By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The L.A. Critics’ Revolt
Last Saturday, I joined the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for its annual bicker over whom to bless with a career achievement award at the annual awards dinner in January. It goes without saying that the Motion Picture Association of America’s ban on screeners came up. Votes for the Film Critics Association’s best picture, best actress, etc., take place in early December, just when workloads are heaviest, and a ban on screeners — tapes or DVDs of the movies to be viewed at home — disproportionately hurts the chances of small independent films, whose distributors can’t afford to set up numerous screenings of their movies. Those who manage to set up screenings must deal with the fact that reviewing the onslaught of (mostly studio) films released at the end of the year for Oscar qualification leaves little time for critics to run out to screenings of movies we’re not writing about. We began crafting the obligatory letter of protest.
From my brief career as a campus revolter in the late ’60s, I knew that while petitions make the petitioners feel marginally better about being slighted, the petitioned almost invariably reply, “Thank you for sharing — now pipe down and get back in your hole.” To be effective you have to withdraw your labor in a way that hurts, and I suggested on impulse that we announce the cancellation of our awards dinner (which is regarded as something of a bellwether for Oscar voting) unless the MPAA rescinds the screener ban.
I expected to be shot down in flames and sent to bed without any supper — after all, we’re talking about the one night in the year when we critics get off our flabby asses and, clad in last year’s gowns and tuxes, drone on about the glories of cinema before a captive audience of heavy-duty suits and stars gnawing away at rubber-chicken dinners. To my astonishment the group voted almost unanimously in favor. We put the word out, assuming there would be a flurry of interest in the trades, followed by a thunderous silence. Instead we were besieged with calls from CNN, The New York Times, Fox News and others, while an Associated Press report guaranteed significant overseas interest. Things must be awfully quiet in Iraq.
On Monday morning Variety reported that the MPAA had decided on a partial turnaround, and would send screeners to Academy voters, but not to critics. I leave it to you to decide whether Jack Valenti was hitting back at us, or whether he genuinely believes that critics, a congenitally stodgy group only marginally less conformist than Academy voters, are a significant source of piracy. Aggro from the likes of Valenti is to be expected. Harder to fathom is the animus we’ve been receiving from colleagues on the East Coast and elsewhere. NPR’s Day to Day wheeled in a Dallas critic who, while conceding that most reviewers’ screeners go no further than their own mothers, basically dismissed us as a bunch of spoiled whiners. And as the New York Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics (of which several of us in L.A. are also members) furiously debated whether to join us and cancel their own awards, it was remarkable how even some of our supporters in the NSFC (a minority at the time of writing) seized the day to assert their intellectual and moral superiority to the Angeleno critics in “the industry’s back yard.” One who shall remain nameless even claimed that “NSFC is the highest court for determining and saluting quality films and the most privileged of acting moments.” Dumb Angeleno that I am, I have no idea what an acting moment is. But let the record show that once news seeped out of Valenti’s snub to critics east, west and in between, some of the naysaying New Yorkers considered changing their votes.
Today’s Porn Lesson
By the looks of the back of his head, I’d say Scott is in his late 40s or 50s, probably not actually named Scott. Scott drove to Old Hollywood tonight, to the Roosevelt Hotel, from Torrance or Reseda, where he works at a job he hates, for a company he thoroughly disrespects but dares not criticize. Instead, Scott keeps track of scores and soundbites, and gnaws away at his own insides. Wears a tie like a noose and sways when the boss says to sway. He’s married, but each day, more and more, he wonders why. Wants to do something more meaningful with his life, but he’s helpless — a man with only marketable skills, for whom meaning is something to be accepted and not created.
It is for these reasons, I believe, that Scott opts to sit directly in front of me at the back of the Roosevelt’s Academy Room, even though better seats are available.
It’s a Thursday evening, 6:45 p.m. The back of Scott’s head and I and the 70 or so other similarly seated Scotts and Daves and their heads are here to learn How To Shoot Your Own Adult Video, a Learning Annex seminar taught by Seymore “Adam Glasser” Butts. At the front of the room are video equipment, a modest monitor and a couch. A camera crew roams the premises, capturing row after row of studious grown-ups taking notes as Professor Butts makes his way down the dry, dry syllabus: an overview of the porn industry; camera equipment; concept, script, casting; fee negotiations, locations, permits; douches, enemas, makeup, towels, lubricant. “I’m very picky about the lubricants I use on set,” says Butts. “Because lubricants can get sticky and stringy. To me, there’s nothing more of a turnoff when we’re shooting a movie than when the guy’s crotch is sticking to the girl’s ass-cheeks, and it’s like . . . strings? Like . . . webs? I don’t like that.”