New York Observer film critic Rex Reed is such a reliable source of outraged blog posts he’s probably just a neck lipo away from getting his own E! reality show. His review of V/H/S/2, written after he skipped out on the latter three-quarters of the film, inspired the headline “Rex Reed Still World’s Worst Film Critic“ on Indiewire yesterday, under which Sam Adams lambasted the critic in the same hysterical, bug-eyed manner that Reed chastised the horror anthology. (Adams, we presume, made it all the way through Reed’s review.)
But Adams’s singling out of Reed as the “world’s worst” ignores how low the lows of criticism can be. First, Reed’s frequent disgust with the films he reviews proves he’s no shill. (We must never forget, nor forgive, Ben Lyons.) And Reed keeps criticism alive by making it interesting and fun to read. The democratization of film criticism in the past decade, as well as the relative ease of writing reviews–as opposed to, say, sewing a couture gown–have led to a proliferation of amateurish work that’s inevitably bottom-heavy in quality.
Especially for those of us who read many reviews of the films we’re interested in, any critic’s “value added”–Anthony Lane’s languidly elegant prose, Carina Chocano’s socio-economic insights, or in Reed’s case, provocation and mean-spirited wit–is a welcome bonus. In his V/H/S/2 takedown, Reed demonstrates at least an attempt to entertain his readers, dryly describing the filmmakers as “seven unknown directors hell-bent on remaining that way.” More colorful writing doesn’t necessarily equate better criticism, but it certainly enriches the critical canon.
Adams also brings up Reed’s infamous write-up of The Identity Thief, for which he justly attracted hate by calling star Melissa McCarthy “tractor-sized” and “a female hippo.” Unmentioned are the numerous other critics who called McCarthy “zaftig” or other cutesy euphemisms, who got away with nary a peep from the outrage machine because they used politically correct niceties to make the same point that Reed did, just in a more cowardly way. Reed was even more brazen in his reviews of the Sex and the City movies, where he opined that Sarah Jessica Parker would make ” a wonderful Halloween witch” and observed that the fortysomething quartet looked like “plow donkeys wearing lipstick.” Tasteful? Not at all. But at least he engaged fully with the film, albeit with his expected cruelty and sexism, instead of bowing out like Roger Ebert, who sheepishly qualified his review in its first line: “I am not the person to review this movie.”
In fact, through his boorish candidness, Reed offers one real gift to both his colleagues and his readers: a weekly reminder that all criticism ultimately amounts to one person’s reaction to a piece of work. His tactless subjectivity exposes that truth as readily as most other reviewers seek to obscure it. Because Reed makes no efforts to hide the fact that he’s a big, snotty baby, the whining id of white male privilege, there’s little reason to take him, or by extension any other critic, as an authority. Criticism should provoke discussion, not settle it–and Reed has, in fact, done so, partly by choosing the voice of a petty crank–or, if you prefer, a blubbery Dorothy Parker–rather than of God, and partly by sparking conversations about the watchability of today’s extreme horror films and the images of larger women on the big screen.
As for his confession of walking out of a film he’ll presumably get paid to review, well, he probably shouldn’t have taken the assignment in the first place, but he’s certainly not the first critic to leave a movie mid-run. In fact, Ebert himself, posthumously canonized by the critical community as the patron saint of cinephilia, headed for the doors in the middle of a film–a deed he copped to in his review of Caligula. Reed’s aborted viewing is certainly a dereliction of his professional duties, but walking out of a movie can serve as its own emotional, even critical, reaction. After all, repulsion is certainly a response V/H/S 2 means to trigger–you know, the normal reaction to watching sharp objects jammed into eyeballs.
And in the minuscule space allotted him–Reed’s review is all of 140 words, the review equivalent of a tweet–he cogently and viscerally shares his viewing experience: V/H/S/2 is “indescribably gory, violent, plotless and deranged.” Had he wanted to bamboozle his readers and employers into thinking he sat through the entire film, he certainly could’ve written at last four times that length using the press notes the studio supplied him. No one’s going to give Rex Reed a Nobel Prize for literature, but with the space allotted, he hardly could’ve done better even if he’d tortured himself by watching another hour of the endlessly creative ways humans have figured out how to kill each other. So put down the pitchforks, stamp out the fire, and get off this overcrowded bandwagon, because if you care about film, there are much bigger things to worry about.
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