Here’s the second installment of WWTW’s interview with Big Hollywood Editor in Chief John Nolte, the driving force behind the biggest conservative movie site on the web:
WWTW: Do you find it difficult juggling deeply held political beliefs with movies that run counter to them when formulating a review? Has this become easier … or harder with time?
JN: I’ve always felt that this burden was not my responsibility, but the filmmaker’s. If I notice the politics, you’re doing something wrong.
Most movie goers have deeply held beliefs, political or otherwise, and any filmmaker’s primary responsibility involves casting a strong enough storytelling spell so that audiences forget every preconception they walked in with. Recently, I wrote a review of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and opened it with m shock over not realizing – until someone told me – that it was a very liberal film. This was a filmmaker who did his job.
People forget that Hollywood was just as liberal and on a crusade to change the world back during the post-”Easy Rider” era that lasted straight through to the late 1970s. And that was a second Golden Age. Many of those films hold up remarkably well today because they’re so expertly crafted you don’t notice the agenda.
Today’s agenda-driven filmmakers just don’t have the artistic maturity and self-confidence to do that and instead build their messaging on straight, thudding, two by four across the head politics. There’s no one working anymore who seems anywhere near capable of crafting a “China Syndrome,” “Norma Rae,” “Coming Home,” “Silkwood” or “M*A*S*H.” The last truly great politically liberal film was Tim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking” in 1995, the last universally appealing one was John Travolta’s “A Civil Action” in 1998 and the last effective one was “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005.
WWTW: We often hear “the professional movie critic” is an endangered species. Does that concern you? Can web-based critics fill the gap completely?
JN: I’ve been paid to watch and write about movies for over four years now, and if it all ended tomorrow I’d always appreciate just how lucky I was to have even had those four years.
The Web will most certainly fill the gap, and the best of what you call “professional critics” have moved online and taken their audience with them. The web is also delivering new film writers who might never have become known if print media still dominated. And this is why web-based critics will produce better and more comprehensive film writing than print media ever could.
The beauty of the Internet is that it’s democracy at its finest – the ultimate meritocracy where who you know and which J-school you attended means next to nothing. The Web is the death of monopolistic media elitism, where your ability to hold on to your influence is due to a vertical monopoly caused by the burdensome price to publish or broadcast yourself. Today, anyone can broadcast and publish, and to the whole world, for next to no money.
So many choices, so many voices. That can never be a bad thing.
WWTW: Do web-based critics wield clout? Can they “open” a movie or help bring attention to a project that otherwise might get ignored?
JN: ThoughI personally loved “Snakes on a Plane,” no web frenzy could make a hit out of it or even open the movie any more than the old media’s months long secular crusade against “The Passion of the Christ” could dent that film’s box office. The web is frequently credited for making successes out of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” but being as they were released nearly a decade apart I would say they qualify as the exceptions proving the rule. The fact that they’re both very good films had more to do with their success than any kind of viral marketing.
Where critics, including web-based critics, do wield enormous clout is with filmmakers.
Critics aren’t dumb, they know the public doesn’t much care which way their thumbs point. But critics do know that bsed on their opinions and reviews they can enjoy an influence over what kind of films get made. And that’s not a small amount of power. Culture is upstream from politics, after all.
If you have 95 percent of critics savaging a faithful retelling of the Gospels as anti-Semitic, no matter how successful “The Passion” is, no one’s going to go near that subject matter again. And that’s the goal. Same with anything that comes close to patriotism or conservatism. Such cinematic rarities are frequently labeled “jingoistic, fascist or simple minded.” This is all done consciously and for a desired effect.
The most recent example of this is Will Ferrell’s “The Other Guys.” The film is ridiculously cheap-looking and only mildly amusing until it completely falls off a cliff in the third act thanks to confusing and unfunny left-wing economic preaching. And yet it earns critical approval. Take the EXACT same movie but lean the politics to the right, and you’re looking at a 28 percent Rottentomatoes.com rating instead of 70 percent.
WWTW: What are the most common mistakes today’s movie critics make, in your opinion?
JN: You have to understand that when I look at the critical community I only see it for what it really is: a journolista cabal of left wingers deeply engaged in a cultural and ideological war, deeply committed to shaping the powerful messaging of sound and fury that emanate from our pop culture masters. Obviously, there are exceptions, but for the most part those who write film reviews (or any kind of reviews) are no different that the rest of the left-wing media. True, I’m also a cultural and ideological warrior. I just don’t pretend that I’m not.
What’s needed are more film critics from the right, but those folks must love the art form of motion pictures – love it enough that one fo their pleasures in life is rediscovering the classics going all the way back to the silent era. Anyone with a right-of-center world view and a love and knowledge of a particular art form should jump in. That field is now wide open for anyone enterprising enough to make it their own.