The Dan Schneider Interview 16: James Berardinelli (first posted 12/12/08)


DS: This DSI is with a writer best known for his presence online, rather than for any book he has written, although he has published some works. That writer is film critic James Berardinelli, whose website is called Reel Views, Berardinelli Sees Film. Excluding myself, and even if I disagree with an opinion on a certain film or director, I think you are the only online reviewer that I am aware of who is worth reading on a consistent basis. Again, even if I disagree with the judgment, I can appreciate that you provide more cogitation as to your opinion than the usual, ‘Dude, that movie sucked ass!’ sort of review. Your success is something I find interesting, for a number of reasons, which I shall query you on in depth. First, you are a writer, and we’ll talk of how you go about writing a typical 1000 word or so essay; i.e.- the craft of writing (even if it is not called ‘creative writing). Second, there is cinema, and I want to talk of that art form, which I think is even closer to poetry than prose writing is, as well as its criticism. Then, the third and final aspect of your success, that I want to delve in to, is your website, and how you, unaffiliated with a tv station or major newspaper, have ‘branded’ yourself and make a living. I ask not out of voyeurism, but because, as Cosmoetica is basically a multipurpose arts site, it’s simply not economically worth the pittance I could make from ads to do so, despite its popularity- given that my audience consists mostly of older Bohemians and artsy college aged kids- both groups seen as without a pot to piss in. I’ve also known political bloggers who have websites that draw greater traffic than your or my sites, and even they complain of not being able to make a real living from it (despite a more affluent audience). Anyway, enough preamble, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Let’s not assume that everyone has stopped by at Reel Views, so please, for those readers to whom your site and your name are unfamiliar, could you please give a précis for the uninitiated, on who you are: what you do, what your aims in your career are, major achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.?

JB: I don't have much of a life, primarily because I spend about 40 hours a week on ReelViews and 40 hours a week as an engineering project manager. The latter pays the bills but doesn't do much to satisfy the creative impulse. The former does the opposite.  When someone asks me what I do for a living, I tailor my answer to the questioner.  Since you're interviewing me as a "film critic," we'll stick to that half of my life.  I started reviewing films on small scale in 1992, began posting the reviews to Usenet newsgroups (rec.arts.movies and in 1993.  Since then, my on-line presence has expanded at irregular rates.  The website was "born" in 1996 and became the primary repository for my reviews.  At the time it came into being, I had written 800 reviews.  I'm now up to 3700.  I have published two books, both of which are edited collections of "positive" reviews from the website with a little bit of original content.  While I'm happy enough with them, I wish the publisher had been more open to my suggestion of "beefing up" the original content.  Sales would have been better, I think, if 95% of what's in the book wasn't available for free at my website.

  When I first started reviewing in 1992, I rigorously avoided the term "film critic" because it was a label I didn't feel I had earned.  I referred to myself as a "film reviewer." It wasn't until the late '90s, after the website was on-line and I had 1000 reviews to my name, that I became comfortable with the "film critic" label.  I am a populist critic, which means I write for the masses. That's not to say I am incapable of writing deeper, more literate essays, but the general purpose of a 700-to-1000 word review is to provide an informed opinion about a movie.  My goal with a review is threefold: provide my opinion and explain it, present enough information so that someone reading the review will be able to make a determination about whether they might like it (irrespective of whether or not I did), and offer some insight that those who have seen the movie may find interesting.  I have some longer pieces on the website for older movies that can run up to 2000 words.  Those typically contain more critical analysis than the "regular" reviews.


DS: Before we get on to the biographical stuff, and the points I mentioned in my introduction, let’s get basic. How do you define your job, as a film critic? Were you always an avid film fan, or did it come to you later in life? I ask because I always had a facility with words, as a child, but did not attempt to write poetry till I was 19 (to woo a girl). Even then it took almost a decade to get any good at that art form, much less move on to prose or literary or film criticism. Did you follow a similar trajectory with film criticism? Or were you a writer first, who just found a niche or confluence with a love of film?


JB:  When I was about 8 years old, I became a rabid fan of the old Universal black-and-white monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.).  There was a Saturday afternoon program called "Creature Double Feature" that showed two such movies every weekend, and I was always glued to the TV for that four-hour slot.  Other than monster movies, however, I can't claim to have had much interest in movies as a child, or even as a teenager.  I saw the films everyone else in my "circle" saw: Star Wars, Close Encounters, a few Bond movies, and so forth.  Until I went to college, no one would ever have considered any of my film choices remotely challenging. 

  On the other hand, I loved writing.  I started scribbling really bad short stories when I was in fourth grade and never really stopped.  I wrote a trilogy of fantasy novels in high school.  While I was at college (studying electrical engineering), I realized how horribly written that trilogy was and re-wrote it into a four book series.  Subsequent to that, I wrote another fantasy trilogy (which is available at the website).  When it comes to creative writing, however, I'm lazy.  I don't like editing and I find the publishing process to be painful.  So I typically finish something up, give it a quick once-over, then move onto the next project.  I'm always writing something that has nothing to do with movies, but I never seem to have enough time. 

  While I was in college, a girlfriend introduced me to some films outside of my comfort zone.  Starting in 1987, I got a membership at a video store and started renting pretty much everything they had on their shelves.  In 1991, I took a big step and started going to theaters on my own.  That may not sound like much but, when you're used to seeing movies as part of a social activity, it can feel a little weird.  In early 1992, I ramped up my film-going and started seeing 2, 3, 4 movies each weekend. That's when I combined writing with movie-going. I would see movies on Friday and Saturday and write about them on Sunday. 


DS: We’ll talk a bit more of film criticism, film theory, etc., but, again, let’s get basic. First, do you ever use spoilers in reviews? And, at what point, time-wise from initial release, will you review a film where you discuss the ending? How about DVD reviews of classic films?


JB: The first thing to consider is what constitutes a "spoiler."  Everyone defines this differently.  In general, it's revealing an important plot point, but there's a question of timing.  Is it a spoiler to reveal something from a movie that was released last week?   Last year?  20 years ago?  If I think a review of a recent movie reveals something that could "spoil" the experience, I place a warning at the beginning of the review.  However, if I'm writing a review of an old movie, I generally do not do so.  One can expect retrospectives of older movies to have more in-depth discussions of plot points, and that reviews of such titles will be, by nature, "spoiler-ish."  Reviews of newer movies are written with two audiences in mind: those who have seen the movie and those who haven't.  Reviews of older movies are written primarily for those who are familiar with the film.  In terms of my personal "spoiler" time-frame, I would peg it at about one year.  Once a movie (or TV show) has been generally available for that time, I no longer consider "spoiler" warnings necessary.  Most who really want to see the movie will have seen it by then, and those who don't fall into that category would do well to avoid reviews and discussions.


DS: What is the Berardinelli style to writing a review? Roger Ebert, as example, has the everyman’s approach, while Gene Siskel was more film-focused. Ebert was the better writer, while Siskel the better student of film. John Simon was famously droll and deprecating, and Bosley Crowther a bit stolid and old fogeyish. Others- Pauline Kael, Jeffrey Lyons, Mick LaSalle, etc.- all have their quirks. What are some of yours?


JB: I'm more conversational, yet I also like playing with words and phrases.  I'm not afraid of using the first person or even the second person - you know what I mean?  I write as if I'm speaking to an audience.  But I also don't dumb down my vocabulary.  I'm not afraid of using "big" words or of toying with metaphors.  There are times when I'll use a cliché in an initial draft of a review then, when I go back to finalize it, I'll re-work the cliché into something more interesting.  That's not to say I rigorously avoid common expressions, but I occasionally do that.  I am also a big believer that structure is necessary in a review.  I always try to have an introductory and a concluding paragraph.  In between, there must be something resembling a short synopsis (not necessarily of the entire plot, but at least of parts of it) amidst the opinions and analysis. It's possible to have a conversational style but also to have a logical assembly.


DS: So, how do you go about writing a typical 1000 word or so essay/review? I usually watch a film, take notes of my observations, then, afterwards, when I have an idea of what my take is, write out a review’s basics, then pepper in the comments, then Google about for technical credits, etc., and, if moved enough, maybe look up what folk like you, Ebert, Kael, etc. have said, to see if there was some critical boner one of them made, or if I’m echoing a long held meme.


JB:  I used to take notes but found that, when I was writing a review, I rarely consulted them.  So I stopped bringing a notepad with me.  (Exception: film festivals.  Seeing 3 or 4 films a day requires a notepad to jot down thoughts and remarks.) Time permitting, I like about 12 hours to pass between seeing the movie and writing about it.  That allows it to percolate in my thoughts.  While that might not be necessary for a blockbuster, it can be needed for more difficult productions.  I consult IMDb for technical credits but do not rely on press material, which is thinly veiled publicity.  I also don't read any other critics until I have written a draft of my own review.  (Exception: older movies.) My opinions may not be fresh, but at least they haven't been influenced, no matter how subconsciously, by other critics. 


DS: Let me ask you of something I see as deleterious to both the appreciation of film, and the purveying of good criticism, and that’s what I call ‘critical cribbing.’ It happens especially online, but started long before that, in print. This is when claims- pro or con- about a film, or serious errors, are propounded again and again. If a Kenneth Turan or Roger Ebert said A, B, or C about Film X, then the same ideas, with the slightest variations, are propounded on hundreds of blogs and newspapers. I think about the misinformation in films, such as when I watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup; and the same nonsense about the characters having names cropped up, but there were none in the film. A similar thing re: the characters being called by letters occurred in Last Year In Marienbad; but that, too, was false. This tells me the review is a phone-in, and I’ve seen similar things occur in reviews of books and poets. I posit that most critics, in whatever field, truly do not engage the art they review. They watch or read part of it, justify presuppositions and biases, and, once an artist or film gets a reputation, they never waver from it. If you troll about online, you will find very little variance in the ‘meme’ that gets attached to any film or director. The point of view- negative or positive, may be differing, but the take, often flawed, is always the same for each critic. Do you agree that this lack of attention to their own craft is formed by biases? If so, how have you avoided such, and how can others?


JB: Some of this can be avoided simply by not touching base with anything written about a film until my own review is finished.  That way, I'm not echoing something about which someone else has written.  You're right - mistakes like this are typically the result of intellectual laziness.  You read something written by Ebert and realize, "Oops.  I don't have anything about that in my review.  Let me add it."  That kind of external influence can damage the integrity of a review, especially if it's not strictly accurate.  It's easy enough to avoid the hype when it's a new film but difficult if it's an older film or a classic.  In cases like that, I have to do my best to clear my mind and try to see the movie fresh.  It can be done, but it requires effort.  It's tough to go into a movie that's considered a "great film" and emerge with a contrary viewpoint. 


DS: I know you have a demotic approach to film criticism; yet I note that online accounts say you became an accredited reviewer in 1997. What does ‘accredited’ mean, in that context? Personally, I think it’s ridiculous because, in fifty years (and it’s even started now), if someone looks up reviews of, say some classic old film, they are going to read them all with no bias pro-Roger Ebert vs. you, simply because he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and had a tv show, while you had a website. Similarly, if I make points the reader agrees with, or they are moved by my writing, and he or she finds Pauline Kael’s review of the same film dilettantish and out of touch, they won’t care that she wrote for The New Yorker and got a nice salary while I did pro bono work for the arts online. Thoughts?


JB: The term "accredited" means that the studios acknowledge someone as a legitimate reviewer.  In practical terms, it means I'm allowed into advance screenings of movies, which means the reviews can be available at the time a movie opens or a little beforehand.  Some degree of accreditation is necessary because, without it, anyone with a movie blog would be demanding the right to see films early.  It's worth noting that from 1992 until February 1997, I spent my weekends living and breathing movies.  Since I did not have access to advance screenings, I saw everything when it came out.  That usually meant two movies Friday night, two Saturday afternoon, and one Saturday night.  Then I'd write them all up on Sunday.  For five years, that's how my weekends were constructed.  It's no wonder I didn't have social life during that period.


DS: You wrote this requiem for the now defunct film review shows hosted by Roger Ebert. You’ve written that you preferred Siskel’s views, but thought Ebert won more arguments. What films or directors’ do you disagree with Ebert’s opinions on, or is it a critical approach thing?


JB: Roger and I only agree about 55-60% of the time.  We have strong disagreements about 20% of the time.  I think it comes down to how we view films.  He's much more artistically inclined than I am. I'm more analytical.  For me, plot and character development trump style and composition.  There are some ethereal films that he loves that I can't stand.  When it comes to genre films, however, I'm more likely to be kind to something that he is.  So there's an element of personal taste there.  However, I like reading his reviews when we disagree because I like to understand precisely where the point of disagreement is.  I find it boring to constantly read reviews I agree with.  Positive re-enforcement is nice to some degree but it's not a good way to expand one's horizons.


DS: Roger Ebert wrote a foreword for one of your books, and has praised your criticism/reviews. Briefly, what is your relationship with Ebert? What do you know of his dire medical condition? Also, if the opportunity arose, would you ever think of doing a similar sort of show, say if Ebert was not available, and Richard Roeper came a-wooing?


JB: Back in 1997, I received an e-mail from Roger telling me how much he enjoyed my reviews.  We corresponded by e-mail for a while, then met face-to-face at the Toronto Film Festival that year.  In 1998, I arranged for him to be a speaker at the Philadelphia Film Festival and escorted him while he was there.  In 1999, I attended the inaugural edition of his Overlooked Film Festival.  I consider him to be a friend and a colleague. While he has undergone some difficult challenges over the past few years, he seems to have come out of the tunnel.  He can no longer speak but his "voice" is as strong as ever.  It was great to see him in such good spirits at this year's Toronto Film Festival.  In terms of television, I'm not interested.  Last year, I was invited to audition for Ebert & Roeper but declined the opportunity.  I like writing, doing radio, and making appearances in front of live audiences, but television doesn't interest me. In fact, I don't even like having my picture taken.  I have spent my entire life avoiding cameras pointed in my direction.


DS: Before I move on, let me ask a question that, to me, is embodied by the Siskel & Ebert sort of pairing. What, to you, constitutes good criticism? Is it having better insight into the medium, the way I would claim for Siskel, or is it being better able to elucidate an opinion to the public, which is Ebert’s forte (and I think his Pulitzer was won on his excellent wordsmanship, not his critical acumen)? Also, would you agree that too many critics use the subjective axis of like and dislike of films for the more objective good and bad? After all, one cannot objectively discuss likes, but one can debate the differences between a bad film and good film.


JB: I prefer a well-written review, so my sensibilities are closer to Ebert's, although my preferences correlated more strongly with Siskel.  In general terms, it's bad form to overuse "like/dislike" in a review because the voice is supposed to be authoritative and writing "I like X" is weak. I am, however, of the belief that there's no such thing as objectivity in art.  Everything is subjective and open to debate.  The statement "X gives a good performance" should be translated into, "In my opinion, X gives a good performance."  Of course, no self-respecting critic would ever use the words "In my opinion…" in a review because that's assumed.


DS: I ask this because critic Manny Farber once claimed the role of evaluation in criticism practically worthless. The last thing I want to know is whether you like it or not; the problems of writing are after that. I don’t think it has any importance. It’s one of those derelict appendages of criticism. Criticism has nothing to do with hierarchies.’ Yet, I feel he’s 100% wrong, and his idea is exactly what is wrong with almost all of criticism today, and why it’s so poor- in all fields. First, he cannot even rise above the like-dislike axis, and the very title of ‘critic’ implies an evaluative role. A critic evaluates, and should not explicate, for the art should be its best explanation. Criticism without evaluation, however, is merely recapitulation. Yes, there are times when exceptions can be made, but by and large, it seems, critics have forgotten what the role is they serve, and who they serve- their readers! Of course, this goes beyond just film criticism, and infects the whole discipline across genres. Do you agree?


JB: I think there are three goals for film criticism: (1) To provide an informed opinion, (2) to offer some degree of analysis of the film with respect to themes, performances, technique, etc., and (3) to write in an engaging fashion so the review can be appreciated on its own merits.  Whenever I read a review, I want something with a strong sense of opinion.  If I can't tell how the writer feels about a movie and understand why he feels that way, I think the review is a failure.  Tell me what you think.  Don't pontificate about technique and style.


DS: Did you have any heroes in film as you grew up? And were those heroes the critics, the directors, the actors, or some other aspect? If so, who and why?


JB: My early heroes in film were the special effects guys – Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, John Dykstra, etc. This comes back to my love of monster movies. I also loved Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, and John Williams.  In the pre-home video era, the best way to get a slice of a beloved movie was to buy the soundtrack, so in many ways the composers became more important to someone like me than the director or the actors.  I must have played my Star Wars double-album soundtrack 500 times between mid-1977 and when it became too scratched to listen to. 


DS: Did you ever want to act or direct? Are you a failed film student?


JB: I have always wanted to write, but always novels and never screenplays.  I have never had any desire to act or direct.  Given a chance, I might try it for the experience, but I could happily live a full life with no regrets if I never became involved in the production of a movie.


DS: In researching you, I see you were born in 9/67, in New Brunswick New Jersey. Do you still live there?


JB: I have moved all around New Jersey.  I'm close to my family (who all live there), so I've never felt the urge to go far afield.  I was born in New Brunswick, lived in Old Bridge for a year, then spent my childhood in Morristown and my teenage years in Cherry Hill.  I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, then returned to New Jersey to live in Bridgewater, Hillsborough, and Mount Laurel, where I currently reside.


DS: I quote you: I started writing when I was about 9 years old, and suffered through the traumatic experience of reading chapters from my stories in front of my entire fourth grade class.’ It couldn’t have been that bad, because you also claim to have written fiction. What sort, and, given your name recognition, have you sent any around, and do you have an agent or publisher for it?


JB:  As I noted earlier, I have never pursued publishing my fiction because I'm too lazy.  It's something I occasionally talk about doing, but the impetus isn't really there.  I know from the review collections how painful the publication process can be and it's not something I have the time or inclination to become involved with. Maybe when I give up my engineering job and get back that 40 hours a week, I'll be motivated to do something, but it would be with something new, not something I have previously written. 


DS: Let’s take a step back, and get into who James Berardinelli, the man, is. You are married to a woman named Sheryl? What does your wife do? And how did you meet? Is she a critic, writer, etc.? In looking at an old FAQ page, I see a photo of your wife, with a cat in the background. Are you pet lovers? Cats or dogs? My wife and I have five cats, currently.


JB:  Sheryl is an ethnically Chinese Filipina. She was born in Manila and spent most of her formative years there. She moved to Chicago in 2000.  She started reading my site and sent me an e-mail in March 2001.  We started corresponding regularly and supplemented e-mails with telephone calls.  We met for the first time in August, then started flying back and forth regularly to meet.  She moved to New Jersey in 2003 and we were married in 2004.  She recently finished her doctoral program in neuropsychology and is currently doing post-doc work.  As far as pets are concerned, we have two cats.  I have always been more partial to cats than dogs, but part of that is because cats are less labor-intensive.  Growing up, my family had a single cat.  After getting an apartment, I adopted a cat in 1992. She died in 2005, which is when we got our current brother-and-sister duo.  The cat in the background of that picture is probably the one who died three years ago.   


DS: What were some of the major, or defining, issues during your youth, insofar as they affected your career path? Were you politically, socially, or artistically active, when young? You describe yourself as a nerd. Were/are you an introvert, and how has your online success affected your personality?


JB: I was very introverted as a child, but was pretty active socially with my friends.  Lots of Dungeons & Dragons.  Lots of Star Trek.  Lots of Doctor Who.  Lots of – believe it or not – General Hospital (at least from 1979 to 1982).  We also did quite a bit of outdoor stuff, including a nasty game called "dodge Frisbee" which could be painful.  Becoming a film critic has eliminated any lingering shyness.  As a child, I was terrified of public speaking.  Now, I do it all the time and enjoy it.  No nerves.  I like interacting with audiences.  It's a lot more rewarding than writing something and posting it.  Face-to-face interaction is a lot more rewarding than e-mail.  (Although I certainly can't knock the latter since it's how I met my wife.)


DS: Hey, I still watch General Hospital, 2-3 times a week! What were some of the cultural touchstones in your life, the things, events, or people who graced your existence with those ‘I remember exactly where I was’ moments?


JB: I remember where I was…

…The first time I saw Star Wars.  It was at a drive-in.  I think the reason the memory is so clear has as much to do with the drive-in as the movie.

…When President Reagan was shot.  I heard it on the radio coming home from middle school.  I remember Watergate but I think Reagan's shooting is the first time I was fully cognizant of a news story of that importance.

…When the space shuttle Challenger blew up.  I was in a religious studies course at Penn.  The professor, knowing of my interest in astronomy, asked me what I thought about it.  I didn't even know it had happened until he mentioned it.

…On 9/11/01.  At the Toronto Film Festival.  I have written extensively about that day.


DS: What did you want to be when you grew up? Who were your childhood heroes (outside of film or criticism) and why? Where did you go to high school, and to what college?


JB: When I was young, I wanted to be a construction worker (age 4), an astronaut (age 7), a paleontologist (age 9), a writer (age 10), and an engineer (age 11 and older).  In a perfect world, I probably would have become a writer but I don't like the idea of scrounging for money, so I went the engineering route.  Childhood heroes?  Believe it or not, I didn't have any.  I was a strange child.  I went to Cherry Hill High School East, then did five years at the University of Pennsylvania to get my B.S. and M.S.E. in Electrical Engineering. I had no official minors, although I was just a few credits short of minoring in astronomy.


DS: What sort of child were you- a loner or center of attention? Did you get good grades? Were you a mama’s boy or a rebel?


JB: I was a loner.  In many ways, I still am.  I enjoy solitude, but I don't shun the spotlight. As a child, I hated the spotlight.  My intellect greatly outstripped my social development.  Straight A's in honors courses, but I hated gym.  I was probably one of the smartest people at my high school but I was among the most socially retarded.  When I look back on my youth, I have fond memories of grade school and high school (despite being an oddball) but very bad memories of middle school.  That's when I found the kids to be the most cruel.


DS: Any siblings? What paths in life have they followed?


JB: I have two sisters, both younger.  Both have fairly traditional family lives. One got her Masters in Education and teaches special ed kids.  The other is a stay-at-home mom for her three children.


DS: Any children? What paths have they followed in life? What are their interests?


JB: No children yet.


DS: What of your parents? What were their professions? Did they encourage your pursuits?


JB: My mother was a teacher; my father was an engineer.  They were both tolerant of my writing and, later, of my reviewing.  I don't think they thought either of them would last.  They're probably more surprised than anyone that I have been at this for 16 years.


DS: What was your youth like, both at home and in terms of socializing with other children?


JB: I meshed with boys who had similar likes and dislikes.  I was an introvert and was happy with my own company.  Yet I had a hard-core group of friends that I spent a lot of time with.  Over the years, I have collected more acquaintances than close friends.  I'm very bad at keeping in touch.  My home life was stable and happy.  No dysfunctionality whatsoever. 


DS: Do you consider yourself anything of a social or cultural critic, or simply a film critic? I ask because I think that most criticism of the arts often goes off track when the critics bring their own politics, religion, or philosophy into the mix, or use noxious phrases like, ‘all art is political, or ‘all art is truth.’


JB: I have an opinion about virtually every subject, but I often don't offer it unless asked.  On my website, I tend to avoid politics and religion because there's no sure-fire way to annoy readers than to offer a contrary opinion about either subject.  People go to ReelViews to read about movies, not to hear what I think about George Bush or whether I'm pro-life or pro-choice.


DS: What are your views on religion? Politics? Philosophy? And how, if anything, do they affect your reviewing? Are you politically active, and what are your thoughts on the world today- the Presidential race this year, or the ongoing wars, the economic woes, etc.? How often do you include such references in a review? Do you fear such things will put an expiration date on your filmic opinion?


JB: I think it's impossible for a person's experiences, philosophy, politics, and religion not to impact what they write.  Those components are critical to an individual's personality and experience, so they will inevitably influence how a critic views a movie.  If I was to employ labels, I would consider myself an agnostic, a libertarian, and a cynic.  I think we as a society have become increasingly disinclined to accept contrarian viewpoints.  It's not just a matter of disagreeing with those who think differently, but not being willing to listen to them.  We saw this is in the 2008 Presidential race.  This makes me pessimistic about the future.  If we aren't willing to listen to those who don't agree with us, how can any sort of lasting peace be possible on a planet where there are so many conflicting viewpoints about everything?


DS: Do you have a critical bete noir? Who is he or she, and what is the source of your dispute? I ask because disputes between critics are not uncommon.


JB: I can't think of anyone.  There are plenty of people who don't like me, but I can't think of anyone with whom I have an ongoing feud. 


DS: Before we get on to more specific areas, as someone who watches the neverending swill that Hollywood churns out- stuff aimed at teenagers, have you any ideas on what is the cause of this lack of introspection in modern American society? Is American or Western culture simply as shallow as many of its detractors claim? In the arts, PC and Postmodernism have certainly aided in the ‘dumbing down’ of culture.


JB: There's a whole shift going on in society.  Intelligence and introspection are no longer valued the way they used to be.  Children are lazier than they used to be, both physically and intellectually. The decline in reading is a symptom.  Reading requires active intellectual participation, but it has fallen out of favor as a means of entertainment, especially for young people.  They would prefer to play video games and engage in on-line chatting.  Neither of these activities is generally intellectually stimulating.  Parents would rather park kids in front of a television than read to them and interact with them.  We also have fallen victim to materialism.  Nowadays, kids must have the latest video game system.  It's not an option; it's mandatory.  There's an expectation and a sense of entitlement.  People have become self-centered.  They consider the feelings of others only as an afterthought.  The seeming anonymity of the Internet allows them to spew all sorts of hateful things without fear of consequences.  People have also become obsessed with instant satisfaction.  That's why so many credit cards are maxed out and so little money is being saved.  Spend everything now and don't worry about tomorrow. 


DS: While I’m not knocking ‘lite’ films- the Michael Bay sort of crap, why has American cinema, especially, gotten so bad since the last heyday of the 1970s? And, even putting aside the blatantly mindless action tripe, even so-called ‘adult’ films, like Crash or Brokeback Mountain, are nowhere in a league with Days Of Heaven or The Conversation, or any of dozens of films that came out in a single year, much less a whole decade. I just don’t see that there is any way to defend the lack of intelligence in the films coming out these days; a problem akin to the dumbing down of book publishing. Films are all made for children, not adults. But, then all the suits wonder why they keep losing out to newer forms of media and entertainment. It’s sickening, to me. And, is there any saving Hollywood films, or are we doomed to increasingly Lowest Common Denominator Michael Bay brain-dead action film tripe?


JB: People like the familiar. Most action films are loose copies of other action films.  The same is true of romantic comedies, horror films, and even serious dramas.  There's a lack of freshness because most movie-goers don't want freshness.  They want stories they are comfortable with re-packaged with slightly different settings and characters. This is why sequels and remakes are so popular.  It's all about familiarity.  Challenging films are routinely dismissed because they cause a level of discomfort.  One of the most frequent complaints I hear about foreign films is that they're "weird."  Somehow, things have gotten to the point where it isn't fun to sit through something that doesn't fit into a nice, neat little package. 

  It's also worth noting that Hollywood is primarily targeting teenage boys.  That's the #1 overall demographic.  Most 12-18 year olds love explosions and chases, so we see a lot of that.  Michael Bay is playing to that audience and, since his movies make obscene amounts of money, his protégés and clones are popping up all over the place.  The only way there will be a reversal of this trend is if these sort of movies stop making money, and I don't see that happening.  When it comes to Hollywood, it's all about the dollar.  Creativity is a distant second.  And, believe it or not, there are filmmakers who think Bay's movies are creative. 


DS: At this point in your life, have you accomplished the things you wanted to do? If not, what failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can accomplish yet?


JB: I have never had a long-term plan. What I want out of life seems to change on a regular basis.  The older I get, the more important family becomes and the less important a lot of other things become. The conventional becomes more comfortable.  I used to fly around the country with great frequency; now, I avoid airports whenever possible. I find that I enjoy vacationing at home, with occasional daytrips, more than going on planned excursions.  I foresee continuing reviewing for as long as I am physically and/or mentally able.  I would like to do a little better with time management so I can get around to writing some of the novels that are clunking around in my brain.  As a writer, I'm not as disciplined as I once was.  I get distracted too easily. 


DS: Are you turned off by the masturbatory approach taken by the New Wave and Cahiers Du Cinema sorts of criticism, wherein everything is claimed genius, even if it’s patently bad and/or trite?


JB: I have long since stopped reading this school of criticism.  It's so pointless and self-absorbed that it's without value. I get nothing from it.  I listen to some of these people talk and wonder if they're serious of if it's some kind of clever self-parody.


DS: Let me return to the Cahiers sort of approach to film. First, what is your take on the French New Wave approach? I’ve not see all the works by all the filmmakers, but manifestly it seems that the defenders of films like The 400 Blows or Breathless are doing so not on the grounds of what is onscreen, but their own biases toward the filmmaker, or his politics. This is an old affliction beyond even film criticism, and seeps into other arts criticism, as well as social and cultural criticism. Comments?


JB: I like Truffaut because he tells worthwhile stories.  I think The 400 Blows is a great example.  I love Rohmer because there's a mesmerizing quality to the way he writes dialogue.  At first, it seems as pretentious as hell, but the more you watch, the more you become aware that his words are instruments.  I dislike Godard, however, because you can feel his contempt in every frame.  Every time I watch one of his films, I feel like I'm being talked down to.  This is actually a problem I have with many members of the French New Wave and their adherents.  They know true art and all others should grovel at their feet.  It's not just exclusionary, it's arrogant.  It feeds into my belief that humans are losing the ability to be civil to each other.  The disgust of liberals for conservatives and vice versa is stifling. 


DS: I ask because, as you are aware, there are many chatrooms and blogs for all sorts of cinematic and artistic things. Usually, the people who argue there like to crib notes from the critics they have read; thus you often see fallacies spread like wildfire- be they critical, or just misinformation (I think of the claim that the character’s in Antonioni’s Blowup have names, or that the characters in Last Year In Marienbad are denoted by letters). In that vein, I once reposted a review I did of Dreyer’s Gertrud on a blog devoted to what they term contemplative cinema. Naturally, they developed their own set of dogmas, to the point of the blog’s owner telling me that he didn’t want too many people even reading his blog, because they might infect the thinking there. What got me, other than the fact that the people were simply tossing out phrases and ideas they clearly did not understand, was a quote they posited by critic and film director Jacques Rivette. Now, I’ve not seen the man’s films, and only read a few of his online pieces, subsequent to the argument. Nonetheless, the critical passage they attributed to Rivette was bad- both in not having much to do with what was actually onscreen, while propounding Rivette’s own imbuements, but also because the writing was clearly purple prose-cum-bad poetry. The quote: If Dreyer's film [...] doesn't function formally as a dream, it nevertheless [...] prescribes an 'oneric' [sic] vocabulary: at once the *telling* of a dream and a session of *analysis*, an analysis in which the roles are ceaselessly changing; subjected to the flow, the regular tide of the long takes, the mesmeric passes of the incessant camera movements, the even monotone of the voices, the steadiness of the eyes--always turned aside, often parallel, towards us: a little above us--the strained immobility of the bodies, huddled in armchairs, on sofas behind which the other silently stands, fixed in ritual attitudes which make them no more than corridors for speech to pass through, gliding through a semi-obscurity arbitrarily punctuated with luminous zones into which the somnambulists emerge of their own accord...Now, 1) do you, like me, find such masturbatory approaches to film to be at the antipodes of the Lowest Common Denominator approach to film and its criticism that Hollywood propounds?, and 2) how do both extremes serve to turn off potential film enthusiasts? My take is that a middle ground approach offers the best of both, and neither of the excesses of ‘academic’ nor ‘pop’ criticism. And, I hope Rivette was a better filmmaker than critic and writer. Was he?


JB: I haven't seen many of Rivette's films.  Most of them are long and tedious.  The exception is La Belle Noiseuse, but maybe that's just because it features a naked Emmanuelle Beart for half the four-hour running length.  (Seriously, I found the give-and-take between the model and the artist to be fascinating.)  Generally, though, I find Rivette to be boring.  Then again, I sometimes find Bergman to be boring as well. I believe Bergman is responsible for some of the most compelling films we have and for some of the most overrated.  I love Fanny and Alexander, Scenes from a Marriage, and Cries and Whispers.  I hate The Seventh Seal.  It took three viewings for me to get through that film without falling asleep.

  I'm very much a middle ground critic, leaning toward the 'pop' side.  I believe that film criticism should speak to the (intelligent) masses.  There's a place for the deeper, more intellectual pieces, but what I dislike about most of those who write those articles is their exclusionary view.  According to them, only the stuff they write is true criticism.  A review like mine or Roger Ebert's is insubstantial fluff, not worthy of consideration. 


DS: Auteur Theory. Even the term seems silly nowadays. After all, while there are certainly interchangeable journeyman and studio directors, the bulk of a filmic vision belongs to the director. So, the very phrase is a tautology; and in the instances where it is not applicable, it is superfluous. Why do you think so much ink has been wasted over the idea? And what are your takes on it?


JB: Like you, I think it's a silly term and a silly argument.  But there are egos involved, and that's why I think the debate lives.  Actors and writers don't like the idea of a director being the "author" of a film.  Consequently, some complain when a director claims possession of a movie.


DS: On a tangent, however, the most radical advocates of auteur theory fall into the intentional fallacy, or what I term the ‘criticism of intent’- be it from a POV of politics, religion, philosophy, etc. Have you found yourself falling into such criticism? If so, do you think it’s a bad thing? If so, how do you fight against it?


JB: I'm not sure there are any "radical advocates" any more.  That was a hot debate in years past, but I haven't heard any new salvos since Kubrick's death.  He was a great believer in auteur theory.  Today, it seems taken for granted that most movies helmed by a "name" director will have the "A Film By…" caption and no one is griping about it.


DS: Re: my above imbroglio over Gertrud, I want to select a few key passages that illustrate some of my objections to most of the tenets of ‘film theory’ enthusiasts. I wrote:I don’t use descriptive as a dirty word- you and PM have wrongly applied it. First, the faux depth and pseudopoetry of Rivette’s passage give no sense of the film. The paragraphs in my review tell a reader far more of what goes on and who the characters are. ‘My writing is for the benefit of the reader. Rivette’s is for the benefit of his ego.’The last sentence, to me, is the basic problem with most criticism, filmic or not; and that is that far too few critics deal with the work at hand. I’m not advocating strict New Critical approaches, for certainly the native language a film is shot in can determine its dialectic flow, or the mise-en-scene can be critical to the film- they are not all interchangeable. But, too many artists- filmmakers and critics, seem to lose cognizance of the fact that art is communication. One can have technically great footage, but if it says nothing intellectually nor emotionally, so what? Ideas?


JB: Ironically, you can look at both "high art" and "high concept" films for this.  Consider, for example, Madagascar 2.  This is as vanilla and mainstream a film as you're likely to find.  It is geared toward kids.  Technically, it's amazing: bright, colorful, beautifully rendered.  But the film is BORING.  There's no story.  No characters.  Just funny animated icons jumping around.  As an example of what a computer can do, you can't find anything better.  But as a movie, it's a failure, unless you're six years old. The same can be said of many "high art" movies.  They may do all sorts of innovative and interesting things but unless they have a beating heart, they're not necessarily something I want to sit through.  When I go to a movie, I want to have an experience. I want something that will engage me in many different ways.  I don't want something that will have me squirming in my seat.  Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse worked for me because it fascinated me on many levels.  One of his more recent films, The Duchess of Langeais, made me want to weep with frustration. 


DS: Another point: Ultimately I want to look at the artwork (whether film, poetry, music, whatever) directly and without the interference of various philosophies, theories, and politics. A good critic will not obscure my vision, but will enhance it.’ To me, this seems manifest, yet- and I don’t know how much critical reading you’ve done on film, or literature, so much criticism is willfully obscure; often due to the critic’s egoism, or desire to propound their view on a, b, or c, but still. Do you agree? And, if you read other critics, filmic or otherwise, what critics would you put into the obscurantist mode, and which into the clarifying mode?


JB: I think a critic's views on politics, religion, and philosophy will influence their review.  But they shouldn't use the review as a pulpit for preaching it. Criticism should not be obscure.  What's the point if only the writer and a few others can understand it?  A review should be geared toward providing understanding of a film.  If I start reading something that frustrates me, I stop reading.  Time is valuable.  I don't have it to waste trying to figure out what some pompous, self-important critic is saying.  I'll read someone who has something worthwhile to say.


DS: Another quote:[John] Cassavetes, along with [Werner] Herzog and [Yasujiro] Ozu, also LOATHED film theory crapola. And, at his best, Cassavetes best films totally damn most of the sacred tenets of same. [Critic Ray] Carney champions the methods of JC.I was referring to Ozu, especially, and his claim that far too many filmmakers worry about things like eyelines meeting when no one who watches gives a damn. This is essential to much of film theory’s failing; that it fetishizes the trivial aspects of film in favor of the essential. Agree or not?


JB: Thing like eyelines and screen position work in service of a greater aim.  A film has to mean something.  It has to speak to the viewer.  It needs to have an emotional or intellectual impact.  Technical aspects are a means to an end, not an end in itself.  Anyone who dwells on film theory is doomed to fail.  I'm not saying these things are unimportant, but they are of secondary importance.  Cassavetes, Herzog, and Ozu made/make compelling, human dramas. I'd rather watch that than a film that's technically flawless but hollow.


DS: Picking up on that, I find many critics and film fans have a very one dimensional approach to things, especially things as narrative. When I reviewed Antonioni’s Red Desert I put my point this way:As with Stanley Kubrick’s later magisterial 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film does not lack a narrative, nor is the narrative poor. It is simply a different form of narrative, and an outstanding example of such.When you read film reviews, or argue with other critics or friends about films, do you find many of these sorts of self-limits regarding the way a film can structure a narrative, deploy a metaphor, or highlight a symbol? If so, do you usually win or lose such arguments?


JB: I wish a lot of my friends were interested in such discussions…  While I'm a strong proponent of traditional narrative structure, I relish a movie that tries something different, and can become enraptured if it succeeds.  Sometimes, you need to reach the end of a movie before understanding what it was trying to do.  Most critics, I like to think, are open to this sort of thing.  I'm not sure that's true of casual movie-goers.  The trend is toward spoon feeding.  There's also a question of why a non-traditional form of narrative is used.  Is it because the director is contemptuous of something straightforward and wants to thumb his nose at it or is it because he believes this is truly the best way to make the film.  Intent is as important, if not more so, than result.


DS: On that last point I have to totally disagree because artists a) knowingly BS about what their intent was, to suit the moment, and b) there’s no real way to ‘know’ intent, especially if an artist wisely says nothing. The thing is the important part, not the desideratum that may have spurred it. This leads me, though, into that avatar of cineastes, the idea of pure cinema. Perhaps the scene in Blowup, where the photographer, via images alone, pieces together the supposed killing, is one of the few examples of such I can think of. Many a filmmaker, from Orson Welles to John Huston to Ingmar Bergman to Woody Allen have claimed no film can succeed as ‘pure cinema,’ even granting such a chimera exists. Even Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has a great screenplay- if an odd one devoid of much dialogue. Elsewise, how could one feel such deep emotion when Dave Bowman literally rips apart HAL’s mind? Why do you think this pure cinema ideal has become a desideratum, at least, if not a Holy Grail?


JB:  Only in film school do people care about "pure cinema" any more.  To me, it sounds like the kind of thing only idealists can masturbate over.  If people want to strive for "pure cinema," more power to them.  But don't expect me – or practically anyone else – to watch it. 


DS: I sometimes wonder the real damage done to film by some of the really bad articles Cahiers published, much in the way I wonder of the damage done to poetry by T.S. Eliot’s criticism, or to prose by the most zealous of any of the noxious schools and –isms out there. Simply put, the writing in Cahiers was bad….really bad- empurpled prose, to be generous, and the insights pseudo-profundity, hiding the utter vapidity of most of their notions. Worse, as I mentioned, their ilk kicked off the pseudo-science of film theory. Why do you think it has been so difficult to bridge the fetishistic Cahiers film theory sort of criticism with the plainspoken criticism of populist critics like a Kenneth Turan or a Roger Ebert? I’m not saying Turan nor Ebert are great critics- I think both are hit and miss; but clearly they do not need to put on airs, and even when wrong, they do not embarrass themselves with the depth of bad thought and craft that film theorists do.


JB:  Keeping in mind that I belong to the same school of criticism that Ebert and Turan belong to, I can offer a few thoughts.  To me, quality of writing is as important in a review as quality of insight.  One can be the most thoughtful analyst but an inability to frame that analysis in a manner that is clear and comfortable makes for a failed criticism.  Ebert's strength is his ability to do this. You may disagree with him or think he has missed something, but you never finish one of his reviews scratching your head because you don't understand what the hell he was trying to say. Going back to an earlier point, I think some pretentious critics write in obscure ways not because they're trying to stroke their egos but because they don't really understand what their point is.  I can go back and read some of those old "Cahiers" articles and come away baffled.  Truth be told, when I started writing reviews, I tried to read "Cahiers," having heard it held some of the greatest film-related material ever committed to paper.  I gave up pretty quickly.


DS: The Cahiers folk, naturally, raved over the French New Wave- especially Jean-Luc Godard, yet in the few films of his that I’ve seen he’s a palpably mediocre (at best) director. I mean, I grew up watching Jimmy Cagney and John Garfield films with my dad, and Breathless is pure imitation, with much bad technique, a bad screenplay, and poorly technically made. It is not homage, but failed satire, if anything. Yet, there are few critics in any field willing to point out even manifest things, such as the lack of Emperor’s clothes. There’s simply no comparing Godard with Bergman, technically, dramatically, nor in any measurable form; at least not in the Frenchman’s 1960s work, which I’ve seen. Do you agree with this assessment of the Cahiers crowd, and about –isms, in general; that they tend to be conformist and do a disservice to criticism and the art form?


JB:  There are some Bergman films I don't like, but he's an honest filmmaker and some of his movies are in my personal Top 200.  I'm not a fan of Godard, and his self-importance makes him even less appealing to me. It comes across on screen and in his interviews.  He sneers at those he deems to be "lesser" filmmakers and has an almost godlike view of his work.  I don't want to dismiss the French New Wave entirely, but its importance in film is more negative than positive.  It has given rise to a school of filmmaking that produces unwatchable crap.  By the way, Godard has gotten WORSE since his early films.  His latest productions are unbearable.  Yet people watch his movies and praise them because he's Godard and he's an icon.  The Emperor's new clothes, exactly.


DS: Let me end this digression on Rivette, the New Wave, and film theory, with one final quote I made from that argument: Purple prose is bad, be it in crit or creative writing. It is self-indulgent and puerile, and it places the artist, or writer, above the written word and reader. Esp. as a critic, the reader MUST be informed. Too many MFA type writers these days write for themselves or their few colleagues, thus the proliferation of segregated schools of art or crit.Manifestly, I think that describes the Cahiers du Cinema crowd to a T. These were critics who tried to place their own egos and belief systems above the manna they were assigned to elucidate. Any comments? And, pro or con, what effect do you think the European cinema of the ‘40s through ‘60s had on the Golden Age of American cinema in the 1970s?


JB:  American cinema in the '70s took the best of the New Wave and incorporated it into films that still emphasized story and character.  One of the best things to come out of Europe during the '40s, '50s, and '60s was a sense of daring.  That's evident in '70s American films.  Of course, part of that is because of the fall of the Hays code, which was holding back American films from expanding in interesting directions.  It's worth considering where American would have gone if that form of censorship had not fallen over the world's most influential and prolific film industry. 


DS: Let me now turn to your reviews and opinions on a number of actors, directors, and films. First, who are the top actors and actresses today- both American, and worldwide?


JB: I always dislike questions about top actors and actresses because I'm not a list-maker.  I tend to view each performance, regardless who gives it, on its own merit.  For example, I don't have a high opinion of Anne Hathaway, yet her work in Rachel Getting Married is sublime.  Does that mean she's a good actress who hasn't shown it yet?  Or is she a bad actress who has given the performance of a career?  If you had asked me this question 15 years ago, I would have mentioned Pacino and De Niro, but their work in the last decade-plus has been less than impressive.  These days, I'd pay to see De Niro in a Scorsese movie (if they ever re-team), but not in anything else.  I really like Kate Winslet because I think, from a performance standpoint, she's never off.  I also like Christina Ricci because she invests herself entirely in her performance.  On the male side, I'm a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Anyone who can make a supporting character in a film like Twister into someone memorable deserves some sort of consideration.  This, by the way, is a question I get asked a lot by e-mail, and I never answer it because I think it's unfair.  However, I will tell you that my all-time favorite actor is Humphrey Bogart and my all-time favorite actress is Grace Kelly. 


DS: Any views on typecasting? Which actors need to break out of their confines? And what sort of roles do you think they should explore?


JB: I think truly good actors can avoid typecasting.  Less talented actors get typecast because they don't have the range to explore beyond their limits.  I also think there's a laziness associated with typecasting.  Why go out on a limb if you can stay in your comfort zone and be lauded and make a lot of money?  Angelina Jolie is a great example of an actress who does different things – a serious movie about a murdered journalist followed by an animated Beowulf and a balls-to-the-walls summer action film.  If an actor has talent and is willing to take a pay cut, there's no reason for them to be typecast.  In terms of who should break out, I'd argue for Shia LaBeouf. Everyone keeps saying what a great talent he is, but I've yet to see it.  I'd love to see him do a drama or two to determine if he's a good actor or just a magnate for teenage girls. 


DS: The actor who grates on me the most (aside from Tom Cruise) is Morgan Freeman. If he plays one more ‘Wise Negro’ role I’ll vomit. Yet, to me, he’s endemic of all that’s wrong with Hollywood. Save for Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts is always Julia, Tom Cruise is always Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio is always Leonardo DiCaprio, etc. The old saying thatan actor pretends he’s someone else, while a star pretends someone else is him’ is true. Agree or not? Thoughts?


JB: First of all, I like Freeman.  I'm tired of Roberts, so I'm glad she's semi-retired. As for Cruise… he has shown he's a good actor but has fallen into the trap of too often being lazy in picking roles.  I loved him in Tropic Thunder and think that showed that he's not afraid of occasionally doing something different.  His work in Magnolia was eye-opening.  The problem with being a star is that, the better known an actor is, the more difficult it becomes for them to vanish into the role.  Bogart was capable of this.  He may be the most iconic actor ever to work in Hollywood, but ten minutes into a performance, you forget it's him.  Today, a lot of big-name actors are hired to play themselves.  They're not being asked to be someone else.  The great actors often aren't the big-name ones.  They're the character actors like Richard Jenkins.  They're the overlooked ones.  Once they win an Oscar and become well-known, it may be a long time before we see them do anything truly memorable.


DS: Let’s speak of some of your filmic opinions. But, before I do, I went searching your site and was disappointed to find so few classic films listed. Obviously, the newer stuff pays the bills, but do you, in the future, hope to build up a back catalog of foreign and classic films? It’s about the only area I would cite as a weakness for Reel Views. I had hoped I could find a number of classic films where I could compare divergences and similarities in our views.


JB: I started reviewing in 1992, so I have a reasonably good catalog of reviews of films released in the last 16 or 17 years.  Before that, it's very hit-or-miss.  I do my best to go back and review older movies as time allows, but time is a problem. Ideally, I would like to do between 25 and 40 older reviews each year, but I rarely get to the point where I can achieve that.  One of the reasons I embarked upon my Top 100 project a few years ago was to force myself to review a certain number of older films on a set schedule.  If I was a full-time critic, I would review many more older films, but to review one older film each week would require that I cut out a recent release or eliminate two blog entries.  Neither would be conducive to retaining or increasing readership. 


DS: Let me pick four films- two rather recent ones, and two classics. The first film is Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. You end stating, Grizzly Man addresses some esoteric themes. Is there a line between man and nature? Did Treadwell see himself as more bear than man? Were the liberties he took by initiating such close contact with the bears "disrespectful" (as one Native American puts it) to the natural boundaries between a predator and its potential prey? Certainly, Treadwell found a clarity in the wilderness with his beloved bears that he could not achieve in human society. And he died the way he wanted to (or, as one person states, "he got what he deserved"); unfortunately, he took someone else with him. Grizzly Man is compelling material from start to finish.First, what is your view of Herzog? I’ve watched perhaps 2/3s of the films he’s made, and even in lesser films, like this, he cores into things no other filmmaker dares to. Why is he such an anomaly? I mean, a guy like Michael Moore, as virtuosic a propagandist as he is, cannot come close to the documentaries of Herzog, or Errol Morris.


JB: Herzog is a great director because has no ego and is willing to try just about anything.  His films don't always work but they are always interesting.  His version of Nosferatu is hands-down the best vampire movie ever brought to the screen. I actually think his documentaries are better than his feature films.  They are not only informative but compelling.  That's the quality that separates Herzog and Morris from Moore.  Moore is a blowhard and his films – especially the recent ones – are more about Moore than they are about the supposed subject matter. 


DS: Now, putting aside the filmic quality, my major gripe with the film was that it, yet again, rewards stupidity over quality. Treadwell was a jackass, if not a psychotic, and, as well made as the film was, did you really learn anything of the man that ameliorates your existence? In Morris’s The Fog Of War, I did learn things of a cosmic and a personal nature of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. In Capturing The Friedmans, much was learnt of the ease with which illogical paranoia can grip a community. Thoughts on my comment, or the other two documentaries mentioned?


JB: Yes, Treadwell was a jackass, and I think that's pretty much how Herzog portrays him.  Yet, by the end of the film, I felt I understood him and what motivated him, and I saw the irony in his death.  To me, Grizzly Man was a fascinating look at the age-old struggle of man versus nature.  The most interesting thing about the movie was the use of all the footage shot by Treadwell gives the film an almost haunting feel. It's like someone speaking from beyond the grave.


DS: Let me turn to another much lauded film, Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. You wrote, first: ‘Mystic River would not be the experience it is without the raw powerhouse performance of Sean Penn, whose grief and rage are so forcefully expressed that they bring tears to the eyes. Eastwood shows us just enough of the tender relationship between Katie and her father to make it genuinely painful when he has to identify her body at the morgue. Penn is justly regarded by many critics as one of America's top actors, and his work in Mystic River will only enhance that reputation. This is the second most effective performance on Penn's resume, following only Dead Man Walking.’ I have to disagree, Penn’s performance was all ham. In watching and reviewing the film, I wrote, Such is the acting. After first seeing it, I thought the acting was solid, although nor enough to justify Oscars for Robbins and Penn. Yet, in reflection, it was cookie cutter emoting- not acting. For example, Penn’s breakdown, earlier in this film, over finding out his daughter’s dead has none of the emotional resonance of the breakdown of his character in Woody Allen’s Sweet And Lowdown because there a comic tale turns serious at the end, when we’ve sympathized with a character that refrains emotion, while Penn’s Jimmy, in Mystic River, is an emotional idiot from the get go.’ And I found Dead Man Walking to be an excruciatingly PC and preachy film with, again, bad acting all around. Penn’s best acting, I find, comes in the lesser lauded roles. When he’s at the center, he’s all ham. Comments?


JB: We disagree.  Penn's performance in both those films moved me.  Emotional resonance can be a personal thing, though.  I can't stand Terms of Endearment but I know plenty of people who are brought to tears by it.  I usually want to vomit. Penn is, in my opinion, generally overrated as an actor.  He has given some great performances, but he is often guilty of phoning in performances or, more often, going over the top.  I am Sam is a nadir.  But I believed him in Mystic River and I believed him in Dead Man Walking. 


DS: And what of actors as directors? Eastwood’s efforts have risen to mediocrity, at best; and things like Million Dollar Baby are embarrassingly bad- from the trite screenplay to the anomic direction to the bad acting. Again, more PC and unrealistic premises, and can Morgan Freeman ever not be ‘the Wise Negro?’ Yet, you thought this a good film. First, Almost all actors-cum-directors, are mediocre with the technical aspects. Eastwood is not in the same universe with the man who made him famous, Sergio Leone. Sean Penn’s Into The Wild saw him try a dozen different directorial techniques, and fail at them all. Kevin Costner’s efforts are pallid- even his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves, is now considered one of the worst Oscar winners ever. But, more so than technical mediocrity is that they do not have the visionary aspect that all great artists, including great directors, have. Actors, after all, are not creative, but- like singers- interpretive, artists. And then there are the numerous vanity projects from big name actors like Jack Nicholson to ‘character’ actors who get behind the camera. To me, this is simply another expression of the urge that drives bad actors (like a David Hasselhoff) to think they are singers, or bad singers (like- take your pick of dozens of rap and pop stars) to think they are actors. I suspect you disagree, so please explain.


JB: First of all, it's rather silly to use the Oscar as a representative of film quality.  For the most part, however, I agree with you – most actors do not have a good grasp on the technical aspects of film.  Dances with Wolves is, I think, and exception.  It's beautifully filmed and has a magnificent John Barry score.  Seen on a huge screen, it's a transformative experience.  It does not work as well at home, but still works well enough to represent three hours well spent.  Eastwood, on the other hand, is very uneven as a director.  Why did I like Million Dollar Baby?  Because the direction of the story surprised me and because it packed an emotional punch (no pun intended).  As I mentioned before, emotional resonance is a personal thing.  If it doesn't work, one tends to regard it with great cynicism.  From a technical standpoint, I don't recall any obvious goofs, but neither were there virtuoso moments.  But I remember the performances, and believe they all rang true.  I'm not a softie by any means, but the movie reached me.


DS: Returning to your take on Mystic River: ‘Mystic River has only one misstep, and that occurs at the conclusion (and is reflective of problems with the book's final pages). Instead of ending cleanly, at the point when everything is in place for the rolling of the credits, the movie drags on for two unfortunate, unnecessary scenes. This superfluous epilogue not only pads the running length, but commits minor character assassination and disallows the possibility of things concluding on a dramatically high note. It is Eastwood and editor Joel Cox's only blunder. (This is the kind of material one would expect to see as an "alternate/rejected ending" on a DVD.)I’ll assume you’re talking about the outlandishly ridiculous,You’re a king!trope. Absolutely horrid, but this is no Rashomon, which can survive such a plummet at the end. Thoughts?


JB: It brings up a question about whether any movie, regardless of how good it is, can absorb a bad ending.  With Mystic River, it's not a case of a bad climax but a poor denouement.  The real story is essentially over by the time we get to the bad stuff.  The same can be said of Rashomon.  The films that get in trouble are those that fall apart at the climax. Who wants to sit through two hours of fine storytelling only to have everything resolved via a deus ex machina? 


DS: But, to digress for a moment, to a much better film, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed; that too has an astonishingly bad ending- the rat by the window scene, following the deus ex machina of Marky Mark as assassin. Letting Matt Damon’s character get away clean would have been much better. And then there was the unnecessary, predictable, and laughably inane love triangle, and the always ineffective Leonardo DiCaprio as badass. Yet you called it a masterpiece. I disagree. It’s certainly well above anything Eastwood’s done, and better than lesser Scorsese fare, like Cape Fear or New York, New York. But, masterpiece? Again, compared to the two bloated films that preceded it, Gangs Of New York and The Aviator, it’s a better film, but you claim, ‘This movie deserves mention alongside Scorsese's most celebrated movies: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Age Of Innocence.’ I would agree it’s on a level with a flawed film like The Age Of Innocence, but there is nothing on a level with the De Niro performances in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, nor the ensemble cast of Goodfellas. I mean, pick the weakest moments in all three of those films- say, the Cybill Shepherd character in Taxi Driver. It never descends into the predictability of the love triangle in The Departed. In Raging Bull, the De Niro-Pesci dynamic has nothing that equals it in the later film. And, Goodfellas- while I might quibble with the so-called realism of the gangster portrayal, works well within its cosmos’ ‘reality;’ whereas The Departed has its characters turn on a dime, emotionally, to satisfy a particular scene, whether or not it serves the film (see the Marky Mark denouement). I’m not trying to pick on your take, but I think it’s illustrative of the tendency to make sweeping judgments aimed at a lowest common denominator rather than dealing with specifics of one work vis-à-vis another. In short, I think you can argue the relative merits of The Departed vs. other good, solid films like The Age Of Innocence, but, against the other three films, I think it’s ludicrous. Comments?

JB: It's hard to overstate the strengths of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. The Departed does not have a performance to match De Niro's, but it compensates with a screenplay that is more complex.  Some of your problems with the film work for me because they fill in obvious gaps from the source material, Infernal Affairs, which is an effective action thriller but one that is at times borderline-incoherent.  It appears that The Departed went to great pains to smooth out the rough edges.  I think the supporting performances in The Departed were, in general, better than those in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas.  Cybill Shepherd?  She has given one worthwhile performance in her career, and it's not in that film.  Joe Pesci is volcanic to the point of caricature. The three earlier films have relatively straightforward, somewhat simplistic plots.  Instead of striving for breadth, they satisfy with depth.  Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are character studies – brilliant and incisive ones.  Goodfellas is more complicated, but is still largely about the seductive power of evil.  The Departed unfolds on a much larger canvas. It replaces depth with breadth in some instances.  And DiCaprio and Damon are very, very good.  I'm not as bothered by Wahlberg as you are.  The ending is abrupt, but it fits.  Re-watch the movie and take the time to reflect on that character and you'll see that the final scene isn't as out-of-the-blue as you contend.  In fact, upon multiple viewings, a lot of those times when characters appear to "turn on a dime" are better motivated than you believe them to be. The Departed, like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, gives up more on a second, third, and fourth viewing. It would have been interesting, however, to see what dynamic De Niro would have brought to the film had he been available.  (Scorsese had him in mind for the Nicholson role.)


DS: We’re halfway through the four films I wanted to discuss. The third is the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window. Like Vertigo, I think it’s a solid film, but vastly overrated, with some mediocre acting, and suffering from Hitch’s overreliance on now discredited Freudian psychology, which allows for characterization that is contrived, especially in contrast to more underrated films like his later (and better) Frenzy. Of Rear Window, which you consider Hitch’s best, you wrote:The idea of a casual voyeur seeing a murder is neither new nor unique, but the manner in which Hichcock presents it is singular. The setup is masterful, as we are given peeks into the rooms of many of Jefferies' unknowing neighbors: Miss Torso, Mrs. Lonelyhearts, Thorwald and his wife, a couple who beats the heat by sleeping on a fire escape, a songwriter, the newlyweds, and a local busybody. We view them in a variety of mundane activities: quarreling, gardening, exercising, talking, laughing, and crying. They are all minor threads in a much larger tapestry (and many of them never interact with Jefferies in any way, except as an object for him to watch), but we become curiously engaged by their personal stories.

  The second phase of the movie is devoted to the murderous act. It is presented in such a way that, at least initially, we're not sure whether a crime has been committed or whether Jefferies is overreacting to a series of circumstances and coincidences. For the most part, we see only what Jefferies sees, but, in one critical scene that muddies the issue of whether or not there was a murder, Hitchcock throws in a red herring by allowing us to observe an incident that occurs while Jefferies is asleep.

  It is during the third part of Rear Window, when Jefferies and Lisa team up to investigate the murder, that Hitchcock ratchets up the tension. Virtually the entire film is shown through Jefferies' window, including the sequence when Lisa slips into the killer's apartment. We view events from afar, and, like Jefferies, feel the weight of paralyzing powerlessness when Thorwald returns unexpectedly. Trapped in his room, there's no way Jefferies can warn Lisa or act to rescue her. All he (and we) can do is watch.’ Not that I’m a slave to realism in film (almost a contradiction in terms), but, like the quibbles I can make with many gangster films, Rear Window has many problems, the largest of which I claim, ‘Yes, one can suspend disbelief from night till day comes, but the whole idea that a man would murder his wife and cut up her body all in front of an open window is sheerly implausible, even back in the 1950s New York milieu the film takes place in. Even one of the film’s characters, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) comments on that fact, but it’s not with irony, which only highlights the film’s greatest failing- its implausibility.’ First, comments on your views of the film, alone, and in the Hitchcock canon. Personally, I’d place The Lodger, Psycho (despite its Freudian flaws), The Birds, Frenzy, and even Rope, significantly higher. Even North By Northwest (basically a lighthearted caper film) has less flaws and more fun.


JB: I have never looked to Hitchcock for realism.  None of his films have it.  Rear Window takes place in its own self-contained world.  I find that claims of the "lack of realism" in a particular film are usually crutches.  How are The Birds and Frenzy any more "realistic" than Rear Window?  (I would actually place the former near the very bottom of Hitchcock's filmography, and my complaints have nothing to do with its sheer implausibility.)  But, even attacking the film on the grounds you assert, the murder and cutting up are done in such a way that there's a lot of uncertainty about what has happened.  It's not as blatant as you state.  As for the Freudian psychology – yes, Hitch is a believer, but I don't see much of it in Rear Window. (It is far more apparent in Vertigo and especially Psycho.) I can understand your complaints about The Departed, but your criticisms about Rear Window are less clearly delineated.   


DS: Next, let’s turn to Hitchcock himself. I mentioned the Cahiers du Cinema crowd, and they foisted what I consider one of the silliest artistic frauds since Abstract Expressionism. That fraud being that Hitchcock was an auteur. To me, he was not a full meal, but Chinese food, whose films always leave you with the munchies. To use another analogy, he was a bureaucrat, a technocrat, not a visionary figure. His films are shallow- if fun, pieces of fluff; with a few exceptions, as I noted. There’s no way, watching the deep, profound, and masterful films of, say, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Bergman, Dreyer, Herzog, Angelopoulos, Tarr, Kubrick, Fellini, Antonioni, or Welles, to compare them with Hitchcock. Recently, I got the chance to review the new pre-release of The Criterion Collection’s Kurosawa classic High And Low. Just looking at the middle sequence, where a ransom drop takes place on a train, and comparing it to the numerous train sequences in Hitchcock films, shows Kurosawa’s vast superiority- technically, dramatically, narratively, symbolically, etc. In short, Hitchcock served the Spielberg crowd (although I know he’s a fave of yours, most cineastes shudder at even mentioning him in the same breath with an Antonioni, etc.), although better, with better style and depth. However, that was still well short of the highest forms of cinematic art. Putting aside obviously bad directors like an Ed Wood, where between an Ozu or a Welles and a Spielberg or Michael Bay, would you rank Hitchcock? And do you, indeed, put him in a league with some of the directors I named above?


JB: To me, Hitchcock is one of the most masterful directors of suspense thrillers.  He is not, however, a director who could develop deep characters or serious drama.  He is one of the top genre directors ever to have worked.  I agree that Kurosawa is a more satisfying and accomplished director.  I also agree that Hitchcock "served the Spielberg crowd" but, as you point out, I'm a fan of Spielberg's.  Spielberg is also a genre director.  Kurosawa dabbled in genre films, but he was accomplished enough to be able to work in whatever niche a film demanded.  Comparing Ozu with Hitchcock is unfair.  The two didn't make the same kinds of films, nor was that their intention.  Hitchcock's goal was always a visceral, immediate response.  Ozu was more meditative and thoughtful.  If I'm in the mood for a thriller, I'm not going to seek out something by Ozu.  Possibly Kurosawa, but more likely Hitchcock.  By the way, I have some issues with the lionization of Welles.  Citizen Kane is inarguably one of the greatest movies ever made, but beyond that, Welles has a checkered history.  When you speak of egotistical directors, he goes straight to the top of the list.  One of the reasons so many of his films ended up in messes is because of his ego.  Next to him, Godard exudes humility.


DS: And, I know you praised The Dark Knight- a film I’ll wait till it’s out on DVD to see; but surely, when you say great, you mean vis-à-vis a Hollywood blockbuster. You’re not claiming it’s in a league with Seven Samurai nor La Dolce Vita? This (especially the Heath Ledger worship) reminds me of the fawning over Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs. Yet, Hopkins’ Lecter was a cartoon character, ala Freddy Krueger, not a realistic murderer. Brian Cox’s realistic take on the character in Manhunter, beats Hopkins’ in all three outings as Lecter. So, when one states Ledger gave a great performance, it’s in the Hopkins scenery-chewing mold, no? You’re not meaning Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita, nor even Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove ‘great,’ right?


JB:  You have inadvertently stumbled into the realm of one of my pet peeves – commenting, even indirectly, on a movie you have not seen. It's doubtful you'll appreciate the movie as more than a well-crafted blockbuster because you're coming at it with strongly negative preconceptions. To wit: It doesn't deserve your attention until it comes out on DVD - a format in which it will lose a lot.  Do I think it's the second coming of Seven Samurai?  Of course not, but that's a loaded question.  You can legitimately compare The Departed to Taxi Driver.  Same director, same general era.  But comparing a classic to something just off the assembly line?  What I'll say about The Dark Knight is this: Yes, it's among the best Hollywood blockbusters around, but it's also a very good film. It deals with a lot of classical, Shakespearean themes and ideas, although they are buried within the trappings of something with broad-based appeal.  Moving on to Lecter.  You claim that Hopkins' portrayal is not that of a realistic murderer, and I agree.  But I don't think Lecter is intended to be a realistic killer.  He's supposed to be over-the-top and almost supernatural. That fits the material, because Silence of the Lambs is not a terribly realistic thriller.  It's a genre film and Hopkins is perfect as the villain in that movie.  Ledger is over-the-top and creepy.  This is not a realistic movie by any means.  The Dark Knight is a fantasy.  Fantasies need larger-than-life villains and heroes. 


DS: It’s not that The Dark Knight doesn’t deserve my attention, simply that I have limited time and resources. That’s not a predisposition; in fact, I thought Batman Begins was a good film, but within its genre. It was not great cinema, nor great art. Anyway, in regards to the aforementioned French film magazine Cahiers Du Cinema, and its being laced with meaningless references to dead philosophers, there have also been popular magazines that boost film, if not in the Lowest Common Denominator way of Entertainment Weekly, but with some intelligence, like the less pretentious English magazine Sight And Sound. What, if any, are your favorite film magazines or websites? And why?


JB: I liked the sadly defunct Premiere magazine.  Sight and Sound is also good.  And I sometimes like Film Comment, although it tends a little toward the pretentious.


DS: I’ve mentioned how you seem to be the most successful online reviewer going, at least in terms of name branding and quotation from film ads, as well as, likely, traffic. But, I do note that you belong to the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), run by the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator site. Was that what was meant by your being ‘accredited’ as a film reviewer inn 1997? Back at the start of 2007 I applied to join OFCS, but, after seven or eight months of trying to find an answer, I was eventually told no, although I easily qualified vs. their stated qualifications:

Reviews, articles, and the web site should be of a professional level quality. (Roughly 40%)
Reviews, and articles should be comprehensive, or ones that fill an under-served niche. (Roughly 30%)
The member should offer meaningful contributions to film criticism and the OFCS. (Roughly 20%)
The member's written work or web site should have outstanding features. (Roughly 10%)

  Yet, in researching the group, I found many of the member websites long abandoned, out of date, and many were very non-professional- reviews only a couple of hundred words long, and of the ‘Yo Dude, this movie blows!’ variety. First, how did you become involved with it, and what is your current status? Second, is it an insular and/or incestuous sort of group, like many of the big cities’ film critics’ societies (I know because I’ve had acquaintances who were in such groups who told me tales), or like the cliques one finds in Academia or college? Third, since I plan on reapplying in January of 2009, and in the two years have only added hundreds of more reviews, mostly on foreign and classic films that are ignored, any tips on getting accepted this time, and/or could you recommend my website for inclusion? After all, I would like to be able to get my reviews linked to such a popular site, as well, for, when we discuss website popularity via Google, later on, and your online success story, we’ll delve into the import of linkage; which, counts as much to Google as actual traffic popularity.


JB: I have little direct involvement with the organization.  I am an original member.  I was asked to join and agreed.  I fulfill my yearly obligations, writing at least 50 new reviews and voting for the end-of-the-year awards.  Accreditation had nothing to do with OFCS.  I was accredited before they existed.  I'm not a member of the group that reviews sites for membership consideration, so I can't comment upon why you were rejected or why some other sites were accepted.  With respect to your next application, keep in mind that quantity is important.  The OFCS generally expects at least a minimum of 50 reviews to be added each year.  (They can be of new or older movies – if you write 50 reviews of classic films during the calendar year 2008, those will count as 50 "new" reviews. It's the age of the review, not the movie, that counts.)  Also, while Rotten Tomatoes hosts OFCS, the two are only partners, not intertwined.  It is possible to get linked to RT without being a member of the OFCS.  I'm not sure of the procedure, but there are critics listed on the Tomatometer who are not member of the society.


DS: Let me move away from the French to bad American criticism, of the academic, not populist, sort. One of the seminal books of modern film criticism is Paul Schrader’s 1972, Transcendental Style In Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. Having read it, it’s a really bad book, which quite surprised me, since he’s written fine screenplays. Aside from an inability to even define the book’s title, the work was larded with grammatical and punctual errors, not well thought out, and reeked of a young college kid trying to impress his professor by quoting specious experts whose words were barely tangential to matters at hand. First, have you read the book, and if so, what is your opinion on it? Also, what other books of film criticism, academic or populist, would you recommend, other than your own?


JB: I haven't read the book but, like you, I admire Schrader's screenplays (at least, his older ones).  To be frank, there aren't a lot of books on film criticism that I can recommend.  I have read a lot and forgotten most of them.  The search for the Holy Grail of American Film Criticism is a journey of frustration.  There are good critics and good individual pieces of criticism but not many books that one can curl up with on a snowy winter's night.  Having said that, I enjoy collections of complete reviews.  Before the Internet age, it was a pleasure to purchase Ebert's yearbooks.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with her, Pauline Kael is pretty much mandatory reading. Then there's Manny Farber, who represents a good read.


DS: Finally, since I mentioned Kurosawa, let me turn to a film of his that I think may have one of the worst endings for an arguably great film: Rashomon. You opined:And, like all of the best directors, Kurosawa did not produce his movies with an elite audience in mind. Though always intelligent, his body of work plays as well to the "average" movie-goer as it does to the true cineaste. That's the reason why Hollywood has plundered Kurosawa's pictures on a regular basis.’ I tend to agree with that sentiment. While I tend to get aggravated watching the Lowest Common Denominator tripe Hollywood regurges, the hoidy-toidy pretentious Eurotrash of the ‘60s-‘80s, made by Bunuel, Pasolini, etc., is as bad. Mainly it’s because they looked down upon their audience’s intelligence. Pasolini’s Salo exemplifies that contempt for the audience more than any other film I can think of. Of Rashomon, you also write: In the end, we are left recognizing only one thing: that there is no such thing as an objective truth. It is a grail to be sought after, but which will never be found, only approximated. Kurosawa's most brilliant move in Rashomon is never to reveal what really happened. We are left to make our own deductions. Every time I watch the film, I come away with a slightly different opinion of what transpired in the woods. But not knowing remains a source of fascination, not one of frustration, and therein lies Kurosawa's greatest achievement.’ Again, an excellent point. But what of the ending? I mean, the rain breaks, the sun shines, and out walks the woodcutter with the baby. Teeth-gnashingly bad, and easily the worst end to a Kurosawa film I’ve see; even compared to his lesser overall films. Surely the ending grates on you?


JB: I agree that it's by far the weakest aspect of the film, but it has never really bothered me.  Perhaps that's because it happens quickly and is over and I'm still busy thinking about everything that comes before it.  I have a low tolerance for bad endings but this one didn't bother me as much as it did you. 


DS: On that topic, what do you think is the worst ending ever for a great film?


JB:  That's a tough question because I find it hard to define a film with a weak ending as "great."  Obviously, there are exceptions.  For me, SCHINDLER'S LIST comes to mind.  For the most part, I think it's a great film, but the climax, where Liam Neeson does the hand wringing about not being able to save more… that just came across as bad acting and worse melodrama.  It was somewhat softened by the rather touching final scene with the placing of the stones on his grave by the survivors. 


DS: I do have a point of disagreement with you on the film, though. You wrote: The most striking portrayal, however, belongs to the radiant Machiko Kyo, whose mesmerizing, seductive character varies the most from narrative to narrative. She can be wholesome, treacherous, sexy, sympathetic, or vicious. Depending on who's painting her portrait, she is a victim, a manipulator, an innocent, or a vixen. At times, she's "like a child trying to be serious"; at others, she's "fierce." As good as Mifune and Mori are, they are constantly upstaged by Kyo. In casting her, an unknown at the time, Kurosawa knew what he was doing.’ I have to disagree totally. I wrote, While all the actors are wonderful, too much attention has been given to Toshiro Mifune’s loony overacting (sometimes a necessity for the comic and divergent elements to emerge) as the bandit. Yes, this film made him a star, but the best performance in the film is by Masayuki Mori, already a major film and stage star in Japan. His is a far less showy role than Mifune’s, but he conveys the slight differences all the versions the others tell with none of the easy visual pyrotechnics Mifune’s almost boobish bandit is allowed. The raising of an eyebrow can mean the difference between truth and lie, and Mori is expert at walking the line between those ends. Machiko Kyo, as the wife, is the least notable performer. In a sense, hers is a throwaway role that could have been filled by any actress, for nothing she brings to the role is as defining as Mifune’s antic frenzies, Mori’s many subtleties, nor Shimura’s grand equivocations.’ My take is that too much emphasis is placed on scenery chewing as defining great acting. It’s akin to Hollywood rewarding portrayals of retards or the mentally ill: Charly, David And Lisa, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Rain Man, Forrest Gump, as if acting outrageously were great acting. I’d wager you could find a hundred actors who could have played the lead roles in those films with little or no drop off in quality, but the sort of performance Mori gives you’d be hard pressed to find one or two other actors in Japan, at the time, who could have done as well. So, do you agree with my claim that scenery-chewing gets rewarded out of proportion as good acting? If so, what is the reason behind this?


JB: Scenery chewing can be great acting, but it depends on the project.  To me, great acting is getting to the heart of a character.  In some cases, that means going over the top.  In some cases, it means being contained and low-key.  Depends on the role.  One of the things that made Jennifer Ehle's portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett so remarkable in Pride and Prejudice is how much she did with her eyes.  When I think of that performance, I think of her eyes.  Every emotion was reflected in them.  On the other hand, why is Alan Rickman so good in Die Hard?  Because he hits just the right note of scenery chewing.  Sure, a more contained performance might have made Hans a more dangerous character, but the film wouldn't have been nearly as fun. 

  But it's clear that, when it comes time for handing out Oscar nominations, Hollywood goes for the shameless scenery chewing.  When Sean Penn gets nominated for I am Sam, something is out of whack.  There's no character there – just a mawkish caricature.


DS: Let me get on to a sort of Rorschach test of cinema, and list directors, and ask for a brief assessment of your opinion. But, before we start, I note that you list Steven Spielberg as one of your favorite directors. Believe me, I’m trying not to be sardonic, but is this your ‘inner child’ at work? I mean, forget what I said my opinion of Hitchcock was vis-à-vis some of the filmic titans I mentioned, who, I think, in a century or two, will take their places alongside Shakespeare, Picasso, Beethoven, and Mozart. But, surely, there’s even a far greater distance downward from Hitch to Spielberg than from Mizoguchi to Hitch? Even his pal, George Lucas, who sold out the talent he displayed in THX-1138 to make the Star Wars toy commercials-cum films, at least had some real creativity. I mean, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a déclassé Lassie From Space. It’s simply godawful storytelling. Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are mawkish, ham-handed films loaded with clichés and stereotypes, and the few films of his that are his best- like Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, A.I., and Minority Report, are either simple-minded vehicles that lack the pretense of his later schlock, or films that start well, due to the groundwork of others (Stanley Kubrick and Philip K. Dick) then go to absolute hell in their final 30 minutes or so. Now, as a Godzilla fan from my childhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s, tell me this is all just emotions and childhood warm feelings overcoming your critical acumen?


JB: Putting aside the fact that I have never been impressed by E.T., I think Spielberg is one of the best storytellers around.  He's obviously not as artistic as some of the pioneers but, when it comes to pure entertainment, it's hard to beat him.  My view of film is that it's a mixture of art and entertainment, and those who turn up their nose to either side are losing half the equation.  Spielberg's more sentimental films are a little mawkish, but they also touch the emotions on some level.  I was viscerally impacted by both Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.  Both films have weaknesses but both are expert examples of storytelling.  By the way, I HATE THX-1138.  I think it's pretentious, self-absorbed garbage.  It's someone with no clue trying to produce art.


DS: Ok, on to the Rorschach. Let me now play name and association with some big name directors, and tell me if you agree with my assessments, and add any comments of your own, underneath (in non-bolded text to differentiate):

Woody Allen: Golden Age was 1977-1992


Can't argue with this.  Excepting Match Point, he hasn't made anything great since Husbands and Wives.  In fact, a lot of his recent stuff has been frustratingly mediocre.


Theo Angelopoulos: out-ellipseses Ozu


That's an interesting way to put it…


Michelangelo Antonioni: alienation and cinematography


Never been a big fan.  He seems more interested in technique than storytelling.  For me, that's a problem.  Both have to be considered.


Ingmar Bergman: the best published writer of the 20th Century?


One of my favorite Bergman films is one he didn't direct: The Best Intentions.  I think Bergman got better as both a writer and director as he got older and there's no doubt that his most powerful films are the autobiographical ones. 


Peter Bogdanovich: better DVD shill than director


Bogdanovich has done one good thing.  Take away The Last Picture Show and there's not much there.  I feel bad for him, though, because of the tragedies in his personal life.  Same with Roman Polanski.


Frank Capra: misunderstood for Capra-corn


Yes – there's a lot more to his movies than it apparent to those who want to dismiss him out-of-hand.  The term "Capra-corn" is overused.


John Cassavetes: hit or miss


Hit or miss, but almost always interesting. I have fallen asleep watching some of his films on video but have always rewound them and watched what I missed.


Charlie Chaplin: smeared as a sentimentalist


Chaplin is a master.  Enough said.


Jean Cocteau: amateurish garbage


I kind of like Beauty and the Beast.  But he is overrated.  Maybe because he's French.


Francis Ford Coppola: missing in action for nearly three decades


IMO, Coppola has done one thing: The Godfather (Parts I and II).  There's nothing else of great value in his filmography.  I suppose Apocalypse Now could have been great, but it goes so far off course in its final third that it turns into virtual self-parody. 


Carl-Theodor Dreyer: more is less


He certainly knew how to use images to compensate for the lack of dialogue. I know he continued making films in the sound era, but I don't think I have seen any of them.


Federico Fellini: better earlier than late


Not a fan.  I find some of his best loved films to be merely adequate.  I may be the only one who is not rapturously in love with La Dolce Vita (although I have nothing bad to say about Anita Ekberg).  I really like Nights of Cabiria. 


John Ford: overrated and conventional


Again, I don't mind conventional.  When it comes to great Westerns, Ford was among the best. 


Sam Fuller: better than Sam Peckinpah


I'd reverse it.  I prefer Peckinpah to Fuller.


Jean-Luc Godard: empty and facile


We're in 100% agreement on him.  I detest Godard.


David Gordon Green: sliding toward sellout


Too early to make that condemnation.  I thought he brought an interesting vibe to Pineapple Express.


D.W. Griffith: killed reputation with The Birth Of A Nation


In all fairness, Birth of a Nation is pretty tough to watch. 


Howard Hawks: better than John Ford


As I said, I like Ford.  But I enjoy Hawks too.  For me, they'd be on about the same level.


Werner Herzog: master of music and eye level realism


When I think of Herzog, I think of someone who won't be constrained by anything, least of all expectations.


Ron Howard: Spielberg Lite


I would agree, but keep in mind that I have a significantly higher opinion of Spielberg than you do.


Buster Keaton: great theatrical mechanics




Krystof Kieslowski: peaked at the end


Yes, beginning with Decalogue.  I think his late-career surge had a lot with his being paired with Piesiewicz.


Fritz Lang: born too early


Considering what he did with what was available at the time, it would have been interesting to see what he could have done decades later.


Sergio Leone: underrated master of dark nature


I don't know that I've ever heard him referred to quite that way.  I have always thought he was underrated.  The term "spaghetti western" has always sounded vaguely derisive to me, and isn't reflective of his entire body of work.  Best remake of a Kurosawa film ever.


George Lucas: downhill sellout since THX 1138


I think the first two Star Wars films were excellent storytelling vehicles.  Not original, to be sure, but a near-perfect fusion of escapist elements.  And it's impossible to deny their influence on filmmaking in general.  That being said, Lucas became more and more obsessed with special effects and milking his empire.  His fan-unfriendliness is astounding and it's clear he hasn't had an interesting story to tell in more than 20 years.  And, as I already indicated, I don't agree with you about THX 1138, which is – to me – pretentious crap.


F.W. Murnau: overlooked silent master


Overlooked?  Really?  He'd be one of the first names that came to my mind if you asked me about silent film directors.  After Chaplin but before Lang.  But maybe that's because I really like Shadow of the Vampire.


Stanley Kubrick: big ideas, enigmatic


I don't like all of his films but I don't find anything he has made to be uninteresting.  Sometimes I think he intentionally set out to screw around with viewers' minds, though.


Akira Kurosawa: most versatile director of all time?


He's one of my favorites, right up there with Hitchcock.  And, yes, before you ask, he is a lot more versatile than Hitch.


Yasujiro Ozu: master of the small


For lack of a better term, a very "spiritual" director. 


Sam Peckinpah: never mastered character development


That's true, but neither did Fuller.  And Peckinpah is a lot more kinetic.


Roman Polanski: master of the weird


I'm not the biggest admirer of Polanski, although I will admit he has made a few great films.  For some reason, though, when I think of him, the image that comes most forcefully to me is Peter Coyote on his hands and knees barking like a dog.  I often wonder how Polanski's career would have gone had the Manson family not killed Tate. Would we have gotten Chinatown?


John Sayles: diversity


I don't think Sayles has ever made a *bad* film. He's made some marginal ones but he's one director whose movies I approach with optimism.  Even when a movie doesn't sound that interesting from a plot description, Sayles manages to pull something out of his hat, whether it's an interesting character or a nice twist of the plot, or something else. Limbo may be my favorite.  I love the ending because it's so ballsy. 


Martin Scorsese: last decade has gone Hollywood


We already discussed him at some length regarding The Departed.  Before that film, I was a little disappointed in him, at least post-Goodfellas.  I don't think he "went Hollywood," though.  I think he was trying to capture something that was eluding him – maybe trying everything in his power to get an Oscar. 


Andrei Tarkovsky: master of the deep


How about hypnotic?


Bela Tarr: out-Tarkovsky’s Tarkovsky


How about an acquired taste?


Jacques Tourneur: greatest B film director ever


I've only seen a few of his films, so I don't feel knowledgeable enough to comment.  Cat People is certainly a good B-movie, though.


Orson Welles: did most with the least


It's almost impossible to evaluate Welles.  He was obviously a perfectionist and, in the end, a sell-out.  But he left behind some great stuff, as well.  I think he was his worst enemy.  Ego goes with greatness, I suppose, but he could have amounted to a lot more than he did.  In the end, I don't think he gave a shit any more. 


DS: Let me now ask you about some of the big name critics in print and television, and you tell me what you think their pros and cons are: Kenneth Turan, John Simon, Gene Shalit, Leonard Maltin, Michael Medved, Rex Reed, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Janet Maslin. Turan is probably the best of the lot, critically, although he lacks Ebert’s way with words. As for the rest? Simon and Medved seem to delimit their criticism with their own narrow views of life, while the others are mere pop critics, save Rosenbaum, who tends toward the masturbatory in his writing.


JB:  This is the kind of question that gets me into trouble because I don't like analyzing the work of other critics. I find it to be impolite and unprofessional – plus, I see most of these guys on a regular basis.  However, I have no compunctions about ripping quote whores.  Those are the faux critics who give away praise to films just to curry favor with studios and so they can see their names in print.  Include Jeffrey Lyons in that group.  Leonard Maltin used to be respected but he has sold his soul to Entertainment Tonight and by allowing his name to be used on a book where the capsules aren't his.  I respect Medved even though I rarely agree with him because he's got the guts to say what he thinks regardless of what anyone else things.  Janet Maslin was never much of a critic, which is why she's out of the game. 


DS: How about some famed critics who are dead, like Vincent Canby, Renata Adler, Bosley Crowther, James Agee, Gene Siskel, Joel Siegel, and Pauline Kael? I’d say Agee and Siskel were the best critics in that lot.


JB:  Agee was brilliant.  Siskel was not a good writer but I agreed with him more often than with Ebert.  Canby was pretentious but had immense power due to his position at the time, like Crowther before him. (It actually mystifies me how Crowther got his position, and having gotten it, how he held onto it for a quarter of a century.) I believe Adler is still alive; I've read Pitch Dark but none of her film criticism. I never had much use for Siegel although I guess he was a nice guy.  I liked Pauline Kael's writing but often disagreed with her.  But agreement or disagreement doesn't mean much to me; it's more a question of whether a writer can keep me coming back for more.  Kael did that.  Agee too.  I only read Canby when I was visiting my grandfather and he had a copy of the New York Times handy.  Crowther was before my time so I have only read his reviews in collections.


DS: My error; you are right- Adler is still amongst us. And what are your takes on film theorists like Andrew Sarris, André Bazin, Ray Carney, Jacques Rivette, and Francois Truffaut? The whole idea of ‘auteur theory’ strikes me as silly as claiming that the person responsible for a novel is the novelist. Likewise, Bazin’s rejection of ‘critical’ criticism seems to me a key for understanding the whole fatuousness of the Cahiers Du Cinema crowd. Of that lot, Ray Carney seems to be the most interesting.


JB:  Truffaut was unquestionably a better filmmaker than a critic.  Largely, though, the proponents of the 'auteur theory' seem like egomaniacs.  Film is a collaborative effort so to take credit for authoring a movie is the height of arrogance. When it comes to making a movie, some jobs are more important than others, but to say that one – even the director – is preeminent, is ridiculous.  Take Rivette's own La Belle noiseuse.  You can make a legitimate claim that the director is secondary to that film's effectiveness, behind the work of actors Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Beart. 

  I hate to dismiss Sarris out of hand, and maybe he provided valuable insight into film around the middle of last century, but his writings reek of self-righteousness. He's the kind of guy who probably loves to hear himself speak.  I also think Carney is elitist.  When I read something written by a critic, I like to feel that I'm being addressed as an intelligent, curious equal, not as someone to be lectured and looked down upon. When I read Sarris and Carney, I feel like they are deigning to impart nuggets of wisdom to someone unworthy.


DS: In an essay called, The Anticipation Of La Notte: The ‘Heroic Age’ Of Moviegoing, film critic Philip Lopate wrote:One has to guard against the tendency to think of one’s youth as a time when the conversations were brighter, the friends truer, and the movies better. I am quite willing to let go of the first two, but it does seem to have been my luck to have come of age during a period of phenomenal cinematic creativity. I like to think of the early sixties as the ‘heroic’ age of moviegoing, if one can call ‘heroic’ an activity that consists of sitting on one’s bum and letting one’s thoughts be guided by a parade of cinematic sensations.’ Lopate’s not the only one to have this sense of the ‘heroic.’ Indeed, it’s not even confined to cinema. Back then the Great American Novelist was seen as a ‘heroic field.’ Do you think such claims, by the older generations, are mere nostalgia-mongering, or were they on to something, that the art was deeper, and took itself more seriously?


JB: There's certainly some truth to it, since movies have become increasingly commercial and less artistic post-1977, but there's also some nostalgia involved.  There's still art to be found in cinema, but one has to be increasingly more adventurous to see it.  Independent and foreign cinema is where it is primarily to be found, and not so much in Hollywood.  For those who don't live near an art house, that likely means their experiences with art have become increasingly restricted to home video.  That's one reason why adult attendance of multiplexes is in a state of gradual decline.  Attendance is roughly flat because more and more kids are attending on a weekly basis.


DS: Let me mention a sort of catch-all phrase that is tossed about in film criticism, yet which seems to lack any real definition: mise-en-scène. It’s as if any time a wannabe film critic wants to sound ‘deep’ he mentions the term, and uses it to bludgeon whatever film or director he simply does not like, because- unlike dialogue, character development or even a technical thing like camera movement, it is a nebulous thing. It seems that many film theorists try to remove film from the circle of arts by positing an exceptionalism that only a select few of them can understand. To what do you attribute this ‘snobbishness,’ shall we say? And are there any correctives?


JB: I don't believe I have EVER used the term mise-en-scène.  As you said, it's not terribly well defined.  It's like je ne sais quoi.  That is well-defined but it sounds a lot better in French than in English.  Terms like those are cop-outs.  It's the film critic's job to explain things in precise terms, not to resort to vague French phrases in an attempt to sound profound.  If you think you know what mise-en-scène means, great – since you know it, explain it rather than throwing out the term.


DS: To digress, I’ve always raged about how one can get the latest Hollywood schlockbuster film for far less than a quality foreign film from DVD companies like The Criterion Collection, Kino, Masters Of Cinema, Facets, or Anchor Bay. Do foreign film DVD distributors simply not want to get into this market? It seems like an artificial wall designed to keep those ‘Philistine American plebeians’ from accessing great art. And, what is the deal behind the different DVD zones?


JB: It's more an issue of supply-and-demand.  DVDs of major blockbusters are expected to sell millions of copies, so the profit margin can be radically sliced on them.  The average Criterion release sells in the thousands or tens of thousands, so there's a need to make a fair amount per disc.  Also, it's unlikely that Criterion would sell more discs if they cut the price because they are essentially serving a niche market.  And, one final thing: Best Buy will heavily discount a blockbuster to get people into the store in the hope that they'll buy other things.  Discounting a Criterion Collection release will not achieve the same thing. 

  Keep in mind the thorny issue of Region encoding as well.  A French film can't simply be imported into the United States. It has to be re-encoded into Region 0 or 1 in order for the vast majority of North American DVD players to play it. 


DS: This leads me into one of my more controversial ideas- that film is really literature with pictures, not photos with narrative. Yet, the more I’ve watched classic and foreign films, and the more I’ve learnt of the great filmmakers’ ideas, the more I think my view is the correct one. Although the sentiment is attributed to many directors, I believe it was John Huston who said (paraphrasing), All films succeed or fail because of their screenplays. Period.Your ideas?


JB: I'm with you on this one.  It's the old argument about which would make a better film: a great director with a bad screenplay or a bad director with a great screenplay.  I think there's more potential with the latter.  To me, movies have to tell stories.  It's not good enough for them to present an array of pretty images and expect us to become enraptured. That might work for a while but it will eventually lead to boredom.  Great cinema involves the intellect and the emotions and that's a match for "literature with pictures" rather than "photos with narrative." 


DS: Earlier I mentioned the late Bosley Crowther, the New York Times’ film critic of the mid-20th Century, and did so negatively. I feel he was amongst the worst reviewers I’ve read (even those bottom of the barrel online types). He was quite stolid, and I find some of his archived reviews to be evocations of pure obliviousness. Many of the film theory sort chided him for a focus on content, and ignorance of technical matters, yet I find most film criticism- especially that based in film theory, to go to the other extreme, and wholly ignore screenplays, character development, themes, etc., while masturbating over editing, lighting, sound, and the aforementioned mise-en-scène. Yet, what do you think all those technical aspects are for? To serve the story! After all, film is called ‘motion pictures,’ not ‘pictured motion’! While I could be generous, and state that these critics, historians, and theorists simply focus on what interests them, I know- from years in writing groups, that the real reason is simply that the technical aspects of film are far easier to understand than the abstract language-based aspects. How many times have you read that a critic says a film is well-written, but upon watching it you hear that the conversations are a string of banalities? I argue that most filmgoers are not moved, even subliminally, by mere visual technique- such as the on the shoulder compositions in Antonioni’s L’Avventura, much less can they understand them. Comments?


JB: The first thing I look for in any film is an engaging, intelligent story.   Everything else comes in second. As you say, the point of all the other aspects of filmmaking is to bring the story to life. When you think about it, there's not that much difference between a big, dumb blockbuster like Independence Day and one of these elitist art films that focuses on technique.  Both are committing the same fundamental mistake: substituting supporting elements for story.  Cineastes will rail against Independence Day and popcorn munchers will dismiss the French New Wave, but both sides might be surprised to learn how much they fundamentally have in common.  The story needs to be in place for the interpretation to have meaning.  If you start with nothing then, no matter how masterful the composition, there's still nothing. What was it someone once said – "a gold-plated turd is still a turd."


DS: Another digression, while we speak of foreign films. Perhaps it’s because I grew up sneaking into theaters in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to see the latest Godzilla release that hit stateside, but I cannot stand subtitling. Dubbing is so vastly superior, yet when I hear others complain about being distracted by unsynchronized lip motions, I ask, ‘Well, are you NOT distracted by having up to a third or more of the visual medium covered?’ With DVDs, luckily, when I watch a film again, to review a commentary, I often pick up on visuals covered by the words. I simply do not get how any rational being could prefer subtitles. To mention Bergman, I recall watching his Spider Trilogy of films, and the dubbing actually helped the film because the different actor voices for, say, Max Von Sydow, helped differentiate the different characters he played in Through A Glass, Darkly and Winter Light. Plus, as cartoons have shown, the easiest portion of acting to replicate, and to convey emotion, is the voice. The great actors are always separated from the mortals by their ability to act with their bodies, faces, or just a body part- and that’s all retained in dubbing. Which camp do you fall into, and why?


JB: Nearly all the dubbing done today is awful.  Bad dubbing is a major distraction. This is part of the reason why I am partial to subtitles. I'm used to them.  The only time I find them to be problematic is when there's an issue of white subtitles on a light background, and it's difficult to read the subtitles.  I appreciate what Danny Boyle did with Slumdog Millionaire.  He went out of the way to make a film that, when it uses subtitles, does so in a manner that's warm and friendly.  The problem with dubbing for me is that I DO get caught up in the mis-sychronization of lips and words.  It becomes almost obsessive.  I think it's a mindset.  Whatever you were first exposed to is probably what you're most comfortable with.  When it comes to animated films, however, I don't understand why anyone would want to watch those subtitled.  There's no sense of an "imposter voice" since the cartoons don't have voices to begin with.


DS: On this subject, I have to bring up The Criterion Collection, a company I’ve now become a pre-release reviewer for. Their biggest flaw, I feel, comes with their subtitles- they are always white, even for black and white films, and are often unreadable against lighter backgrounds. Is there some technical reason that such a company does not use gold lettering, at least? Other DVD companies do. Even Facets, which also uses white lettering, at least bold outlines the white letters in black.


JB: I have no idea why they do that.  I think there's a sense that the yellow/gold lettering is somehow jarring when the film is in black-and-white, but I'd rather be jarred than not be able to read some of what's being said.  As I mentioned, I think Danny Boyle found the perfect subtitle solution with Slumdog Millionaire, where he uses different colors, appealing backgrounds to the subtitles, and intelligent placement.  Sort of like a dialogue balloon in a comic book, although not as obtrusive. 


DS: Have you ever been asked to do a film commentary for a DVD? If not, why do you think not? And, if you could, what are some of the films you’d love to comment on?


JB: I haven't been asked and I've never really thought about it.  I'm not sure it's something I would enjoy.  I suppose I'd be willing to try it once but it would have to be a film I like enough to be willing to sit through it the number of times necessary to come up with all sorts of interesting things to say about various scenes.  I have to confess that I rarely listen to commentary tracks and more because I find that most of them are either repetitive, obvious, or self-indulgent. Scholarly tracks, while they may contain some useful information, are often so monotonous that they cause me to tune out.  And tracks recorded by the movie's participants are typically just a string of anecdotes that hold little interest for someone not directly involved in the production.


DS: I would rate Roger Ebert as possibly the best commentarian around- his Citizen Kane and Dark City commentaries are classic. The worst might be Annette Insdorf, on the Three Colors Trilogy, by Krzysztof Kieślowski. Pedantic, grating, and condescending are her sins. As for directors, Francis Ford Coppola is always great. Film historian Stephen Prince can be great in one commentary, and terrible in another. Who would you rate as best and worst commentarians? And why do you think directors like Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen disdain commentaries?


JB: Again, I don't listen to enough of them to be able to comment intelligently.  I understand Spielberg and Allen's position, however, and it's shared by many directors.  They want the movie to speak for itself, which I think is reasonable. I am now at the point where, when I buy a DVD, I don't care about the special features.  Deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes – these mean nothing to me. All I'm looking for is the best possible audio and video possible for the movie.  So, for the most part, I don't care whether there's a commentary or whether it's good or bad because I won't be listening to it.  I'm not saying all commentaries are without value, but about 90% of the ones I have listened to made me felt I had wasted my time.  I'd rather watch a movie twice with the full soundtrack than watch it once as intended and once with people talking over it.


DS: Let me again quote from Philip Lopate. In his book American Movie Critics: An Anthology From The Silents Until Now, he claims, ‘more energy, passion and analytical juice have gone into film criticism than into literary criticism, or probably any other writing about the arts,’ especially in the last half century. I agree. Why do you think this is; because of the rise of deliteracy- a term I coined meaning the willful disdain of reading quality works in favor of reading things online only, or because of the greater availability of films?


JB: Certainly, the fact that people don't read as much has contributed to the fact that less is being written about books.  And, when people read criticism, it is paradoxically true that they would prefer to read about movies than books.  The rise of the Internet has played a major part in this in recent years.  On-line writers are much more interested in film than in literature.  They view the latter as a dead or dying medium.  Plus, I think the quality of literary criticism is exceptionally poor.  It's easier to find an intelligent essay on film than something of equal value on books. 


DS: Let me ask you about an often overlooked director, Robert Wise. Here is a man who won a few Oscars, and directed classics like The Curse Of The Cat People, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Run Silent, Run Deep, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, The Andromeda Strain, as well as the first Star Trek movie. He was accomplished in many genres, yet is he ignored on the greatest directors list because he was a studio guy, and not an auteur? Because there were no signature ‘Wise moments’ nor camera movements?


JB: Wise never sought the spotlight.  It's that simple. People like Welles and Hitchcock had huge egos and marketed themselves ceaselessly.  Wise just went out and did his job.  I think people who know film hold him in high regard.  Those who don't know of him still hold some of his films in high regard.  I also think his reputation was damaged in some quarters early in his career when he worked with the studio to re-cut The Magnificent Ambersons over Welles' objections.  Of course, the whole way that film was handled behind-the-scenes would probably make a better story than the one that appeared on screen. It's not clear to me how much that damaged Wise's standing in Hollywood but it definitely cemented his reputation of being, as you put it, "a studio guy." After that, snobbish cineastes took little notice of him. 


DS: I earlier mentioned the different axes of like/dislike and good/bad. Can you name three great films you simply don’t like? Also, can you name three bad films that you love?


JB: Three films that are conventionally viewed as "bad" that I enjoy… Commonly known as "guilty pleasures." The 1976 King Kong.  Xanadu.  The Cutting Edge.  Three good films that I can't stand: The Seventh Seal, La Dolce Vita, Ghandi. Here's another interesting thing… I recognize that Citizen Kane is one of the best films ever made, if not the best.  But there are a number of films I enjoy more.  For example, given a choice between watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or Citizen Kane right now, I would probably choose Raiders.  The best films are not always the most entertaining.  I think The War Zone is brilliant but I'm not sure I ever want to watch it again.  Much too painful.  The movie I have seen the most times theatrically?  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  It's a good movie, but does it warrant two dozen viewings? 


DS: And, while I know you have a Top 100 list, please go on about just a few films, filmmakers, and critics would make your all time greatest or favorite lists, and why. Is your all-time favorite film still Patton. Why? And what is the film you most detest? Is it a Plan 9 From Outer Space sort? I think pretense is the biggest killer for films, so Salo ranks low on my totem pole.


JB:  I'm often asked why Patton is my favorite film.  It's not an easy question to answer.  I believe it is extraordinarily well made.  It has one of the best male performances of all time and the script is extremely well-written.  I know a lot about World War II and, while there are some historical fudges, they are minor.  Jerry Goldsmith's theme is among my all-time favorites.  Still, a lot has to do with the first time I saw it. Not in a theater.  Not at home.  In my eighth grade history/English class.  We watched it in three or four installments and I was enthralled.  I couldn't wait for the next day and the next chapter.  I didn't start calling Patton my favorite film until a few years later after I had seen it "more properly" (in one sitting), but the seeds were planted in that classroom. 

  My all-time least favorite film is probably Freddy Got Fingered.  My hate meter can go pretty high with comedies that I don't find funny.  If the jokes don't work, there's usually not much else, so I'm wasting time.  I could also make a case for the Swedish crap-fest A Hole in My Heart (Lukas Moodysson), but I was a little tired when I saw that so maybe it wasn't as unendurable as it seems looking back on it. 

  My Top 100 pretty much represents the films I love.  It's not intended to be a quasi-intellectual attempt at objectively ranking the Best 100 Films of All-Time.  It's just a list of favorites.  So you can find the sublime (Decalogue) next to the ridiculous (A Fish Called Wanda). Some of the titles are expected, like Citizen Kane and Casablanca.  Some are not – like Time Bandits and The Princess Bride.  I have a belief that any attempt to generate a pure list of the Greatest Films is doomed to failure because no one is objective enough to accomplish such a task.  As a result, the best anyone can hope to do is provide a list of favorites and hope that there are some titles on that list that might intrigue someone who isn't familiar with them.  I'm generally not a great believer in list-making.  I have little interest in the lists of others, especially those that are made by groups (such as the AFI).  One of the reasons I embarked upon the Top 100 project is that it disciplined me to write something new about an older film every other week.  The original way that list was rolled out was that I "announced" a new title every other week over a period of two years.  It was a long-term project and I never missed a deadline (although I came close once or twice).


DS: You mentioned her earlier, and I’ve read that you think Grace Kelly was the most beautiful woman ever to appear onscreen, and she’s certainly a goddess. But, let me ask you if you’ve ever been able to fathom the Marilyn Monroe mystique? Other than being an easy lay, she was not nearly the looker of a Grace Kelly, could not sing like Doris Day, could not act like Audrey Hepburn, and, while not ugly, by any means, I’d rank her behind many old time and current movie starlets, in terms of looks. She was a bad actress, could not sing, and was dumb as a post. Was it just that she attracted famous men, or is it merely a fluke that it was she, and not Mamie Van Doren nor Jayne Mansfield, who is remembered?


JB: I think part of Monroe's mystique was that she was an easy lay.  I mean, she was the first Playboy centerfold.  With her, it was all about sex.  For me, stupidity is a turn-off, so I never found myself attracted to her and have never sought out her movies.  (Most of the time, I have seen them in spite of her.)  Plus, insofar as her legacy goes, the suspicion surrounding her death, whether real or invented, has leant her an aura of mystery.  Every time I hear Elton John warble "Candle in the Wind," though, I want to throw up.


DS: Let me now ask a few queries that I ask almost all my interviewees; because this is a series, and the parallax of replies is of interest to me and my readers. I started this interview series to combat the dumbing down of culture and discourse- what I earlier called deliteracy, both in the media, and online, where blogs and websites refuse to post paragraphs with more than three sentences in it, or refuse to post anything over a thousand words long. Old tv show hosts like Phil Donahue, Dick Cavett, David Susskind, Tom Snyder, even Bill Buckley- love him or hate him, have gone the way of the dinosaur. Intellect has been killed by emotionalism, simply because the latter is far easier to claim without dialectic. Only Charlie Rose, as a big name interviewer, is left on PBS, but near midnight. Let me ask, what do you think has happened to real discussion in America- not only in public- political or elsewise, but just person to person?


JB: One of the biggest destroyers of intelligent discussion is a poor attention span.  People no longer have the patience to become involved in sophisticated discourse.  I see this all the time during live presentations I host.  People are interested for a while but eventually start to doze off or leave.  Patience is a dead (or at least dying) virtue. We're in the era of tabloid journalism, when everything - even hard news - has to be compartmentalized and sleazed up to get people interested.  The mantra in TV journalism is never to spend more than two minutes on a story and call-in radio talk shows have a similar "two minute" rule.  My own experiences with radio are similar.  I was told to keep all reviews to under two minutes.  On those occasions when I had a 15-minute span of time, it was dizzying the number of topics that had to be covered. 

  Another thing that's absent from discussions is civility.  It used to be possible to rationally and intelligently debate topics - to disagree but do so in a polite manner.  Nowadays, disagreements turn into pitched battled.  Insults fly.  It's a scorched earth policy.  Never was this more apparent than during the recent election.  And I don't mean the candidates - I mean the pundits.  O'Reilly, Linbaugh, Olbermann.  These guys wouldn't know how to say a nice thing about the other side if it was presented to them on a teleprompter.  They spew hate, but that's what their paid to do.  No one signs any of these guys without fully understanding what they're going to bring to the airwaves: divisiveness. 

  Infantilization, sensationalization, polarization - these things make sane, thoughtful discussion about a subject (anything that does more than scratch the surface) anathema to a majority of people. They find it dull and uninviting.  They lose patience and their attention wanders.  We are a society addicted to fast-paced diversions, to pretty lights and baubles.  Kids prefer texting to others - even when they're in the same room - rather than talking.  We are in an era when the nature of interpersonal communication is changing and, I'm afraid, not for the better. 


DS: I also believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different. Let me quote from an essay I did on Harold Bloom, the reactionary critic who champions the Western Canon against Multiculturalism: ….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3.What are your thoughts on this? Have you discerned any differences between non-artists and artists, or average artists and the greats? And, if you are copacetic with such a system, where on the scale would you place yourself? And do you think disciplines like teaching or criticism are 180° from creativity?


JB: My view has been, and likely always shall be, that criticism is a form of art.  You can, after all, critique a review, for example.  The idea of a "critic of critics" may sound somewhat recursive, but it's legitimate. Teaching can be purely didactic or it can involve some aspect of the creative process.  It's usually teachers who fall into the latter category who are the most successful and the most in demand. They involve and engage their pupils which results in intellectual growth and development. 

  With respect to Bloom's scale, I would place myself in the middle group. I would consider myself to have "creationary" intellect but not "visionary."  I wonder, though, whether we all (or at least most of us) might have the capacity for art but simply don't explore that aspect of our intellect because of societal pressures or other external factors.  The herd mentality demands conformity and I have never known an artist who could be described as "conforming." Perhaps many who have artistic impulses don't express them for fear of being ostracized.  And maybe art is opening in new directions: video games, technology, etc.  It took as much "art" to invent the transistor as it does to paint a masterpiece.  Different areas of the brain are involved, but each is visionary.  I think we do ourselves a disservice by marginalizing areas that we do not consider "artistic" simply because they do not fit within certain preconceived notions of what constitutes art.  I'm thinking in particular of Roger Ebert's repeated denunciation of video games as having any artistic merit. Granted, I'm not sure I have ever seen a video game I would consider "art," but I'm not willing to dismiss the idea that a video game could be art.  Remember that in its infancy, film was regarded as a cheap parlor trick.  Art takes time to grow. Video games have not been around that long.


DS: The scale was actually mine, not Bloom’s. But, a few years back I co-hosted an Internet radio show called Omniversica. On one show we spoke with a poet named Fred Glaysher, who- in arguing with my co-host Art Durkee, claimed that, in art, change does not come until some giant- or great artist, comes along, and buries the rest of the wannabes. It’s akin to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Agree or not? And name some filmic giants you feel who’ve buried past tropes or styles with their canon.


JB: I don't agree.  Sometimes it happens that way, to be sure. But other times it's a series of slow steps forward.  I think it was like that with film.  Certainly, filmmakers like Griffith, Chaplin, and Welles catapulted film forward, but there were countless others who provided small stepping stones by the addition of a minor technique or the refinement of something existing.  George Lucas may be the most influential figure in cinema post-1975.  Many have questioned whether Star Wars saved or destroyed cinema.  It's a valid question but it overstates Lucas' importance.  Star Wars was a major step forward but it was all of the smaller, subsequent efforts that led to the current era of the blockbuster.


DS: Have you ever watched Michael Apted’s The Up Series documentaries? What are your thoughts on it as a longitudinal study of human development? How about sociologically? Do you agree with its epigraph, the Jesuit proverb, ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.’?


JB: I have seen all of Apted's films (in fact, I own copies of all of them on DVD) and written about them.  I think the Up Series represents one of the most amazing and fascinating projects ever attempted.  I look forward to each new chapter with anticipation and hope that, if/when Apted is no longer able to continue, someone will pick up the reins as long as any of the participants remain alive. What a remarkable thing: to have real lives - those of ordinary human beings - captured on film.  As for the proverb, it sounds nice but I don't really believe it.  I have seen plenty of people undergo a complete personality transformation after age seven. 

DS: I know you’re not a fan of the MPAA and its ratings. Neither am I. But now that Jack Valenti is thankfully dead, is there any hope of getting rid of the ratings as a relic from a bygone century? If not, why not? And what specific objections have you? Mine are basically that it’s an attempt at censorship used as a marketing tool, but one that is often wholly inapt to the product at hand.


JB: I don't see the ratings going away any time soon.  As you point out, it's a marketing tool now.  DVDs trumpet being "unrated" as a way to spur sales. The ratings have also become a means of neutering adult content. The PG-13 rating seemed a good idea when it was devised in the early '80s.  Since then, it has become a monster.  Now, in the quest to make a movie that teenagers can see without adult supervision, R-rated content is modified to lower the rating and PG-rated content is "enhanced" (usually with random instances of mild profanity) to achieve a PG-13.  What further diminishes the value of the ratings system is that, once a film is available on DVD and cable, almost anyone can see anything. I know kids who have never seen an R-rated movie in a theater but have seen dozens at home.


DS: Finally, let me turn my attention to your online success story. In looking at the various online info about you, I see that you attended the University of Pennsylvania and got a BS and an MS in Electrical Engineering, and worked for a company called Bellcore, now Telcordia Technologies. Do you still work there, or can you support yourself via your website ad revenue? If the latter, what separates you from many political websites that have higher traffic than you do, because, according to your old (circa 2004) FAQ page, you average 80,000 or so hits a day. I’d guess that’s increased in the years since, and you must get a larger number of readers with disposable income. What is your traffic these days?


JB: The term "hits" has become outdated and is now generally viewed as a poor way to assess web traffic.  However, to compare apples to apples, my current "hit" rate is about 170,000 per day.  The more reliable "page views" count is between 35,000 and 40,000 per day.  I can't say what it was in 2004, but I would guess between 25,000 and 30,000 per day.  While my traffic steadily increased from the inception of the website through early this year, it has been in a decline since March.  Admittedly, the website has undergone a number of revisions this year, but none of them track with any marked change in traffic.  I believe that the downturn is largely due to two factors: a diminution of "hot" titles that have a strong appeal for the demographic that consults my website, and a gradual loss of interest by younger (under 18) readers.  Kids are increasingly less interested in what "professional" reviewers have to say about their favorite movies.  They would rather participate in forums and argue with like-minded individuals.  So a portion of my potential audience has been lost. 

  The income derived from ads is less than I might have hoped and fluctuates too greatly to be considered stable.  I wouldn't want to rely solely on it for a living.  Fortunately, I still have the Telcordia job although, in this economy, who knows how long that will last.  In the event that I lose that job, I will greatly increase weekly content added to the site (from the current 5-10 items to 1-2 features per day).  More page views will result in a slight uptick in income.  I will also become serious about publishing some of the fiction I write "on the side."  But my wife and I will have to rely more on her stable income.  What I earn from the website will supplement that.


DS: Have you ever been ‘sponsored’ by a studio or any other company to license products or the like? Again, I ask because, aside from porno, there are not many successful and sustainable online business models.


JB: I have an affiliate "partnership" with for DVD titles, but I haven't put it to use yet.  I know a number of other webmasters who work with amazon and say it can be lucrative, but that seems to vary from site-to-site.  It depends on how many people using the site like to buy DVDs and are willing to click through using your links to purchase them. 


DS: I recently read this essay, in which you chided readers of your website. You wrote: ‘Back to the original question: Do I consider it to be a theft of services to read ReelViews with an ad blocker engaged? No. "Theft" is too harsh a word. "Freeloader" is perhaps a better term. There's nothing illegal about freeloading but it is gauche. It's a violation of that unwritten contract I mentioned above. You're getting the content you want while I get nothing in return. Consider the impact on the web economy if everyone was to use an ad blocker all the time. No one would get paid and sites would close down by the millions.

  The bottom line is that I put the reviews up because I want people to read them. I would rather they read them with an ad blocker engaged than not read them at all. That shouldn't be a choice I'm forced to make, however. From a revenue standpoint, if 100% of my readers used ad blockers, it would be like having zero readers. Turning off an ad blocker or disabling it for a site is a way to show support for the work of that publisher. If a site has ads, regardless of whether it's a corporate site or a "mom and pop" address, the revenue from those ads means something. Can ads be irritating? Of course they can. I would love to run ReelViews without them (and that's why I held off for so long before incorporating them), but that's not reality. The idea behind an ad blocker is to make surfing the web a cleaner and less cluttered experience for the reader. The impact is far less rosy for those whose income sources are being stripped away.’ I must say that I have to disagree with much of this- as well as finding it a bit harsh; not because of what you state, but what is left unsaid. One of my most popular essays is called The Anti-Spam Lies. While it’s an older essay, its essentials are still true, and the false claims made about spamming someone costing ISPs money are still wrong, and propagated mostly by companies who want to quell potential rivals (odd, how the ‘spam menace’ is no longer talked about since big companies were given greater control of a consolidated market in the last few years); and I know this from having worked in bundled Internet services, on the revenues and collections end, from my days working for AT&T. What I think you leave out is the fact that even so-called ‘reputable advertisers,’ who use popup ads, all download spyware onto your PC when you click on them, even to close, not enter them. The less reputable ones not only have the spyware risk, but malware, which can be as bad for your computer as a virus. A popup is different than just an ad on the screen, which are mostly ignored- thus why so few can make reasonable revenue online, even if their sites top the popularity of your or mine. Ad blockers, to me, are more like visors that shield one’s eyes from the glare of neon signs. To claim a theft of services is only accurate if you have a pay-per-view site (talk about bad business models) and someone hacks into your site. In essence, all of your (meaning online stuff on any website, not you, James Berardinelli) writings are (pardons to Norman Mailer) ‘Advertisements For Yourself,’ and if enough readers like and trust you, your opinions, etc., they may be tempted to look at what sorts of things you’re willing to shill. I see no theft of any service, and see it as good customer service and policy if you, the website owner, go out of your way to remove such potentially threatening menaces as popup ads from your site by telling potential advertisers what and what you will consent to. What is your reply?


JB: The piece that you refer to was more of an argument I put together for a position rather than a reflection of my own feelings.  I wanted to give readers a sense of why some good sites have intrusive advertisements.  A case can be made that the use of ad-blockers is a kind of theft, and I tried to make it, but I don't necessarily buy into it.  For my web surfing, I use pop-up blockers but not general ad blockers, and I occasionally click on ads for sites I admire because I know that act will bring in a few cents.  It's a painless way of supporting the site and telling the webmaster that you appreciate the effort he puts into it.  For a while, I used pop-unders on my site but recently eliminated them because I felt they were compromising the integrity of the site.  It's a tough choice because they are by far the best paying of any ad options.  I can understand why some sites employ them. But I can also understand why readers hate them because they tend to hang up sites and sometimes freeze browsers. 

  As you point out, a pay-per-view site is a bad business model for non-porn sites, and it's something I would never consider.  My hope is that the combination of Google ads and non-Google ads will provide enough income that the site doesn't have to be shut down. Some readers have requested a "donate" button, which is a possibility, but not at this time.  Some people, it seems, are more than willing to pay the occasional $5 or $10 as long as they're not being forced to pay it.  I have always believed advertising is the better way to go because, at worst, all it requires is the click of a mouse to give the website some revenue, with nothing taken directly out of your pocket. 


DS: To digress for a moment, let’s speak of traffic and ratings for online stuff. With Cosmoetica, I use an old fashioned hits counter. Every week or so, I take a few minutes, tally up all the hits for pages and sections, then add it to the ongoing numbers. I had tried a number of fancier counters- such as stuff with page views, and still occasionally look at my web host’s page for such, but find it rather meaningless. Also, with so many web blockers systems, like Tor, many of the web hosting stats pages might only pick up 5-15% of the actual traffic one receives. On my wife’s blog, she once compared the detailed info she got from a counter she installed, and from her blog host’s counter, and neither took into account what the other recorded, and both only recorded a small percentage of her actual traffic. Yes, if someone in Nepal has Googled an odd phrase and found my site, it’s interesting, but so? I also find the page view notion a silly stat- much like the newfangled stats in baseball that claim to be better than batting averages. After all, is it really better to have 50 individual IP numbers that each look at 2 pages each, then leave, giving you 100 hits, or 25 IP numbers that look at 40 pages and give you a 1000 hits? The former may mean more actual individuals on a given hour, day, week or month, but the latter has more interested and engaged individuals. Give me the latter. What sort of traffic system do you use on Reel Views? And, what are some of the more interesting trivial factoids that you’ve found in your time looking over stats? And what are your most popular reviews and essays? For me, it’s the popularity of an iconic Alaskan hero, Dick Proenneke. As I type, my 9th most popular page all-time, with over 17 million hits! And the aforementioned The Anti-Spam Lies piece is not far behind, with 16 million hits- another shocker!


JB: I'll admit not to spending the kind of time analyzing my statistics that I once did.  I use two primary methods: the analysis tool provided by my ISP, which gives me direct access to the logs and well as summaries of the results.  (Those logs are huge, by the way) and Google analytics.  The results track well with each other which gives me a reasonable degree of confidence.  Also, all of the ad companies I work with provide traffic tracking tools and those are usually in agreement.  Am I getting real numbers?  Hard to say but I have a reasonable confidence that the actual numbers aren't lower and, since I'm more interested in relative numbers than absolute ones, it doesn't much matter.  For this year, there have been some surprises.  Cloverfield went through the roof, more than doubling my usual Friday traffic the day it opened and sending ad revenue for that day into the stratosphere.  Conversely, there wasn't much of a blip for the new Indiana Jones movie.  This tells me that my primary audience was really interested in Cloverfield but not much interested in Indiana Jones.  As I mentioned early, there are indications that my <18 audience is dropping, while my >18 audience is steady or slowly increasing.  The site has more appeal to those with a college education (or higher) and splits about 70/30 male/female.  The review I have written that has been read the most is The Departed, which would not have been among my top 10 guesses. 


DS: Let’s face it, there is no accurate system for measuring online popularity. There’s not even a semi-reliable flawed system like TV’s Nielsen ratings. There are all sorts of shady companies, like Quantcast. I looked at their info on my website, and it was wholly made up. Then there are sites like and Alexa. I tried both in the past, and wrote of their problems. is a joke. My site only registered if I put their seal on my site, and even then it was only listed with other sites whose names started with the prefix -cosmo. Alexa was even worse. I mentioned the malware and spyware that come with popup ads, but Alexa is the worst. I had to install their toolbar, and in less than 6 months, I needed a new PC. The tech who saw my then PC was amazed at all the junk it implanted. And, it only ranks you if you are registered with its toolbar, and even then only ranks sites via their popularity with Alexa users. When I had Alexa’s toolbar, my website skimmed the top 100,000. Within a month of getting a new PC, sans the toolbar, I dropped out of the top million. As I type I’m barely back in the top 500,000, even though my website, since I removed the Alexa toolbar, has about 12 times as many hits as it did a few years back, and much more monthly traffic. What are your thoughts on such systems, such companies, and have any of them ever tried to hook you?


JB: Alexa hasn't got a clue.  They still think is associated with Colossus (the site that hosted me for free from 1997 until 2006). On any given day, I'm somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000, but I don't believe for a moment that such variability within a week is reflective of actual traffic.  I have never used Alexa's toolbar. I like Google analytics, although I recognize it's imperfect and it does require a line of code on every page it tracks. Google's page ranking system, however, is a crock. When I converted my site from all-html to the database system, there was virtually no change in traffic but my page rank inexplicably fell from 6 to 5. 


DS: Earlier, I mentioned Google’s effect on Internet popularity, and I see that you are not big on linking to other sites. Do you get much linkage in return? I ask because, as I am outspoken on topics I write about, I am put in a Catch 22 situation. That outspokenness gets me readers, hits, and fans, but also means other websites- part of artistic and literary cliques, refuse to link to me. As you likely know, Google’s ‘secret formula’ is based a third on actual hits/traffic (by however they measure that- see above), and Cosmoetica does well with that. The second third is linkage, at which Cosmoetica does poorly (and it peeves me that websites, sometimes with 1/100th or less my actual readership will be ranked ahead of Cosmoetica, simply because they are linked to a site that is linked to a site that is linked to by Time magazine, a big name writer, or CNN, etc.). The final third of the formula is the mystery; although some suggest it’s based on payola. Where does Reel Views fall in these categories, according to Google?


JB: As I indicated, ReelViews used to be a PR6; now, for reasons unknown, it's a PR5.  I generally don't play the search engine game, although I realize I'm losing traffic by not doing so.  But I don't feel comfortable engaging in link sharing.  I am linked to by IMdB, Rotten Tomatoes, MRQE, and several other movie-related sites, and I get a lot of traffic through them.  If you want to see another example of a problem with Googles Page Ranking, take a look at Roger Ebert's site.  By all accounts, this is the most widely read movie review site on-line.  At one time, it had a PR7.  Now, it has a PR4. 


DS: Let me wind things up and ask, what is in store, in the next year or two, in terms of books and your work/website?


JB: Starting in 2009, I plan to begin to put more effort into reviews of older movies, although that will not be at the expense of newer films.  The site will undergo a facelift that will build on some of the changes implemented in 2008.  I may or may not begin allowing reader comments; I'm still of two minds about that.  If I end up losing my Telcordia job, I will venture into multi-media, putting up audio reviews and commentary.  And I will ramp up my non-movie related writing.

DS: Thanks for doing this interview, James Berardinelli, and let me allow you a closing statement, on whatever you like.


JB: If I was to describe my overall view of the direction in which the movie industry was progressing, it would not be a positive one.  Maybe it's because I'm a pessimist by nature or maybe it's because things really are going bad for those who love film in a traditional sense. Every once in a while, however, I see something that touches me or astounds me or galvanizes me, and I feel renewed and refreshed.  Movies can still do that.  They can still be more than mindless entertainment.  You just have to look a little harder and be a little more open to what they offer.  It's in anticipation of those films that I keep attending screenings and writing reviews.  They are what makes this more than just a job.


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