"I'll just get my gear."

New design at Vern’s Flea Market: Pauline Kael

I read about movies alot, and I come across these articles all the time about “are critics relevant anymore?” I read about veteran critics being laid off and about movies not being screened for critics and I see comments all the time from people who don’t seem to understand what the point of criticism is, people who claim to love movies but to hate critics. I read interviews where filmatists dismiss the role of critics. They’re people who grew up obsessed with movies, but not enough to, like, read words and shit about them. You’d think they’d want to devour other people’s interpretations of movies and find out about movies they never heard of or revisit old favorites from different angles. But nope. They hate critics.

I thought about all that stuff when I came across this logo:

paulinekael

It’s adapted from the cover of the 1980 Kael collection When the Lights Go Down. I’m not a hardcore Kael devotee, but I dig the way she broke ground in the publishing of long, thoughtful analysis of movies, and showing respect to genres that at the time were considered “trash.” She’s also one of those critics who can be really interesting even when I totally disagree with her. I’m not sure how much of an influence she could’ve been on my writing, but I know she led the way for reviews of the type I try to write. So I dig her.

But I especially like this shirt as a symbol. Just the idea of people wearing t-shirts of a film critic makes me happy. I know a few of you wear a shirt of my logo, which is obviously the best thing you could do ever. But this one is amazing because it looks like a rock t-shirt. It treats analysis of film art as rock ‘n roll. It says “Fuck you. I’m wearing a shirt of Pauline Kael.”

Come on, one of you guys must be in a band or something. I want to see you up there playing bass and you got fuckin chromed out PAULINE KAEL glimmering on your chest. And the kids gotta look it up to find out what it is. And then they’re gonna scratch their heads. You need to do this for me, and for the world.

Of course I’ve still got the Viva Val Verde shirts for sale, and the Jesus Is My Hometree (it’s not too late to be the very first person to own one) and I’ve got more crazy designs in the works. Important note: I default all of the designs to American Apparel t-shirts because I like their shirts, but you can customize any of them to other brands, colors and styles, and some of them are a little cheaper.

Visit Vern’s Flea Market

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29 Responses to “New design at Vern’s Flea Market: Pauline Kael”

  1. Dikembe Mutombo

    March 11th, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Awesome Vern. I have my copy of When The Lights Go Down sitting right behind me. The logo would probably look good on a ringer T too.

  2. You know I feel like critics are people that you love to love (Dear Abby) and love to hate (Vern). Critics are a much needed commodity in today’s society, though we don’t always like to admit that. Things change, people change, and technology changes. To be completely honest I probably won’t read a review in my local paper. But I will read one online. Vern, as much as I tend to disagree with what you write I still find myself popping in to check your site in the mornings. I read your shit, post my comments, and quote you to my friends and family. So for what is worth I think you’re great (most of the time) and keep up the good work.

    Oh and I’ll buy a shirt when I get a chance

  3. Jareth Cutestory

    March 11th, 2013 at 6:50 am

    I like to think that the people who articulate their disdain for film critics are targeting the variety of critic whose sole function is to serve to grease the marketplace, not thoughtful essayists like Kael or reasonably competent journalists like Ebert. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to call out the goofballs whose reviews exist only to provide catchphrases for the marketing department of a film. When the company that owns the film studio also owns the magazine that reviews the film and the production company that produces the Entertainment Tonight type show that is interviewing the cast, we have every right to be sceptical.

    But yeah, lay off the Deleuze and Guattari bashing, kids. Those guys were righteous.

  4. Film criticism is no different from film itself: I hold 90% of what’s out there in utter contempt, but that other 10% is some of my favorite shit of all time.

    The problem with most critics is that they have to see everything, so they start treating it like a curse. I fucking hate a bitter film critic. What’s this, the movie you got paid to see because you have the greatest job on earth wasn’t a timeless work of art? Well, my heart pumps purple piss for you, buddy. Most critics seem to have no genuine affection for most of the genres they are forced to review, so their opinions are not relatable to anyone except other film critics, since most audience members don’t go see movies against their will. It’s impossible to fully separate one’s personal biases from one’s critical sense (nor should one), so these reviews are usually as insightful as a lactose-intolerant food critic reviewing a new brand of cheese. I much prefer a critic like Vern who only sees movies he has a genuine interest in, not just whatever happens to be out that week. The criticism comes from a deeper place.

    But mostly I think it all comes down to the writing. The rightness of your opinion on a film is less important than your ability to articulate that opinion in an entertaining way. I’ll always choose Ebert, who has his head up his ass half the time but is a powerful writer, over Harry Knowles, who tends to like a lot of the same movies I do but is easily the most atrociously unskilled professional writer I’ve ever encountered. A good writer will make a disagreeable viewpoint worth hearing. A bad one will make the truth sound like bullshit.

  5. Dikembe Mutombo

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I hear you, Majestyk. Nothing pisses me off like a dismissive, phoned-in review. I get it, buddy – movies like BATTLESHIP or whatever aren’t why you love cinema, and they’re not why you became a critic. And you’ve probably got a deadline besides. But earn your paycheck and write a real review.

    Vern’s one of my favorite critics because he gives every movie a fair shake; it’s easy to rip on movies, especially the kind Vern tends to review, but sifting for gold has a lot more value. And he does it while writing in a really funny, understated way. It’s so refreshing compared to the self-reinforcing snark culture of pro critics, where a certain brand of jaded bitchiness is felt to be a virtue. You could argue that’s a legacy of Kael, but she rarely rested on her laurels; the same critical eye was applied to everything. In fact, she once lamented that her erudite New Yorker readership wouldn’t listen to her when she tried to get people to see something like CARRIE – they only wanted to hear about the latest Bresson film.

  6. A lot of people misunderstand the purpose of film criticism, and the internet only makes it worth. They seem to think it’s simply about making a value judgement (is the movie good, or bad?) and whether or not it lines up with their own personal opinion. Hence they like reviews that they agree with and dislike those they disagree with, regardless of the quality of the writing, the depth of the insight, the strength of the argument, etc. The reason a film “critic” like Knowles is so well known is because his reviews mainly consist of him forcibly asserting his opinion without actually talking about the objective content of the film very much or making any sort of real analysis or argument.

    It’s all about subjective emotional response, and not actually analysis. While I do bristle at academic film types who insist on purely objective, non-qualitative analysis (how can you possible discuss a film without acknowledging your personal reaction to it? It’s not science; your own opinions and emotions and biases will color how you receive a film), most online criticism lacks any attempt at real, thoughtful analysis. It’s a damn shame.

  7. My favourite critic is Mark Kermode and I disagree with his opinions far more often than not, but he is always informed, entertaining, articulate and passionate. It is always a joy to listen to him.

    You manage the same thing though Vern, with witty and insightful reviews that have frequently had me going back to check on films I did not like at all first time to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I remember waiting for you to demolish Jaws: The Revenge and being thoroughly surprised by your take on it. I went back and watched it again. I still hated it but that’s not the point here.

    I need to get that Kael book, she was a bit before my time so I am not hugely familiar with her writings.

  8. If you can, sometime look up the review Kael wrote for THE WARRIORS and she really loved that, more or less telling her smart high society friends to not dismiss that movie because of the genre or look and that this is actually quite intellectually-stimulating. An opinion I also share about THE WARRIORS, and honestly she’s the only critic I’ve ever read who made that remark about that one movie. I really think even some of its “fans” underrate it.

    Mr. Majestyk – I like Ebert because he admits he has a weakness, fondness for “good” preposterous action/adventure movies. Thus people wonder why he liked SPEED 2 and THE MUMMY and so forth, well there you go. Watching him and Siskel growing up was informative for young RRA, appreciating movies in a wide spectrum together. Entertainment can be heartbreaking arthouse films or popcorn junk.

    I hate critics who broadly dismiss genres. (Translation, horror and fantasy for example seem to be unredeemable apparently) I also hate the nerd critics today who lack any sense of history and filmatic context. Fat fickel entitled bitches they are, who actually believe that somehow they’re involved in the movie industry and not just the spectators that they actually are. Worse are those that whether obvious or not are self-promoters that hope to become legitimate critics and leave their CHUDs or AICN and be taken seriously by the mainstream but have hit their peak. (I got nothing against Devin Faraci personally, and I even agree with him at times, but doesn’t that at times sum him up?)

    Almost reminds me of one of my current problems with WWE as a pro wrestling fan: Michael Cole. I don’t mind heel commentators, hell I love them when they’re awesome (Ventura, Heenan, etc.) Cole tries to be the heel commentator, but instead of selling the bad guys and good guys like Ventura or Heenan would, build them up as legitimate in the eyes and ears of the fans, he ends up selling himself.

  9. I’m surprised nobody makes Lester Bangs shirts. I’d wear one.

  10. There was a gag on The Critic where Jay became a trucker and all the truckers had mudflaps and callsigns based on movie critics.

  11. Jareth Cutestory

    March 12th, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Oh man. If Kanye West ever wrote a song titled “My Heart Pumps Purple Piss For You, Buddy” I might actually pay attention to him.

  12. It always bothers me when a film critic becomes bitter. On the one hand, I understand how this could happen. I mean, you have to watch a lot of movies, and I’m sure plenty of them start looking awfully similar after a while. But on the other hand, once you become bitter about your job, maybe it’s time to move on. I like critics who can do more than just tell me whether or not a film is good. I’m looking for someone who can watch a film from a different perspective, to point out details that I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s obviously why I like reading Vern’s reviews. If a film critic can change the way you interpret a film, then he or she has written a successful review.

  13. Jamie Kennedy’s film HECKLER (on topic) performs this bait-and-switch wherein it cozies up to you with footage of eg Bill Hicks destroying hecklers on stage, and then after about 1/4 of its runtime makes a weird comparison between hecklers and film critics. That’s all you get for the rest of the film: Kennedy and others bemoaning film criticism. Despite a few token “I do like some criticism, BUT…” type lines, the overall tone is that critics are the absolute fucking scum of the earth. A great many film directors and actors that you respect share this sentiment.

    What keeps coming up, over and over, is “YOU’VE never made a film, so what right do you have to judge?” I’ve never understood how anybody can say this with a straight face. First of all, sometimes critics DO make films and you get the French New Wave movement (of course they bring up BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS instead). But it’s utterly beside the point. If nobody was qualified to watch and react to movies besides filmmakers, isn’t your target audience pretty fucking limited?

    The film is interesting because Jamie Kennedy (whose work I’m entirely unfamiliar with) has apparently made really bad films, and is sensitive about the mean things critics have said about them. So there’s also the angle that people put their blood and tears into a work, only to have some blogger casually shred it for the lulz. A few such hatescribes are confronted and come off like assholes, basically admitting that they’re not interested in movies except as an opportunity to hone their cleverer-than-thou rhetoric. But there’s the tacit admittance that Kennedy’s films ARE shit.

    I don’t necessarily recommend the picture, because you’ll find a more interesting discussion on the values and detriments of film criticism pretty much anywhere, such as this comments section. But it’s noteworthy to hear familiar names chime in on the subject.

  14. Ah, what? You removed the apostrophe from the “Vern Tell’s it Like it is” mug?

  15. I don’t think I ever had one with an apostrophe. A decade or more ago when I first made the t-shirts they had correct punctuation, but I added a separate apostrophe t-shirt at the request of Mike D’Angelo.

  16. The Original... Paul

    March 14th, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I also am a fan of Kermode. I find Ebert endlessly readable, although I’ve never watched him on TV or listened to him talk on the radio (when he still could). I’ve never heard of Kael, who was probably both in a different time and a different country to me.

    I imagine the most difficult part of film criticism is finding something interesting to say about every film you see. To use a recent example that Vern brought up, what the hell do you say about a film like “A Perfect Murder”? A film that utterly failed to grab my attention or interest at any point? Vern wrote more about this film than I ever could. Heck, I really enjoyed both “Stoker” and “Warm Bodies”, and I could barely manage three paragraphs about BOTH.

    I think that in an age where anybody can be a critic thanks to the Internet, you need good writing and analysis to remind you that both films and the reviews of them should meet certain standards. Which isn’t to say that the amateurs don’t occasionally produce works of genius. But I think professional film critics do serve a purpose. A really insightful review of a film can act as a signpost for creative talent. To show what works and what doesn’t in a way that the average audience reaction, and certainly ticket / DVD sales, do not.

  17. There might be a generation gap here.

    Complaining about “critics” usually refers to older writers (baby boomers and earlier) who see film as an artform that should uplift and be serious and defy audience expectations, and dismiss anything fun or accessible as trash.

    Complaining about “nerds” or “nerd critics” or “internet critics” usually refers to younger writers (Generation X and after) who see film as a vehicle for re-enacting characters and situations from other media, and think that anything which DOES defy audience expectations is trash.

    Whether the close-minded snootiness of “critics” or the close-minded illiteracy of “nerds” is more annoying will be a matter of personal preference and/or educational level.

    Critics getting jaded because they’ve seen this sort of thing before isn’t the most annoying thing to me – at least that is an honest reaction, and plenty of film fans can end up feeling the same way.

    What does bug me is when critics say something which reveals that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. I read a biography about Pauline Kael which included an anecdote where, after she reviewed “Butch Cassidy” commenting on the movie’s fakeness and how the movie was obviously post-dubbed on a sound stage, she got an angry letter from the director. His letter indignantly told her that the movie, including the sound recording, was done on location. The book describes her and her friends reading the letter aloud and howling with laughter. That anecdote makes Kael come off as arrogant to say the least – it’s the sound of the uninformed laughing at the informed, which anyone with an internet connection now recognizes, but which we’re supposed to take seriously when it’s published in The New Yorker.

    I guess I see both sides of the coin here. It’s sad that critics aren’t taken as seriously as they used to be, but a lot of the time they didn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

  18. Sad news everyone. It seems that one of my great heroes of film criticism, Roger Ebert, has died. Ebert could sometimes have inexplicable opinions (two stars for THE MASTER and 3 1/2 for TED?!) but he was always an articulate, thoughtful voice with an inexhaustible love for great film of all kinds. He was a wonderfully funny writer, and amazingly adept at breaking down why a film did or didn’t work in a way which was imminently readable but never patronizing. Not only was he a great voice in film, but also a very humane and thoughtful writer on an array of cultural issues, writing movingly about the Iraq war, the 2012 election, and other topics. And although it looks like his last-ever review will be THE HOST (now officially “The Film that Killed Roger Ebert”) I’ll always remember him as someone who helped me push my own love of film to ever higher levels. Pour one on the curb for one of the best.

    I’ll miss ya, Roger.

  19. Stopped giving a crap about Ebert’s opinion over 16 years ago and rarely if ever agreed with his bullshit reviews. Nevertheless R.I.P. to a man who left a mark on all movie fans of the past 30 years whether they’d like to admit it or not.

  20. Chopper Sullivan

    April 4th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    When I was 14 and first becoming a film geek, it was Ebert’s glowing reviews of DAWN OF THE DEAD, EVIL DEAD 2, and HALLOWEEN that got me to watch those films and fall in love with horror. For that alone I am in his debt. RIP.

  21. Actually I don’t have much to say about Ebert, but I always liked his EARLY EDITION cameo.
    http://youtu.be/FgOIIgOJ1B8

  22. This might sound weird, but I appreciated Ebert for his brevity. In just a few paragraphs, he was somehow able to capture the essence of what made a film great (or less so). Not that I think that brevity is a measure of quality, but if Vern is the master of the long review, which brilliantly dissects tangential aspects of a movie, then Ebert was certainly the master of the short review.

    Of course, it was also easy to sympathize with his progressive politics, and I appreciate how outspoken he was about it.

    Farewell, master Ebert. You will be missed.

  23. Since I’m known as a movie fan, I’ve had five people rush to deliver me this sad news, even though I never mentioned Ebert’s name to any of them. I think that says a lot about the man. To many people, movies = Roger Ebert. But to me, he was a great writer who just happened to ply his trade in film criticism. His views on the medium were secondary to the passion and wit with which he expressed them. I’ll miss him.

  24. I’ll forever remember when Siskel and Ebert in the sorta pre-Internet era took the time on their TV show to recommend the shit out of BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM several years after its release. As a kid, the fact that these authority figures thought a cartoon Batman movie should absolutely seen by adults.

  25. Sad but when the news hit me, this clip immediately came to my mind: Siskel & Ebert defending RETURN OF THE JEDI’s merits against Paul Simon.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB3V3qyZiFM

  26. John Simon, not Paul. Sorry.

  27. Damn, I was getting an image of Paul Simon flipping out over the STAR WARS films following one of his break ups with Fisher.

    Anyway R.I.P. My formal training as a film buff was the CINEMANIA 95 CD-ROM, and Ebert’s reviews were a large part of the appeal of that.

  28. Pacman 2.0 – I had CINEMANIA 95 too that was such an awesome piece of software back then. So revolutionary for it’s time with all the compiled reviews and audio and video clips. It was one of the best birthday presents I ever received at that time. Though tbh the reviews of the lady Vern designed a shirt in honor of did more for me than Ebert’s views.

  29. I loved Ebert’s work, even when I completely disagreed with his opinions he at least gave valid reasons to consider. Some of his reviews were laugh out loud funny. He only tweeted about stopping work a couple of days ago.

    At least he died still not being the guy who directed The brown bunny.

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