This morning I woke up to discover that a bitter writer at a website that has a hard time staying online has written an editorial that has taken aim at what I do here by largely distorting my role at this site. Don't click through to the piece about the problems with modern online film writing - I don't want to force this barely-operating website offline again by hitting them with too much traffic - but here's a taste:
Faraci may be an even more interesting story. Where years ago he made a name as a fierce and insightful critic, he’s mostly relegated himself within the walls of Birth Movies Death to the role of superhero scrap news filter while other BMD writers like Meredith Borders, FILM CRIT HULK, Evan Saathoff and Scott Wampler focus on the thoughtful editorial side of things. Faraci only occasionally pops up to write about topics that take cinema into the larger socio-political landscape.
First of all, let me thank this writer for acknowledging the excellent work of some of our staff here. I am so proud of these guys and what they do, and they are a huge piece of why Birth.Movies.Death is probably one of the best movie websites, period. I do wish this writer had recognized the work of Phil Nobile Jr, a writer so smart and so versed in intriguing film lore that I curse the day he found gainful employment outside of the internet. If I could have Phil writing every single day, I would. He also neglects to mention Britt Hayes, Andrew Todd and Siddhant Adlakha, who regularly turn out stellar stuff for us. Hecom forgets about Brian Collins, whose weekly Collins' Crypt keeps us with one foot in horror at all times. Also egregiously missing is Jacob Knight, whose weekly deep dives into old movies, Everybody's Into Weirdness, is one of my favorite recurring features on the site.
I kind of want to approach this in two parts, and the first is to crow about what a great website this is. As I write this our front page includes multiple reviews from the Fantasia Film Festival - reviews of truly obscure movies, including a film from Nigeria - a look back at Kentucky Fried Movie, as well as the standard movies news coverage of trailers and casting and stuff. There's also a piece by me about a mysterious Twitter account I found that I believe is feeding us scraps of info about Captain America: Civil War and the new Spider-Man. This is the story that this writer takes issue with.
Anyway, I'm so proud of the work that is on this site! I love the article about Paper Towns and Manic Pixie Dream Girls. I think our weekly coverage of True Detective is smart and fun. I think it's cool that we have a story on the absolutely obscure rip-off Terminator 2: Shocking Dark. I'm proud of my post-release articles about the dinner table scene in Ant-Man and the curious case of 30somethings growing up in Trainwreck. Evan's article about his dad's bizarro Van Damme vs Rambo book is a delight that takes a personal route into looking at fandom. I can't wait for you guys to read what Andrew has to say about the blaxploitation Western Boss Nigger this weekend! And that's just the past week of content. I love it all.
There are, to this editorial's point, stories about superhero movies that are in our future. I wrote a thing about whether we'll see Marvel TV heroes pop up in Marvel movies, and of course I wrote that thing about the Russo Brothers' Twitter account (which James Gunn has said on Twitter is not them, but I stand by my story - whether it is physically the Russos or not, this Twitter account originates on the set of Captain America: Civil War). There are a couple of reasons why we have this stuff on the site, the biggest of which is that I am legitimately a fan of these movies. I honestly love superhero movies. I believe that I can live a life where I review obscure Israeli films from the Jersusalem Film Festival, where I discuss Double Indemnity on my weekly classic movies podcast and where I also am unabashedly excited for Captain America: Civil War. In fact I think that a real movie lover would naturally find themselves interested in classic cinema and art cinema and blockbuster cinema. The idea that you can only like one, or that liking blockbusters makes you somehow stupid, is asinine.
I cover this stuff because I love this stuff, and because I have really good sources for this stuff. I don't write up every single superhero news story that comes down the wire, although I don't begrudge those who do. And here we come to the second reason to run this sort of content: it keeps the lights on.
As this nasty editorial mentions, we recently lost the film site The Dissolve, a favorite of many film folks, but a site that was unable to find an audience big enough to keep it going. The Dissolve didn't get down into the superhero trenches in the same way, didn't spend a lot of time writing about upcoming movies or doing speculative pieces about the plots of films that haven't been written, let alone shot, let alone released. The Dissolve tried to go with a different approach to writing about movies and it didn't work out.
For many people this is a sign of a diseased film culture. If The Dissolve couldn't make it, what hope is there for serious film discussion? I disagree pretty heartily, and I think that POV is based on a utopian vision of a film world that never existed. The Dissolve's problem, in my outsider view, wasn't their content - which was uniformly excellent - but rather more mundane things like their overhead and a social media presence that was perfunctory at best. I also think that Pitchfork pulled the plug too early and, rather than close the site, should have tried to restructure it at the two year mark. It's a real bummer that The Dissolve is gone, and I do hope that all of those shining and smart voices find new homes (and I've already seen many of them pop up elsewhere). In fact I'm going to keep running superhero stories in the hopes of turning a corner in ad revenue that will allow me to hire some of them.
Anyway, there was never a time when talking about art film or old movies was a cash cow. There was never a golden age of the internet where discussion of Ozu or where a deep look at a ten year old documentary (Grizzly Man in the case of The Dissolve's final Movie of the Week) was going to be immensely popular. And there was never a time in print where that was true, either. There have always been 'cinephile' magazines, from Cahiers du Cinema to Film Comment, but these are never the big boys on the print block. They never have had the circulation or the budgets of the more populist magazines, ones that focused on movie stars and big budget movies. Popular stuff has always been popular. This isn't some new trend brought on by the insidious corruption of superhero movies. Marvel didn't elbow the Romanian New Wave out of the spotlight. And, except for a period of like seven years that happened before most people whining about the state of the cinema were born, big and populist movies have always guided the national conversation and caught the popular imagination.
All of this is a longwinded way of getting back to the unpleasant editorial aimed at my work (and that besmirched the work of a lot of great people here). My philosophy is simple: you want it all. You want to cover the big superhero movies and you want to cover them with vigor and intelligence, and you want to use the hits and attention they bring in order to finance your review of a black and white Israeli movie about Hasids (see my review of Tikkun). You want to have enough money that you can send your staff to Comic-Con while you travel to Jerusalem for a film festival and write about the connection between the stories of faith and the stories of cinema (this site really picked a weird week to complain about my output, if we're being honest). But more than that, you want to create an environment where you rope people in with popular movies and then, once they have subscribed to your RSS, also feed them a steady diet of old movies and weird movies and offbeat movies. You can lead a horse to water, and you can also trick him into drinking it if you're presenting it right. Which isn't to say that Meredith's Fantasia reviews or my JFF reviews are doing gangbusters, but that's okay - we have a system in place that allows us to write about Marwencol and Caitlyn Jenner without worrying how many people click through to the piece. We only worry if the piece is good.
As for the personal attack, that I have somehow given up my position as an insightful critic - I guess that can only be judged by those standing outside of me. We're in the middle of the Silly Season - the time in the movie web world where it's a pretty big succession of mainstream blockbusters - and what I write about will reflect that. I try to write smart things about what's going on right now, about the movies that everybody is currently seeing. I'm really, honestly proud of my pieces about the stakes of Inside Out and the over-the-top death scene in Jurassic World; I think that both are not just talking about current popular films but also are trying to talk about the mechanics of cinematic storytelling in general. I'm proud of what I've written from Jerusalem (and there's more coming) and I'm proud of my Trainwreck piece from this week. I'm proud of The Canon, which tries to juggle more clearly classic films with more populist films and has fun while talking about them.
I'm really proud of what I do. And even if I only wrote about mystery Twitter accounts, I would be proud that it allowed me to create a space here at Birth.Movies.Death where other great writers can write about whatever they want, in whatever way they want. I would be proud of the community that has coalesced here, a community that allows us to regularly have comment threads that go hundreds of posts long and - in the faced of conventional internet wisdom - remain smart and on-topic and without the seething rivulets of hate that pop up everywhere else. Maybe if somebody wanted to take note of what we're doing at BMD that is what they should be looking at - the community that has grown here, a community that every day refutes the idea of 'don't read the comments.'
I won't even get into the fact that the staff here at this site also puts together a monthly print magazine because why keep burying this guy's shitty opinion any deeper?
Hey, nobody, and no site, is perfect. I fuck up. Probably more than most people. But I'm out here trying. And I'm surrounded by an incredible staff of smart, excited writers who are trying really hard as well. I'm sorry The Dissolve didn't make it. I'm sorry your career writing about film didn't take off the way you wanted. I'm sorry nobody reads your letterboxd reviews that you pimp out on 'Film Twitter.' But we're not the enemy here. We're trying hard, and nobody knows better than we do how difficult it is for smart movie writing to flourish. If anything I wish I ran more clickbait superhero junk because I wish the site made more money so we could hire more writers to give you more diversity and more intelligent daily content.
Thank you Meredith (happy birthday, by the way!), Phil, Evan, Scott, Britt, Andrew, Sid, Jacob, Vyce Victus, Brian, April, Alex, Film Crit Hulk and all the others who contribute to making this what I think is probably one of the best film sites online. This is the movie site I would want to read, and I am goddamned proud of it.