Sunday, February 22, 2009

Against My Better Judgement, Here's This:

I’ll keep this short and sweet. The basic shape of the thing is this: The first third consists of talking heads, mostly other comics, commenting on how they deal with hecklers. Suddenly the subject shifts as Kennedy informs the viewer that he equates criticism with heckling. Now the talking heads give their thoughts about critics and Kennedy throws in some footage of himself confronting various people who dismissed his film Son of the Mask. There’s also some footage of Uwe Boll boxing people who don’t like his movies.
All in all I think Jamie Kennedy is duping me. I think this movie is a put-on. However, the irony, if that’s what it is, doesn’t make it a better or worse film; it just makes it a different kind of stupid. If this movie is for real, as every reviewer at Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes seems to think, then it is offensive. If it is a put-on, a sort of mockumentary, then it is merely dimwitted.
There is a clip of Reagan telling someone to shut up while he’s trying to give a speech, and I can’t figure out why it is there. Am I supposed to think Reagan is cool in that moment? Never mind that he taxed the poor and deregulated corporate oversight. Never mind the multiple covert wars. Forget that he invited fundamentalist Christians to dictate social policy so we end up with things like the war on drugs and the “pro-life” movement. Forget that before he was a politician Reagan was a B-movie actor whose claim to fame was his position as informant for Joseph McCarthy. Reagan needed to be heckled. He is exactly the kind of person that deserves all the heckling he can get. It would have been interesting if Kennedy had thought a little bit about heckling authority figures as a form of criticism. It also would have helped if he had remembered that every comedian got his start by heckling his teacher in school.
It could be that I am a simpleton and the movie is so masterfully ironic, that it critiques that footage of Reagan. What it fails to do is define its terms accurately, and this is why, mockumentary or not, it is superfluous. Simply put: Criticism is different from reviewing. Reviewing is only another part of the promotional program for film. Whether of the professional or anonymous on-line variety, the reviewer is not a critic. A critic does not waste his time writing about Son of Mask. He has bigger fish to fry.
Put-on or not, as the movie continues it turns into my own personal anger machine. From taking Bill Hicks out of context (Kennedy should really have more respect for the Gods of Stand-Up) to appearing to praise Ronald Reagan to showing Boll pummeling teenagers for not liking Alone in the Dark, a movie in which Tara Reid portrays an archeologist, the underlying message seems to be that I should not criticize rich people when those rich people are trying their best to just entertain me. I feel like I could put Heckler in my DVD player and churn out a rant any time I get stuck. It is in that spirit that I dedicate the rest of this commentary to world-class blowhard, George Lucas, and his ten-second appearance in the film.
Lucas tells Kennedy, “There are two kinds of people in the world, creators and destroyers… (dramatic pause) I prefer to be a creator.” I wonder how many times Lucas has trotted out this line to insulate himself against criticism of his hackey, B-movies. Granted that it is impressive that he can, with a straight face, refer to the way in which he injects his understanding of a book by Joseph Campbell into a puppet show for pre-adolescents as “creation.” However, this is precisely the problem with Lucas’ statement. He is not a creator at all; he is a maintainer of the status quo. What he does with Campbell is literally the definition of kitsch. According to Clement Greenberg, who defined the term as we use it today, a distinctive feature of kitsch is the predigested quality of all the knowledge contained in the work of art. Applied to Lucas’ Star Wars films, this means that his art does not arise organically and then require a Joseph Campbell to unpack all of its mythologies. Quite the contrary, Lucas read Campbell, and used his theories as a template. That is not how mythologies are made. Nor is taking an idea you read somewhere and grafting onto a story a process for creating a work of art.
I imagine Lucas did not read Campbell enough to get to the part where he talks about Indian/Hindu mythology. Had he made it this far, Lucas might have a different idea about destroyers. It is evident from his tone that Lucas views the dichotomy between creator and destroyer as interchangeable with that between good and evil wherein creation is good and destruction is evil. Suffice it to say, without launching into a summary of eastern philosophy, that this view is excruciatingly one-dimensional. If Eastern philosophy is not your cup of tea and you do not feel like reading the Vedas or the Tao Te Ching, take a look at William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It is little wonder that a man with such meager intellectual, spiritual and emotional chops would be capable of little more than eye candy for children.
Here is where I would continue my rant against Kennedy for bringing to his cause every hack and lightweight he could find. Director Michael Addis has espoused the belief that documentaries are not supposed to profess a position about their subject, but merely transmit information. I would ask: what, then, is editing? It seems like a cop-out to me. Also, I would not put it past Addis and Kennedy to continue confusing the issue in interviews and other personal comments about their film. For all I know it could part of a massive ironic performance piece. This is why I am trying to limit my comments to problems that are legitimate regardless of the ontological nature of the film.
There are two fundamental problems. What makes them fundamental and crucial is that they are unacknowledged. This is why the film does not work for me as a put-on any more than as a sincere tirade against critics and bloggers. The first problem I acknowledged already: no distinction is made between critic and reviewer. The second problem, or perhaps it is part of the same problem – that being the mistake of making intellectual arguments without distinct intellectual categories, is that so many of the talking heads in this film, folks like Henry Winkler, Joel Schumacher, Carrot Top, Joe Rogan and, most notably, Kennedy himself, think that having good intentions insulates one from criticism. Comic after comic and rich Hollywood producer after rich Hollywood producer keeps repeating some version of the idea that the people who criticize have no respect for how hard the entertainer has worked to come up with something to entertain them. How dare the audience be so ungrateful! This is when I am almost certain that Heckler is a mockumentary. They can’t be serious can they? Their feelings are hurt when they try so hard to entertain me and I tell them that I’m not entertained? And all their money doesn’t help? As someone with ten years experience teaching 100 and 200 level college courses, I think I know a bit about working very hard to present ideas that I think are very important and being met with disdain. I know about dealing with people who a totally ungrateful and uninterested in what I am trying to give them. And for my troubles I was compensated to the tune of about $1000 a month.

And this is why I think they must be joking. Surely no one is that narcissistic. But then I remember that they are all in Hollywood, and I think, of course they are not joking. If they were not really that narcissistic they would not be in Hollywood in the first place. So it is for the rest of us, those of us who lack the pathology toward fame, that I issue this reminder: Everyone has good intentions. That should be printed on the jamb above your front door so that you have to read it every morning when you leave the house. And not because it should encourage you to give everybody a free pass! Jamie Kennedy when he makes this movie, J. Knecht when he writes about that movie, George Bush, Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld when they make up a reason to go to war, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot when they ship undesirables and dissidents to concentration camps – WE ARE ALL TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING. It is a mistake to judge someone according to his or her intentions. In some cases it is a grievous error.


  1. First of all, that was neither short, nor sweet, as promised... you didn't understand my film at all. And this is the first time any viewer has indicated that they thought the movie was a put on. It's a comedy documentary. That's not the same as a mockumentary... which my film is not.

  2. Thank you for taking time out of your busy Hollywood schedule to respond to my rambling blog. I am quite flattered that you would give me credit for saying something about this film that no one else has ever said. As to not getting it, I'll take your word for it, though I would add that I spent a considerable amount of time thinking and writing about it. Perhaps I could suggest that you don't get my commentary?


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