The rise of the film critic filmmaker


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The line between film critic and film maker has always been a blurry one. “Battleship Potemkin” director Sergei Eisenstein wrote essays and books about the language of motion pictures that continue to be studied by film students to this day. Many of the biggest figures of the French New Wave, from Jean-Luc Godard to Francois Truffaut, were first writers for the magazine “Cahiers du Cinema.” The same was true of the leaders of the New Hollywood era, where Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader crossed over from writer to critic. Even the great critic Pauline Kael took a job as an executive at Paramount Pictures for a short time.

Through all of that, though, there was still a bit of a divide. You could write a piece of film criticism, or you could make a film, but it was very difficult to do both. Now, that seems to be changing. We’re witnessing the rise of the film critic filmmaker.

Arguably the most famous film critic filmmaker, and certainly the spiritual father to this new marriage between film commentary and film production is still almost entirely anonymous. In 2001, this faceless, nameless editor took George Lucas‘ cut of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” — which, in an interesting bit of timing, is coming back to theaters this Friday in a new, 3D print — and excised almost twenty minutes from the film, removing most of the scenes featuring characters like Jar Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker that fans of the original “Star Wars” trilogy hated. He called it “Episode 1.1 – The Phantom Edit,” and he was so scared of reprisals from Lucasfilm that he credited himself only as “The Phantom Editor.” This all took place so long ago that the project was initially considered by many to be nothing more than an urban legend. Those who saw it, at least at first, did so on dubbed VHS tapes. Just a decade later, it’s astonishing how much has changed.

The Phantom Editor did eventually out himself as Mike J. Nichols, a Hollywood film cutter who’s worked on movies like the Billy Joel concert documentary “The Last Play at Shea.” But that came much later. Nowadays, film critic filmmakers don’t need to hide behind assumed identities. A few are even gaining recognition from sources outside the echo chamber of the Internet. One of the most well-received films at last month’s Sundance Film Festival was “Room 237,” a feature length examination of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” The documentary, by director Rodney Ascher (not, say, “Mr. Redrum”), explores the myriad interpretations of Kubrick’s work and features film (or conspiracy) theorists explaining how “The Shining” might actually be a story about the genocide of Native Americans or an admission of guilt on the part of the director for getting involved in the “fake” Apollo 11 moon landing. Though Ascher interviewed all these people, he illustrates their arguments and comments with footage from “The Shining” and other Kubrick films. For that reason alone, the film will almost certainly be impossible to release in a typical, commercial way. But the fact that a film that a decade ago would almost certainly have been met with skepticism or fast and dirty lawsuits played at Sundance at all is an important marker of the progress of film critic filmmakers on the road to artistic legitimacy.

A similarly audacious project was launched last week on the Indiewire blog Press Play by film critic filmmaker Peet Gelderblom. His “Raising Cain Re-cut” is a “Phantom Edit”-style revision of Brian De Palma’s 1992 film “Raising Cain.” As Gelderblom explains in an essay that accompanies his “Re-cut,” De Palma was never fully satisfied with the structure of his film and, exasperated in the editing room, he radically revised his initial conception of the picture during post-production. Gelderblom decided to take the theatrical version of “Raising Cain” and restore it to something closer to the director’s original vision. At least for now, you can watch the entire “Raising Cain Re-cut” in this embedded video.

Raising Cain Re-cut from Press Play Video Blog on Vimeo.

To get the full effect of Gelderblom’s work, I rewatched De Palma’s “Raising Cain” over the weekend and then dove immediately into the “Re-Cut” version. In my (non-filmmaker) film critic opinion, he’s done as good a job as seems possible with the material he had to work with. In interviews, De Palma stressed that his reason for making “Cain” was not (SPOILER ALERT) to tell the story of a crazy dude with multiple personalities, but really to delve into a romantic melodrama involving the crazy dude’s wife, who cheats on her husband in a surreal swirl of dreams and nightmares. In the theatrical version, John Lithgow’s Carter is established first — and established as a nutjob — before we ever meet his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich). Gelderblom’s biggest adjustment is to start with Jenny, and to keep Carter as a background character through the first twenty minutes of the film. Right after Jenny has succumbed to a series of fantasies (or perhaps true adulterous encounters) Carter surprises her by strangling her, seemingly to death.

There’s one major downside to Gelderblom’s version, namely that this protagonist fake-out makes “Raising Cain” look even more like a “Psycho” knock-off than it already did. But otherwise, his conceit works, and makes a certain amount of sense, too. Davidovich’s character is having a hard time telling the difference between dream and reality and all of a sudden her husband tries to kill her; which, at first, seems like another possible layer of dream. The “Re-cut”‘s biggest problem is that Gelderblom only has the original theatrical cut to play with — and his version could use at least a few more scenes of seeming domestic bliss between Jenny and Carter to really sell the big reveal, as well a a clearer transition between Carter’s attempted murder of Jenny and the flashback to the beginning of his wicked deeds.

All in all, though, it’s a very interesting effort. And while he hasn’t spoken publicly about it, I imagine De Palma would approve, if not with the execution then at least with the conception. After all, De Palma was, on some level, a sort of prehistoric ancestor to the modern film critic filmmaker. Few directors know more about the movies than De Palma, and few deploy that knowledge more explicitly in their work. His movies were sort of remixes before the rise of remix culture. “Blow Out” combines elements of “Blow Up” and “The Conversation” with the conspiracy around the Kennedy assassination (not to mention Chappaquiddick). “Body Double” is a bit of “Vertigo” and a bit of “Rear Window” with a dash of some Hitchcockian Wrong Man thrillers as well. And “Raising Cain,” of course, with its cross-dressing, multiple-personality-afflicted protagonist, owes a fair share to “Psycho.” You wonder whether De Palma sees these film critic filmmakers and imagines what his own career would look like if he’d come of age today. It might be enough to drive a man crazy.

What do you think of the rise of film critic filmmakers? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Attention Eric Fans!

How Well Do You Know Eric From That ’70s Show? Take the Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Eric Forman is the heart of the That ’70s Show gang and the frequent target of his dad Red’s insults. But do you know his roller disco name? Take the quiz below and test your knowledge on all things Eric.



Read Carrie's Book

Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl Is Out Now

Carrie's moving memoir is out now.

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Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is out now at fine local book shops and at online retailers like iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

The book, a “deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music,” is getting rave reviews. The Washington Post writes that, “It’s impossible not to like Brownstein” in their review of her “engaging and witty” memoir. The AV Club called the book “engrossing,” adding that “for fans of Sleater-Kinney, it’s immensely compelling, particularly because Brownstein writes crisply, insightfully, and without vanity.” She even dedicated the book to her Sleater-Kinney bandmates (and Portlandiaregulars) Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker.

Pick up a copy of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl in stores today, and be sure to catch Carrie on her nationwide book tour at one of the dates below where she will be joined by specials guests like Questlove, Amy Poehler and more.


WORD Bookstore at Saint Vitus Bar

In conversation with Questlove


Barnes & Noble Union Square

In conversation with Gaby Hoffman


Philadelphia Free Library at The Merriam Theater

In conversation with Aidy Bryant


Pitchfork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


BookPeople at Central Presbyterian Church

In conversation with Liz Lambert


Vroman’s Bookstore at Pasadena Presbyterian

In conversation with Amy Poehler


Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

In conversation with Dave Eggers


Powell’s Books at The Newmark Theatre

In conversation with a Special Guest TBA


Elliott Bay Book Company at The Neptune Theater

In conversation with Maria Semple


Drawn & Quarterly at The Rialto Theatre

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon

In conversation with Johanna Schneller

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Hyde Rocks

Think You Know Hyde? Take Our That ’70s Show Character Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

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That ’70s Show‘s resident snarkster Hyde represented the rebellious counterculture of the 1970s. But how well do you know the man who stood up to The Man? Take the ultimate Hyde fan quiz below and find out.


Kurtwood Smith 1920

That '70s Mofo

5 Movies That Prove Kurtwood Smith Is a National Treasure

Catch Kurtwood Smith on That '70s Show airing now on IFC.

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Believe it or not, veteran character actor Kurtwood Smith has a warm, endearing smile. It just took audiences over a decade to actually see him in a role that didn’t focus on his ability to scare children with his villainous gaze and determined grin. Thanks to That ’70s Show, we now associate him most as Red Forman, the curmudgeonly but loveable father to Eric Forman and patriarch to the gang of burnouts who hung out in his basement. Smith has had a long career of playing characters that weren’t always as soft and cuddly as Red Forman. Here are five of the most memorable Kurtwood Smith roles in which he didn’t have to hilariously teach a “foreign kid” to stop saying “Amedica.”

1. Flashpoint (1984)

Flashpoint may be a forgotten thriller from 1984 starring Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams as border cops who find a dead body and a ton of cash, but Kurtwood Smith shines in a role as a crooked federal agent. This character is as sinister a son-of-a-bitch as they come, with contempt practically oozing out from his eyes. You are more likely to find a VHS copy of Flashpoint at a random flea market than catch it on Netflix, but take a look at just how good he is at being a bad guy as he delivers a John Malkovich-level performance.

2. Robocop (1987)

Clarence Boddiker, the villain Smith played in Robocop, is still remembered fondly by sci-fi fans for the Jack Nicholson-like glee that he displayed for causing mayhem and inflicting pain. Any scene that has Kurtwood Smith entering a room delivering the line “B–ches leave!,” and ends with him pulling a grenade pin out with his mouth, then killing a coked-up ‘80s yuppie, will surely elevate a film’s cult status.

3. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Red Forman might have had a hard time expressing outward displays of affection for his son Eric, but compared to Mr. Perry in Dead Poets Society, he’s a regular Phil Dunphy. To say this character was chilling is an understatement. Smith nailed the cold detachment of a father determined to make his son live the life he was being groomed for. If you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society, in the words of Red Forman, what are you waiting for, “dumbass”???

4. Citizen Ruth (1996)

Smith got the chance to act in Alexander Payne’s first movie, a dark comedy in which Laura Dern’s Ruth plays a poor pregnant woman who likes to huff paint and gets mixed up with both sides of the abortion debate. Norm Stoney (Smith) and his wife enjoy nothing more on a beautiful day than to take the kids down to the free clinic, scarf a box of donuts and shout “murderer” at the people entering the building. A still relevant satire, the film gave Smith the chance to display his comedic chops before That ’70s Show. Though we doubt that Red would’ve let a “dirty hippy” like Ruth stay in his home.

5. True Believer (1989)

Smith shines as a no-nonsense prosecutor in this underrated crime thriller where James Woods and Robert Downey Jr. attempt to defend a man wrongfully accused of a gang murder.

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