Every now and then I hear from one of my enemies. It comes with the internet spotlight. You’re probably doing something wrong if you’re not rubbing someone the wrong way. I don’t like to engage in tit-for-tat uglies with people of this sort, but I was seized this morning by a foolish impulse to try and explain my side of things. Here’s how some of it went:
“I’ve merely adopted the posture of an occasional provocateur (which I’ve been all my life but have amplified to some extent as a columnist), and you’ve taken little dribs and drabs of my considerable output over the last 20 and 1/2 years and responded by screeching and howling like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
“Yes, I have an innate tendency to push the envelope from time to time — prod, provoke, get a reaction. But that’s ‘the brand’. I generate reams of copy every day, and a few shards have spilled over into realms that some have found offensive, because I can sound a bit rash at times and am, by and large, like most people on this planet, an imperfect, occasionally intemperate person. But I always try to take a couple of steps back the next morning and clean up the copy. Or delete a poorly-worded tweet. I hate sloppy prose. I always try to prune and hone. I value insight and despise inexactitude.
“When I say ‘some’ I mean your Stalinist p.c. snowflake types who correctly believe that career-killing is an appropriate response to criminals like Harvey Weinstein but who have also become p.c. Holy Enzyme Crusaders or, you know, advocates of “woke” McCarthyism.
“Outside of persons like yourself, the vast majority of readers have shrugged off whatever disagreements or reservations they might have with some of my views because they like the writing and the energy. I’ve been writing a column for 21 and 1/2 years now, 14 and 1/2 of them under the Hollywood Elsewhere banner, and always supported by studio ads (and to a lesser extent by HE Plus). Year after year and decade after decade I’ve stood up for the finest, bravest, most emotionally affecting films all my life. I’ve disparaged megaplex crap all my life. I’ve tried to support and occasionally bond with the best filmmakers, and adopt a comme ci comme ca attitude with those who are mainly in it for the juice and the income.
“As you know, writing is a blend of three things: (a) confessional, deep-rooted self-expression by way of convictions, insights, suspicions, arias, resentments and whatnot; (b) clarity of mind, discipline, determination and professional-level craft — all of which takes years to fuse into an instrument of finesse and persuasion; and (c) in my case a form of literary “performance art”…a personality that I’m half-“playing” in a certain sense, a literary character who doesn’t necessarily emerge in a personal day-to-day realm but who comes alive while writing.
“I’m not saying I don’t write what I believe (nothing I write would ‘land’ if I didn’t) but there’s nonetheless a certain theatrical element…a ‘crank it up a notch or two, put on a good show and leave them ignited’ mindset that blends with core convictions and beliefs.
“Ask any strong writer or performer or stand-up comedian. This is the process. Have I occasionally stumbled into a clumsy expression regarding this or that opinion, feeling, memory or observation?. Yeah, now and then. I may or may not have the God-given talent to write with cricket bats **. But it comes together nicely for the most part.
“I’ve built a small business that provides a living. I work hard. I put in long hours. I’m married and in love, and I work at our marriage every day. I have two sons (one of whom cares deeply for me and vice versa). I have two cats, a rumblehog scooter, a car, a big 4K TV. I live a ‘nice’ life in many respects (the travel and the Bruno Magli lace-ups are great) but I own no home or terra firma property. My late parents were good middle-class people. (My dad was an alcoholic for a few decades then went into AA.) I’ve been sober since 3.20.12. My brother died of an apparently accidental combo or Oxycontin and alcohol. My sister was schizophrenic and died of cancer in ’08.
“Tennessee Williams said we’re all on a “dark march” to oblivion, but we’re all obliged to light torches and beam flashlights along the way. In my own curious way, this is what I’ve tried to do all my life — light torches, shine flashlights, point out the bullshit, cheer the great films and deplore the denigration and coarsening of American culture, etc.
** Jeremy Irons‘ “Henry” character in Tom Stoppard‘s The Real Thing: “This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel 200 yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock, like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly [he clucks his tongue to make the noise]. What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel.”
Henry then gives a wickedly funny impression of the fledgling playwright Brodie with a lump of wood “trying to be a cricket bat. “And if you hit a ball with it,” he adds, “the ball will travel about 10 feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting, ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck in your armpits.” Because, Irons is saying, the man can’t write. He hasn’t the talent. He can’t write cricket bats.”