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Podhoretz's pre-emptive strike on film critics

Having called it so well when it came to Iraq, John Podhoretz turns his acute neo-conservative analytical mind to something else he knows nothing about -- movies. In "Thinking on Film," his apparently ironically titled column in "The Weekly Standard," Podhoretz tells us why the end of the film criticism profession is a good thing.

"This deprofessionalization," he writes, "is probably the best thing that could have happened to the field. Film criticism requires nothing but an interesting sensibility. The more self-consciously educated one is in the field -- by which I mean the more obscure the storehouse of cinematic knowledge a critic has--the less likely it is that one will have anything interesting to say to an ordinary person who isn't all that interested in the condition of Finnish cinema."

And so, tough shit for anyone who might have been entertained by, for example, the works of the hilarious and moving Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. Or, while we're on the subject of Scandinavian film, who cares about the upcoming delightful and genuinely audience pleasing film "O'Horten" by the Finnish director Bent Hamer? If people like John Podhoretz don't know anything about them, how can they be any good?

And never mind  that Finnish director, Ingmar Bergman. Or was he Swedish? Frankly, no one is interested. As for anyone who might be interested in such  nonsense, as Podhoretz wrote on the occasion of Bergman's death, "They [don't] admire the medium. They [are] offended by its unseriousness, by its capacity to entertain without offering anything elevating at the same time." They are, he concludes, "embarrassed by the movies."

These deluded, serious people who waste their time learning about the medium they are embarrassed by also claim to admire such uninteresting films as "Vertigo" ("silly," says Podhoretz), "The Searchers" ("turgid, wooden, boring, weird") and "2001" ("a crashing bore").

Instead, they should take a look at some of Podhoretz's favorites, such as "Cinderella Man,"  "Road House" and "The Phantom Menace."

Part of film appreciation, then, is not watching anything made before 1989. But the most important qualification is ignorance. Ignorance, in film viewing as in foreign policy, is bliss. The less you know, the less likely you're going to let silly things like knowledge or taste get in the way of your interesting sensibility telling you to get teary-eyed at the family values hokum of Ron Howard's "Cinderella Man" despite its smearing of the great part-Jewish boxer (he fought Max Schmeling in Nazi Germany wearing a Star of David on his trunks) Max Baer. Or have fun with "The Phantom Menace" despite the incredibly annoying and racist rantings of Jar-Jar Binks, the most despised character in "Star Wars" history. Or get all patriotic and invade Iraq.

Come to think of it, I'd gladly have the John Podhoretzes of the world dictate the discussion on film rather than see them in a position to determine the nation's future. So while we're getting rid of the film critics who at worst can only cause someone to waste ten bucks on a film they won't like, how about getting rid of those neo-con "pundits" who still pollute the media long after coaxing the country into total disaster?


  • Lorenzo Lamas said:

    I notice that you criticized two of the three Podhoretz favorites you mention, while saying nothing negative about "Road House." Which makes sense, because it is THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE. Gotta give J-Pod credit on that one.

    May 11, 2009 2:22 PM
  • said:

    Mr. Keogh. Thank you for noting this article, and for providing such an excellent and restrained response to it. One could go into the history of film criticism and discuss the ways it has worked in conjunction with individual film movements across the world to assist people in thinking differently about the art form itself, but it would probably lost on Mr. Poderhetz and his readers. Serious film criticism, like any informed response to any art form, comes from educated enthusiasts (some on the inside, some on the outside), who love, and love to discuss, compare, and contrast the best of what has been, and what is being, produced. Opinions vary among critics - some are more populist, others are hard core cineastes, but we (as readers) can discern for ourselves who we identify with and how close our own sensibilities are to those we read. What should critics do? Dumb themselves down and pander to audiences the way Hollywood does? I'd contend it's already a slippery enough slope. If serious criticism is accomplishing nothing else, perhaps it's voicing an opinion against the trash that Hollywood calls "entertainment". What a surprise that this kind of anti-intellectualism would come from a conservative pundit with deep ties to the republican party. Perhaps, if we listen to the gist of Mr. Podhoretzs' point (if there is one) we should end criticism of all kinds and just be quiet. Mr. Podhoretz could even lead by example and stop commenting on the current administration, or his beloved Ws "legacy", or anything for that matter...  

    May 11, 2009 3:56 PM

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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