Richard Walter on “The Scandal in My Life”

The scandal in my life is that I don’t go out to the movies that often, and watch precious little TV. Hey, I already have tenure. I shouldn’t have to endure any more boring movies and meretricious (look it up) TV fare.

During the awards season, however, the studios send me oodles of screeners. At my house we watched The Master and found it for the most part dreadful. Two things about it were clear as light: 1) Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is among the most atrocious I’ve ever seen and, 2) he would be nominated for a best-actor Oscar. Too many people think that characters screaming and ad-libbing, rolling around in their own sweat and vomit and breaking things constitute great acting. To the contrary, as the late, great actor Anne Bancroft said years ago, acting crazy is easy. It’s playing sane that’s hard. Phoenix’s self-conscious, make-it-up-as-you-go-along performance is in a dark sense simply perfect for P.T. Anderson’s self-conscious, make-it-up-as-you-go-along movie. I just have three things to say about it: oi, oi, oi.

Wretched and dreadful in the same way is the highly over-praised Silver Linings Playbook. Again, endless screaming, yelling, gasping, grasping. As in the above trashed The Master, it appears the actors get a bonus, like stunt check, for every time they use the F word.

Full disclosure: many people whom I love and respect absolutely treasure these two movies. That said, I strongly suspect that many people pretend to like these films when in fact they do not. They don’t want to seem out of it. They don’t want to appear to be un-hip. I was the same way scores of years ago when I pretended to like many films of the so-called French New Wave. Here and there might have been a reasonably worthy effort—for example one or another of Francois Truffaut’s movies—but for the most part there was nothing but self-indulgent narcissistic claptrap.

It has been my privilege to travel the nation and the world and give people the opportunity to acknowledge that they’ve been pretending to like films that in fact they loathed.

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