These summer perennials are coming again. Movies, both good and bad, find their way back into theaters year after year, onto small screens and deep into stockings that are still stuffed with digital discs.
Grinch: There will be no Christmas. A Christmas Story. Love, actually. It’s a wonderful lifeOf course. Carolto infinity. Nutcracker After Nutcracker After Nutcracker.
My personal favorite, released 19 years ago on November 10, 2004 by Warner Bros., is The Polar Express from technophile director Robert Zemeckis (whose latest, Hereis coming).
This is not a sentimental choice, at least not in the conventional sense. Except every time this photo appears – and his seasonal DVDs hang merrily on the Internet, from Amazon to Target – it reminds me of an important life lesson. This is: It’s much easier not to be an editor, especially in New York Times.
When Zemeckis’ Christmas tale was released – starring Tom Hanks in a pioneering mix of live action and digital animation – I was entering my third month as a film editor Times. This was a new position, part of a since-changed policy that aimed to put battle-hardened “experts” in charge of specific cultural areas such as film, television, books and theater.
I suppose what qualified me as an expert was largely an unsuccessful nine-year tour as a potential film producer and a dozen years of reporting on Hollywood for too many publications. I was nearby.
But I wasn’t here long enough to realize that New York Timesregardless of what they say in the job description – “You will responsible film report” – no one is (or at least was not then) responsible for anything. Rather, all these ambitious and talented people in Timeswith overlapping titles and responsibilities, they find themselves caught up in a tenuous political web that somehow spreads the news (mostly) and leaves almost everyone involved at least a little unhappy.
The upside is that by then I had more or less figured it out The Polar Express he faced the respected co-chair of film criticism Manohla Dargis, who was also fairly new to the paper at the time.
In short, Manohli didn’t like this movie. Meaning, Really I didn’t like it. She wrote that the photo was a “serious and disappointing failure”. He was tormented by the “incredible apathy” of the characters’ faces. The workshop at the North Pole looked like a “munitions factory.” Santa’s grand entrance in front of the elves, Dargis said, recalled “albeit unconsciously one of Hitler’s entrances to the Nuremberg Rally in the house of Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the will”
This is quite a rough one. But on the way Times, it wasn’t my problem, or even that of the other editor who handled the copy. Critics are entitled to their opinions. Almost.
Things came to a halt at the end of the long second paragraph, in which Manohla compared Santa’s big bag of toys to, yes, “a floating scrotum.”
I don’t know how it works now, but it did back then Times he had a deadly prohibition against unnecessary vulgarity. And honestly, I wasn’t a fan of the anatomical references. But my job, as it turned out, was to make sure that the criticism was protected in terms of word choice.
Which, delving into scrum, I did, or more accurately, helped make (there couldn’t have been less than six or seven editors involved). Explaining why we needed a reference to glands in a review of a G-rated kids’ movie wasn’t easy, especially since I figured an oversized walnut or something similar would also work.
But I was in favor of it, and somehow the written review prevailed, much to the disappointment of Warner’s publicity staff, which was understandable. He was helped to some extent by another Dave Kehr Times writer, had written a long, compassionate article about the painting a few weeks earlier. As any bruised publicist knows, you win some, you lose some.
Anyway, I’ve never tried to police critics. I’m not that stupid. Moreover, I fiercely defended Manohla when a famous film producer cornered me at lunch and tried to suggest that Dargis, with her often salty opinions, was “bad for the industry.” Maybe for the film industry. In the case of a newspaper, not at all.
But this event left me with a certain soft spot The Polar Express. The photo opened well enough, despite the floating genitalia, and was re-released year after year, at least through 2010.
And every time it comes out – the DVD is currently $9.99 at Walmart – it brings back bittersweet memories of lessons learned and holidays past.