By Sherrie Li
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By Sherrie Li
But then, Roger, perhaps all of us detractors are simply, as you put it, “too cool for the room.” According to you, we critics must bear in mind “the ways in which real people see real films,” the same people who you say enjoy paying to be manipulated. (And who’s to argue, when the officials currently holding our nation’s highest elected offices offer living proof that many of us enjoy being manipulated for free?) You go on to say that you’ve talked to dozens of viewers who were touched by Crash, and while I don’t deny that, I have had my own conversations about Crash with plenty of “real people” who feel less touched by the film than manhandled by it. Among e-mails I’ve received from Slate readers, one goes so far as to speculate that people are afraid to admit they don’t like Crash for fear of being considered racists themselves — and I think the film is engineered to make viewers feel that way — while another, somewhat more charitable correspondent quotes Oscar Wilde’s maxim that “all bad art is sincere.”
Finally, you express surprise that anyone could feel contempt toward a movie like Crash in the same year that witnessed the release of Chaos and Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo. But as I stated in Slate, by calling Crash the worst movie of the year, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s entirely incompetent or even a catastrophic all-star debacle on the order of The Bonfire of the Vanities or Town & Country. No, Crash asks (and expects) to be taken much too seriously for that kind of rote dismissal. So, why contrast Crash against two unrepentant, bottom-of-the-barrel stinkers — one a no-budget horror movie that took pride in using bad reviews as part of its promotional campaign and the other a lowbrow Rob Schneider comedy — rather than placing it in the context of those other movies from 2005 that so much more subtly and intelligently (and no less sincerely) grappled with the effects of race and class on our daily lives? I’m thinking, of course, of Michael Haneke’s brilliant Caché — my own pick for the best film of last year — and also about George Romero’s Land of the Dead, both of which are studies in how (mostly white) people of privilege attempt to seal themselves off from society’s “undesirable” elements (who just so happen to be people of color). And while we’re on the subject, I might as well mention Lars von Trier’s soon-to-be-released Manderlay, which premiered at festivals in 2005, and is about the very kind of psychological enslavement that might lead a group called the African-American Film Critics Association to present Crash with a best-picture award.
Haggis is right about one thing: None of us is without prejudice. You’re right that in my notes on Crash, I neglect to mention the name of the actor who plays the Mexican-American locksmith; in your editorial, you say with the utmost certainty that “when two white cops stop you for the wrong reason and one starts feeling up your wife, it is prudent to reflect that both of the cops are armed and, if you resist, in court you will hear that you pulled a gun, were carrying cocaine, threatened them, and are lying about the sexual assault.” These are indeed troubled waters, but if Crash is what qualifies as “a bridge towards tolerance,” excuse me while I phone my auto-insurance agent and increase my premium.
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