They’re Us — We’re Them and They’re Us: Film Critics

Owen GleibermanI am never surprised to find another film critic who hates films. Our newest example: Owen Gleiberman — currently film “critic” at Variety but once the film “critic” at Entertainment. It was there back in 1990 that they gave the remake of Night of the Living Dead a “grade” of D+.

Before I get into it, note how arrogant it is for film critics — people who usually know next to nothing about the mechanics of making a film — treating filmmakers as though they were school children. “Well, I’ll give you a B+, Cindy. But Johnny, you clearly didn’t do your homework so I’m giving you a C-!” Pathetic.

Gleiberman’s “Review”

Gleiberman’s entire review is two paragraphs — not even 250 words. And it doesn’t criticize the film! It criticizes Romero’s decision to make it. And as such, it is a perfect example of what I see all the time: the “I wasn’t gonna like this film going in!” review. And that’s fine by me. I’ve never learned a thing from these pretend film critics. But they poison whole oceans of film-goers.

I’m not sure what it is people like Gleiberman think they are doing. Justifying a paycheck? What’s clear is that they don’t love film. And their reviews say everything about them and nothing about the films.

Gleiberman Doesn’t Need to Get His Facts Straight

What really struck me was the end of his review:

By the time one of the characters turns to the camera [Uh, no. -FM] and says of the ghouls, “They’re us — we’re them and they’re us” (Isn’t it about time Romero stopped milking that line?), you want to return to the land of the living.

Really? I’m no Romero expert. I’ve never held the original Night of the Living Dead in such high respect because I had been so terrified by The Last Man on Earth years before I saw it. But I do know his films as well as anyone who likes the genre. (Something Gleiberman probably doesn’t share with me.)

In Dawn of the Dead, Peter says, “They’re us, that’s all; there’s no more room in hell.” Here it is:

And in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the line obviously alludes to Dawn of the Dead. But it’s quite different, “They’re us! We’re them and they’re us!” As you can see it is said in a totally different context:

Gleiberman Want’s Meaning — But Can’t See It

Keep this in mind when you read what Owen Gleiberman had to say about the original and remake:

The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck.

I’ve always found the ending of the original as too facile. Thematically, the remake is much stronger. And that scene was not the one that made it so powerful. The chilling, horrifying line is, “That’s another one for the fire.” If it doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead.

Gleiberman Was Wrong — But Who Cares?

But note: Gleiberman is wrong: Romero didn’t over-use that line. Gleiberman was just so determined to dump all over the remake that he had to make up something to criticize. And in doing so, he completely missed the deep thematic elements of the film.

It’s too bad that film critics can’t be sued for malpractice.

Afterword

I don’t mean to be too hard on Owen Gleiberman. The truth is that looking at his work generally, we share much. But his review of Night of the Living Dead (1990) is an occupational hazard. I’m sure he’s only seen the film once. I’ve seen it a dozen times. I allow myself to sit with films and not rush to judgment. I can hate a film the first time and “get it” the third. So I don’t have to act like Roger Ebert, who spent decades justifying his hatred of Blue Velvet simply because he couldn’t admit that his first review was all about him. And he was wrong. So was Gleiberman. But he’ll never rethink this film. He’s probably more convinced of his perfection than ever.

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