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Critical lapses

When the reviewer becomes the reviewee
By GERALD PEARY  |  August 22, 2007

VOTE FOR GERRY! Will Mr. Film Culture become a star?

Am I the only film critic with this vainglorious dream? Here’s the scenario: I’m interviewing an important filmmaker, and this A-list auteur, impressed by the perspicacity of my questions and disarmed by my élan and charisma, leans over the table and says, “I’ve got a part for you in my next movie.”

The truth is, critics hardly ever appear in movies. By 1952, James Agee had retired as a film reviewer for Time and the Nation, and he played a sad, bloated, barstool version of himself at that time, a character named Frank, in a TV version of Stephen Crane’s story, “The Bride Came to Yellow Sky.” Agee also wrote the teleplay.

In the late 1960s, Jonathan Rosenbaum, now a critic for the Chicago Reader, spoofed himself as a movie-obsessed intellectual crazy in the funny short “Two-Backed Beast.” Rosenbaum babbled on and on before a blackboard about a non-existent art movie. What was he poking fun at? “Pontification, I guess,” he told me later. “Holding forth with a lot of assurance about things that one isn’t sure about.”

It’s the New York Observer’s Rex Reed who’s done the most movies, playing himself in several Hollywood bit roles and getting a dramatic part in Inchon! (1981), a dreadful costumer paid for by the Unification Church. He saw his big scene there with Sir Laurence Olivier dropped on the cutting-room floor. Above all, there’s the supremely kitschy and miserable Myra Breckinridge (1970), in which he portrayed the before-the-sex-switch Myron Breckinridge. When I interviewed him, Reed called the movie “a worthless piece of crap, made by people all locked in their dressing rooms waiting for their lawyers to call.” He was pleased with only one moment, the one in which he crosses a Hollywood party “with my jacket over one arm and a bottle of champagne, which is what William Holden did in Sabrina.”

Finally, there’s Leonard Maltin playing himself as a snooty, arrogant film critic in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). He’s killed off by the little monsters, who crawl all over him while he’s delivering a negative video review. His dialogue? Director Joe Dante asked him to repeat the nasty things he’d said on TV about Dante’s Gremlins (1984).

And Mr. Film Culture? My own chance finally came last week, from Needham indie filmmaker Garth Donovan. Did my admiring words about Everyone’s Got One (2005) — I said his first feature was funnier than the Farrelly Brothers — have anything to do with it? Whatever, I was off to a Needham park in a suit and tie for my big moment. I was to play a phony politician running for selectman as an ecology guy. “A city that’s clean, a city that’s green,” I improvised. “Save the ducks, the little ducks.” My scene survived a Carrie-like meltdown by one of the (unpaid) extras who had read about the movie on a poster at Finagle a Bagel. She turned into a mad woman, her eyes spouting horror-movie anger in the middle of a comedy scene. Inappropriate!

The film is called Cubby Knowles, and Donovan plays his own lead, a long-distance runner turned sweaty sex addict via Cubby, his on-line persona. There’s also Little Apples, a mock Britney Spears, with a #1 single, the teenage anthem, “We Fuck Because We Want To.” According to Donovan, Cubby Knowles is “a dark social satire going from dirty jerk-off humor to a real love story.” Speaking proudly of his effort, he alludes to Austrian director Michael Haneke and Last Tango in Paris. He’s hoping to finish in time for midnight screenings next spring at South by Southwest.

I’ll be in Austin for autographs.

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  Topics: Film Culture , Britney Spears, Entertainment, Movies,  More more >
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