Oh, hello there, I didn’t hear you come in.
A man wearing a richly brocaded smoking jacket lowers his magnifying glass, and closes the vellum volume he was inspecting. The sound of Schubert’s Winterreise, playing on a hand-cranked phonograph, softly suffuses the room.
Can I get you a Port? A Calvados?
He pours himself a brandy, and settles into high-backed chair by the fireplace with a gouty heave. His trembling, spotty hand gestures towards a seat opposite.
So glad you could make it. Do sit down.
Firstly, do allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Nick Pinkerton. I have for many years now written on the moving-pictures, and for nigh on two-and-a-half years I maintained a regular column on the topic of the Seventh Art at SundanceNOW, an umbrous, cobweb-draped corner of the film Internet. The subjects covered in the column ran a gamut from personal essays to state-of-criticism jeremiads to exegeses of films both new and old—the latter frequently not timed to any forthcoming new release—and satirical pieces. If I may be so immodest, the column, which alternately ran under the titles The Classical and Bombast, achieved a small amount of cachet in so-called cinephile circles—which is to say among fellow film writers.
Whatever audience the column drew, however, generated insufficient interest—quantifiable in terms of pageviews, Likes, comments section badinage, and so on—to keep SundanceNOW afloat. The SundanceNOW blog was shuttered, and I was left to glean what lessons I could from its collapse. What I learned is this: I had failed to move with the times, and therefore doomed myself to obsolescence. Despite this, I have been extended a second chance at writing Bombast by the good people at FILM COMMENT, and I intend to learn from my mistakes.
He abruptly disrobes, revealing a mesh shirt, Mark Ecko cargo shorts, wallet chain, and cherry red Doc Martens, his feet planted on a RipStick caster board. He puts on Oakley shades and a lip ring. There is the sound of an abrupt record scratch, and Winterreise is replaced by Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff.” The brandy, untouched, is thrown onto the fire with a hiss, and promptly replaced by a Rockstar Energy Drink. He “raises the roof.”
Consider this a reboot, a relaunch, Bombast 2.0. And I know what you homeslices are thinking: Yo, dogg, what can I expect from this pimped new version of the old perennial? Well, peep this:
There will be a lot of lists, grouping movies that share a unifying theme or member of cast/ crew. These movies will be listed in ascending qualitative order, so to build the reader’s anticipation to a fever pitch as they “flip” through pages. These lists will be timed to a forthcoming wide-release movie, so as not to alienate any readership. When possible, they will make unflattering suppositions about the intelligence of the reader, i.e. “13 Totally Intense Halloween Movies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, Ya Fuckin’ Doink.”
Who doesn’t like a birthday party? I propose that the celebration of landmark anniversaries shouldn’t be limited to human beings alone! When a movie approaches its big day—10, 15, 20, even 25 years old—this will be a space to mark the occasion with a look backwards. These will be the lone occasions on which film history, otherwise dreadfully boring and irrelevant, will be discussed. No film whose lifespan extends beyond the living memory of a 35-year-old will be brought up.
As anyone who has laughed along at that archival footage of unsuccessful flying machines thrashing about and failing entirely to take off can tell you, people in the past were immeasurably stupid. This goes doubly for anyone engaged in the economy of cultural criticism—even and perhaps especially for the lay moviegoer.
This will be a space to correct this epidemic of erroneousness. Films will be rediscovered, disinterred, rehabilitated, resuscitated. New restorations will be re-evaluated as the Lost Masterpieces that they almost invariably are, though the idiots of the past failed to perceive them as such. Contemporary and subsequent critical responses which would seem to sympathize with or anticipate the author’s point will be treated cursorily, if at all, in interest of space.
The failure to recognize genius, sadly, is not the only one of the past’s follies. The canon is clotted with overinflated reputations, and this column will act as the needleprick that reduces them to baggy, flaccid nothingness. Right down to the present day, the history of cinema is a parade of Emperors without clothes, their path lined by fawning courtiers. This column will stand entirely alone in stepping out from the crowd to say, “Hey, take a good look, everyone else! That Emperor, who believes himself to be bedecked in fine raiment, in fact has no clothes!” I intend to use the exact phrase “The Emperor has no clothes” very frequently, in fact, and hopefully its impact will in no way be diminished by repetition.
In this, I have been particularly inspired in this point by the rising generation of Young Turks who don’t hesitate to identify a figure as over- or underrated just because they've only seen one of that person’s movies for the first time a week previous. Thanks to Wikipedia insta-knowledge, it has never been easier to develop a quick and comprehensive knowledge of figures in world cinema, as well as their home countries and those countries’ political histories. The once-arduous process of forming an opinion has been expedited enormously, thus allowing for the free flow of opinions, now unencumbered by personal experience, contemplation, or acquired wisdom. In interest of space, contemporary and subsequent critical responses which would seem to sympathize with or anticipate the author’s point will be treated cursorily, if at all.
Though it might be conflated with the Takedown, this category seems to me sufficiently important to warrant its own category. Almost every week, if not several times every day, creators of art and entertainment are doing something that deserves rebuke—either through their personal behavior or through the dubious moral implications of their work. I firmly believe that it is the job of the critic to make what C.S. Lewis called “pseudo-moral judgments” on works “whose smell we dislike,” as well as to be first in line to lead the village torchbearers when censure is called for. This will be a space for the airing of this high moral dudgeon, a perch from which my “call outs” can be heard from miles around. I intend to deal with failures of the legal system by continuing to prosecute the probably-guilty parties in perpetuity in the court of public opinion.
Whenever a misstep is made, I will appear charging hard like one of the noble white knights of yore, trumpeting my own enlightened position with regards to sex, race, religion, and the LGBTQ community, and bringing swift and brutal retribution upon anyone who has violated the parameters of proper thought or behavior of which I am self-appointed arbiter. Perhaps I will even exclaim “Really?” in the style popularized by Seth Myers on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” so self-evident is the infallibility of my own position and, implicitly, the position of my readership. This Internet activism will go a long way towards changing hearts and minds, actually improving people’s quality of life, and solving the existential sickness-unto-death which plagues us all.
In the cinema arts, vital, epochal, important things are literally happening constantly. Outrageous incidents demand censure. Conversely, the defense of unfairly maligned figures must be taken up. New auteurs and national cinemas are emerging like bursting cherry blossoms in May. OH, COME NOW, SOUTH KOREA? My peers are churning out reams and reams of essential reading, a veritable Library of Alexandria. And on an almost daily basis, new Masterpieces are being projected on screens at festivals and multiplexes across the land, Masterpieces which must be heralded as such.
In the past, the organs of film culture were almost laughably ill-equipped to manage this constantly onrushing flood of importance. Only a handful of journalists addressed themselves to the “beat,” and their opinions were often separated from their enthusiasms by a distance of days, weeks, even months. Thankfully, this state of affairs has been at least partially rectified by the coming of the Internet age, which has allowed for the implementation of a 24-hour cultural news cycle, whereby readers can be kept apprised of the nonstop flow of important entertainment events. (Some would have it that the demands of advertisers for perpetually refreshed content, and therefore ever-more eyeballs being harvested to be put before purchased adspace, created this new cycle, rather than the demands of any single medium. This is, of course, patently absurd.)
Previously, Bombast ran as a weekly column. I’ve subsequently realized that, because of this arrangement, readers missed out entirely on my “take” on many of the most pressing issues of the 2010s. Even if I didn’t care about or have an informed opinion on most or all of these issues, I cannot afford to repeat this oversight. (Literally, I need the $0.13 per click!) By way of correcting this, Bombast will now run in three daily editions. This will necessitate the scrapping of the spell-checking/fact-checking/editing process, but readers are encouraged to send in any “Goofs” they splot.
This is, of course, still an insufficient measure. Even today, the writer’s opinion is cruelly withheld from his public for the amount of time that it takes to mash his spatulate fingers onto a keyboard and produce first-draft fulminations, aka “going long.” For this reason, I recommend the Bombast reader supplement their patronage of this column with a subscription to my Twitter feed, the means whereby I disseminate news of freshly-discovered Masterpieces to the world in ALLCAPS real-time.
This Is the Best of All Possible Cultural Worlds
If there is one thing that I, a meat-and-potatoes movie buff who is exactly like yourself in every respect, loathe, that would be pretension. In particular I am referring to the temerity of people who fail to participate in what have been designated, by great expenditure of PR dollars, as the pressing cultural events of the day, because these snobs apparently consider themselves above them. The critic shouldn’t waste his time and that of his audience by attempting to divert their attention to works whose worthlessness is confirmed by their obscurity or their irrelevance to the current cultural news cycle. (Oldness is only excusable in the case of the Anniversary Celebration or inclusion on a List—see above.)
I’m no hoity-toity Axel’s Castle snoot, but just a nerd like yourself, excited to see that villainous King Joffrey getting murdered on my favorite Home Box Office program. I like very much to geek out to my favorite things, which are exactly the same things that you geek out to. I am playing with a McFarlane toy right now, and deriving great satisfaction from it. There is no qualitative difference between this Todd McFarlane toy and, say, a Bernini marble. All hierarchies have been toppled. Long live the new flesh.
Much as we are presently enjoying a golden age in all of the arts, so too are we in the midst of a flowering of the discourse surrounding those arts. Never have so many written so much so well about so much. It is, in fact, practically impossible to keep up with all of the excellent, scrupulously edited prose. One can, however, extrapolate the practical essence of most pieces in a brief scan, and from this determine if a) they match one’s own established brand and b) if the author might possibly be of some use to one in the future. A helpful barter system has been established for writerly cross-promotion, and I intend to participate fully. Those who put Bombast in circulation will be paid back in kind; simply send me a link to whatever piece you would like to see pushed, and I’ll float it down the timeline. For repeat customers, I will even copy-paste a random sentence of your piece in the Tweet.
The review was an unwieldy format that allowed for the cacophonous interplay of multiple ideas, some of which could seem to directly contradict one another. What a nightmare! This flawed and antique form, I am happy to announce, has been replaced by the thinkpiece, which puts forth a single, strong argument about contemporary culture, which gains force through bypassing historical context, eliminating niggling details which problematize the thesis or isolating them to a passing thought, and strawmanning fellow writers. Which brings me to my next item…
Scathing Critiques of the State of Criticism in the Age of Internet Culture
Lately nothing seems to net individual pageviews more than sweeping condemnations of the various ways in which our cultural discourse has been shaped by, and in many cases deformed by, the content-voracious sucking void that is the Internet. Best of all, the authors of said pieces are by no means called upon to cease their participation in the same economy that they’re critiquing because hey, they’re just trying to make an honest buck. (In many cases, literally, a single buck.) Since you guys seem to dig this stuff, I’ll keep it coming hard and fast, possibly in some kind of “Modest Proposal” format in which I seem to be endorsing but in fact am condemning common practices in web journalism.
Well, that should just about cover it. Hella sick, right? I am looking forward to a very tight run here at FILM COMMENT, and I hope that you will all refrain from wheezin’ the juice. Snootchie bootchies, YOLO, etc.
He vaults through a nearby stained glass window on his RipStick and disappears into the night as mysteriously as he came. Only the faint scent of Axe body spray remains behind him, and that too fades.