Monday, February 2, 2009

Heckler: A Pre-View Review

Last week I was listening to Adam Carolla Show co-host, Teresa Strasser, praise Jamie Kennedy’s documentary, Heckler. At first I was intrigued because she said that Bill Hicks was in it, and I am always interested in any archival footage of Hicks that is unearthed. Strasser started to lose me, however, when she described an extended sequence in which Uwe Boll boxes, and reportedly beats senseless, several online writers that trashed his films. She said it was really satisfying to see him beat these men after the terrible things that had said about his movies. Wait. Did a Jew just praise an German for beating on people who disagree with him? Maybe she should choose her words more carefully. Never mind. What is really at stake in her assessment is class allegiance. Clearly Strasser was taking sides with the “artist” against his “critics.” This problem is underscored by the trailer for the film which features the line “the battle between those in the spotlight and those in the dark.” I will wait until after I see the documentary for a more detailed review, but it does seem that Kennedy has already tipped his hand in the preview. I should admit that I am wary of the film, because it seems to be based on the idea that entertainers should not have to suffer criticism from the unwashed masses.

I put this movie in my Netflix queue and then did something I have never done before: I began to read the user reviews. I have no idea where this urge came from. I do not read use reviews, because the “users” are typically an uninteresting lot. They tend to praise mainstream movies that everyone else in the world praises, and they tend to find art films boring. If one of the points of Heckler is that the internet gives people who have not earned their voice the opportunity to express their opinions, I certainly agree. I have a lengthy C.V. that attests to my authority as a critic, and I will admit that I do not like the idea that anybody with an internet connection can spout off about things they do not understand any time they feel like it. What Kennedy needs to understand is that this is a purely intellectual problem. He seems to turn it into a status problem. Where I would simply choose not to read what idiots have to say, it seems that Kennedy wants to prove that they have no right to say it.

In any event, I read these Netflix reviews, and the majority of them did not like the documentary because they disagreed with Kennedy’s attack on critics. At first glance this seems intuitive enough. If they perceive him to be attacking their rights to spout off, certainly these anonymous critics are unlikely to support his position. On the other hand I happen to know for a fact that most people hate critics, and I wonder why I found not one review that praised Kennedy for finally sticking it to them. This would involve some cognitive dissonance to be sure, but I would expect nothing less from the average online reviewer. I would add that it takes a remarkable degree of cognitive dissonance for Kennedy to make this film in the first place. Comedians, so far as I understand, are social and cultural critics. I wonder if Kennedy defines his art this way, and I wonder how thoroughly he delineates the relative values of his kind of criticism (if indeed one would call it that; I have never seen his act) versus the opinions of lay persons.

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