2nd Annual Lebowski Festival, by Jamie Rhodes / For The  Times