If you are like me and you follow a lot of movie writers on Twitter, you probably found yourself observing something akin to a virtual stoning yesterday afternoon. And for the target, it wasn’t the first time. On Wednesday, Rex Reed of the New York Observer published a short review of V/H/S/2 in which he not only panned the artistically ambitious horror film but admitted to walking out after 20 minutes. Here’s the quote everyone is talking about:
“V/H/S/2 is a diabolically psychotic, sub-mental and completely unwatchable disaster that I happily deserted when a man with a retinal implant scooped out his bionic eye with a sharp object, splattering blood all over the camera. Your move, and you’re welcome to it.”
Even at 74, the man can still turn a phrase. But the young critics of today were not amused. In fact, they unleashed a collective tirade of insults on their sites, their blogs, and on Twitter. To their credit, some of it was constructive. The always readable Jason Bailey of Flavorwire published a comprehensive case for why Reed should be fired, and much of it had little to do with this incident. Yes, Reed has a long history of rudeness, calling Melissa McCarthy a “female hippo” in his review of Identity Thief and making racially insensitive remarks in his pan of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.
But yesterday, the outrage was all about the fact that he walked out of a movie then still reviewed it. Here is a sampling:
Rex Reed reviews movie he only watched for 20 minutes, presumably just before shoving head up ass avc.lu/1bpcWVX—
The AV Club (@TheAVClub) July 10, 2013
A few were actually clever:
Breaking News: Rex Reed to become food critic, will review restaurants based on their bread sticks.—
Andrew Kasch (@andrewkasch) July 10, 2013
At least one was homophobic:
Taking a wild guess that Rex Reed walked out of the first segment of V/H/S/2 when the boobies appeared. Gross!—
Erik Childress (@EriktheMovieman) July 10, 2013
And there were hundreds more. However, it strikes me that most of this criticism – and certainly the vitriol – is misguided and based mostly on the fact that people think Rex Reed is a jerk. Don’t get me wrong – it’s pretty clear that he is a jerk – but that doesn’t mean he was wrong in this case. Is there actually a rule among film critics of today that you are not allowed to walk out of a movie and still review it? I wouldn’t support it if there were. A better rule would be: you can’t walk out a movie and review it without telling your readers that you left in the middle. Which is exactly what Reed did. He told them that he hated the first twenty minutes and walked out, leaving them to make their own decision. “Your move,” he frankly told them.
There is obviously room for disagreement here, and I don’t begrudge anyone who wants their critics to see the whole movie or not write about it at all. But I also sense that there is a generational struggle going on here. At first glance, it looks like these young critics are simply flexing their muscle and trying to push the older generation out of the business. Fine with me – that’s the way of the world – but it hardly seems necessary, given how little relevance Reed actually has at this point (and, of course, his detractors give him more relevance by dragging his name through the mud so publicly). But perhaps they are pushing him out not just because he’s old and crabby, but because they disdain his entire generation’s style of criticism.
See, Reed comes from an era in which film critics served a far different, more elemental purpose: to inform readers whether or not they should see the movie. Nowadays, film criticism is considered an art form itself. Critics are expected not just to give movies a simple “yea” or “nay,” but also place the film in some cultural context and explain the movie’s successes and failures with the eye of a film scholar. There is a pervasive sense of reverence around the profession and the medium itself. Yes, movies are a religion for many young critics today, and they learned it from one of Reed’s contemporaries, the late Roger Ebert. But Reed never had Ebert’s child-like wonder about film. He had a sharp, cutting wit, and he wielded it to take down filmmakers with the glee of a sadist. That’s always been his way. Nothing has changed, except the critics around him.
If Reed had such a visceral reaction to V/H/S 2 that he wanted to leave, I don’t have a problem with him doing it, much as I would understand if a critic was too upset by the rape scene in Irreversible and had to leave the theater. It might not be a one-to-one comparison, but the principle is the same: a critic has the right to review the movie anyway he or she wants. It’s up to us whether we want to listen to them. The best way to reduce Rex Reed’s influence is simply to leave him alone, not spew hatred over Twitter at him, a tactic that will only serve as free publicity and encourage his employers to keep him on staff. Your move, Internet.