One thing and one thing alone from last week's issue sent readers to their keyboards: film critic Sam Wasson's look at the work of Terrence Malick ("The Too-Quiet American," June 10). With a couple of exceptions, notably The New World, Wasson didn't like either the work or the filmmaker's steadfast refusal to ever discuss his films.
With that, the debate was joined.
Matt Langdon writes: "Ridiculous observations. You let the hype build, wait for a movie to drop, look at what others have to say about it and then come out with a big hammer and blow it all apart. This isn't criticism. It's absurd reactionary backlash drivel that is only practiced by those who have a tough time writing an actual review. Most of Malick's admirers agree the film is far from perfect. We don't genuflect to his 'genius' — instead we see a movie we like.
"And calling Malick's silence 'lame' is making an assumption that he is purposely trying to keep the press [or you] on their toes. Must every filmmaker hold a press conference to explain things to you? Must they play the marketing/publicist/reviewers game?"
KayCee writes: "I roll my eyes when I hear or read that someone is involved in a Malick project. Ah, the mystique of the auteur! And how predictable is the vitriol from snobs who find my taste in his films inferior to theirs if I'm not dazzled by his occasional good-at-best work.
"When Malick is spoken about like he's Kubrick, I get a tad peevish. I find Malick atmospherically entrancing, but don't like preachy, on-the-nose filmmakers. Wanna wax rhapsodic? Reclusive genius Kubrick's body of work leaves me awestruck."
Writes wetcasements: "The Thin Red Line took war and made it boring. The New World was borderline racist in its Stevie Nicksian 'witchy woman' portrayal of Pocahontas. It was unimaginative, to say the least."
John C. writes: "Quite a pedestrian notion: Do not set yourself apart, do not separate yourself from the group. One simply must be a part, join in — or else. That is all that motivates the critic's critique.
"And now we have a popular culture that is so far and away barraged by tropes, by imagery, jingo psychobabble and simplistic, irreducible explanations for highly complex issues, a culture that has gone round the bend and surely isn't coming back, will not return to simplicity."
Eggs Ackley writes: "Deduction: The culture of celebrity has now replaced culture as a moral force, so refusing interview requests is a crime against humanity, or a master stroke of hype, or (why not?) both. Fact check: Malick left academia 40 years ago."
Then there's a comment from a reader whose ID must limit his choice of topics. Writes "Fuckcriticswhoworshipmalick": "Finally someone calls Malick to task. The images are like a Levi's commercial and the inane voice-over whispers all read like ga-ga I wrote in high school. This man has ruined a generation of filmmakers."
Mickydee writes: "Tree of Life straight-up sucks. Plain and simple. Let's just tell it like it is, without all the film-school vernacular, shall we?"
K. Jenkins writes: "Frickin' nailed it. Good job, Wasson. Badlands was stunning, Days of Heaven ineptitude, and Thin Red Line utter and complete dog poop on a stick."
Finally, the mail brought a letter, written in graceful cursive hand, from Charles R. "Skip" Hockett. He writes: "I've been guardedly a fan of Terrence Malick since day one. And I once had a chance to talk with him ... and regret that I didn't share what stands in my mind as a really helpful criticism of some of my own work, namely that voice-over is a cop-out.
"I wouldn't go so far as to aver that it always is, but I think movies tend to work better as show rather than tell. As the director's cut of Blade Runner demonstrates, if the pieces are all there, the viewer can jigsaw puzzle them together just fine — eventually, at least."
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