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Entertainment Industry Goober of the Month: David Denby
Denby used to write terrible, boring, just-plain-wrong film reviews for New York magazine and now he writes them for the New Yorker. He's an earnest chin-stroking type that always holds movies to some ridiculous (or ridiculously conventional) standard of moral responsibility.* Well, it turns out he's also the Bill Bennett of sober left establishment pontificators--a gamblin' man who pissed all his money away in the stock market Bubble. That's pretty funny, but unfortunately he's now written a self-flagellating book about his experiences. Walter Kirn's sympathetic NY Times review is here. A choice excerpt from the review:
Denby, when young and living in California, had been something of a radical, dancing to the Grateful Dead and defiantly pitting culture against commerce, but he'd mellowed into a propertied intellectual who sneakily admired the system for its ability to supply the good life even to those who held it in partial contempt.Now there's someone I want to read about. And here's another quote, the sheer liberal piety of which might lead one to believe the reviewer is Denby's separated-at-birth twin:
As Denby's [investment] pile fluctuates his exact gains and losses are quoted in the chapter subheads, but the chapters themselves are an eccentric mix of often lacerating confessions about his rocky love life and seminarish meditations on capitalism, conspicuous consumption and the psychological roots of greed. His tone can be pedantic, but his intention -- to freeze and analyze the mental gyrations that allow a deep thinker to become a shallow speculator -- is worthwhile and appropriate. Denby even drops in snippets of movie reviews he wrote at the time to help show us where his head was at, but they don't add much. (bolding of inert words supplied)Excuse me, what was that about deep thinking? It's supposed to be surprising that the same person who can find "the good" in one packaged Hollywood movie after another also bought into the myths of the "Dow 10,000" years? It all sounds of a piece to me. I'll take a pass on his hard lessons on love and investing, thanks; it's bad enough that we're still stuck with his reviews.
* Take, for example, his review of the movie Monster, about a recently executed serial murderer. As always Denby finds something edifying and uplifting to justify our attention: "[Monster] is one instance in which art clearly trumps documentary 'truth.' The real Aileen Wuornos is too will-driven to show us more than one side of herself. In the end, you need a sane person and an artist [Charlize Theron] to bring out the humanity in a crazy person." Oh, we do, do we? If the "truth" is that Wuornos was an irredeemable mad dog killer, isn't "trumping the truth with art" the same as sentimentalizing it? Maybe the filmmakers had noble motives for distorting reality, if in fact that's what they did--to make an anti-death penalty tract or feminist bad-girl fable, say. But is the critic's job just to be a mindless booster for good causes? Based on this assessment I'd rather watch Man Bites Dog again and feel some real conflicted feelings, as its psycho hit man protagonist charms me into as much complicity as I can stand.