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Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

After writing a recent piece on the reaction to Michael Moore in our mutual hometown of Flint, MI, I received my first piece of hate mail as a writer. It was an exciting moment… I felt as though my thinking and arguments had inspired someone, somewhere, to respond. Now, I don’t mind that he wrote a nasty note to the editor of the newspaper, but what is really interesting is the philosophy that underlies the thinking of someone who would take such issue with a film column for not being objective!!! I thought I would print that letter here, alongside my reply… I feel like a true writer now!

Dear Editor,

Okay, I’ve read over Tom’s Michael Moore article. I’ve also read over his and other writings from selected back issues I picked up before leaving last week.

I’ll start with the most recent.

Webster’s dictionary defines documentary as ” designating or of a motin picture, television program, etc. that dramatically shows or analyzes news events, social conditions, etc., with little or no fictionalization.

Many, especially in film, would contend that Michael Moore’s use of fiction, or at least his blatant misportrayal of actual events in a cut-and-paste, manufactured image sort of way, more closely resembles the “reality” of MTV’s The Real World or worse.

And it’s not that he’s out to portray Flint as decrepit and useless; Flint does that for itself. GM, as a smart business practice, has tried many times to evacuate this sinking ship. The UAW has made it consistently harder and worse for ANYONE to operate here. A decade of fraud and embezzlement by Woodrow Stanely certainly didn’t help. Michael Moore’s not killing Flint. Flint killed Flint.

But I’ll move on to Mr. Hall and his writing. If he’s going for objectivity, he fails miserably most times. This particular writing isn’t even about any one film so much as just lavishing praise on Moore himself. Indeed, I go so far as to say that if there’s not already a club akin to a Michael Moore Appreciation Society, I’m sure Tom Hall will soon found one. To compare Moore to Welles, Fellini or Kurosawa and keep a straight face is nothing shy of Oscar-worthy acting itself, unless the speaker believes what he says and is then merely delusional.

His “cut-and-run” political attack at the Fox News Channel has no bearing on what the article is supposedly about either. If he wants to be a political commentator and spew his views no matter their slant or lack of understanding, that’s one thing, but to hide it under the guise of film praise is an act of cowardice.

Even last summer, when writing about X2 and a Matrix film, he felt it necessary to interject political commentary as cause for comparison.

However, I will say, that when he DOES write about film, he does a mostly decent job. The content is there, though half the time he seems to cover material and use unnecessary language in an attempt to be more elitist, like the guys in “High Fidelity”, only worse. The senetence structure needs an overhaul of an English class or two, but he at least displays enough comptency to write at all, which is more than can be said for many these days.

Thanks much for your time,

Jonathan Ettinger

My reply?

I was interested to read Jonathan Ettinger’s letter to the editor of June 14, 2004 and in particular, his critique of my defense of Michael Moore. I find it ironic that Mr. Ettinger’s main criticism of my writing and approach is that I am not objective, particularly since he is commenting on an article that is in defense of subjectivity as central to the art of documentary filmmaking. Is Mr. Ettinger suggesting that my film writing, an act of criticism and analysis, should be objective? That is an interesting, if naïve, understanding of the art of criticism. The act of writing a critique is to subjectively analyze and present one’s thoughts. And no, I didn’t look that up in the dictionary, that�s just my opinion. Of course, the real problem is that Mr. Ettinger disagrees with my analysis. But looking at his own analysis, including the way he decontextualizes my recognition that, like Welles, Fellini, and Kurosawa, Moore has a Palme D’or to his name (or his complete lack of evidence to support his claims that Moore uses ‘misportrayals’ in his films, or how these ‘misportrayals’ constitute fiction), it seems that Mr. Ettinger has his own intellectual demons to wrestle with. Unfortunately for him, I have no intention of removing politics, culture, and media criticism my thinking and writing about film. My column is not about giving a simple ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to a movie. There are plenty of writers who do that, and do it better than I would. I write in order to present my ideas about things I find important in film culture, be they artists or films. I am glad that Mr. Ettinger finds my ‘elitist’ writing to be competent. I can only hope my ideas continue to inspire him to write more.

Anyone else want to share their hate mail stories?

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