Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Piling on Rex Reed

Last "The Cabin in the Woods" post, I promise, but I have to talk about the movie a little bit to talk about the latest target of the internet's derision, The New York Observer's veteran movie critic, Rex Reed. Reed is being pilloried from all directions this week for his review of "The Cabin in the Woods," which he vehemently panned. This might have gone unremarked upon, except that Reed's review was full of spoilers, and to many people's amusement and incredulity, a lot of those spoilers were wrong. In fact, most of his understanding of the plot was faulty, as the piece was full of errors that suggest Reed not only didn't grasp what was going on, but may not have been paying much attention to the movie.

This was not just a bad review, but an incompetent one. What's worse, Reed also took the time to lob a few choice insults at what he perceived to be "The Cabin in the Woods'" intended audience of "electronics nerds and skateboarders addicted to Xbox 360 video games whose knowledge of the arts begins and ends with MTV2." Yikes. To some extent I'm sure that Reed intended to be provocative, or even goading. But I don't think he anticipated the extent of the reaction to his review. Cue the gleeful online pummeling, the accusations that Reed is too old, too feeble-minded, and too out of touch for his job. Cue the mocking reaction pieces, the indignant dissections of everything Reed got wrong in his review, and a couple of well-meaning open letters, expressing more muted dismay. And good grief, it's been ridiculous to watch.

Yes, Rex Reed's review was a blunder and a bad one, but the reaction to it has been absurdly overblown. I've seen countless critics fail to grasp countless other movies, mostly on the artsy and erudite end of the scale. I've seen rants and railings against pretentious hacks and the fawning sycophants who enable their fatuousness. Last year, Terence Malick's "The Tree of Life" was subject to plenty of dismissive and hostile reviews, but the reviewers weren't attacked for their lack of comprehension or insight. Countless critics, many of whom I respect, seemed to be knocked for a loop by Tomas Alfredson's unorthodox approach to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," and decided it was terrible. Many made errors trying to describe the labyrinthine plot, or missed certain crucial information entirely. I'm not naming names, but few suffered any adverse consequences.

I don't see Rex Reed's take on "Cabin in the Woods" as any more egregious. The big difference here is that "Cabin" is aimed at a geekier, more populist, more tech-savvy crowd, and Reed is an easy target. He's 73 years old and part of the old guard print establishment, a career critic since the 60s who has consistently refused to change with the times. Moreover, he has a colorful history of controversies and bad behavior, and he comes off as an arrogant, combative blowhard more often than not. But sometimes that's what you want in a movie critic, someone who will go to the mattresses to champion or bury a film, who isn't afraid of being the only one in the room to express a dissenting opinion. And with 93% of the critics delivering positive notices to "The Cabin in the Woods," that sure looks like the case here. Armond White, our usual iconoclast, seems to be MIA, leaving the contrarians awfully few in numbers. I know most of the Reed's detractors are going after him for the inaccuracies in his piece rather than the negative marks, but the unpopularity of his opinion sure does help paint a bulls-eye on his chest. Do you think Rex Reed would've garnered this much hateful attention if he'd included that line about the film's nonexistent vampires in a positive review?

Again, I don't agree with Reed's analysis of "The Cabin in the Woods," and I find his slap-dash fact-checking unprofessional and troubling. But I'm also sympathetic to his point of view. I know I'm far less likely to remember the details of movies I disliked than the movies I liked, and I've muddled plot points in summaries. There are certain genres of film I'm not predisposed to enjoy, and I've cast aspersions on those who do enjoy them. I've bitten off more than I could chew and I've gotten carried away and written some really idiotic things on this blog and elsewhere. I try to be self-aware about this, but sometimes I'll have a bad day and slip up. And it's no surprise that sometimes the professionals have bad days too.

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