Critical stumbles and other reasons why I laughed so hard milk came out my nose.

July 22, 2009

In his new biography of former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, Wellington journalist Dennis Welch notes that Kiwis “don’t understand humour.”

Whew! For a minute there I thought there was something wrong with me.

Humour, of course, is subjective. What tickles one person’s funny bone doesn’t necessarily turn someone else’s crank. My children, for instance, practically pee themselves at the mere thought of their father falling down. Me, not so much.

I like to think I laugh easily but I also appreciate a dollop of wit with my funny business. I’m not big on moronic, pie-in-the-face antics but a good double entendre always gets my juices flowing. As it were.

I consider the writers of Two and a Half Men to be masters of the double entendre, even if they do at times stray into the pie-faced territory of the single entendre.

And then I read this in the July 2 issue of the New Zealand Herald’s TimeOut section:

“We’ve yet to meet a single person who will admit to watching Two and a Half Men, yet every week it tops the country’s ratings for the 18-39 market . . . Who are these people and why are you watching this rubbish?”

No one puts their bylines on these kinds of editorial blurts, so I wasn’t sure where to target my wrath. And then I read Welch’s comment and realized, hey, the writer is a Kiwi.

And they just don’t get it.

An Aussie falling down? Hee-larry-ous. Someone talking about eating a woman’s carpet? Huh?

Actually, it goes deeper than that. The writer is a * trumpet fanfare * critic for a TV section. The writer — drumroll, please — needs to be “critical.” And by that I mean controversial. And by that I mean, “hey, look at me!”

I worked for three years with Famous Players, a Canadian theatre chain. I was a syndicated movie reviewer for 15 years. I’ve met a lot of “critics.” I liked very few of them.

You see, these people — all black bo-ho with their berets and messenger bags and French cigarettes and tight pants and pointy shoes (I am not making this shit up) — feel the urge to rise above the great uneducated masses.

For instance, if you love the same film millions of movie fans are going ga-ga over, then you are just one more voice in the chorus of approval. No one will remember your review because you are simply agreeing with everyone else.

However, should your review rip a movie to shreds (ideally because it can’t hold a projector bulb to the work of some 19th century Russian director), then people will be talking about your comments. They might very well want to string you up with a length of celluloid from Twilight, but at least you will have accomplished your goal — people talked about you. And by you, I mean the narcissitic wanker part of you.

Example:

In 1988, we were all eagerly awaiting the release of Willow, Ron Howard’s followup to such successes as Splash, Coccon and Gung Ho. And then Michael Walsh, writing in Vancouver’s The Province newspaper, slagged it. We in the industry were gutted. It’s Ron Howard, for chrissakes, Michael. You just kicked Opie in the balls.

That’s right: the day the review appeared, everyone was nattering on about Michael Walsh. They weren’t talking about Willow. (The fact that, when it came right down to it, Michael was correct about this movie didn’t save him from, soon after, being shifted out of the paper’s Entertainment section and into a copy editor’s desk, where he would be less likely to piss off movie distributors who paid millions in ad revenue for their product.)

It’s right there in Critics for Dummies (or should that be the other way around?): be outrageous and people will turn their attention to you. They may be calling you a “dumb f**k,” but, hey, that’s the price you pay for the spotlight.

The problem is, after awhile readers grow bored by this premeditated buffoonery. A reviewer who is predictable becomes a reviewer who is ignored.

Katherine Monk, she of the Vancouver Sun, falls into that category. Ms. Monk appears to have one rule when writing about a movie: The more vaginas, the higher the rating. For every penis on the screen, take away one star. A movie like The Women? Thirty stars! Out of five!

As a reviewer, I had two rules:

1) Don’t bore me

and

b) If your movie is longer than 2 1/2 hours, you owe my bladder a family-size bag of M&Ms. The good kind. And by good kind I mean peanut.

There’s nothing funny about wetting oneself in a theatre. Unless it’s an Aussie doing it. In that case, even the no-name nincompoop at TimeOut would be roaring.

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