Ray Carney Misinterprets Woody Allen, Again And Again…

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[The following essay is an excerpt from my book, Woody Allen: Reel To Real, now available via Amazon. It deals with film critic Ray Carney, and is part of a much longer essay, which can be read in full on the book’s website.]

What’s In A Name? Six Major Critics Of Woody Allen

Critic #6: Ray Carney

Ray Carney Woody Allen

Ray Carney attempts to critique Woody Allen, and flounders horribly. Image via Carney’s personal website.

It is interesting to put Ray Carney into the category of Woody Allen ‘detractors’, since — despite his often sketchy line of argumentation — he is still quite above critics such as Pauline Kael and Jonathan Rosenbaum, for a number of reasons. For one, I am an admirer of his scholarly work, and especially what he’s done to help resuscitate John Cassavetes’s film legacy. Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes, for instance, took eleven years to write, as he had to conduct hundreds of interviews, hunt down obscure documents, and force himself to come to terms with his own perceptions of the artist, as a great filmmaker, versus that of the man, who was moody, sick, and quite dislikable, at times. This, by itself, shears Carney of some biases, and proves that he is at least able to look at things from a fresh perspective, no matter how it might discomfit him. Yet it is really his cogent attacks on Hollywood, film theory, and film criticism that stand out the most, given that he is an academic willing to stake his professional reputation on some unpopular claims. Needless to say, most don’t take any real positions (much less create them, as Carney has sometimes done), and thus belong to far lesser company.

That said, there is a world of difference between scholarly ability and a critical one, and Ray Carney prides himself on both. The former revolves around patience, meticulousness, and being able to digest large amounts of information to get at what’s ‘essential’. The latter talent, however, is quite unpredictable, and no skill-set, college degree, earnestness, knowledge, creativity, or ‘expertise’ will ever guarantee it, much less the ability to replicate these sound judgments, time after time. (This, as I’ve shown, was quite often Ebert’s flaw.) One can, for instance, be a great artist, yet know little of art’s ‘why’. A quick perusal of Shelley’s confused In Defence of Poetry will reveal this,[64] as will the opinions of many artists, big or small, on what art is and how it’s made. In short, one could be intelligent, creative, honest, and a wonderful communicator, to boot, yet still be unable to articulatewhy something works, on a deeper level, while something else does not. And this is really Carney’s problem, as he is a great scholar, and sometimes even quite good when dealing with the generalities of Hollywood, artistic stagnation, and the like, but tends to break down when it comes to more specific critiques of art, itself. He has written, for example, why Citizen Kane, Woody Allen, and Stanley Kubrick are overrated, why Schindler’s List is a bad film, why Hitchcock is primarily a stylist, and why Quentin Tarantino is all hype.[65] This is, by my count, three valid claims, and three arguable ones. Sure, these are three ballsy (and intelligent!) claims more than most critics ever make, but they’re scattershot — quite literally a coin-toss — and therefore not replicable. No where is this more obvious, however, than in his detailed critique of Woody Allen,[66] which is full of the same biases and misreadings that damn even far lesser critics than Carney.

The essay begins with a few obvious mistakes in its attempt to explain the popularity of Allen’s films. Carney’s assertion is that, unlike with other filmmakers, Allen gives us a “flattering” picture of our own selves, for his characters (men, especially) are “high-minded, good-mannered, well-groomed, and well-meaning”, and the women downright “intellectual”. Indeed, the viewer would even want to be a character, within, if the choice were forced upon him, given the popular alternatives. Moreover, the films, themselves, are full of “sumptuous” music, “elegant” cinematography, more or less tell the world that everything is alright, thus comforting us in the midst of entertaining. But while I’m quite sure that this is the case for most people, it is only because Ray Carney, himself, falls into the same trap that so many other critics (and viewers) do. In short, Allen’s characters are anything but upstanding, with only a few exceptions, and just as few real intellectuals, as opposed to mere poseurs. Alvy Singer (Annie Hall) is a self-loathing manipulator; Isaac Davis (Manhattan) is selfish, a liar, a bad writer, and does not, evidently, even reveal his true nature to his best friend, Yale; Joey (Interiors) is the perpetually dissatisfied non-artist, spoiled by American luxury, while Renata is the prototypically selfish one, and immature re: the arts, to boot; Hannah (Hannah and Her Sisters) is either a cold, manipulative bitch, or a ‘nice’ and selfless lady, depending on the evidence one takes; Cecilia (The Purple Rose of Cairo) is weak for much of the film, with only the hint of something ‘more’ in the last minute or so; Judy (Husbands and Wives) is one of cinema’s most nefarious creations; and Marion (Another Woman) has a mode of being that erases all proper emotion, a realization she only makes (and acts upon) at the ripe old age of 50 — precisely when Hollywood thinks women ought to be quite dead. Of course, this does not even cover Judah (Crimes and Misdemeanors), nor even the blind rabbi, Ben, or Deconstructing Harry, Match Point, Sweet and Lowdown, and Cassandra’s Dream, which are full of even more inversions that discriminating film-goers ought to be able to pick up on. To be fair, Carney’s essay was published before Crimes was released, which saw one of Allen’s biggest and most hyper-realistic villains, but the fact that the essay was not amended, but shown on his own site as a prime attraction, means the judgment more or less stands. More importantly, however, is that Carney already had a large number of characters to choose from to serve as counter-points, and yet, for whatever reason, did not see their true shortcomings. In fact, if I were forced to be anyone from these films, I’d choose Sandy Bates (Stardust Memories), the only true artist that Allen ever created, and one of the most ‘whole’ characters in all of cinema, despite the many opinions to the contrary.

Ray Carney calls Woody Allen’s films a “flattering portait of ourselves,” yet misses an obvious point: they’re not! Alvy Singer manipulates Annie (and others) from the get-go — not to mention the viewer, who so often falls for the very same illusions that Carney himself does:

But while Carney begins with a simple and over-common misreading, he quickly reveals his own biases, which afflict the rest of his essay. He complains of the “extraordinarily privileged” nature of a typical Woody character, and — in a phrase that reeks of the film-speak Carney in fact loathes — the subsequent “imaginative embourgeoisement of experience”. In short, there are no poor people in an Allen film, no black people, no crime, and almost no evil. It is sterile, pollyanna, and Carney does not at all ‘like’ this. But while it’s true that Allen is excluding one slice of reality by refusing to tackle certain issues, it makes zero sense to privilege those realities in a work of art over any others, as Carney both suggests and denies. If, for example, I wish to explore the subterranean world of Japanese BDSM circa 1962, I will not, quite naturally, turn to a Woody Allen film for answers. Nor will I blame Caravaggio for not tackling the issue of the proletariat in Death of the Virgin, or Andrew Wyeth for not addressing the overfishing of cod in his favorite Maine retreats. Woody Allen is concerned with the upper-crust because, as he’s often admitted, it is simply what he knows, and has therefore captured that ‘type’ better than any other artist. It is their world, as they see it, and that which is inessential to their tale is therefore excluded. This, in fact, is quite basic, for the best art is not some ever-expanding cone (as it’s been argued), but really a funnel from which a small-but-great concentrate emerges, and different artists are responsible for depicting these different ‘slices’. So while Martin Scorsese was damn good at showing a stylized underbelly, in a way that Allen simply cannot, he’ll still never craft an existential, metafictive masterpiece like Stardust Memories, or a comic gem like Sleeper, for that is likewise out of bounds. This is not a flaw, merely the reality. Thus, as I wrote of Jonathan Rosenbaum, to demand a work of art be something that it isn’t rather than what it is, is not merely a critical faux pas, but something from which there is NO turning back. This is because the second one starts to engage this line of thinking, one is trapped by biases, desires, and immaterial ‘needs’ that have little to do with what’s immanent to the art, itself, and everything to do with the viewer, whose personal demands thus override the image, and turn the thing into a mere phantasm.

As if realizing the strangeness of his argument, Carney attempts to ‘sophisticate’ his words by claiming that an artist does not need to be “held to a naturalistic or realistic social agenda”, but nonetheless complains of Purple Rose’s lack of “garbage” in the streets, as the film “breaks down” when it gets “hard” to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Well, yes, there is no clear dividing line, as this is an interesting way of showing Mia’s thoughts — that is, characterization — and very much deepens the film’s last few moments. Such things are not in Carney’s realm, however, for even the characters, he argues, are all quite “nice” and “never too confused” for the audience, and thus unable to make them “squirm”. But “squirming”, too, is merely one slice of reality, albeit one that Carney privileges over everything else, and thus uses his preference as a sledge-hammer to beat back the inevitable encroachment of the things he wishes to exclude. And, yes, while it’s true that audiences willsympathize with most of Allen’s characters, it is precisely because they, themselves, have bought into the very illusions Carney decries, and Allen, himself, criticizes over and over again. To most, Isaac’s “New York was his town, and it always would be” is an example of great writing. It really isn’t, and only Allen (and a few viewers) realize this, which is the exact opposite of Ray Carney’s assertion that Woody represents a kind of “modernism for the millions”. Indeed, for these millions, like Carney, see the illusions, and merely take them at face value. The only difference is that while the audience eats them up and smiles, Carney does so with a frown.

Carney goes on to deride the depiction of Holly’s (Hannah and Her Sisters) “drug problem” as somehow effete, for it doesn’t show how destructive drugs can be. Perhaps, but Carney’s assumption is that the drugs are front-and-center, when in fact it is Holly’s neediness, lack of self-worth, and poor decisions that are her mark, and thus lead to drug use in the first place, which is a mere symptom of her ills rather than the cause. Nor is she, like Flyn (Interiors), in a truly terrible situation, merely unhappy, but with pretenses to something ‘higher’ — a luxury that many poor people simply do not have. It makes sense, then, that her drug use is lackadaisical, for it fits her character, fits her milieu, and fits her position in life. To emphasize drugs would strip her of other complexities given what the film is and what it isn’t, but Carney does not really see this. Annie Hall is given similar treatment, as Carney brings up a scene where Annie wishes to take cocaine, only to have Alvy — who finally agrees — inadvertently sneeze it all away. Carney calls this a “glib” resolution to the drug “problem” (a word that is quite often code for a critic’s own wants), given how things in the scene “threaten to get really interesting” before Allen suddenly cuts them short. In fact, they don’t threaten this at all, for Annie is a very casual user, at worst, is a better — stronger, even! — person than Alvy, and is probably in no danger of becoming a junky, thus making any ‘serious’ treatment of drugs irrelevant. At film’s end, she merely goes out a lot, plays tennis, and has other escapes that truly fit and fill her, thus obviating drugs as a need for such, not only for Annie, the person, but Annie the artistic creation, who’d only be marred by such a tangent. Indeed, Carney’s own focus would, as with Holly, completely take the force away from Annie’s air-headed qualities (which are the reason for her even trying coke in the first place), and thus torpedo the character Allen has been building. Granted, it may not be the character that Carney ‘wants’ to see, but so what? Annie is reality, for she is very much a real person, which is an accomplishment, not an “evasion”. I have also known a good number of drug addicts, from a childhood friend who became a heroin-addicted prostitute at the age of fourteen, practically before my eyes, to far less frightening stories, and must take issue with Carney’s idea that it is all somehow “interesting”. It is not. It is, in fact, quite predictable and rote, for every drug addict’s ‘reason’ is the same, every story word-for-word, and every arc — whether towards death, or some happier denouement — identical, no matter how unique such stories are often said to be. Indeed, Carney’s own insistence that this is “interesting” not only undermines Allen’s art, which really has no place for such, anyway, but sounds an awful lot like a “privileged” white person (to borrow Carney’s own plaints re: Allen) who wishes to be a voyeur, but without truly being able to understand the thing he wants to see.

Ray Carney derides Holly’s “effete” drug problem in Hannah and Her Sisters, but again misses the point. The drug problem is not her defining issue, but merely tangential to and symptomatic of something FAR deeper — that is, the way in which Holly relates to the world, as well as to herself:

Carney criticizes yet another great scene in Hannah, where the title character watches an argument between her parents, but offers no cogent reason for his dislike, except that there is no “real danger”, as if Marlon Brando busting out of the closet with the ‘kiss of death’ could somehow better things — or, to use Carney’s own example, that the mother have an affair with a young stud to make things “really interesting”. It wouldn’t, as it’d merely introduce a layer of melodrama that Carney at first criticizes, then outright suggests. Hannah’s subsequent voice-over is savaged, too, but Carney confuses things when he assumes it is there to offer insight into her parents (who are, in fact, quite predictable), rather than into Hannah, herself, who is for the first and only time shown to be completely alone with her thoughts, as a means of providing some unadulterated ‘pro’ evidence of her good character amidst all the bad we’ve seen up to that point. Yet Carney’s most stolid reading of the film is his complaint that “the crisis magically abates, and is never referred to again.” Indeed, as it doesn’t have to be, for what we get from the parents — prior to any voice-over at all — is the fact that, after decades of marriage, the two fools are still going at it, for they are wired to fight, cheat, and act like asses due to their deepest point of similarity: their immaturity. Carney finds this all somehow unrealistic, but why? In fact, how many marriages are precisely like this? How many arguments do we witness on the street, on the train, or in the supermarket that follow the same sort of arcs and denouement? How many people are ‘stuck’ in an unhappy life, without the will to change things? Ray Carney calls their argument a “crisis”, but it is not a crisis at all, and the film’s own evidence never implies that it is. It is, in fact, simply one more argument among thousands of others that have already come, and will continue to come ‘till death do us part’. And it is not referred to again because something else will inevitably take its place, something no less lurid, and — even more predictably — no less dumb. It will follow the same arcs, and it will end in exactly the same way. Perhaps Lee will comfort them this time. Or perhaps it will be Holly. Do such details really matter? I have been there, alright, but after years of entertaining such disputes every single night, I still can’t tell you what the hell they were about. Woody Allen has therefore captured my reality quite well. Yet great art does something even better. It reveals such things are not exclusive to ‘your’ world, but universal, and really cuts into them quite meaningfully. Luckily, I got out of my “problem” (to borrow Carney’s phrasing) before it grew. Allen’s film, however, shows that many never do, and will simply die trying. This is quite frightening. This is real. Yet it, too, is somehow not in Carney’s realm, possibly because in his wish to be a voyeur of mere melodrama, he misses the truedrama of everyday life.

Nor is his treatment of Allen’s magisterial Stardust Memories much better, for even as Carney wishes to get away from the sillier judgments made of the film, he still argues from ‘the enemy’s turf’, as it were. Carney’s first objection is to the film’s use of “grotesques”, given how far they are from reality, thus preventing Allen from truly being “contemptuous” of them. Yet even this line of reasoning accepts the common (and wrong!) assumption that Allen was merely trying to create monsters, and use them as a kind of straw-man against his own inner phantasms. There are two issues with this. The most obvious one is that such characters take up, at most, a few minutes of screen time in an 88 minute film, allowing everyone else to be sketched beyond caricature. Dorrie, for instance, is a psychotic nonpareil, while Sandy’s playboy friend (Tony Roberts) is both a slimeball and utterly correct about his best friend’s flaws. This is, quite naturally, good writing. The more cogent point, however, is that Sandy Bates is not Allen, at all, and while Sandy is talented and generally ‘whole’, his flaws and shenanigans are completely skewered by the film’s extraterrestrial scene, which was (the viewer must be reminded) written by Allen, himself, and serves as the film’s over-voice which reins ‘reality’ back in. This includes the way Sandy (ostensibly) sees others, and certainly the way he’s approached romantic relationships. They are, again, real people, and while a select few are caricatures, they are caricatures that serve the film’s purpose, and Sandy, especially, who is both skewered and — at film’s end — not. For more specifics on why the film works, despite Carney’s claims, I refer you to the earlier chapter in this book, as well as Dan Schneider’s review[67], which remains the most comprehensive examination of the film to date.

It is interesting, then, how Carney’s critiques, while often cogent as mere generalities, break down the very moment in which they are asked to live in specifics. This is true not only in his critique of particular films, but his mis-use of Allen’s “comedy”, not because it is somehow ill-fitting, but because, as before, Carney either overstates the argument, or simply applies it to the wrong thing. Thus, even comedy is subject to ridicule, for there is nothing innately humorous (at least to Carney) when the “grotesques” in Stardust Memories behave like idiots — culled, by the way, from real life — or when Christopher Walken’s character, in Annie Hall, rattles off some psychotic fantasy, which Walken thinks Allen might “understand” because he is “an artist”. The joke, of course, is that Walken is the ‘cream’ of Annie’s already-strange family, on top of being a kind of proto ‘artsy’ type who’d utter such banalities in the first place, depicted well before such people even entered the cultural lexicon. Sure, it’s not especially deep, but the film is more comedy than drama — this scene included. To Carney, then, this is merely Allen’s way of “defusing” potentially difficult situations, but while he complains of this, it is, first of all, merely funny, with NO danger to Alvy even if Walken’s character were furthered given the film’s nature, and, second, is in fact an innovation. In short, it is innovative to pair a great drama likeCrimes and Misdemeanors with a ‘comic’ side, in the same way that Allen’s ignoring of Walken’s artsy’s pretensions, or Holly’s drug problem is seen as (to use Carney’s phrase re: Hannah’s parents) “more silly than sad”. On a certain level, then, one must treat these addle-brained yet privileged people as they really are: silly, manipulative, and confused, rather than going through anything irreconcilable. (And, yes, this includes Walken’s character, as well, or else you’re in for a mindless detour.) In fact, they merely author their own flaws, but pretend their issues are somehow ‘higher’, and while Carney claims that he’s seen audiences feel “discomfort” at Walken’s revelations, what does this prove, exactly, except how easily audiences and critics alike will fall for the same illusions?

Christopher Walken acts nutty in Annie Hall, as part of a comedic slice to a film that’s more comedy than true drama. Yet Ray Carney demands more, not because it’ll necessarily improve the characters or film (it can’t, for it’ll simply violate their nature), but just ’cause:

As noted, Allen’s use of voice-overs is attacked, as well, from the sillier and humorous ones (such as inAnnie Hall), to those of Hannah and Another Woman. Hannah is again singled out for critique, given that Elliot, at film’s end, has resolved his own issues in a way that Carney — in a tangent of his own making — deems as “unrealistic”. But why? That someone has gotten to the bottom of his own immaturity? That such things ‘cannot’ happen? Well, no, as Elliot is quite aware of his flaws early on, and does not so much resolve them as he merely stops acting on them, and while Carney might find this unrealistic, this is, in fact, simply how people operate: they learn, and hopefully get better in the process. Nor are their realizations always right (another illusion that Carney falls for), as Isaac and Alvy prove, early on, and Judy, Cliff, Ben, Harry, and others much later. At other times, characters do realize things about themselves, but find that they’re in a ‘rut’, and completely lack the means (or will) to get out of it, which is, in fact, what most of Allen’s characters suffer through. To get back toHannah, it is not even clear how much genuine change there is, for while Hannah, herself, might have grown, one wonders if Lee was merely a symptom of something ‘deeper’ in Elliot’s own psyche. In short, while the crisis has passed, its essence — as with Hannah’s parents — might not have, and while Elliot effuses over Lee’s new-found marriage, one must consider that it took a husband to change Lee for the better, because while alcohol was once her addiction, it was supplanted by Frederick, then by Elliot, who are merely stages in her own life. And now? Who knows? It is, in fact, question that can just as well be applied to Holly, for while Carney mocks the idea that she simply ‘wills’ herself into authorial success, and into being a good mother, wife, and writer, where, exactly, is the evidence for all this? The only example of her writing that we ever see (which Mickey cluelessly praises, giving us some clue into his own supposed talents) is a poorly wrought melodrama that ends on a cliche — a fact that seems to elude Carney, even as he denounces cliches elsewhere. Nor do we have any evidence that she is a good anything, except superficially successful, for even Mickey’s ‘moment’ with her is brief, and is just as perfect and syrupy as in any new marriage — Lee’s three relationships included, and Mickey’s with Hannah. Thus, to make any grand deductions from this, as Carney has done, is simply irresponsible, as the viewer must reckon with how realistic it is for Holly to have changed. One may give her the benefit of the doubt, of course, but she’s a woman of forty who’s never had a real job, had a drug problem, and is wracked with guilt and insecurity — the type of women the ‘Woody’ type is utterly drawn to in film after film, with disastrous consequences almost every time. One can, I suppose, make good arguments pro and con, but ‘tidy’ it is not, but realistic, for many questions are unanswered. They just happen to be the questions that Carney doesn’t really care for, or even see.

Carney then goes full circle upon the mention of Manhattan — that “squeaky-clean” film that over-romanticizes, and has no “garbage” in the streets — not only via the film, itself, but also in the way he recapitulates his own errors. Carney pokes fun of the way Isaac falls in and out of love with Tracy, only to run back to her at film’s end, wherein the city’s panorama, Allen’s choice of music, and high-falutin’ cultural references are meant to be “taken seriously”, and that “even the most uninformed audiences know that they are meant to sit in silence and take Allen straight at such moments.” This would be quite damning, of course, but only if it were true. Yes, Carney excoriates Isaac for running back to Tracy after his session with the tape-recorder, but so does Woody Allen, and, in this disconnect, completely misses why the scene works. I’d criticize Isaac (and not Allen, as Carney often conflates), as well, but for very different reasons. Recall that, for the entire film, Isaac presents himself as a do-gooder with ‘ideals’, but is clearly a self-deluding manipulator with little to no artistic talent, and lots of secrets he rarely slips out. Tracy falls in love with him, but while he knows the relationship is doomed due to her immaturity and his own wandering eye, he refuses to nix it, as he is quite comfortable with a seventeen year-old nymphet whom he could ‘groom’ at bad art galleries, and the like. He dumps her only when he meets Mary — another woman he is ill-suited for — then runs back to Tracy only when Mary, in turn, dumps him. In short, Tracy is a rebound, and while much has been made of the ‘illusionary’ ending, as if it is ambiguous whether or not the two will stay together, the fact is, Tracy is simply too young and too intelligent NOT to outgrow a crass manipulator like Isaac. Sure, she spouts some ill-advised wisdom, and the like, but what has Isaac learned, exactly? Carney seems to think that Allen’s characters make (and reveal) their supposedly deep self-realizations, via voice-overs or direct interactions, but not only does this not happen, here, the ‘revelation’ is in fact a false one, as Isaac is selfish and delusional to the very end. In a great, earlier scene, for instance, Isaac is made to look as if his friends are reading out his prison sentence (via some damning passages of his ex-wife’s book), and while his bad behavior has finally come crashing down on him, the fact is, Isaac merely sweeps this under the rug, and learns nothing. He can’t try his little games with Mary, who — while not any more intelligent than Tracy, despite Isaac’s manipulative compliments — is certainly more experienced. Yet Tracy is there, alright, at least for now. But she too will go, and Isaac will only have his selfishness and his patterns. Yes, the audiences ‘love’ the film’s ending, but why? Because they are easily tricked into accepting its illusions, even as Allen spends the entire film denuding them, and showing how unrealistic they really are. Oh well.

One can safely say, then, that Carney’s mis-reading of Manhattan shows the issues with his criticism, as a whole, as the rest of the essay breaks down along the same ideological lines, and claims that — while salient in their attempt to break free from typical film-crit — nonetheless fall prey the very lines of reasoning he himself so often critiques. Indeed, it is quite odd to read Ray Carney’s pointed attacks on Hollywood, film journals, and commercialism alongside essays such as this, for when a critic can no longer distinguish ‘the thing itself’ from his own biases, it is criticism no longer, but an exploration of the writer’s own psyche. Jonathan Rosenbaum is guilty of this. So is Pauline Kael, and Vincent Canby. Roger Ebert, too, had his blind spots. And just as I began my take on Ebert by positing the David and Goliath story, then ultimately rejecting it, I must do the same with Carney. Yes, he is very much against the film-school stolidity of bad critics and Hollywood apologists, but is, in many ways, their mirror image, too. At bottom, one needs to look at a work of art for what it is, not what it isn’t, no matter the source. As it stands, however, Pauline Kael winks with her left eye, and Carney — as if on cue — must wink with his right. This is not, alas, the inner workings of true criticism, but a machinarium. One should not wink, but talk straight, and be as faithful to an artist’s output as possible. Unfortunately, this is not a question that most critics ever consider, thwarted, as they are, by their own needs. By contrast, Ray Carney has considered it, but does so little with it, here, as to not really matter. Here’s to hoping that, in time, it will.

33 Comments Ray Carney Misinterprets Woody Allen, Again And Again…

  1. Pingback: Review Of John Cassavetes's "Love Streams" (1984) | IDEAS ON IDEAS

  2. Rob

    You should forward this to Carney, I wonder if he would respond to this cogent analysis of his criticism.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I have, a couple of times, prior to the book’s and essay’s official release. He did not respond, and when he was asked to do a “tough” interview with Dan Schneider, Carney refused, citing the belief that he is “no longer a film critic”.

      That’s cowardice, for one, and if Carney isn’t a film critic, then what the hell is he? All those essays he’s written are still up, the website is still being updated, and as far as any discriminating person could tell, the guy stands by his original claims. He’s argued against mainstream critics and losers, for the most part, and when he gets the opportunity to REALLY engage with someone who won’t straw-man his arguments, etc., he refuses.

      Oh well.

  3. DE

    It doesn’t surprise me that Ray Carney hasn’t responded to your article. Why would he? Your article is a defense of a multi-millionaire whose work is regularly featured in lists by institutes such as the AFI and taught by universities worldwide. In other words, Allen is in no need of critical defenders. Carney’s article (published in an academic journal) has value insofar as it is one of the few pieces that points out many of Allen’s glaring flaws. Your article merely adds to a chorus.

    I’ll leave aside the fact that Carney is an author who has been published by University of California Publishing and Cambridge University Press. Books on film are a dime-a-dozen. To say what should be obvious, the editorial standards of these two publishers are significantly more rigorous than the vast majority of film-book publishers. Your book was published by a new, unestablished, un-academic press. Why should a professional boxer waste his time with a high-school hobbyist?

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      DE, Carney does not respond because he can’t respond. Look at your own silly, transparent commentary- you do the same exact thing that the ideologues do on my political essays. All this sniping at me, fellating your own personal heroes, promises to ‘get’ me in some hypothetical future, and so on, but exactly ZERO willingness to address the arguments I’ve made. Your claim is what, exactly- that Carney is an academic, and I’m not? Whoa. Go to any university library, look at the journal articles from the 50s and 60s, and tell me if you recognize a single name amidst the thousands. This is a typical scholar’s fate, and you celebrate it as some sort of accomplishment? No wonder critical thinking is in the sewer.

      Like I said, Carney flat out refused a hardball interview from Dan Schneider with the lame excuse that he “no longer considers himself a film critic”. In other words, he has repudiated his own life (or lied about it), whereas you are snookered into still defending his lazy points of view although he won’t. By contrast, Jonathan Rosenbaum agreed to respond to my critique of him, and quickly regretted the beatdown that resulted. He’s known for randomly popping up wherever he’s discussed, and bitching at the participants, yet has refused to engage with his own name wherever I’m involved. Gee, I wonder why Carney doesn’t wanna dance? And this is despite the fact that I’ve treated Carney’s work with a care, fairness, and respect he doesn’t even get from his would-be defenders, like you, who wish to engage in ad hominem against me because they are unable to engage on intellectual grounds. You may be a fan of his, but you are doing him no favors by employing the same tactics he rails against in the very link you’ve told me to read. So, why don’t you read it yourself? I am precisely the sort of counter-narrative he wishes academia would embrace, whereas you are the wannabe censor bitching in the corner without an argument.

      Like it or not, this essay is on the front page of Google for Ray Carney’s name, while my critique of his Woody analysis is more popular than the same analysis it tackles. Yet Carney is, like me, a de facto nobody- and now the nobodies have come to a head. Yeah, I feel bad for him over the nonsense he’s going through at work, but that doesn’t make his work any better. That he is being treated unfairly in one sphere does not tip the scales of justice in another. I mean, this is basic stuff, guy, but you have not shown much ability to tackle basics.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. DE

    You don’t seem to understand basic academic standards. Carney is not some journalist like Rosenbaum, or internet blogger such as you. Carney is a senior academic whose work has been published in the most rigorous academic publications. If you want an analogue in another field (like International Relations), Carney is the equivalent of someone like Robert Jervis, while you and Rosenbaum are the equivalent of Bill Kristol or Glenn Greenwald. Carney is emphatically NOT like you, a nobody. If you can’t see the difference in terms of intellectual sophistication and rigour, then there’s nothing I can say.

    This is as much a matter of “ad hominem” as Mike Tyson ignoring the kid at the boxing gym who challenges him to a fight.

    Popularity and Google rank are irrelevant to an argument’s strength, sophistication, or rigour. Absolutely. The fact that you cite that is very telling of your level of academic and intellectual understanding. A typical article on Huffpost gets many more views than one in Nature. So what? The article on Nature is still light-years more sophisticated than the Huffpost one (due to editorial standards of which you seem unaware).

    You seem to care about fame, being remembered. That is again, entirely irrelevant to the rigor of an argument. In fact, it is often a negative sign.

    To put it simply, you and Dan Schneider operate at a very unsophisticated intellectual level. Try to submit your book to Cambridge, Oxford, UC Unviersity press to see if it passes their standards (that is, in fact, why I linked to Carney’s blog post– read to the bottom about the standards for book publishing). That should be an important lesson to you. Much more rigorous than a blog post or a cheap CreateSpace-esque publisher.

    You’re welcome to introducing you to the difference between journalism and academia.

    Reply
  5. DE

    By the way, I’m no follower of Ray Carney. I have a lot of different interests. All of them are united by an utmost respect for intellectual rigour and sophistication. Carney just happens to be one of the very few people who displays such sophistication and rigor in writing on film, which is dominated by journalists (NOT critics) such as Rosenbaum, Ebert, and Kael.

    I have the same problem with you as with Bill Nye and Sam Harris. Harris’ books, despite being best-sellers (a trait which appears to matter to you), are facile, simplistic, and uninformed works. Bill Nye, on the other hand, has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and hosted a show for kids, yet regularly appears as an expert on climate change.

    I would be fine with such figures if they accepted the fact that they are essentially popularizers, working at a middlebrow level. My problem comes in when Bill Nye arrogantly chides a senior physics professor at Princeton for his understanding of physics, and Sam Harris blithely dismisses centuries of philosophy and claims to have created a new “scientific” ethics… which is just a dressed-up version of utilitarianism.

    This debases our culture immensely. Immensely. (For more on this, read Curtis White’s “The Middle Mind”).

    Reply
  6. DE

    Actually, pardon this correction. Comparing you to Kristol, Greenwald, and Harris is actually not quite right. They at least have high academic qualifications and have at least been published by established (if not academic) presses. The same cannot be said of you. Your arrogant tone to a senior academic is even more inappropriate than Harris’ could be.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      DE, look at the trajectory of your own comments. First you refuse to engage what’s written, yet declare what I’ve written is worthless by fiat. Then, because you so totally believe your own words, you not only respond to me, but wait another hour and a half to respond again before I do- a little snipe, as it were, in the hope that I feel hurt by some moronic dig about diplomas after you’ve already stewed all morning. I mean, seriously; re-read your own words for a second, and try to understand the irony of defending Carney by adopting the exact tactics he himself despises.

      You allege Carney’s critical sophistication. Ok, great, but where’s the evidence? I wrote a bad essay- ok, what’s the proof? Again- Carney is all about the evidence and argument (as poor as his actual use of such can be), but you are all about ad hominem. Are you SURE you respect Carney like you say do? Because for all of your fellatio, you don’t seem to share many of his actual values. And, no, best-sellers do not matter to me. I mean- what the actual fuck? A bestseller is simply the ‘pop’ flip-side to the scholar’s desire for academic praise- a praise that you absolutely fetishize, given your constant talk of Carney’s publishers, but delude yourself by assuming this is a separate category from mere LCD popularity. It’s not. Ironically, this is where Carney fails as a critic, too, as he champions lots of bad work by unpopular directors almost as if their unpopularity makes them good, or trashes popular, great ones like Woody and Welles for the opposite reason. That he happened to be correct on John Cassavetes is a mere accident, as far as I can tell. You ought to learn from his mistakes, and grow.

      I did not bring up the Google rank to engage in some sort of argumentum ad populum. I brought it up as a counter to your implication that Carney has better things to do than to engage with the only fair-minded, careful, and popular critique of his work available- i.e., this essay. Obviously, this article would stand on its own merits whether or not it was actually read. I mean- basics, again. Yet I must say, I am still confused why you keep dancing around the issue with variations of “how dare you say this” or “how could you say that” when the actual ‘this’ and ‘that’ is never in fact addressed. Surely Carney deserves a better defense than the one you’ve managed to not even put up? As for being remembered- yep, you’re right. I’d definitely like that. But I wish to be remembered precisely FOR the ‘rigor’ of the argument (and the quality of my writing, more generally), not for the sake of fame itself. I would be ashamed of myself if it were any other way, and let me tell you, not enough writers have a sense of shame and fewer still have any self-respect. If they did, they wouldn’t do the sort of shit I’m lampooning here.

      I actually agree with you on both Sam Harris and Bill Nye. Yet the fact that you put me into their category shows how little you understood the essay before you, or why I had to write it in the first place. It seems like you have the right attitude towards some things, but you utterly lack the wisdom to make it matter. Here’s a tip- stop looking at certifications, and start looking at ideas and their expression. You can begin my re-reading this essay on Carney’s failings as a critic (although not as a scholar, as I’ve pointed out), then look at how silly and childish and myopic his own anti-Woody critique is. Because, right now, you are 4 comments in and have still failed to make your case – all because you have refused to engage the argument by emotionally reacting to something you happen to dislike about my essay and my manner. Yeah, I get it, but I’m still waiting to hear what your point is. Either show me WHERE my argument fails, or stop farting out of your mouth.

      By the way, look at Daniel Dennett’s response to Harris’s silly book on free will. It is like an adult praising a child’s effort, while respectfully and circuitously implying that Harris should never touch philosophy again before at least trying to understand the basics of the argument he purports to tackle.

  7. DE

    You seem unable to grasp the basic point. Books on Woody Allen are a dime-a-dozen. Defenders of Woody Allen are a dime-a-dozen. The vast majority of those books were published by more rigorous publishers (as low as even their standards are) and more accomplished writers. Why would Carney waste his time on you? Life is short, and we have to use basic heuristics. Your book is so unsophisticated that it had to be published by some cheap CreateSpace-esque publisher. If it were any good, and if you were a serious academic, worth taking seriously, you would have gotten it published by Cambridge, Oxford, or UC Press.

    In fact, you remind me of the people my philosophy and physical anthropology professors told me about (both of them senior academics, famous in their fields, like Carney). Veterinarians or some-sort would periodically send emails to these senior academics challenging them on their theories of consciousness, evolution, or language. Do you know what my profs typical response was? They usually ignored them. If the people were really humble, the profs would do them a favor and maybe answer their questions. But engage in a debate with them? Treat them as intellectual equals? A senior professor with a veterinarian (who maybe has a blog, and published a book with some cheap, no-name press)? If you can’t see why that is laughable, then it’s no wonder that you don’t understand why Carney won’t respond to you.

    Reply
  8. DE

    Incidentally, your constant complaints about ad hominem remind me of what these cranks usually say. “Why won’t you debate me on the origin of language? What, you say that I’m just some veterinarian who has a book published by some cheap, no-name press and a blog?!? What does it matter that I couldn’t get published in even a middle-tier journal? Engage the ideas!! Coward!!”

    Reply
  9. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    since you’re currently fighting the trolls again, I have a sort of meta-question for you. From a purely theoretical standpoint, a (good) critic would engage *everyone’s* arguments and assess them carefully, objectively, and fairly before he’d dismiss their arguments (or proceed otherwise). But from a practical standpoint, this is of course ludicrous, since then you’d be fighting trolls, posers, and plain old idiots all your life long (I saw you’ve been on Reddit before …) without ever getting any work done. Where do you *personally* draw the line for ignoring such people while still trying to be a good critic (I’ve seen you tirelessly fighting people who are obvious trolls on this blog)? What do you consider a fair heuristic?

    Best regards,
    Billy

    Reply
    1. DE

      That’s a great question for him. It would help him understand why a senior academic won’t respond to an internet blogger’s CreateSpace-esque book about a Hollywood filmmaker (just like my philosophy and anthropology profs don’t respond to veterinarians’ theories about consciousness or the evolution of language).

      Of course, a good critic (one whose work passes the rigorous editiorial process of an academic press or journal, not a blog, newspaper, or cheap, no-name press) would NOT engage everyone’s arguments, much like how a good scientist (or academic in any field) won’t engage with everyone’s arguments about evolution, consciousness, language, etc.

    2. Keith

      DE, the fact that you use the “rigorous standards” of Academic publishers as some kind of tuning fork for what is qualitatively worthwhile to engage with, when Academia’s own flaccid, insular, lazy, and myopically wisdomless engagement with the arts is exactly the kind of nonsense that prompts those outside the formal system, like Alex or Dan, to do what they do, says everything about you that needs to be said. If Academia is Nero fiddling as Rome burns, you are the man who tuned the fiddle and is tut-tutting the street urchins too despised by the gods to be born somewhere where they wouldn’t inhale smoke.

      Carney has no obligation to engage with anybody that he does not want to engage with, but the choice not to engage with what is probably the most thorough, fair, and well-reasoned responses to one of his critical appraisals (which this absolutely and manifestly is, whatever its publishing credentials, however lazily you wish to dismiss it) of him available online certainly does not reflect well on him. Even if you assume him too stupid to be able to see from the first few paragraphs of this that this is very much not a “dime a dozen” defense of Woody, in terms of the level of detail, insight, artistic literacy, and pure qualitative construction of the moment-to-moment writing, itself, the defense of “He doesn’t have to engage someone with so few credentials” reads as utterly absurd and childish to those of us who haven’t invested tens of thousands of dollars in the fallacious idea that Academia’s “standards and rigor” are a measure of anything realer or more consequential than its own self-infatuation.

      In short – thanks for playing, but a welt across the ass is all you’ll get if mooning is your only rhetorical strategy.

    3. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hi Billy,

      Yes, I tend to answer as many comments as I can, particularly if they’re long. If something is too stupid I might not; if I had hundreds of comments a day, I would choose just a couple; yet, if someone’s a moron, I can only do the back-and-forth for so long before I give up. Just see my last response to DE at the very bottom.

  10. Jay

    DE, you’re a tool. Remove academia’s dick from your mouth and take a few deep breaths. The lack of oxygen has obviously addled your mind.

    Reply
    1. DE

      Your insult is very illustrative of the level of intellectual sophistication of film blogs and CreateSpace-esque publishers.

    2. Keith

      Or it is the way real conversations between intelligent people actually happen, and the pretense and niceties of Academia are actually harmful, not helpful, to discourse, even if they grease the wheels and keep the money-generating machine going.

  11. Jay

    Hey, I figured it was clear to anyone with a brain you’ve already been trounced intellectually, so I would add some levity.

    Reply
    1. DE

      This has been fun, like visiting a Flat-Earth forum, or an an ancient aliens message board. The cognitive dissonance, and blithe dismissal of basic academic standards, is always illuminating. “Those archeologists, with their peer-reviewed books published by academic presses, are totally wrong! Why won’t they debate ****? His theory on the origin of the pyramids by ETs is the most well-researched, well-argued, cogent, and clear one there is. What does it matter that he had to publish his book through CreateSpace, or some no-name publisher, because it couldn’t even pass the most basic filter for publication in a reputable press?”

    2. Keith

      Setting aside you have no clue as to the book’s provenance and are merely guessing it’s a vanity project or an unserious piece of work (it was actually commissioned as a different project), and are apparently unable to discern the rather obvious quality of the writing present even just on this particular page, let alone in the rest of the book, and have also done absolutely nothing resembling even a beginning of a refutation to anything Alex has said to you, proves you are either a troll or clueless, neither of which are good looks and both of which suggest you are not worth engaging with further.

  12. DE

    Keith
    “Or it is the way real conversations between intelligent people actually happen, and the pretense and niceties of Academia are actually harmful, not helpful, to discourse, even if they grease the wheels and keep the money-generating machine going.”

    If you think talking about “pulling dicks out of people’s mouths” helps discourse, then god help you. God help you also if you think academia is some sort of money-generating machine (authors literally earn pennies from university-press books).

    Reply
    1. Keith

      I didn’t say it was a money machine for the authors, but university administrations can make bank off of the tuition of students gulled into taking courses from mediocrities, as well as the prestige said mediocrities can bring them if they happen to attract some critical attention or favor.

      As to the former – I think humor and an ability and willingness not to be a goddamned stick in the mud are positives to discourse, yes.

  13. Andrew Geary

    DE, maybe instead of dismissing the article simply because it wasn’t printed in some academic journal no one cares about you could at least try reading the article. If you did that you would realize that Alex isn’t shitting on Carney because he’s “jealous” but rather he’s using Carney’s assessments to show how people often get Woody Allen wrong. It’s not about shitting on academia (though they’re a part of the problem) but rather about art and how it’s viewed. You could address Alex on this front and the result would be a more worthwhile discussion. Or you could just continue to bitch and moan over nothing.

    Reply
  14. DE

    I’m not interested in continuing this discussion. I’ll end by this:

    Carney is a senior academic whose work has been published alongside that of Stanley Cavell, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, and Richard Posner. In case you are unfamiliar with these names, these are top-of-the-top thinkers in their fields. You don’t get more serious than them. Carney’s work is of a quality that it has been published alongside theirs (in “Revival of Pragmatism”). This isn’t a journalist like Jonathan Rosenbaum or Roger Ebert (although you bizarrely call these critics, they are journalists). This isn’t someone who dashes off reviews for magazine or blogs, but someone who (just as much as any law or philosophy professor) engages in the deep, rigorous, peer-reviewed process of academic thinking (indeed, at a level high enough to merit standing aside the greatest contemporary thinkers in philosophy and law). Reaching this level is extraordinarily difficult. Extraordinarily.

    If you want an example of the right way to engage with thinkers of this level, then I would learn from the group behind the “The Partially Examined Life” podcast. Unlike you, they have repeatedly constructively engaged with thinkers at the highest level (that on which Carney–like Posner, Fish, Cavell, and Rorty–operates). They did this by being respectful and mindful of the level of intellectual accomplishment of people like John Searle. They didn’t challenge them to “hard-hitting debates” or act like intellectual equals. (I won’t mention the fact that the hosts –unlike you– had at least experience at the graduate-school level). People like John Searle (or Ray Carney) don’t have time to waste on just anybody with a laptop. A debate with Douglas Hofstadter or Thomas Nagel, ok — but somebody with no academic publications, or achievements of any sort? That’s a totally different matter. Be respectful (like the PEL guys) of the immense difference in intellectual standing, and you may be granted the favor of a response.

    Don’t expect to be taken seriously with your resumé. Publishers, journals and universities are imperfect, but immensely important. They act as filters. The fact that your books have been published by no-name presses is a very bad sign. It tells people that it wasn’t good enough to pass basic editorial standards.

    You may harbor under the illusion that you are some sort-of revolutionary and despite (or because of) that fact your writing can’t/doesn’t/shouldn’t go through the basic editorial standards of all (even moderately) serious work. [Although I see nothing revolutionary about a book on a widely-acclaimed multi-millionare Hollywood director such as Woody Allen]. All I can say is there are many people who are doing truly revolutionary work, such as Steve Keen in economics. Keen’s work goes against 95% of all the economics departments in the world. His “Debunking Economics” destroys the very foundations of modern economics. Unlike you, Keen has debated academics of the statuee of Paul Krugman. The difference between you and Keen, is that Keen has gone through the rigorous processes of publication in respected journals and presses. He is a serious thinker who has earned his stripes so to speak. You have not, and consequently should not expect someone like Carney to give you any more respect than that which you have earned.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Jesus, DE. You’ve had, what, two or three days to come up with a single cogent response to my “unsophisticated” essay, and now, roughly a dozen comments in, you STILL refuse to engage with a single thing I’ve written. So, let’s see; you’re not just a moron, but a pussy too? I’ve given you several opportunities to redeem yourself, but, lacking both intelligence and wisdom (and a set of balls, apparently), you’ve been reduced to making creamy puddles on the floor in the hope that I’d eventually slip. THAT’S your whole argument- a little piss and grool? And you’re OK with this? I guess that’s what happens when you’re trying to debate, yet all you manage to push out is the creampie that’s been brewing in your asshole. Yuck.

      In fact, my book is so bad (guess that means you purchased a copy, like a good boy?), that you’ve written 3 comments for every 1 of mine, back to back, usually spaced over several hours before I even get to read ONE. L’espirit de l’escalier much? Yet, to answer your objection, the book was published because a publisher approached me, directly, to do it, and I accepted the project simply because I had the willingness and the talent to do so. Should I have said “No”? Yet it’s clearly affected a lot of people, you most among them, and I guess I’m thankful for at least that. It’d be nice if I could have been put into the same category of tripe as Cahiers and Rosenbaum, but, unfortunately, all I have to look forward to is posterity, whereas academia gets to dump its load into DE whenever they catch him without his tampon. God, if only! But a boy can dream, huh?

      Re: ad hominem- so, it’s wrong to complain about logical fallacies? You start to bitch about my essay’s lacks, yet utterly refuse to point out a single piece of evidence to support your claims, stick your tongue out, then claim victory by ukase? Impressive. Then, when other commenters come to my defense, you are so worked up by being friendless, that you attempt to hijack their comments to say what, exactly? Oh, right, to repeat the same shit you’ve already shat, in the hope that it’d make sense the third time when it didn’t make sense the first. You keep calling Carney a “good critic” to justify his silence, but, again, all the evidence is to the contrary- and unless you are able to knock down the evidence I’ve myself presented, your choice is to either accept reality, or to accept psychosis. I see, however, that you’ve already made your decision, and when that happens, no amount of argumentation can budge a vegetable.

      To answer your other objection- I gave Carney months to respond to my e-mail before the book’s publication, where I (respectfully) addressed him, linked to my disagreements, said I was genuinely interested in his response, and that I would include any back-and-forth in the book so that he could get a fair hearing, or to perhaps re-adjust something he wrote decades ago and might have forgotten about. There was no ‘challenge’, no threats, no dick-waving, and was even capped off with the assertion that such give-and-take would be useful to younger film fans, and that, as a fan of his scholarship, I wanted to see how he would defend his deeper critical evaluations. In other words, I did everything you said I should do, but- of course- reality does not matter, does it? Not that you were privy to this reality or anything; more that, in being a smug, lazy bum, you did not even bother to ask, but ran off on a tangent of your own making.

      And now we get to your latest missive- your send-off, as it were, where you *finally* get the chance to show WHY Carney is in fact as good as you say he is, and where I err in my dismissal. Do you take it? Or do you (as I’ve predicted) drop some names, declare, yet again, by fiat, that Carney is right and I am wrong, then offer a few ‘suggestions’ as to how I can live my life that (unbeknownst to you) I’d already taken? Gee- whatever happened to “the argument is what matters the most!”? Apparently, the argument does not matter, at all, unless it’s happening in Cahiers, or dribbling its milky-white output unto your expectant tongue. That you think a few simplistic positions are worthy of respect merely because they are backed by a university proves exactly what everyone has been telling you- that you’ve got a dick in your mouth, and an unconscious desire to suck on it for reasons that even you, yourself, don’t seem to understand.

      This will likewise be my last comment to you. I gave you an opportunity to respond- hell, I even gave you an opportunity to change the goddamn subject to something you were a touch more comfortable with. Now, you can bitch and scream into the void by your lonesome, since this was a total waste of time for me, and an utter humiliation for you. Now, go, and purge yourself of all this with a favorite little passage from a film journal, while you idly diddle yourself and re-adjust that tampon before the septic shock makes it any further into your brain.

      Thanks for reading.

    2. Keith

      The fact you cannot imagine how a book on Woody Allen could be revolutionary, simply because of his wealth and fame, says so much about you, all of it negative. Woody Allen is roundly recognized as one of the greatest writers and directors in the American cinematic canon, and this book examines every single one of his movies, often scene-by-scene (or even shot-by-shot, in the movies of some depth and accomplishment), points out obvious flaws in other critics’ interpretations and qualitative appraisals (and uses this is a launching board for a broader discussion of the ways in which the critical lack of given eras leads to great artists being either unacknowledged or misunderstood, a thread interspersed throughout the book and supported on a number of levels), and even engages with Woody’s own conception of himself and other filmmakers in order to give a more complete portrait of the man, his work, and its place in the whole of world arts. In short, it does everything that good criticism should do but that relatively little criticism actually accomplishes, for various reasons, and is a great model for young arts critics to learn from in the way it stays grounded in the works, themselves, rather than trying to filter them through this or that theoretical lens, while avoiding letting preferential bias (i.e. like/dislike of this or that work) get in the way of appraising the things in question.

      To paraphrase Futurama (*gasp*, a pop culture reference, perish the thought!): your conception of how the world of ideas should function is bad, and you should feel bad.

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