By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 21, 2009 at 7:45AM
Opinions fly at the Sundance Film Fest but so did fists Wednesday morning when critic John Anderson, who was covering the 8:30 screening of the agit-prop environmental doc Dirt! The Movie for Variety at the Holiday Cinemas, told producer's rep Jeff "The Dude" Dowd that the movie "was poor, too simplistic, too redundant," says Dowd, who accompanied him over to the nearby Yarrow. When they arrived, Anderson told him their conversation on the movie was "over." The debate that followed got so heated that Anderson punched Dowd twice, once on the lip. I've spoken to both guys, and to Variety chief critic Todd McCarthy, who immediately relieved Anderson of the assignment to review the film. The Yarrow management called the police, who took information from witnesses--Anderson had gone to another screening--but Dowd did not press assault charges.
Dowd is a big guy who is passionate about his opinions. Anderson is a film critic who wanted to be left to eat his breakfast in peace and lost his temper. Hitting is not OK. But Anderson says he was harassed. And Dowd doesn't disagree.
Anderson says he let Dowd "make his pitch" on the way over to the Yarrow. After his spiel, Anderson said, "So what?"
Dowd told him to listen to how the audience responded. "They're sheep," Anderson said. "You've got so much power," said Dowd. "Before you write this we should have more discussion."
"He was accusing me of not caring about the state of the world because I didn't like his film," Anderson says. When they arrived at the restaurant he said, "OK, this conversation is over." But Dowd wasn't letting up, says Anderson, who sat down with a friend at a table. Then Dowd pulled up a chair and "continues to make his sales pitch. He wouldn't go away, take no for an answer."
"I told you to get away from me," Anderson said. Dowd says he added, "'Throw this riff-raff out of here!'"
Anderson told Dowd to "fuck off and get out" and Dowd did leave, but returned ten minutes later with Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling (The Howard Stern Show) to speak on behalf of the film. Anderson had moved to a table for four and didn't recognize Martling, but wasn't having any of it anyway. Dowd "starts berating me," Anderson says. "He's a big intimidating guy hovering over the table. I got really pissed off."
Anderson said, "I told you to get away."
Martling said, "I just wanted to tell you..."
Anderson said, "Are you a friend of Jeff's? Can't you see I'm eating breakfast?" Dowd says Anderson got up and said, "I told you I would punch you." Anderson denies he threatened any punching.
Dowd kept talking and Anderson got up and walked four steps, says Dowd, clenched up and hit him in the shoulder, chest and chin, and then his lip. Anderson remembers pushing Dowd away and says he "popped his nose." What did his friends do, he asks, "to deserve him?"
Anderson seems not to have hit Dowd very hard. "I didn't want to hurt him," says Anderson. "This was nothing close to a fistfight." Dowd did not resist and there was no blood. Dowd is a big guy and he's fine. He wants to convene a panel with Anderson, journalists and the Dirt! filmmakers to talk about these issues. Dowd and Anderson have known each other for some 25 years, and Anderson interviewed him for his book, I Wake Up Screening.
Anyone who knows these two guys could see it coming. Dowd is a big genial fellow who feels strongly about the movies he's repping, who never gives up and gets into everyone's personal space. And Anderson is a tough critic who doesn't hesitate to speak his mind. He's a critic! Of course he should never hit anybody.
Anderson says he was "harassed" and the Yarrow should have thrown Dowd out of the restaurant. Dowd says "John is a great guy. He works out! Critics at Sundance are overwhelmed, they don't get much sleep. I wasn't yelling, I was trying to engage him. That's what democracy is about. It's not just old-school criticism when it's an issue-oriented film."
Finally, this blow-up could be just the thing to put Dowd's film on the map. "I'm not sure how good it is for publicity to harrass a film critic into liking his movie," says Anderson. "He's trying to make it a moral issue. It's business."
originally posted at Variety.com