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Robert Koehler Defends "Margaret," Variety Exec Makes a Bad Joke.

by Eric Kohn
December 15, 2011 7:07 PM
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The whole "Team Margaret" campaign took an odd turn recently when the esteemed film critic and sometime programmer Robert Koehler (known to many as "Bob") allegedly sent an email to members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association complaining that the group's awards weren't valid because he didn't get a chance to see "Margaret," Kenneth Lonergan's sleeper hit, in time for the voting process. I like the movie quite a bit, but I'm nearly as smitten with the near-religious fervor that has cropped up to support the movie during a frenzied period when a lot of critics are catching up on movies they missed earlier in the year. It makes me wonder if the marginalization of "Margaret"--largely the result of Fox Searchlight's problematic relationship with the director, its multi-year post-production and its tiny, inconspicuous theatrical release--has actually helped solidify its following, catapulting the movie to a cult status unseen since Terrence Malick's "The New World" launched an army of defenders a few years back.

"Margaret" fans are so passionate about the film that they have been especially cautious about their strategy for supporting it. Koehler's complaint to LAFCA has reached the public eye not because he chose to write an open letter for all to see; it sounds like he actually wanted to affect the voting process in order to help "Margaret" get a fair chance. (Not that it would have made a difference, but that's neither here nor there.) Instead, Bob's beef was reported by Anne Thompson because Variety executive editor Steve Gaydos decided to make a joke out of it by sending out an email to LAFCA members repeating Koehler's email line by line, subbing "Margaret" for the even more obscure Monte Hellman release "Road to Nowhere" as an apparent insider joke.

Um, good one?

Here's the flaw of Gaydos' ill-conceived gag, aside from the fact that it's just kinda lame to mock a smart, driven guy like Bob Koehler for his passion: It's just not ridiculous enough. Gaydos' letter appeared unironically on Hellman's Facebook page. (UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that Gaydos co-wrote "Road to Nowhere," which, as Neil Young astutely points out, "presumably adds some layer of irony.") Established critics like Jonathan Rosenbaum have advocated for "Road to Nowhere" as one of the best movies of the year. If you're going to haze somebody, at least make it clear that you're actually hazing them. A line by line repetition of Koehler's email that replaces "Margaret" with "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? That would make more sense, but it's still a low blow.

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More: Awards


  • Croque Monsieur | December 21, 2011 6:31 AMReply

    Variety? It's been "dead and gone" for 20 years. Viva IndieWire!

  • Eric | December 22, 2011 5:52 PM

    Huge fan of croque monsieur. Great dish.

  • Lawrence French | December 21, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    Isn't it strange that VARIETY has become such a joke in "the trade?" IndieWire is really the new VARIETY, as you seem to pick up the writers they fire or let go. But let's face it, VARIETY's problems go way back, when they fired Joseph McBride for giving a bad review to CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. Then they fired Todd McCarthy, or rather demoted him to part time critic, a position he obviously couldn't accept. And of course, Anne Thompson used to write for VARIETY as well. It was only after the corporate idiots in charge could fire three of their best writers than I finally cancelled my subscription to VARIETY, which I've had a continual subscription to since 1973. So, if any of the story about Steve Gaydos is true, I would suggest he should resign, just as Peter Bart should have done after his own mini-scandal, but unless there is some sort of massive public outcry, I doubt if that will ever happen.

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