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March 15, 2006


Jason Scott

I think it depends on what I call the "poison food" vs. "poorly done food" writing style.

When people talk about a restaurant, they might not like how the food was arranged. They might not like burgers, or Indian doesn't do it for them, or so on. Maybe they don't like the decor or the personalities. All of this is subjective, but hopefully anyone hearing it from the non-plussed patron realizes that. "Oh god, another Adam Sandler movie, I hate Adam Sandler" - obviously Adam Sandler could be in frigging Platoon and this person will never give it an even break. That's "poorly-done food".

"Poison food" is where the reviewer actually indicates there's something mistrustable or dangerous about the film. Or, in another sense, claims the film was done in a style or methodology that is not true. For example, Denby indicates, either by insinuation or direct statement, that Jarecki's film uses stock footage. Since Jarecki is stating, clearly, that things Denby classified as "stock" (i.e. purchased and off the shelf") were, in fact, not stock and in fact original and shot at great risk by the cinematographers, I understand he has to stand up and say, clearly, "Denby is misleading the audience as to what was done here."

I read negative reviews of Gigantic; I recall one who was perplexed as to why anyone would want to do a film on They Might Be Giants. "Poorly-made food." Personally, I hate watching Sarah Vowell; I had no idea who she was before your film and based on her appearances in Gigantic, I can't stand the sight or sound of her. Poison? No. Just not an ingredient I would use.

I think if people stated something about your film that was inaccurate or misleading to the readers, like implying you were hired by TMBG's record company to make the film, or that John & John approved the final cut and removed footage they didn't approve of, or otherwise implied production aspects that were simply inaccurate, you would have every right to stand up and criticize them, and in fact a duty to.

Anything where it's just a case of not liking the subject matter or style, that's just people spouting off, which is basically what reviewers are paid to do.

By the way, I'm the guy who stood up at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and launched into one of those Fanboy declarations, which you've mentioned happened at a lot of showings. It was a peak of my fanboy life.

AJ Schnack

Hey Jason,

I think your points are basically correct. Saying "I don't like x or y", or "the cinematography didn't move me" or "it felt like such and such actor was miscast" - these are all a part of the film critic's job.

I don't inherently dislike bad or mixed reviews - one of my favorite reviews of Gigantic was extremely mixed, but I felt that the reviewer really understood what I was going for and that all of his critiques were intelligent and worthwhile. Another person criticized me for not including something that was actually in the film (maybe they were in the bathroom or playing computer solitaire at the time), and that, well, kind of pissed me off.

I think the review you mentioned was in the Boston Phoenix, where a music critic reviewed the film. This was always our worst nightmare, because many music critics dismissed TMBG sometime after Nirvana arrived on the scene. They were geeky or nerdy or quirky or inconsequential. How dare you tell us they deserve 100 minutes of screen time (one criticism of the film I agree with is that we could have cut 5-10 minutes from the film) and a generally praising assessment of their contributions to art and music?

Blogging and the internet makes us all much more interconnected. I write an article about multi-millionaire Mark Cuban and suddenly there he is, on my blog, responding to it. But there's still a question as to when artists (if I may be so bold) respond to critics. I thought Jarecki was correct to do what he did (especially when asked). I'm not sure where that line exists for me.

(I feel that I should say that the vast majority of reviews for Gigantic were positive - as our Rotten Tomatoes rating- http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/gigantic_a_tale_of_two_johns/ - will attest.)

As for Sarah Vowell, what can I say. I loved her. Loved her the second she walked into the interview room, loved everything she said, couldn't get enough of her. But yeah, that's me. I can understand she might be a specialized taste to some, but I, repeating here, loved her.

That MFA-Boston night was really special. Glad to see John and John get that response in such an august setting (and in their home "town") with their parent's there. Truly a highlight of my Gigantic experience.

Thanks for writing,

Jason Scott


Speaking of the power of technology/stuff these days, I took your film, put it on my editing station, and took out Ms. Vowell. That's my private Jason-likes-it copy, which I play for myself.

My own film (bbsdocumentary.com) is Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike, and I get letters from teachers and others who take swaths of the film, cut out the profanity, and show it to kids, or remix just the parts their friends would want. It's all neat, this stuff.

Personally, I thought your film wasn't too long, but I really really really like the subject. That's always a classic balance, going between people who never heard of the band and people who had heard everything. I think the way you put all the "extra stuff" on the DVD totally made the right balance; seeing the videos and extra footage for us insane fans and then you're not fighting yourself about what gets in the "main" film. I think it's going to get more like this than less, in the future.

I forget where the review I saw was, but it was the one bitching about mentioning their coffee. Ha!

Anyway, great to hear of this new project of yours. Very exciting and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Or see it with you in the room!

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