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December 12, 2007

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tricia

I believe the seminar was an exercise for students, rather than a think piece you have tried to use it for to settle, satisfy and bolster your thoughts and to retaliate against Anderson's legitimate review out of Hot Docs appearing 8 months ago in Variety. Certainly you can point to something glowing by now.

I've watched, read or listened to every Venditti interview available on the web and the available footage on youtube and, so far, I wholeheartedly agree with John and with this review from Ed Douglas:

It's not quite clear why Venditti thought the film's annoying teen with ADD would make an interesting subject matter, but Billy seems just like any other weird kid from the suburbs with delusions of his own grandeur, seemingly on the verge of becoming some kind of serial killer at the slightest provocation. Watching him talking to people and trying to woo a girl at a diner with his exploits is grueling to watch because he doesn't even hold the audience's interest with his lame exploits more than Napoleon Dynamite. I guess some people might find watching this weird teen falling in love rather sweet and touching but he's so strange that it's very hard for the audience to ever really connect with him, because it's basically this guy talking and talking and talking without any sort of filter, and frankly, it irks me even thinking that someone would find him interesting enough to put him in a movie, let alone that he might have a girlfriend. About half hour into the movie, it dwells on the possibilities of this constantly picked-on boy being one of those kids who goes to school with a gun and starts shooting everyone, but no, that never happens, which is a shame only because it would have made a far more interesting film. This "documentary" would have been better left at the festivals or relegated to cable. Rating: 4/10

http://www.comingsoon.net/blog/2007/12/the_weekend_warrior_december_7_1.php#2

tricia

My second comment has disappeared, but fortunately I have a copy:

Furthermore, the only thing your new post speaks to is your drive to misrepresent and twist his words, or are you really as thick skulled as you make yourself out to be? I'll gladly go point by point with you tomorrow on how you've accomplished this.
Posted by: tricia | December 12, 2007 at 01:32 AM

tricia

AJ Schnack, I believe you think John Anderson panned Billy, the person, not the film, "Billy the Kid."

You say:

"He could have panned BILLY at HotDocs because, quoting him, it didn't 'happen to fit a particular critic's worldview'..."

This did not happen.

"Billy The Kid" was panned it for it’s exploitative, voyeuristic content. It was panned as an exemplar of the "freak-show aesthetic so prevalent in modern culture." In his comment, John Anderson compared the film to similarly exploitative settings: zoos, sideshows and correctional institutions. These situations have nothing to do with the poor creatures, they have everything to do with the voyeur. He called it "one of the more irresponsible eruptions in the current rash of populist nonfiction cinema." Hence the awards it has garnered, in my opinion.

AJ, what does Billy, the person, have to do with the value of the film according to your own criteria?

Christopher

tricia,
just because you personally don't resonate with the character doesn't mean that other audiences won't. in fact, by the awards BILLY has won, it already has. the filmmaker obviously saw something in her subject that no one else did -- and it wasn't just that he's a "strange" person. there are plenty of docs out there with quirky weird characters that never go anywhere, mainly b/c the audience never comes to love the protagonist(s). the voyeurism you speak of only reflects your lack of understanding for Billy's character -- that's not your fault, but you need to recognize that so many others feel very connected to him after watching the film.

AJ, guess you couldn't have dreamed of a better response than you got from John Anderson, eh? Kind of puts the proverbial nail in his own coffin...

tricia

It could have been a better response because he could have written it at the writing grade level you and AJ require to understand it, but that would have been pandering to the rest of us.

Christopher

it could have been a better response because at least Mr. Anderson could have gotten the name of the film right. "Devils on Horseback"?!? do you seriously think that he would have gotten the name wrong of the latest Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts flick? Even that small error reveals his inability to consider documentaries the way they should be: by their level of insight, access to subjects, and artfulness of presentation. "Importance of issue" is really a ridiculous way to assess a doc -- after all, even "America's Most Wanted" has been credited for putting vicious criminals behind bars. Are we duty bound to give that show glowing reviews?

tricia

After AJ's first false claim that "Anderson compares Billy to circus creatures," here's AJ's second best misuse of Anderson's comment:

AJ takes this:

"If you want to co-opt the immediacy and urgency implied by the word 'documentary' it behooves you to follow some rules."

and derives that Anderson has somehow given a "lecture that documentary requires 'rules'."

As if! It seems that AJ takes a little too much liberty with craft, as in the editing kind.

Christopher, what do you think Billy, the person, has to do with the value of the film according to the criteria AJ has yet to put forth?


tricia

If you want to play by that rule, call the film "Billy the Kid," not "Billy." Anderson gave TDCOH a three and a half star review, I think he knows the title, and I think he knows that a lot of people have truncated it in dialogue, which is basically what blogging is.

Anderson has NOT put forth the argument you attribute to him. I suggest you re-read his "Talk of the Day" re-cap until you understand it -- you know, for your own education.

David

John Anderson illustrates AJ's initial points, without even understanding AJ's points. Granted, I may not always agree with AJ, but he addresses issues and raises points in a public sphere that hits nerves in the right way. Anderson prefers to give attention to "social issue docs" simply because they are "social issue docs." It's circular reasoning. "It's important because it's a social issue. It's a social issue because it's important." Ultimately, it's Anderson's own subjectivity that determines what's "social" and what's "important," neither of which, by the way, validate how a documentary should be evaluated or reviewed. Too many docs are given the spotlight simply because they "bring an important social issue" to the forefront. Big deal. It's knee-jerk, feel-good liberalism, as if the documentary can make social change or "increase awareness." It's also a form of self-righteous self-indulgence. What's the story? How is it told? Does it conform to a traditional three act structure? Does it do something new, or attempt to novel approaches?

Last, the word "exploitation" is overused and ambiguous. Again, it's subjective and left to open-ended meanings. Anderson's attack on Jennifer (director of Billy the Kid) was so visceral that it came from the gut rather than a well thought out argument for why or how the film was "exploitive." Show me evidence rather than conjectures. Illustrate why or how instead of using your "insight" or ideology, Mr. Anderson.

Yes, I think Jennifer set up a few scenes, but I have reasons (she changes her story during different interviews), but so what? While preparing to film Billy, she had designed certain scenes in which she wanted Billy to participate, but when she began filming she realized those scenes were unnecessary. Still, she asked him to participate in certain scenes, but so what. It's still documentary. She once said that, "I never once had anyone repeat a scene." Later in another interview she admitted to "asking the men to clap" for Billy, only because the cameraperson didn't film that scene. It's still documentary. It's a version of truth, because it happened. And if it didn't happen, well then the person who created the scene was smart to add it for entertainment purposes as well as illustrating how Billy can't distinguish between compliments, harrassment, receiving approval, and/or reward.

And in regards to the above posts, it's quite juvenile to think that an audience member must "like" the protagonist or find him/her interesting to justify a documentary. The judgementalism in the above posts makes me giddy and laugh at how much the movie affected these folks. I hate G.W. Bush, but I'd still watch a doc about the bastard.

Christopher

david, no one said that an audience must like the protagonist in order to "justify a documentary". however, for a documentary to do well with the viewing public, i would challenge you to think of the last 10 docs that you've really liked/loved, and honestly assess how your attachment to the main character in the film correlated with your feelings about the film as a whole.

your example about a GW Bush documentary, and how you would still watch it really has very little to do with how good the documentary is (and how you personally resonate with it). with BILLY THE KID, critics and audiences alike are tremendously moved by the film and its titular character.

Christopher

tricia, you also mention that JA gives 3.5 stars (out of 4?) to BILLY THE KID. not that i don't believe you, but how can that be given the review he wrote? please direct me to the rating if you can.

David

Billy the Kid is one my favorite docs this year, and I happen to "love" the protagonist. However, I can think of five other favorite docs I've seen this year in which I "never come to love the protagonist(s)." An Audience of One, Off the Grid, Crazy Love, Phillip and His Seven (Five?) Wives, and Manda Bala (a film like Manda Bala only comes along every five or six years - my favorite this year, unless you count Frownland as a doc). I prefer to understand an issue, topic, story, motivation, desire, point of view in a way that I've never considered, but that doesn't mean I will accept it or even "love" the protagonist. I recall watching a film titled ONE SHOT, about Israeli snipers who bragged during interviews about the pleasure in killing Palestinians simply because they were Palestinian, and they'd even invent reasons to kill. It's one of the most insightful, mind bending films I've seen in a while. I hated the protagonists, but I loved the film because it brought me into the characters' make-believe world of honesty and hate. I finally understood hating someone so much that a person wanted to kill. It was scary.

On the opposite end, I couldn't stand The King of Kong, but happened to very much like the two main characters and look forward to the fiction version. Still, your point is well taken. The majority of films on my shelf are stories where I "come to love the protagonist," or at least experience a complexity of emotions (such as Frownland). However, I don't watch films to confirm what I already believe, know, accept, or reinforce my ideologies. In other words, I don't care if I "come to love the protagonist" as much as the feeling of becoming absorbed, enticed, repulsed, and even hurt or violated by the protagonist and the the overall story itself. I think Errol Morris does this well in his IFC series First Person.

David

tricia referred to the devil movie...

Christopher

ah, i stand corrected...

tricia

David,

The "such" in AJ's writing, "such films are 'well-intentioned,'..." comes from John's writing "if an imaginary movie could cure cancer, the critic would, as a responsible HUMAN BEING have to give it a good review. And once you've admitted the fact that content can dictate your critique assessment of a film, you've admitted a lot."

The "mean-spirited 'criticism' leveled at a lot of perfectly decent films" comes immediately before "that don't happen to fit a particular critic's worldview, or biases."

Fancy editing on the part of AJ and a misconstruing of John's comment, so no, David, John Anderson doesn't illustrate AJ's initial points, without even understanding AJ's points.

However, I love your part about Vindetti's interviews (below). That's precisely what I saw too. Combined with the footage at youtube of the film, I felt Ed Douglas had hit something, but I really don't endorse his tastes, -- never have.

"Yes, I think Jennifer set up a few scenes, but I have reasons (she changes her story during different interviews), but so what? While preparing to film Billy, she had designed certain scenes in which she wanted Billy to participate, but when she began filming she realized those scenes were unnecessary. Still, she asked him to participate in certain scenes, but so what. It's still documentary. She once said that, "I never once had anyone repeat a scene." Later in another interview she admitted to "asking the men to clap" for Billy, only because the cameraperson didn't film that scene. It's still documentary. It's a version of truth, because it happened. And if it didn't happen, well then the person who created the scene was smart to add it for entertainment purposes as well as illustrating how Billy can't distinguish between compliments, harrassment, receiving approval, and/or reward."

AJ Schnack

Point of clarification. Some have wondered whether the person posting above might be Tricia Regan, the director of AUTISM: THE MUSICAL, with whom I have been having a spirited debate online regarding the Oscar Shortlist.

I just want to make clear that Tricia Regan has not commented on this post and has always signed her full name to any comments that she has left on this blog.

Pamela

AJ, critics are like teachers, those that can't do, criticize. Simply can't wrap their pointy little heads around the stellar work that's being done in nonfiction, pure and simple. Artists like you and JV and others will lead the way out of the darkness of the derivative, yes? Yes!

Pxx
Feel better soon. :)

Arne

This seems like one of those arguments happening in proxy with someone who's not a very good proxy. I'm not sure John Anderson would be super psyched by his defense in Tricia's hands above. Considering the only review she could dig up attacking Venditti was a post on a blog that doubtless is read mostly by Tricia and that was filled with grammatical errors and confusion seems like not the best ally to have.

As I mentioned in another comment on this blog, I did an article in Filmmaker magazine about the slippery nature of documentary truth where I interviewed Ms Venditti pretty extensively about Anderson's review and also her intentions with the film. I'm not sure what references the above posters are making to interviews where she says she sets scenes up (you really should source an incendiary remark like that) but she never said anything to me about that except for the clapping moment. In addition, in Anderson's review he attacks her for laying false claim to verite filmmaking, and the irony here is that technically, as AJ pointed out in his other blog on this topic, verite filmmaking involves the filmmaker with their subject. As differentiated from Direct Cinema. This attack alone from Mr. Anderson shows how he and other critics are still struggling with how to talk about docs. It's not a new struggle--Albert Maysles is still smarting over Pauline Kael's evisceration of "Gimme Shelter" with many of the same critical issues. She assumed that because she felt something going on in a film that it was going on, without giving any actual evidence. Anderson similarly thinks he can see behind the camera, but the only example he gives in his review of her distorting reality is that she edited down an 8 hour scene into a 5 minute one. Yikes. Is there any doc-maker who hasn't done that?

Anderson is perfectly welcome to attack any film he likes, and even to question a documentary's ethical structure--I was once a film critic and I have done the same. But I suggest he learn more about the history of documentary, which after all began with a complete fabrication ("Nanook of the North") before he starts assuming there's a set of rules he can use to make that attack.

jennifer Venditti

Okay i can't take it anymore it's time i just tell you all...... BILLY THE KID is not a DOCUMENTARY!!!! The whole thing is fake and you all fell for it except john Anderson and tricia of course.
Phew i feel so much better... Maybe now the conversation can move on to something more interesting.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE.
jennifer venditti (aka the exploitative filmmaker)

P.S. don't tell anyone

Anonymous

Quick note on BILLY:

The documentarian has left out a big piece of Billy's persona in high school- he was very violent.

He attacked numerous students and told many others that he was going to kill them. Billy isn't the harmless and misunderstood sage that the director makes him out to be.

I went to the same high school.

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