Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Janet Maslin: A Morality Tale In Its Last Stages, Kids, Here's What Not To Do

[Note: The first three paragraphs are from The Third Estate Sunday Review. I wanted Bob Somerby to get credit for the Slander criticism he did so I'm using their post.]

We usually do full posts in our Blog Spotlight. But we think C.I. had a post within post at The Common Ills (and hope C.I. will repost just this aspect of it because we enjoyed it). In a post entitled "Democracy Now: Oil, borders, Korematsu; Daily Howler, Jude of Iddybud, Amy & David Goodman on the media, Jane Fonda & the Times" we want to focus on the last part.

And Jim just talked C.I. into reposting it today. Because C.I. wants to reference Bob Somerby's Daily Howler. C.I. notes that Janet Maslin reviewed Slander and that e-mails have come in asking about that. For those needing another overview of Maslin, C.I. recommends Somerby's "The NYT praised Coulter’s footnotes. It should have looked a few up." And recommend you view these articles from the Howler archives. Janet Maslin is a menace. If not to society, then certainly to readers. So we're very happy to highlight this entry.

Here's the post within a post, "Jane Fonda & the Times:"

A number of you e-mailed in to ask how could I have not mentioned the book review of My Life So Far, by Jane Fonda, and the article on her on the front page of the arts section. I could skim the truth and say that's what I meant by many other articles in the paper today. But I won't. I was focused on the Patriot Act (and had meant to write on it last night). I also don't read the arts section until later in the day (if I read it).

But that's why we're a community and why we're all members. What one person misses, someone else picks up.

Todd S. Purdham has an article entitled "And Now for Her Third Act: Jane Fonda Looks Over the First Two." Here's the section Rachel, Dallas, Eli and Brandon wanted quoted:

As she has before, Ms. Fonda apologizes for being photographed laughing and clapping while sitting on an antiaircraft gun in Hanoi. (She writes that she absent-mindedly sat down in a moment of euphoria with her North Vietnamese hosts, and adds, "That two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until the day I die.")But in the book, and in the interview, she is unapologetic, even defiant, about her opposition to a war she saw as wrong and un-American, and expresses pain and puzzlement about why an acquaintance from those days, John Kerry, could not seem to defend his own antiwar activities in his presidential campaign last year."I just don't know," she says, her voice barely a whisper. "Because then he was just brilliant in his ability to articulate, and brave in his willingness to articulate. And he seemed to be a human being who was in touch with his core person. And I don't know what happened in the interim."
Ms. Fonda's whole life has been a struggle to stay in touch with her core.

Janet Maslin turns in a book report posing as a book review in a piece entitled "An Actress Tries Reconciling the Many Lives She's Lived." We won't quote from it. Little Janet left reality long ago.

For those not in the know, Maslin wrote a triumphant review of Ann Coulter's Slander. Of course, had she not been taken in by . . . whatever it was she was taken in by, she might have checked the citations and found that Coulter distorted. But Maslin doesn't really do observations or research, she just tells you what's on each page and throws in an attempt at pithy every now and then. Little Janet was running on fumes before she left movie reviews and she's still struggling to make it to the next gas station. In this review, it appears she's stalled on the side of the road.

Maslin's displeased that Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane aren't addressed. I'm not quite sure why they should be. Jane Fonda "appears" in Letter to Jane -- as a photograph. What exactly Maslin's wanting to know, I'm not sure. Tout Va Bien wasn't a good filming experience (and Roger Vadim noted that in his own book as well as an interviews -- everyone seems aware of that except little Janet -- Hey, Maslin, put up the hood and maybe someone will pull over and take you to the clue store).

The book is covering sixty plus years. It's 597 pages. I'm not sure what's the basis for whining that a film that few have seen is not discussed at length (Tout Va Bien) or for the carping that Fonda's not responding to a critic (Letter to Jane -- is Little Janet taking it personally?). SEE NOTE ADDED AT END.
Janet Maslin, for a brief time (one year as I remember it), was shaping up to be a film reviewer worth following. It's true. You can't tell that by her book reviews today (did she even finish reading Carrie Fisher's book before reviewing it?) but at one point, she could have been something. Then her writing grew cautious and her observational skills trite. She offered less and less observation and more and more summaries. By 1980, she was the equivalent of a Mad magazine parody -- reading one of her reviews, you felt you'd sat through the whole movie -- only less entertaining.

Now she does book reviews. I understand they're quite popular with non-readers. There's no book Jane Fonda could have written that would have pleased Maslin. Had it been 2,500 pages, she would have focused on the bikini Fonda wore in California Suite (trust me, she would have) and carped about what was being hidden, why wasn't that discussed in detail!

Most of the time, burn outs come in the field of music. The music critics flame out and attempt to do profiles or move on to movie reviews. Maslin has to be a first for flaming out in movies. At last, a record she can put her name to.

A shell of her former self, she was given to tossing out terms like "resplendently" too often when reviewing films near the end. Just when you thought the Times would have to pull the plug on her, personal fortune (and you can read that any way you want to) allowed her to finally put movie lovers out of their misery.

Now she does her embarrassing book summaries. That's what they are. Maslin will get attention for this one, she probably wants it. She's been obscure for so long now that few even know her name. ("Janet Maslin? Was she the actress in Take the Money and Run?" No, that was Janet Margolin.) But it's the same book "report"ing she was doing as a movie reviewer. Summarize, summarize, throw out some inflamed remark that's not central to the discussion but suggests you know what you're talking about (and are up to the review) and you may fool some (the non-book reading public).

It really is sad because she could have been something. She could have influenced film. Maybe it was having to compete with Vincent Canby? Maybe it was the fact that it took real strength to be a woman reviewing films in those days.

Judith Crist, Molly Haskell and Pauline Kael had already broken the ground. They had strength, grit and any other word you can toss out. Maslin aped them initially but she folded because you can only fake strength for so long. She still fakes interest, some are taken in.

She finally called it quits on film in the late nineties. (1998? 1999?) But she'd flamed out long before that. Decades before. As I remember it, she had one strong year, 1977. I'm not talking about agreeing with her opinions, but I am saying she had promise then. It's been a slow fade to obscurity ever since. Sheila Benson and others quickly eclipsed Maslin, maybe that played into it. Who knows?

These days she does her Cliff Notes and passes them off as reviews. She's apparently happy with that and the Times has no problem with her mediocrity. Non-book readers love her the same way a certain segment (blue haired ladies was the term then) loved reading middle of the road play reviews while queing up in line to see The Odd Couple for the ninth time. Her reviews exist as something to read while waiting for the latest from Reader's Digest condensed.

Here's a morsel Maslin could have chewed on but didn't:

Headlines across the country screamed the news that I'd been arrested for drug smuggling and assaulting an officer. Several months later one article tucked away on the back pages of The New York Times noted, "It was determined the pills she brought into the country from Canada were really vitamins, just as she said they were," and the charges of assault and drug smuggling were dropped. No headlines for that.

That's page 263 of Fonda's My Life So Far.

Now aren't you glad that I usually just focus on the main section of the Times?
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NOTE: Wally e-mailed asking for clarity here because he wanted to know Maslin's statement on Tout Va Bien. I said we wouldn't quote from Maslin, but we will now because Wally has no "use for the Times anymore" and has "made a vow not to give them any web traffic" at all. He's attempting to keep that vow and I'll help him out by offering the statement. (I've also corrected the spelling of observation -- from "obeservation!" one of my more laughable typos -- and deleted a period. Judith Crist's last name has been corrected and I've added Molly Haskell to that sentence to correct what Erika noted was "a huge oversight." Apologies to Crist and Haskell.)

Maslin: Unplesantness like "Letter to Jane," the semiotic diatrabe addressed to her by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, goes unmentioned, beyond her use of the words "dreaded" and "incomprehensible" to describe "Tout Va Bien," the Godard film in which she appeared."

Page 278 addresses the filming of Tout Va Bien. Maslin's not happy with words like "incomprehensible" (possibly had Fonda used " resplendently" Maslin would have purred instead of hissing?). Perhaps she's settling a score with old rival Vincent Canby (who reviewed the film in real time, four years before Maslin joined the paper)? What did Canby write about the film, in the pages of the Times?

Canby: It is Godard's first revolutionary film for the bourgeoisie and, unless audiences are more indulgent that I credit them to be, it may well be his last.

Although Tout Va Bien did better in France, it did little to no business in this country. (Where it was released as Everything's Okay.) The year the film is released is 1972 and there's a great deal more going on in the world and in Fonda's life. Filming of the film itself is sandwiched between post-Christmas 1971 and February, 1972. Around eight weeks. The film was not a hit. It wasn't a pleasant shoot. And Maslin's expecting more than a page on it?

Maybe Maslin's genuinely stupid? (Some just assume she's thick headed and lazy.) Maybe she's not aware that there are certain things you discuss and certain things you don't? Maybe she's wanting Fonda to damage her own career with a book full of from-the-set tidbits told "out of school" the way Shirley MacLaine did with My Lucky Stars? (And you thought all those people just suddenly had other things to do on the night of MacLaine's AFI tribute?) Fonda's a child of Hollywood and grasps the basic etiquette/rules. If the filming was a disaster, credit her with honesty for saying so (which she does) and then moving on instead of attempting to stamp a happy face on it and to treat every film as though it were a joyful experience, a critical hit and a box office success.

She's not Joan Crawford attempting to go out of her way to defend making Trog. As an alleged film critic, Maslin should grasp that.

There are benchmarks to a career and Tout Va Bien isn't one. (You'll note Little Janet doesn't mention A Doll's House which would argue her own thick headed case far better. There's a reason for that, she's unaware. And she's skimmed a book she should have read to provide her "summary" and then quickly mixed in a few "observations" to attempt to come off informed.)

Maslin slams Fonda as a "soap opera queen." When in fact, Maslin's review is based upon carping that she's not getting the high drama she so obviously needs. Maslin doesn't grasp the contradiction in her writing. Editors long gave up on attempting to make sense of Maslin's writing. So Maslin's allowed to embarrass herself to anyone paying attention.

But, as noted before, no one pays attention to Maslin these days -- haven't in some time. Her non-book reading public, reads through her reviews (lips moving in the process?) and never note that that they turns this way and that repeatedly not unlike a "paradoxical, protean Weathervane" (something she compares Fonda to, failing to realize the face staring back at her isn't from the front cover of My Life So Far, but from Maslin's own mirror).

As a hallmark of bad writing, Maslin's jottings can be chiefly noted for ripping apart her own attempted arguments from one paragraph to the next as she stumbles and restarts constantly. This disjointed, distorted "style" is exactly why Maslin went from contender to joke in twelve months -- and has remained one ever since. As a semi-professional "writer" posing as a serious one, Maslin's become a scary morality tale in it's final stages: Kids, here's what not to do.