Discussing Inception's reception with S.T. Vanairsdale

So you might have heard Movieline’s chief film critic Stephanie Zacharek had some problems with Inception. Along with a few other pans heard round the world (literally), the review has provoked more than a little discussion among fans of Christopher Nolan — and that discussion will only advance this weekend as the film opens in theaters. With that in mind, let’s talk! And: Let’s keep it civil! It’s just a movie, people. (S.T. Vanairsdale, “Now Playing: Stephanie Zacharek’s Video Review of Inception,” Movieline, 16 July 2010)

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Welcome to Movieline, where a movie ... really is just a movie, people.


You know what I mean. No movie is grounds to write the kind of vicious, hateful, personal attacks we've seen here this week. (S.T. Vanairsdale)

I agree with that. I also commend the encouragment for civility. This said, this is a site for people who feel passionately about movies -- it's a (albeat intelligent) fan site, FOR MOVIES -- and the essential "what's with you guys!? leave the passion for politics" angle was ill-placed, and a bit insulting. You guys are kinda taking the hit here you surely expected when you hired Stephanie, who you know is going to be unmoved by or loathe a good number of the films people who come here are probably going to love. Point the finger both ways?

No one ever said leave the passion for politics. We cherish all our writers -- including Stephanie -- for their passion. What I said was don't reduce a conversation about this movie to an assaultive free-for-all. That is not passion. That is abuse. So I'm passionate enough (or maybe naive enough, you tell me) to demand a little better quality dissent from readers -- especially those who insist on being empirically right, which makes no sense in film criticism anyway. That's fair, isn't it? (S.T. Vanairsdale)

Re: "No one ever said leave the passion for politics. We cherish all our writers -- including Stephanie -- for their passion. What I said was don't reduce a conversation about this movie to an assaultive free-for-all. That is not passion. That is abuse. So I'm passionate enough (or maybe naive enough, you tell me) to demand a little better quality dissent from readers -- especially those who insist on being empirically right, which makes no sense in film criticism anyway. That's fair, isn't it?"

In hiring Stephanie you got yourself one hell of a film critic, but also one you knew would really antagonize fans of (the likes of and including) Nolan -- I'm assuming, a decent portion of your fan base. You (effectively) baited them: YOU "crossed the line" (if you forgive the Movieline pun and Dark Knight reference), and so then, did they. Did you really think that fans of Nolan's works, people whose self-esteem to some extent rests in their appreciation of his genius, who maybe were prone to look to the film for transcendence -- a tomorrow-changing, elevating "mind fuck" to be shared with their equally expectant and elected friends -- to push them further in-sync with his accumulating genius, and maybe also of the type to cooperate in this outcome if the film alone couldn't get them "there," are the type to be expected to be adults, resist all baiting and keep the debate civil while still passionate, just after witnessing their great occasion having been preemptorily savaged and rendered miniscule and already-done by a home-base website? It's difficult to believe you are / were that naive. Perhaps instead -- and to quote You've Got Mail: "Whatever [they] said last night was provoked, even deserved. [They] were expecting to see someone they trusted, and met the enemy instead."

You claim that in saying that "it's only a movie, people," you weren't in any way scolding or showing yourself opposed to PASSIONATE replies, only out-of-bound vitriolic ones -- that you should still be imagined as being (apparently evidently) actually very much FOR the passion I misread you to be implicitly arguing belonged only with ostensibly much more substantive life-or-death stuff, like politics. But reminding people it's only a movie isn't evidently something you'd say just to shut down ABUSIVE comments, but rather ANY KIND OF substantial emotional involvement: if someone writes that they lost it at the movies, you don't assume they've lost themselves to angry expletives, but to what-they-know-would-be-deemed indecorous, intense, unbounded and passionate involvement with the sort of subject-matter everyone civilized know as (essentially) but a pastime lark. The context of your reply, you might remind me, was OBVIOUSLY informed by the abuse, the intention to not just mock but to destroy that we all witnessed here last night. But my reply to that is that it is at least as much informed by the current rabid eagerness that's been developing in some quarters to judge all commenters on websites -- everyone who lives there -- and maybe the whole net itself, as being damnable for their constant evidencing of their enthrallment, level of obsession, absolute lack of control -- for not being anywhere sufficiently DISpassionate, appropriately UNinvolved as much or more than fairly INvolved -- more than it just is their bile.

Referring to what happened here yesterday, the Guardian today talked about the "torrent of bile" but mostly objected to the excess, the degree of involvement displayed -- the "zeal," the "hysteria," the lack of form -- and its lack of distinction -- the "gooie[ness]": they wanted to ground proper passion (which Stephanie evidences in her "typical meticulous weighing of evidence"), and delineate the acceptable response, which is NOT "enthusiastic," NOT "excessive," and NOT (for example) "aggrieved" ("I simply can't get that aggrieved about ... ") -- being largely unmoved, it would seem: i.e., what we normally think of when we think of being passionately involved with something. The Stephanie defenders on the thread, you noticed, took care to finish their defenses by lambasting those of such lamentable lack of self-restraint that they had trouble even ATTENDING to a differing point-of-view, let alone accepting one. It wasn't the venom, but that they -- unlike themselves -- had proven themselves guilty of a lack of self-control, of suffering the consequences arising from their being too long enthralled and lost in their obsessions -- and in their own self-pride (and even good luck, it seemed), you weren't sure just how unhappy they actually were with this "discovery."

What I'm getting at is that this whole thing has the feel (at least) of a set-up, part of a regrettable societal movement to push and prompt people to act in ways that make them look unrescueably "lost," punishment / abandonment-worthy -- what we've decided we want them to be -- and commend those who shrink their level of personal availability -- their soul -- to the point that what they now put on the table isn't so much to make them likely to be aggrieved, or moved, by anything -- not "just" movies.

Re: The context of your reply, you might remind me, was OBVIOUSLY informed by the abuse, the intention to not just mock but to destroy that we all witnessed here last night. But my reply to that is that it is at least as much informed by the current rabid eagerness that's been developing in some quarters to judge all commenters on websites -- everyone who lives there -- and maybe the whole net itself, as being damnable for their constant evidencing of their enthrallment, level of obsession, absolute lack of control -- for not being anywhere sufficiently DISpassionate, appropriately UNinvolved as much or more than fairly INvolved -- more than it just is their bile."

Again, you're reading way too much into it (though I sincerely appreciate your extended consideration). There was a movie review. There was a slew of hate, much of which had nothing to do with the movie. There was another movie review. There was the instinct to encourage civility -- based on prior experience. And here we are again.

So... I tried. Should I have presumed it's a fool's errand? Maybe, but I have more faith in people -- particularly people who love movies -- than that. The alternative is way too depressing.

Thanks very much for your respectful and considered reply, S.T. VANAIRSDALE. I like your faith -- a lot. It's not a fool's errand, but informed by this reaction, you'll know maybe in future to have two reviews, perhaps, of certain key films -- saying something to the effect of, hey, we LOVE Stephanie, but we know she can absolutely hate films that other independent, strong-minded people like Roger Ebert can just love, so we'd like to offer you a couple of perspectives here -- and maybe the reaction (from some at least) would be tempered a bit, and maybe you'd just get the full backing and support from people like me, and not just our involved, passionate challenge, who know there was something pretty substantial about you to go after and get someone so interesting and challenging as Stephanie in the first place. I used to read your magazine a long while back, and really liked it, and was pleased to hear it was still around. Much appreciated.

Link: Now Playing: Stephanie Zacharek’s Video Review of Inception (Movieline)

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