Before I even got down to Tribeca, I heard from Pablo about an incident that had taken place during a screening of Heckler, Michael Addis’s documentary, which features Jamie Kennedy. Pablo apparently got into an argument with Kennedy during the Q&A after the film, and it turned somewhat ugly. If you happen to read Portuguese, I recommend that you check out Pablo’s blog and read his account. I’ll summarize here for those who don’t.
The film starts out as an illuminating documentary about heckling, featuring talented comics like David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman, Rosanne, Paul F. Thompkins, and Judah Friedlander talking about their experiences with hecklers, and including some classic footage of comics responding to hecklers, including an amazing clip of Bill Hicks flipping out, and a reenactment of Michael Richards’ recent onstage meltdown. Kennedy is the film’s onscreen “host,” and he describes his own encounters, and confronts some of his own hecklers on camera.
Unfortunately, about twenty minutes into the film, Addis and Kennedy pull a switcheroo, shifting the focus of their complaints from hecklers to film critics. The next hour or so consists mainly of Kennedy whining about the scathing reviews
he’s received and commiserating with fellow “victims” like Carrot Top, Tom Green, Joel Schumacher, Eli Roth, George Lucas, and filmmaker/pugilist Uwe Boll, the atrocious German videogame-adapting filmmaker (Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead) who infamously challenged critics to step into the boxing ring with him. The filmmakers clearly take great pleasure in showing Boll beating up various online critics. Who would have thought that they would be such poor fighters?
Kennedy also confronts some of his harsher critics, a few of whom do seem to have a sadistic streak. But Kennedy may be the only individual who takes what these relative lightweights have to say seriously.
When the show was over, Pablo told the filmmakers that he was entertained, but confronted them about changing the subject of their film in midstream, and about the quality of the critics they interviewed, implying that they were trying to stack the deck against film criticism by interviewing incompetent practitioners. Addis seemed ready for a thoughtful discussion of the issues Pablo raised, but the thin-skinned Kennedy was not hearing it. He got very defensive, and at one point began making fun of Pablo’s accent, which Pablo did not take lightly.
After the Q&A, Pablo continued to speak to Addis outside the theater, reiterating that he enjoyed the film. For his part, Addis was so receptive to Pablo’s criticism that he suggested he might try to add interviews with two of the esteemed critics Pablo mentioned, Manny Farber and Pauline Kael. Pablo, sensing what a coup these interviews would be, suggested that Addis also try to track down James Agee. At this point, Kennedy approached Pablo again, and apologized repeatedly for mocking him during the Q&A. Pablo graciously accepted his apology, and walked out with Kennedy in pursuit, still apologizing.
(Pablo, if you’d like to correct or add anything to this account, please let me know.)
I didn’t see the film until the press screening a couple of days later, and I pretty much agreed with Pablo’s assessment that the film was very watchable, but disappointing in shifting its focus from insight into the mindset of hecklers and the comedians who suffer them to whining about bad reviews and championing the likes of Schumacher and Boll.
However hostile they may be, however painful it may be to read what they have to say, critics are not the same as hecklers. Hecklers clearly want to be part of the show. They may hurt the performer’s feelings, but they are distinguished by their disruption of the show itself, for both performer and audience. Unless you’re
watching movies with Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, there’s no analogous experience with film critics. As for me, I have never gotten up in front of the screen during the movie to proclaim whether or not I liked it. Most critics don’t. Though I do remember hearing about how Joel Siegel made a big show of denouncing Clerks 2 when he walked out on the movie, I don’t really consider him a representative of film critics as a class.
I’ll be back later with more Tribeca coverage. Thank you for your patience.