Elvis Mitchell, former New York Times film critic, Harvard lecturer, documentary writer/producer and consistently excellent dresser, has a new show on TCM called “Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence,” in which actors and directors come in to, you know, chat. The show had its premiere last night — at Slate, Troy Patterson writes that it’s “warm, insightful, and only about 30 percent too snazzy for its own good.”
This is a journalist who knows a good boondoggle when he sees one, and among the many influences of Under the Influence are the panel discussion, the post-panel Q and A, and the strategically flattering post-Q-and-A bull session.
Mitchell’s other big influence is Pauline Kael, of course: There’s the brassy double-entendre of the show’s title–a name exactly as obnoxious as I Lost It at the Movies. In the interviews, Mitchell digs at his guest’s filmic inspirations and obsessions–and they respond in Kaelian rambles of association–but the high-hat on the soundtrack, the dangling bulbs in the studio, and the daring narrowness of Mitchell’s lapels also suggest a swinging low-key party. The show tries to pretend it’s been shot inside a champagne glass at Cannes and very nearly pulls it off.
Given that that glass of champagne will run you about $20 US at the festival these days, it must be snazzy indeed. Speaking of Kael, Meryl Streep responded to the critic’s famous assertion that she only acted “from the neck up” in an interview with the Guardian:
“I’m incapable of not thinking about what Pauline wrote,” Streep replies seriously. “And you know what I think? That Pauline was a poor Jewish girl who was at Berkeley with all these rich Pasadena Wasps with long blonde hair, and the heartlessness of them got her. And then, years later, she sees me.”
Kael being quite dead, she can’t address Streep’s psychoanalysis, but one might also think she wouldn’t have gotten far as a critic if she relentlessly avenged these theorized college slights with undeserved digs against everyone on screen with long blonde hair, a not uncommon feature for an actress. One might think it’s possible to simply not like Streep’s acting style.
On that note, LA Times critic Kenneth Turan addresses going against the grain at the paper’s entertainment blog, writing “I am not now nor have I ever been mistaken in my judgment about a film. Now that I’ve gotten your attention with that bit of unwise bravado, let me explain why I feel that asking critics about what they got wrong, or for that matter what they got right, is to fundamentally misunderstand what it is we do and how we do it.”
[Photo: Elvis Mitchell in “The Black List: Volume One,” HBO, 2008]
+ Movie Love (Slate)
+ A legend lightens up (Guardian)
+ On Second Thought: Kenneth Turan on how a film critic can’t go wrong (LA Times)