Nathan Lee, former young person, on cinema

Critic Nathan Lee‘s exit interview from the Village Voice/New Times demonstrates what a unique writer just got pink-slipped. Like many of the laid-off, he makes the point that he’s got lots of company. He suggests it’s the way of the world in a culture that doesn’t value arts writing, that most film writing isn’t very useful, and that there are more and better opportunities out there in cyberspace. The people that speculated that Lee got the sack for putting Southland Tales at the top of his best of 2007 list are wrong, but it does look like Lee is still being barbecued for that choice. He had better eyesight than most of that film’s critics, in that he could see Richard Kelly’s intentions through the mess that was onscreen. I do have to argue with Lee on a couple of points. One, that Anthony Lane “doesn’t know shit about movies.” There are many occasions where Lane would rather show off his erudition than deal with the subject at hand, but when you have that much erudition to show … There are essays all through Nobody’s Perfect to demonstrate how much Lane indeed knows about movies. However, like most New Yorker critics since Pauline Kael went (and Kael had her severe blind spots of course), Lane looks at cultural phenomena just like the magazine’s mascot, Eustice Tilly, looks at a butterfly: through a monocle. The interview mentions Lee’s review of Rivette’s Duchess of Langeais—good piece, but it also gets caught in a Lane-style erudition trap: most of the review is about the source book. I hardly blame the critic. Too bad Lee’s cheese-paring bosses at the Voice couldn’t have given him the kind of space that the writers had in the old days, where Lee could have expanded on his thoughts to some 2000 words. Finally, what bothers me about this interview is the ax-grinding against the older generation of critics versus the newer ones, of which Lee counts himself. The high-school year book photo Lee uses is obviously a little old. Lee also tiptoes around the matter of his background, wanting to keep it “shrouded in mystery.” Or is he just concealing his age? He identifies Ed Gonzales, Scott Foundas (a genuinely exciting younger critic) and Wesley Morris as part of his generation, but Morris, I’m certain, is on the other side of trustable age of 30. I hate to see this kind of ageism thrown around, particularly from someone who praises an old party like Rivette.

142 comments to Nathan Lee, former young person, on cinema

  • Michael Gant

    I haven’t seen Southland Tales, so I am reluctant to weigh in, but I did see the damn trailer, and it makes the movie look horrendously misconceived. I suspect that Lee’s choice of Southland Tales as the year’s best was an act of willful perversity, designed more to draw attention to the critic than the film. Exactly the kind of thing a cheeky young reviewer with a chip on his shoulder about the older generation might do.

  • RvB

    I went in for some second thoughts about the film, and I still feel like it name-checked its issues with the military-industrial-entertainment complex instead of figuring out where the jokes were. A couple of very good musical numbers in it, but it’s a botch, and I think the people who really find it deep burnt one in the alley before they saw it.

  • Great interview! The interview mentions Lee’s review of Rivette’s Duchess of Langeais. Thanks!

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