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Something's Wrong at the Village Voice

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik February 21, 2006 at 8:50AM

Something's Wrong at the Village Voice
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For those who grew up loving (or still love) the Village Voice -- its liberal fire, passionate criticism and witty turn-of-phrase -- get ready to be disappointed. Once again, corporate evil has struck, and the merger of the Village Voice with New Times, the other alt-weekly juggernaut, is finally having an impact on my beloved left-wing weekly.

This week, cinephiles will notice two new bylines in the Voice's famed film section -- once the domain of critic-legends like Andrew Sarris and Jonas Mekas. These two new critics are Texas-based Robert Wilonsky and Hollywood-based Luke Y. Thompson, whose names may be familiar to readers of New Times pubs like the Cleveland Scene, Dallas Observer and Miami New Times. Their reviews are tiny and Hoberman still reigns, but I fear for what's next: No disrespect to Wilonsky and Thompson, who I'm sure are fine gentlemen and cinema-lovers, but writers filing reviews for the Village Voice should be based in New York, should breathe New York.

Film culture is different in Gotham; and there's a reason that people live here and think here and digest movies here, and it's unique and distinct from other parts of the country. Call me elitist or pretentious, but if you live outside of New York, you shouldn't be regularly reviewing for a New York paper (Manohla Dargis, honorary New Yorker, gets a pass, I guess). While cineastes can lament the whittling away of the Voice's edge and the coherence of its cultural coverage, there is also a very real and dangerous impact of this merger on indie film: When Wilonsky or Thompson pan a movie, these reviews will appear in every market. Their strangehold on alternative film criticism is unprecedented.

And I must pick on Thompson for a moment, because I think his taste decidely contradicts everything the Village Voice's criticsm has stood for over the last 50 years. His 2005 top ten list, which appears here, for example, features a top three of 1.) "Star Wars: Episode III," 2.) "The Devil's Rejects" and 3.) "Oldboy". And 6, 7, 8 and 10 aren't so promising either: "Shopgirl," "Sin City," "The Jacket," and "The Chronicles of Narnia." Recently, he has bashed such art and indie films as "Mysterious Skin", "Mean Creek," "Maria Full of Grace," "Red Lights," "Bright Leaves," "Strayed," and get this, he even disses "Annie Hall" on his website:

"Fundamentally, my problem is this: why should I care about a whiny nerd who doesn't have the balls to take any chances, yet somehow manages to date women way out of his league, only to totally screw up his relationships with them?" he writes. "And why is it funny when he digs up hoary old jokes like the Groucho Marx one about joining a club? Nowadays we call that "re-gifting." Or "postmodernism." I want to slap the guy and take the chicks he's driving away with his B.S."

I'm sorry, Luke, but you don't belong in the Village Voice. Film culture is already suffering enough as it is; we don't need your help.

I also noticed Ward Harkavy's Bush Beat blog "has been canceled by new management," Toni Schlesinger's "Shelter" column seems to be AWOL, and Press Clips is also missing, along with venerable reporter Sydney Schanberg who resigned because it was clear to him that Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey "didn't want a press column," according to this Boston Phoenix story, which also suggests legendary lefty Nat Hentoff's column may be next on the chopping block. I'm afraid this is only the beginning.

AN UPDATE:

If anyone is still reading this thread, I need to clarify. (It's my own damn fault for getting all gushy about New York up above, but people in the comments section below have misconstrued what I was trying to say.) I don't care what Luke or anyone else writes about in other papers. And I back off my contention that only New Yorkers can write for New York papers (it's true, there are some writers not based in New York that I'd be happy to read in a New York paper.) This isn't the main point. The main point is that the Village Voice has been a bastion of a particular type of film criticism (and political point of view) for 50 years. What's happening at the paper has far more to do with my beef with a particular critic. I probably shouldn't have focused so much on Luke above, because that's what most people have latched onto (everyone loves a fight and he was an easy target), instead of the larger, more important issue: This is about the gutting of an institution's soul, corporatizing it, homogenizing it, nullifying it.