Friday, February 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Mr. Tom Charity of CNN....

Dear Tom Charity,

My name is Danny Jacobs and I am one of the writer/directors of “Humboldt County” – a film you recently reviewed over at CNN.com. I am writing today because I recently read your article, “Whys some films go straight to DVD” and I felt compelled to make a few things clear.

First of all, “Humboldt County” opened on significantly more than nine screens, as you mention in your article. In fact, the film opened in over fifteen major cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Austin. When I first read that error, I was dismayed that such an estimable publication such as CNN would not have done some simple fact checks, even on a piece written for the entertainment section. The more I read of the article, however, the more I realized that my problem with your work was far more systemic than a simple factual discrepancy.

In order to explain this problem, let me go back a bit. When Darren and I made “Humboldt County,” we knew we were making a film with a 70s sensibility. We knew we were making a film that worked, consciously, against the quick cut, fast paced nature of plots in many modern movies. And we did so with the fervent hope that everything everyone was saying about modern audiences was untrue. We didn’t believe that they were ADD riddled media schizophrenics who couldn't hold their attention on something for longer than thirty seconds. We believed that the content being provided to audiences had changed, but that audiences themselves had not. In the absence of full characters and fleshed out worlds, of course attention wanders. But if the product is good, our hope was that audiences would follow. And the funny thing is, we were right. The audiences that have seen the film have, more or less, really enjoyed it. Of course, for some, the pacing was too slow and narrative wasn't their style, but the vast majority was able to fall into the universe on screen.

What we didn't expect was a fundamental shift that had occurred in the world of the nation's film critics that you, unfortunately, have exemplified in your article of February, 27th 2009. And that is that a growing number of today’s film critics are not the purveyors of the medium they once were. The number of excellent critics that truly contribute, in the vein of Pauline Kael, to the discussion of film in this country is dwindling. Sadly, the true ADD riddled, mass media consuming, attention span deficient movie watchers are critics like you.

I say this after reading your “review.” I put that word in quotations because, in reality, it is nothing more than a plot summary told with a dollop of sarcasm. The only real comment you provide about the film is that you were “underwhelmed” and “nothing much happens -- slowly.” Now, let me be clear, my issue with your review is not at all that you disliked the film. “Humboldt County,” though generally liked by critics across the country, has certainly received its share of bad reviews (some much more critical than yours) and every critic has every right to dislike a film. Your “review,” however, stood out for it’s ironic, detached, sarcastic and ultimately, empty tone. And that is the true tragedy of film criticism today. Your readership doesn’t ask that you like every film. What it asks of critics, however, is that no matter how you felt, explain yourselves. Develop arguments, provide insights and give the regular moviegoer a thesis of some depth and intelligence. Speaking as a moviegoer and not a filmmaker, I can tell you that we are screaming for that, hoping fervently that like our new president, we could be graced with film critics that do not treat us like children and give audiences the respect they deserve.

The real irony of your article, Mr. Charity, is that you chose to review three films on DVD to avoid having to review the new Jonas Brothers film and ended up reviewing the DVD films in the same superficially pithy way one might view a concert picture about three teenyboppers in 3D - with a contempt for the audience and a lack of trust that the audience can handle an actual perspective.

Talk to us like adults, Mr. Charity. We can handle it. I promise.

Yours,
Danny Jacobs
Writer/director “Humboldt County”

P.S. To review Mr. Charity's cnn.com piece, click HERE.

2 comments:

Katie said...

Interesting.

Mr. Charity is an example of why I seldom pay attention to "critics". I have long been of the belief that they are critics predominantly because they do not have the ability to produce. So instead they criticize. And as is evident in his review, they seldom do that very well, either.

From his review, it sounds like this man was bored and would have taken it out on any films he reviewed that day. He totally failed to understand any of the dynamics of the relationships in the movie, which means to me that he totally missed the point.

While I also found the pace slow, there were several delightful sections and I especially enjoyed Peter's journey of self-rediscovery and personal redemption.

But then I didn't grow up with Sesame Street as my main intellectual model and I know how to focus for more than 5 minutes...

John said...

Or is part of the problem that film makers fancy themselves expert, elitists, too? With all due respect, Humboldt County was a pretty weak, unentertaining, unenlightening piece of film. While I think the tone of Charity's piece was unnecessary, it doesn't discredit his assertion that your movie - as presented on the screen - was pretty lacking.

Critique Charity all you want, but do it at your own risk. After all, you claim that you can be talked to like an adult, but your need to respond to a bad review shows the knee-jerk, defend yourself and critique the critic response of an adolescent - or someone who fancies himself an artist...