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Defending Elvis Mitchell. Sort Of.

by Eric Kohn
April 25, 2011 4:05 AM
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I don't really know Elvis Mitchell. I've had a few pleasant conversations with him and I hope to have more. Since the news came out a few days ago that Mitchell lost his job at Movieline, maybe because of some odd confusion regarding his "Source Code" review, few people have leapt to his defense. Mitchell's professional track record sounds pretty awful, and anyone who has dealt with the ramifications of that now has the opportunity to vent. Is that fair? Well, somewhat: The guy works in a public medium, which means that any professional misstep runs the risk of getting noticed by everybody.

Still, Mitchell is not a bad guy. Bad guys lie, cheat and steal. Sometimes they run dictatorships and kill millions of people. Mitchell's just a little shifty, but he manages to stay in the game for a reason. He's a perceptive critic, with a vast understanding of film history and very wide range of aesthetic interests. That should dominate his reputation. Everything else is either a footnote or worth forgetting about. I also feel like his tendency to flake on jobs is a kind of irreverent performance art, a persistent (if pompous) statement of individuality. I'm not excusing the behavior, but I haven't been affected by it, either. I like this review of "Requiem for a Dream," in which Mitchell writes that Aronofsky's "effrontery is effectively a personal statement." That's probably what Mitchell is going for with his own shenanigans.

Anne Thompson has quoted me in her piece about the Mitchell news, as I was at the Florida Film Festival last week when he failed to show up as a jury member. The festival was ticked; I was just disappointed. He's a great conversationalist, able to discuss movies and pop culture in a relaxed, personable fashion, which is partly why he has been able to stick around on his own terms. I hope he finds another opportunity soon, and holds onto it.

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  • Syd | June 16, 2011 10:02 AMReply

    I give Mitchell credit for not using the race card for
    his job terminations.
    Not yet, anyway.

  • Bing | April 26, 2011 8:59 AMReply

    You're sure he's not a bad person? Obviously you don't really know the guy at all. He doesn't lie, cheat and steal?... Aren't you guys paying attention? Well, maybe it's hard to read between the big head lines ( half million dollars tax lien on the guy), because even the many fellow writers who have been wronged by him, aren't going wash their laundry in public. But we do all shake our collective heads and realize he's one heck of a shady rat.
    Listen, none of the criticisms of Elvis comes from jealousy. In fact, most of his peers greatly admire his talent. But we have personal experiences with him that go beyond being "flaky", or not showing up for a job. These are personal wrongs that only someone without a conscious could carry on with.

  • Dan Cox | April 25, 2011 10:51 AMReply

    I"ve known Elvis MItchell for nigh on 20 years. When I was Film Editor and National Correspondent for Variety, I worked with Mitchell numerous times (when he was with or doing pieces for CNN and other media spots.
    He's always been ahead of the game and more intelligent than 96% of the people he's interviewing.
    If anything, I'm still envious of the man for the job he left at Columbia Pictures as a festival-attending indie scout for independent film. That was a job to be desired and envied.
    Other than that, Elvis has always been a great guy to know.

  • erichkohn | April 25, 2011 6:55 AMReply

    Nope, I probably wouldn't do that, given this track record. Then again, if I knew Elvis was in town for this hypothetical film festival, I might ask him to moderate a Q&A. The man is defensible. The behavior is not.

  • Senh | April 25, 2011 6:30 AMReply

    So if you're running a film festival, you would hire him to speak? I'm sure he's not a bad person, but being flaky and irresponsible isn't something worth defending.

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