Subtitles, Likes, Hitler, etc.

Naturally, more people are contacting me re: the Ebert column referencing me. Rather than reply and repeat the same things ad nauseam, it's simpler to address them in toto, here.

First, let's take the Hitler references. Here is my quote of Ebert's quote of Svensland's quote of my quote of Ebert's quote (whew!):
Critic-at-large, Roger Ebert, rightly took Denby to task for his puerility, stating, "I do not feel the film provides 'a sufficient response' to what Hitler actually did,' because I feel no film can, and no response would be sufficient." But, after such a concise summation, he then adds, of Hitler, "He was skilled in the ways he exploited that feeling, and surrounded himself by gifted strategists and propagandists, but he was not a great man, simply one armed by fate to unleash unimaginable evil."

This is a remark clearly mindful of Louis Farrakhan's claims, a few years back, that Hitler was a "great man," that unleashed a firestorm, but it is also logically self-defeating, and shows that Ebert is not only not a student of history, but much better in phrasing words than thinking out their logical consequences. Hitler did not merely waltz onto the world stage, and have everything fall into his la-p- from admirers to world events. He had a precise blueprint, aka Mein Kampf, worked for years perfecting his "craft," demagoguery, and actively shaped his future. He came within two or three bad decisions of wiping out Eurasian Jewry, and even more minorities, as well as the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Like it or not, Hitler was a great man, as were Stalin and Mao, and Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great before them. Mass murderers all, but all great, as long as one is mindful that great does not only mean 'good' nor 'decent,' and that great men also can have great flaws.

Now, reread the last sentence. there simply is nothing to argue with.


Click and read the definitions. Hitler (or Stalin or Mao, etc.) clearly qualify in 2 or 3 of the meanings.


Whether one believes in the Great Man Theory of history, contingent history, or the reality that history is a mix of both, again, Hitler and his genocidal pals clearly qualify.

So, other than attempting to morally grandstand, whilst showing a profound deficit of gray matter, why would anyone argue the point? Ok, sycophantism to the man who runs the blog, yes. But, after that?

Morality has a very dubious association with art. Picasso was a misogynist. Rilke was an adulterer and bad father. Sylvia Plath was a psychotic. And on and on. One affects not the other. If Dr. Mengele were a great poet, as example, would it be wrong to print or praise his poems? Of course not. If Ted Bundy created great sculptures, would it be wrong to praise his art? Of course not. The person and the art are discrete things.

As for subtitles. I always chuckle when folks who do not recognize what many great directors have claimed, that a great film ALWAYS starts with a great screenplay, but instead claim that film is a visual medium (duh!) that is outside the scope and strictures of 'mere narrative, turn around, and with a straight face claim that subtitles (which cover up to a third of the screen, and force one to read and miss key visuals) are better than dubbing.

First, even poorly dubbed Godzilla films show how utterly irrelevant misaligned lips are, because no one really notices them. Think I'm wrong? Yasujiro Ozu's films prove the dictum that eyelines must match in countershots wrong because no one ever complains about such (save for a few film school diehards with axes to grind).

Second, watch the Spider Trilogy of films By Ingmar Bergman. Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence, all vividly prove the superiority of dubbing. First, the very use of a different voice aids in the definition of character apart from a familiar actor- see Max Von Sydow in the films. Each different dubbed voice aids in separating Max from the characters. Also, dubbed voice actors are amongst the best actors going precisely because they have to act with that one faculty. Their 'acting' can often improve a mediocre performance by the physical actor. And, think of how many effective cartoon characters have been conveyed through voice alone.

Of course, a good subtitling job beats bad dubbing, but good dubbing beats good subtitling with ease. When I rewatch foreign DVDs with commentary, and am free to watch the visuals unencumbered by subtitles, I often pick up the things that may have been 'missing' in the film. Thus, I often get the more 'complete' film (usually for the better) because of the LACK of subtitles. Anyone who claims differently, or that they can read and watch the screen simultaneously is doing the scientifically impossible. This is precisely why texting and cell phone car accidents have soared int he last decade. It simply cannot be done.

Of course, subtitles have myriad problems aside from those mentioned. There is the problem of undubbed dialogue. How many times have you seen a character talk onscreen for 45 seconds or so, and only a sentence or two of translation is shown? Uh-huh. And how about words that blanch out against a light background, making them unreadable, even whilst squinting? The Criterion Collection, a top notch DVD company, is rightly lambasted by many reviewers (including me) for the fact that, especially their old black and white releases are shown with unbordered white lettering. If one is going to fuck up a film with graffiti, at least let the shit be bold enough to be made out legibly and readably. Imagine, if you will, going to a museum, to see Picasso's Guernica, and instead of the museum's explanatory plaque being to the side of the painting, it was, instead, bolted over the agonal mien of the dying horse in the painting. Think that might not affect your experience of the painting? The visual equivalent comes in Ozu films that depend upon low set tatami mat shots, wherein many great shots are utterly rent by subtitles.

So, now that I've yet again trounced the ridiculous notion that subtitles are better than dubbing, let me turn to some other things: likes and dislikes. My claim, re: Ebert has always been simple- he's an average film critic (in terms of ability to discern quality), a very good writer, but an excellent film historian, film commentarian (yes, that is a word!), and a marvelous film buff. How this has been misconstrued that I don't like Roger Ebert is silly. Did I label him a tax cheat, a pedophile, a serial killer? No. Re: Gene Siskel, I think he 'got' the art of film at a fundamentally deeper level, but Ebert was always better at expressing his views.

And there is a difference between good and bad reviews, and positive and negative reviews. There are essays and reviews of things that I hold a contrary opinion of (see William F. Buckley's columns) but that are excellent. They are presented well. A positive review can be good, if well thought out and written, or it can be a bad review if poorly wrought and cogitated upon. Same goes for negative reviews. Good and positive and bad and negative are simply not synonyms.

And, ironically, whereas the initial emailer who kicked off this Ebertfest claimed an 80-90% agreement with Siskel's views over Ebert's (when they disagreed), the fact is that I probably only sided with Siskel 2/1. Yes, I think Siskel got things more, but not to the degree that was stated in the original email (and, incidentally, assented to by a number of the commenters who laughably then turn around and claim that i was dissing Ebert). Even the initial emailers turned up a dead heat in terms of critical opinions on films I mentioned Ebert's and my opinions on: 6 assents, 6 dissents, and two draws- I've never formally reviewed Taxi Driver yet.

As for 'like,' though, the fact is that while I did agree with Siskel more, there's no doubt that Ebert always was the more ingratiating personality, and like most, if I was asked to choose, I'd probably have preferred to broken bread with Ebert (no offense to Siskel) because a) he seemed more personable and b) we'd argue more (in the dialectic, not fisticuffs) sense. Arguing is simply fun. How else does one learn, if not from things that differ?

But, Siskel had a better critical temperament. He was more dispassionate (but not in the sense of lacking passion); he was just 'cooler.' That's the way I approach things, with dispassion critically, but also with abundant wit. Look at film reviews from a Rex reed or Pauline Kael if you want dry, dull writing. No one has ever said Ebert lacked passion for films or writing of them. But, it's silly to see the claims that others (me included) are somehow not passionate, or clinical. Being detailed and explaining things in depth actually aids in understanding. That, however, is 'arrogant'? If you are famed, you have passion if forceful and persuasive. If not, then you are arrogant. Reminds me of the double standard for women. Men who are go getters are determined and career-minded. Their female equivalents are cold hard bitches.

As for Armond White, the odd thing is that he is FAR more emotional than Ebert. He lacks almost any intellectual critical ability (having scanned a dozen or so of his reviews the last few days). Mr. Ebert is Mr. Spock in comparison to White, so how the hell I ever got mentioned in the same breath as White is pretty wacky. The more I read of White the more it confirms just how much in need of cleanup film criticism is.

Finally, as to elitism- of course I'm an elitist. We all are, and should be! Do you want a bad doctor to examine you, a bad dentist to pull your teeth? It's the type of elitism. If it is based on things outside of quality, that's the bad sort. Money, religion, race, professions, are simply not things that elitism is applicable to- although how one does their job (janitor or Senator) is something that falls under that purview. When someone starts trying to apply a belief in ethics, politics, religion, etc. to art, and claim an elitism on that basis, it is not only wrong, but silly. But, the definable measures of quality that all arts have, are under the purview of quality- the good sort.

One can reasonably agree or not about great artists and works, as to which is greater, but it's silly to compare widely disparate things. Comparing a Three Stooges comedy short to a documentary from Louis Malle is silly, as is trying to compare the cliche ridden garbage of a Steven Spielberg to, say, the well written films of Joe Mankiewicz. Does Spielberg have some talent? Sure, as a cinematographer, but his puerility as a storyteller is only exceeded by the Quentin Tarantinos and Tim Burtons of filmdom. To use his name in a league with Welles, Bergman, Antonioni, Angelopolous, Kurosawa, etc., proves only one of two things- the claimant is either witty or dumb.

Choose your poison!