Self-DefenseDecember 09, 2005
There are two philosophies of how a public (or semi-public) figure should react to an attack. The first states that ignoring it is the best approach. The attacker is looking for attention and validation and to give it to him/her is to satisfy a desire. The second approach advocates a response, urging that silence equates to weakness and, in some cases, may corroborate the charges. Usually, I opt for the former but, this time, the latter may be the more appropriate way to handle things.
Yesterday, my wife pointed out a particularly nasty "review" of my latest book at amazon.com (use this link, and scroll down to find the musings of John "Movie Addict.") If this was just a bad review, I wouldn't have a problem with it. My first book got some of those, and I did what I could to learn from the criticism. Bad reviews don't bother me; they come with the territory. If you can dish it out, you'd better be able to take it. But Mr. Movie Addict barely mentions the book. And his two sentences about it hardly qualify as review material: "This 'updated' version of his book...has such a low sales rank because his previous book was a total flop and his 'fans' hated it... I found it at a bookstore and tried to read some of it and found it totally irritating and insulting, as usual." The rest of what he wrote comes across as a personal attack.
Will he read this? Probably not, although he has spent some time perusing ReelViews. But I want to be on record as addressing his comments. I'm not going to insult Mr. Movie Addict. I don't know him. For all I know, he's a nice, reasonable individual. There are times when the anonymity of the Internet causes otherwise pleasant people to do unpleasant things.
He starts by saying: "I originally had the displeasure of speaking to James Berardinelli about two years ago via e-mail. He struck me as a very rude, ignorant man. Reading some of his further writing, I noticed he was also very arrogant." I don't remember the e-mail, although I find the expression of "speaking" to someone via e-mail to be odd. If my response was dismissive (which is implied), it's probably because the original e-mail was written in an obnoxious tone. I tend to respond in kind. As for arrogance, at least an appearance of it is necessary to be a film critic. I prefer to think of it as "confidence," but that can easily be mis-interpreted. And who wants to read a wishy-washy review? Those who put their opinions out there had better be ready to stand by them.
Now comes the misinformation. "He admitted he didn't even like films until he was a college student and saw Jaws. In his reviews, he often grudgingly complains about how far he must travel to attend screenings, and how he's 'just doing it for us,' and so on and so forth." Very little in this paragraph is accurate. Yes, Jaws is the first movie I saw, but I was seven years old at the time - not quite college-ready. I developed a taste for films during my sophomore year of college (1986-87), but it had nothing to do with Jaws. I can't recall ever making a comment in a review related to how far I have to travel for an advance screening (although I have written this in ReelThoughts), and I certainly haven't used condescending language like "just doing this for us." I do it for myself. Reviewing is a personal experience. The critic's primary audience is first and foremost himself/herself.
Later, he says: "All of James' work is written in first-person perspective - a big no-no in film criticism, unless you're Roger Ebert and can get away with it." Actually, inserting the "I" into film criticism has become the accepted norm over the past 10 years. Reviews are op-ed pieces, and the first-person is not only encouraged in such situations, but madatory. Nevertheless, my reviews are primarily third-person, with occasional forays into the first and second-person point-of-view, when appropriate.
"James is a low-grade Ebert rip-off with no real insight into film - most of his 'favorite films' he admits he doesn't have a passion for but only added to the list because he considers himself a film critic and feels a need to include films such as Vertigo - yet all he does is regurgitate recycled facts all film fans already know." When I started in this business 14 years ago, Roger Ebert was one of the most respected critics, so who better to emulate? But I'd like to think that, over the years, I have developed my own voice. The rest of what's written here is inaccurate. I never "admitted" not having a passion for any of the films in my Top 100. On the contary, this is a personal list of favorite films, not an attempt to impress readers with scholarly titles. The Vertigo comment is confusing. Apparently, he's saying that only a film critic trying to sound pompous would include the film in a "favorites" list, because no one could actually like it.
In closing, all I can say is that I would welcome Mr. Movie Addict's input if he had something to offer other than insults. Spending several paragraphs bashing me and the website, then throwing in an offhand comment about the book doesn't constitute a review. Serious comments about the book, whether positive, negative, or in between are taken seriously. If Mr. Movie Addict would like to contact me via e-mail, I'll be more than happy to re-open the e-mail dialogue we apparently engaged in several years ago.
Now, on to something more fun...
December 11 Update: Apparently as the result of requests made by several readers, Amazon has removed Mr. Movie Addict's review. I did not make the request myself. However, since it's no longer on-line, you'll have to rely on my quotes (above) to provide a flavor of what was written.
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