Alspector's Agenda | Letters | Chicago Reader

Alspector's Agenda 

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Dear Editors:

Ever since you added Lisa Alspector to your critical roster I had the creeping suspicion that she was more concerned with politics than movies. Her confused capsule review of Love! Valour! Compassion! reaches a new low, even for her. How can a newspaper that has had some of the finest and most intelligent film critics such as Dave Kehr and Fred Camper and who currently employs the finest American film critic working today, Jonathan Rosenbaum, now print such an incompetent and professionally unethical review as this one?

According to Alspector, movies that break taboos may be inherently valuable. Does this mean that the upcoming remake of Lolita, if indeed it shows sex with a minor, is guaranteed to be a great film because it borders on kiddie porn? If the only criteria that makes a film good is that it breaks taboos (and Alspector goes as far as to admit that this taboo-breaking is the only thing worthwhile about Love! Valour! Compassion!), then God help the future of film criticism. It is indeed a dark day if critics can excuse shoddy filmmaking because a film shows "even more penises than there were pubic shots...in Crash." If the terrible and anticinematic The Lost World, which Alspector panned merely because the special effects looked unrealistic, had top-of-the-line digitally-enhanced penises, maybe it would garner a good review from her.

I find it interesting that Alspector uses this review as a way to attack David Cronenberg's Crash, which is without a doubt one of the finest films of 1997 and a benchmark in Cronenberg's already stellar career. Alspector falls into a trap, as many critics do when reviewing Cronenberg's work, when she calls it hypocritical. Cronenberg is not required to fulfill any quota of shots showing genitals; rather he is merely required to make a film that expresses his personal point of view in cinematic terms, which he does brilliantly in Crash. Cronenberg as a heterosexual man is obviously more interested in female sexual organs than male sexual organs. The exclusion of male organs, even though Cronenberg depicts a gay sex scene in his film, is more a testament to his integrity and honesty, two of Cronenberg's great strengths as filmmaker, than his hypocrisy.

The glaring error in Alspector's thinking is that somehow if Cronenberg would include shots of penises because she demands it, it would somehow be a better film. Meanwhile, she attacks Spielberg's "earnest family-values fable" Jurassic Park in her The Lost World review. Now, if Cronenberg did include shots of penises to please Alspector and avoid being a "hypocrite," then he would be making a dishonest film that would be just as bad as Spielberg's film in that both filmmakers would be acquiescing to political demands. But to Alspector the issue isn't one of artistic integrity but one of being in the right political camp. According to this absurd line of thinking, John Ford, one of the greatest filmmakers ever, would be judged as bad, merely because his films espoused a conservative point of view.

The fact that I have to defend Cronenberg's shot choices is a sad comment on the nature of Alspector's criticism. By evidence of her writing she has absolutely no interest in judging what she is being paid to judge--that is, the cinematic quality of the films she reviews. Instead, in each of her reviews she finds time to comment on the irrelevant sociopolitical content of the movie while conveniently forgetting to mention if the movie is any good or not.

The Love! Valour! Compassion! review is her most irresponsible piece of criticism yet. It proves that Alspector is more concerned with political causes than doing her job, which is supposed to be film criticism. Ethically, how can we judge a critic who overrides her admitted judgment of a given film as bad for political reasons as any different than a critic who would override their own judgment of a film for money? If Alspector is indeed as obsessed with political issues as she seems to be and has as little knowledge and even less respect for the film medium than she exhibits in her reviews, may I respectfully suggest that she get a job in the political arena and let those who understand and respect the art of film write film criticism.

Anthony De Julio

Park Ridge

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