February 07, 2005

The Two Types of Platitudes

The Two Types of Platitudes

Normally, dear reader, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” are eager to read Stanley Kauffmann’s film reviews in the pages of The New Republic. After all, Mr. Kauffmann, unlike movie critics with fewer “f”s and “n”s in their names, usually offers smart commentary.

He’s kind of like the thinking man’s Rex Reed—except he’s not gay. And Rex Reed is even too stupid for the un-thinking man.

Yet the January 31 number of The New Republic contains such a horrific review of two films—In Good Company and Head-On—that we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” were sincerely befuddled.

We know what you are thinking, dear reader: A member of the crack young staff must appear in one of these pictures, and hence aims at excoriating a critic who dared to offer a lukewarm review. To which we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” reply: Not so, not so.

In fact, nary a member of the crack young staff has had an acting gig in a while. Ever since “Chip” cleaned up in Roger and Me (in which he played a fat documentary-maker), not a one of us has been on the big screen. We think we’ll have to call our agent.

Anyway, dear reader, we didn’t much care about Mr. Kauffmann’s overall opinions of these two films; rather, we were appalled by his uncharacteristically horrid prose.

The review starts with what may be the most insipid paragraph in recent memory. We have quoted it below, and have affixed our own humble commentary:

All films belong in one or the other of two groups.

What a clunky way to express a ridiculous platitude! After all, pretty much anything can be arbitrarily split up into two categories. For instance, “All people belong to one of two groups: Those who make their beds in the morning, and those who don’t.” Or, “All superannuated hacks belong to one of two groups: Those who are Stanley Kauffmann, and those who aren’t.” You get the idea.

(Fiction films, that is, not documentaries.)

Oh, for crying out loud! He even qualifies his initial banality, to make sure that it isn’t true. For, according to Mr. Kauffmann’s logic, there are at least two types of films: Fiction films and documentaries. And there are two kinds of fiction films. That leaves us with at least three kinds of movies. Geez. We don’t want to taunt the editorial staff of The New Republic, but we think they were asleep at the wheel. Why not write: “All fiction films belong to one of two groups”?

The first group is manufacture [sic], concoctions for the marketplace. The second group is committed work, films that are made because the subject is the concern of the maker. Occasionally a film blends the two kinds, or seems to, but the schism stands.

Huh? So, is there another kind of film, or not? We don’t think we’ve been this confused since we saw John Kerry explain his Iraq war votes. It’s as if Mr. Kauffmann were saying, “I voted for two kinds of movies, before I voted against them.”

As if this weren’t bad enough, dear reader, the article contains one of the most unforgivably bad lines we’ve ever seen: “I haven’t liked a creased male face as much as [Dennis] Quaid’s since W.H. Auden’s.”

Well, now. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps Mr. Kauffmann owns a book at home entitled Great Creased Male Faces in the Mid to Late Twentieth Century.

All in all, then, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” have to conclude that there are two types of movie reviews. And two third kinds. And a fourth one. And this one sucks.

Posted at February 7, 2005 12:01 AM | TrackBack