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James Gray Blasts Guardian Review of 'The Immigrant': "One of the Dumbest I've Ever Read"

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire December 2, 2013 at 3:22PM

Six months after 'The Immigrant' debuted Cannes, Gray is still peeved at the bad notices.
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James Gray, left, with Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner at Cannes in May
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Europe James Gray, left, with Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner at Cannes in May

At Cannes, James Gray told Indiewire's Nigel M. Smith that critics who found his film The Immigrant too slow could "go fuck themselves." Six months later, he's apparently still steamed at one of them in particularly. Eric Hynes sends word from the International Film Festival of Marrakesh that Gray took the opportunity during a roundtable interview to attack The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, as well as asserting that his movies aren't mean to be for everyone:

If everybody loves the film then there's really something quite wrong with it. If everybody loves it then it’s sort of a crowd pleaser. And that's never been my view of what a good piece of cinema or art is. Upon initial release. What has to happen is the movie has to have a life, it has to mature over time, then only after a year or two or three or four that you can see what it is.

Of course I take it personally. This year I tried to read as little as possible, but the publicist did send me some reviews, particularly out of the UK, which I found gallingly dumb. It's hard to read a review that you think is flat out dumb and not take it personally. Any argument can be made for or against a film, but the Guardian review was one of the dumbest reviews I've ever read. He spoke about how the film went south once I staged a preposterous scene where Caruso sings for the immigrants. Which is actually the recreation of an actual event. So if you're going to make the main focus of your criticism how dumb I am for staging a scene, you better get your facts right. And he didn't. He wouldn’t be expected to know that, except it was in the press notes, that I had recreated this concert. So he was not only dumb, but lazy. His job, he has no real obligation to like or dislike a film, to be right or wrong in terms of history. He can say anything he wants. But he can not be wrong about the facts. You can argue any opinion, but I can't say to you that 2 plus 2 is 7. I can't do that. That's not good criticism. So I thought, he's a failure as a critic. His job is to educate the reader, so he's actually corrupt, and doing a disservice to readers for telling them that something never happened when it did. After reading that, I was so disgusted that I stopped reading the reviews.

Bradshaw, who starts by calling The Immigrant "gloomy and baffling," does indeed question the Caruso scene, though not exactly in the way Gray characterizes. Here's the relevant passage:

Everything about the way The Immigrant has been furnished and designed shows how genuinely concerned Gray is to make his film authentic. Yet, having exhaustively established that Ellis Island is a tough place and its officers tough people, Gray asks us to believe that it would lay on a lavish theatre show to entertain its hospital patients -- starring Caruso, no less! Fancy society folk in Manhattan pay an awful lot of money to hear Caruso, and his fee must presumably be huge. Would the Ellis Island authorities really pay that kind of cash to entertain the poor immigrants? Or would Caruso do it for nothing?

To the extent that Bradshaw implies something of the sort could never have happened, he's obviously incorrect. But he's also accusing Gray of not making the event credible within the context of the story, which is an entirely different thing. The Immigrant, which will be released in the U.S. next year despite persistent rumors that it might skip theaters altogether, is indeed a scrupulously realist film, but the Ellis Island pageant is something quite different, a vision of America's promise that is more myth than reality. Rather than doubting whether Caruso would have sung for free, Bradshaw might well have asked how Jeremy Renner's unexceptionable stage magician manages to levitate without the benefit of any visible assistance. Caruso's visit may have been real, but it's not entirely meant to feel that way.

Update: At Filmmaker, Kaleem Aftab has a response from Peter Bradshaw: 

“I apologize to him for the factual issue about Caruso and Ellis Island. He’s right: 2 plus 2 does not equal 7, though there is another critical point about the credibility of this scene within the dramatic context. However, James Gray is unquestionably a major talent and his future films at Cannes will be events that I will always look forward to.”

Sharp-eyed readers (or those with functioning short-term memories) may notice that Aftab's article looks quite a bit like this one without actually acknowledging its existence; we link to it without further comment.

This article is related to: From the Wire


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