Roger Ebert, David Edelstein, Sarah Kerr, and Elvis Mitchell

Signs of Intelligent Life
Critic vs. critic.
Dec. 17 1999 9:58 AM

Roger Ebert, David Edelstein, Sarah Kerr, and Elvis Mitchell

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Roger: I'd never accuse you of consciously formulating your reviews in accordance with a political agenda. My fear, based on lifelong respect for your writing and the early corruption of my morals by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, is that the immense responsibility you've assumed could get in the way of your having irresponsible fun. It would be OK if you hated South Park: Bigger, Longer& Uncut; what worried me was that you said you felt guilty for having laughed. By the way, I missed the racism in that film--unless it was the depiction of Canadians as having crudely bisected eggheads. As for homophobia: I saw, on the contrary, a sophisticated gay/camp worldview being slipped in through the back door. So to speak.

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Fight Club is a more difficult case. Its makers clearly thought they were satirizing fascism; you think they ended up celebrating it. My view is closer to yours, but it's a tricky line. Some of the greatest artists burrow so deeply into their characters' twisted psyches that they risk making a case for "the dark side." (A seminal masterpiece, TaxiDriver, goes about as deep as you can--and some people think too deep.) A smart, twentysomething former Slate writer tried to explain to me the other day that the point of Fight Club is that the hero spends the whole movie punching himself in the face. To him (and many others), this ironically brutal confession of impotence sums up the messy, unresolved feelings of his generation. I'm skeptical--I think the film's ironies are more opportunistic than insightful. But I find it so much harder to dismiss than The Green Mile, which doesn't ever risk making the case for its evil characters' worldview--and so illuminates nothing.

Sarah: Lovely case for The Sixth Sense, which had me bawling at the end although it cheated like mad and I could smell the greasepaint on those ghosts. Your body-and-soul riff accounts for why the world through the prism of movies seemed to open up toward the end of this year--to seem so fluid that even Elvis the Destroyer had an out-of-body experience.

By the way, I'm not your host; I'm just the guy who camps here year-round. I admit I felt a little territorial when the Movie Club started; now I'll be lonely when the rest of you leave. I began on a note of hope for movies; I end feeling hopeful about criticism.

Best,
David

P.S.: Jar Jar must die.

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David Edelstein is Slate'smovie critic. Sarah Kerr is a regular contributor toSlateand the New York Review of Books. Elvis Mitchell currently reviews films for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but will soon be doing so for the New York Times. Roger Ebert is the film critic for theChicago Sun-Timesand co-host of the television programRoger Ebert & the Movies.

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