Movie Review: Dreams with Sharp Teeth (2008)


IMDb URL: Dreams with Sharp Teeth
 
Trailer URL: Trailer
 
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Posted February 4, 2011 by

This is my first review of a film that I first saw on Netflix, rather than in a theater or on a DVD, and I have to say the service is something of a revolution in how one watches film; or, to be more accurate, in WHAT one watches, for had it not been for the recommendations links the website provides, based upon earlier choices of viewed material, I would likely not have had any knowledge nor interest in seeking out the title I ended up reviewing.

That title would be producer and director Erik Nelson’s 2008 documentary on science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. It’s one of seemingly countless documentaries made on minor practitioners of art with pretensions to lasting depth and permanence. The fact is that, despite the film’s claims of his being amongst the greatest of 20th Century writers, as well as his lauding within the sci fi industry, Ellison is not a creator of real ‘art,’ much less literature of a lasting value. The man has written some well known teleplays, a couple thousand published short stories, and edited some influential anthologies within the genre, but even his most ardent supporters will tell you his few attempts at writing a novel have failed. That’s because, like most sci fi writers (see Philip K. Dick), his ideas for potential stories far outpace his writerly talent and skill to execute those stories to their fullest. Like most genre writers, his tales are high on concept and mechanics but short on depth and characterization; and, the fact that he’s never published a successful novel (artistically) leaves him decidedly short in the genre vs. the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, or even older masters like Olaf Stapledon or A.E. Van Vogt, who each have some works that their champions can legitimately posit as having merit outside the genre.

Nonetheless, Dreams With Sharp Teeth ignores these realities, and is intent on being a mere hagiography; albeit an odd one, as it seems more content in glorifying Ellison’s familiar schtick of being an in your face persona rather than actually dealing with his writing, pro or con. What little the film does spend on his writing is mainly in self-reflexive clips where Ellison reads quotes from well known short stories while special effects play out behind his own image. But, the actual words that Ellison reads point out more of his flaws, than strengths, as a writer, as the passages are tinged with occasional banalities, while being mired in overwrought metaphors and strained similes. It’s as if describing something over and again is seen as depth, rather than lauding actually describing something aptly. Or even letting the characterization take hold.

Apparently, Nelson spent three decades culling together this documentary, being granted access to Ellison at work when he was a college student, and following him since. Yet, despite a brief bit about Ellison writing a story in a bookstore window, we see and hear almost nothing of the creative process. It always galls me that documentaries on creative people elide the very thing that makes the documentary maker want to film his subject: The creative process. The film has the usual talking head celebrities, like comic Robin Williams, comic book writer Neil Gaiman, and sci fi writer Dan Simmons, but even the latter two stumble at trying to state why Ellison should be the center of such a film. The man himself can do little but pass off trite bon mots as wisdom.

Nonetheless, Ellison, despite his artistic shortcomings, is an entertaining figure . . . for about 20 minutes; not the film’s whole 96 minutes. He simply has little of depth to say: He does not like this, he does not like that, he revels in tales of his supposed bravado with fans, studio executives, and other writers, but we have all known people like this, and they are bores, and boors. The only reason no one seems to tell this to Ellison is because, well, he’s rich and famous, and pointing this out to someone rich and famous is decidedly un-American. Or so it seems. What this film does not do is inspire any younger writers to rush out and read Ellison’s work. Rather they will see a documentary that rewards Ellison not for his claimed talents and output, but for his assholic persona, which again reinforces the idea that writers and artists are really egomaniacal jackasses who feel, and deservedly so, that they can treat the rest of the world like shit. It also plays in to the current zeitgeist that, to be a celebrity, means one must de facto be an empty vessel some anonymous viewer can pour their dreams and frailties into.

There are some passages that try to mine Freudian (or Jungian) depths by portraying Ellison as a childhood victim, but this fails since the reality is that he has lived a rather charmed life (a point he even admits, thus obviating one of the film’s main pillars), despite being a short Jew with a big mouth. Yes, he was picked on, and failed with women (many of them after becoming famed), and had to work many menial jobs. So what? That’s life, and to his credit Ellison realizes this. Nelson and the film do not. Perhaps the worst instance of Ellison’s bloviating stupidity comes not when he regales viewers with sensationalized exploits with celebrities, but when he pontificates on about unpublished writers writing for ‘free’ online, and that this somehow undermines the work of ‘professionals’ like himself. Of course, someone who was published decades before the Internet wholly changed the equation of what writing is economically worth cannot understand such a paradigm shift, and his rail comes off showing him as hopelessly outdated, petty, and self-serving; not exactly laudable traits. There’s not a moment in the film where the interviewer actually pushes Ellison to cogitate deeply on things, content as it is to let him just add to his aborning legendry, rather than probe why his work might last long after he is deceased. On a technical level, the film does little to elevate itself from other documentaries, as the cinematography, by Wes Dorman, and music, by Richard Thompson, are of an off the rack nature.

To succeed, as a stand alone work of art, a documentary must a) tell a story of a significant enough nature (about an individual, event, or those things’ place in history- see Capturing The Friedmans), b) tell a lesser story in an innovative enough way (see The Kid Stays In The Picture) to make the lesser story seem significant, or c) do both. Dreams With Sharp Teeth, unfortunately, does neither, and it’s little wonder that, outside the small pond of sci fi, Ellison’s writing has, in its seventh decade in print, left little exterior impact. Therefore, I can state that while I found the film interesting, in small doses, it’s not the sort of thing anyone should go out of their way to see, but if you stumble upon it, on an afternoon with nothing much to do, it’s an okay thing to view. Thus, it’s the almost perfect sort of material for Netflix. If anything of Ellison is remembered in a few centuries, it may likely only be this film, in some large archive of formerly important subjects for anthropological purposes, for, as a film, and as an exploration of an artist, it fails. Here’s hoping director Nelson’s next three decades are a bit more rewarding, to him and us.

Critical Movie Critics Rating: 3 Star Rating: Average



23 Comments


  1. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    I think you saw a different movie…

    The brief extracts of Ellison reading show an enormous range in his writing styles and subject matter, and at least one of the extracts contains spot-on characterisation in both writing and performance.

    One of Ellison’s stories (‘”Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’) is said to be one of the most anthologised tales in the English language. Not the kind of thing one would expect of a writer of dubious current value or longevity.

    (Speaking of quality writers, what exactly does this sentence mean:

    “It’s as if describing something over and again is seen as depth, rather than lauding actually describing something aptly.”

    I think we speak a different language…)

    The film also has a range of people talking about how Ellison inspired their writing or their life. If this isn’t enough to encourage schoolkids to be inspired, I don’t know what is.

    Quite a few successful playwrights have never written a novel. Quite a few successful screenwriters have never written a novel. Quite a few successful poets have never written a novel. Being a writer does not equate to being a novelist.

    Very few writers have been honoured by their peers in science fiction AND fantasy AND horror AND mystery writing AND screenwriting AND journalism. Ellison has. Multiple times. (You do know that he was also nominated for a Grammy for his reading of Lewis Carroll, don’t you?)

    I agree that the film has hagiographic elements, but these are countered by the negative sides of Ellison which are represented. It’s not exactly a warts-and-all portrayal, but nor does it claim that there are no warts.

    I see the film as providing a remarkable amount of background detail to a character who most people – if they have heard of him at all – know only as that guy who wrote for Star Trek. If, from this, they learn of his other achievements, it will have served its purpose. However, I think the film does more than this.




  2. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Richard

    I’m confused – are you reviewing the documentary as a film, or Ellison as an author?

    To be honest, you sound a lot less objective than a trustworthy reviewer should be (if “Ellison’s bloviating stupidity” isn’t an ad hominum attack on the subject of the documentary versus critiquing the film then I don’t know what is). You come off as someone with an axe to grind against Ellison who simply. can’t. help. himself. And wants to use his pulpit (such as thecriticalcritics.com is) for that purpose.

    Obviously, you’ve read SF, given that you can rattle off the names of the greats; but your assertion that only writing a novel equates to the creation of “art” is somewhat asinine. Point to Poe’s novel. Or Borges’. Or Shakespeare’s, for that matter. This isn’t to say Ellison operates at this level, but to say he’s never written anything of literary merit is disingenuous. (Go look it up. I’ll wait.)

    Rather, methinks your slip is showing, Dan. There’s a clear personal Ellison dislike in you that becomes a bias in your review that you cannot separate. As such, you undermine any point you wanted to make about the documentary because you come off as having an agenda, to whit, to stick knives in someone you personally find distasteful.

    Or you’re hoping to poke the bear with a stick and get him to perform here for your readers. It’s clear you know enough about his reputation to try that tactic to lend legitimacy to your own middling work. Really, this whole exercise reads like you want to make your bones through the age-old refuge of the talentless: character assassination.

    Either way, I’d say the quality of the review you turned out about equals your opinion on the film itself. Maybe a turd more.




  3. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    In the opening salvos it becomes patently obvious why this review fails to impress: it makes light of the great body of work Harlan Ellison has produced (as though “writing ‘some’ teleplays and ‘a couple thousand’ short stories was something everyone did all the time, ain’t nothin’ special) and then put paid to the damnation with the ever-cited indictment:

    HARLAN ELLISON HAS NEVER WRITTEN A NOVEL.

    And what is ‘Spider Kiss’ … chopped liver?

    Of course, ‘Spider Kiss’ is not SF, and everyone knows that Harlan Ellison is an SF writer.

    It’s been in all the papers, bubie!

    And I don’t know what it takes to showcase ‘the creative process’, but there were plenty of signposts for those who weren’t getting hung up and the fact that Harlan Ellison seems to act, to some, like a big little boy who didn’t learn how to stop acting out when he grew up. What about the tour of his office? The quotes he pins up? The fact that he works on a manual typewriter … why, these may be mere trifles to someone who isn’t impressed with the man, but to the patient and insghtful, these are all indictations, inferences, to how his creative process runs.

    A ‘creative process’ isn’t a road map you get and the Chamber of Commerce. But since Harlan didn’t lay one out for us, he’s not an artist of note.

    For this metric, I care not. I do not find it as fair and thoroughgoing as it thinks it is.

    The fact that Harlan’s story “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” was published in the 1993 edition of “The Best American Short Stories” – a work, one would imagine, intended to last as a sort of record – does not qualify as lasting art is a singularly peculiar point to me as well.

    Of course, saying such a thing in response to what Harlan “hasn’t done” is a bit like saying “oh yeah?” to the atrociously shallow assay of Ellison’s oeurve, but the table was set before me as such. And this is without reference to the obvious pinnacle achievements that are usually cited – an exercise left to the reader.

    In short, the indictment of the review seems to describe the review, as well as the reviewed. The review saw the point – and missed it by a mile.




  4. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Phil: Ellison’s readings are all as I described: ‘tinged with occasional banalities, while being mired in overwrought metaphors and strained similes.’

    You mistake popularity and awards with quality; this is the appeal to authority fallacy. And we do speak a different language- I was specific, pointed, and accurate in why Ellison is not nearly as good as his champions claim. You took this- ‘I like Harlan Ellison’- and stretched it to 11 paragraphs. All the talking heads speak of their fondness for Ellison and/or in wide brushstrokes; not a one can distill a claim for greatness in writing. That says alot: that they are fanboys, not critics of depth.

    Richard: An honest critic does not shy away from the obvious- that Ellison is a bloviator. To deny that, and that it’s a honed persona (a schtick) would be ludicrous.

    My only ax is that the film is a not so good film about a not so good writer/artist, and there are too many of them already.

    ‘your assertion that only writing a novel equates to the creation of “art” is somewhat asinine. Point to Poe’s novel. Or Borges’. Or Shakespeare’s, for that matter. This isn’t to say Ellison operates at this level, but to say he’s never written anything of literary merit is disingenuous. (Go look it up. I’ll wait.)’

    Now you have built a straw man (hit enter in your Google field), for he is what I wrote: ‘the fact that he’s never published a successful novel (artistically) leaves him decidedly short in the genre vs. the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, or even older masters like Olaf Stapledon or A.E. Van Vogt, who each have some works that their champions can legitimately posit as having merit outside the genre.’

    Again, I am specific as to his shortcoming. I never asserted ‘that only writing a novel equates to the creation of “art”,’ you did, and you are arguing with yourself.

    I knew nothing of Ellison personally before this film, save the few dozen stories I’ve read over 30 or so years. Again, you are imbuing because you are likely another ‘fanboy’ upset that someone else did not adhere to your viewpoint. Get over it.

    And, given what was displayed in the film, I doubt Ellison would present much more of a challenge to brush off than you have.

    Achoo!




  5. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Sam: You make 3 who cannot read.

    I wrote: ‘the fact that he’s never published a successful novel (artistically) leaves him decidedly short in the genre vs. the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, or even older masters like Olaf Stapledon or A.E. Van Vogt’

    You claimed I wrote: ‘HARLAN ELLISON HAS NEVER WRITTEN A NOVEL.’

    Perhaps while arguing with yourself you’ll find yourself in agreement with Richard’s self; and you’ll make as little sense as his self.

    And more with the appeal to authority; great dialectic!

    Three outs = the change of an inning. Send someone up who can actually read before the 7th inning stretch.




  6. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Dan:

    No, I read it just fine. If you want to play legalistic games with verbiage, there’s nothing I can do anything about, but my own words do not accuse you of saying HARLAN ELLISON NEVER WROTE A NOVEL. Your rather superficial treatment of Ellison’s body of work does, however reduce down to that.

    Ellison has written two novels. They are called “Spider Kiss” and “Web of the City”. I recommend them to you. They are uneven in places – and “Spider Kiss” is something of a roman-a-clef, but they showcase a raw, young, hungry writer still finding his way and full of passion – well before he began to be pigeonholed as an SF writer.

    And unlike you towards me, I will give you credit for reading my answer. I will, however, not give you the credit for getting the point.

    About the only other thing I feel like saying about your review is that in accusing your commenters of superficiality and appeals to authority as a riposte is rather unfair, in as much as by citing authors who have succeeded in writing acclaimed novels you are, in fact, doing the same thing – therefore, it’s okay for you, but not for anyone who disagrees.

    Good luck to you, sirrah.




  7. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    We can all read what your wrote, Mr Schneider. In your response to comments you quickly descend into name- calling, which is usually the last resort in a bad argument rather than the first.

    To cite Ellison’s awards is not to make an argument from authority. (If I were to say “I am a university professor, so I know best,” THAT would be an argument from authority.) On the contrary, to cite awards given by HIS PEERS is to show indicators of esteem – the very esteem you claim Ellison has none of.

    Thankyou for dismissing my well-reasoned, factually based first comment as “I like Ellison”. THAT, Mr Schneider, was an example of someone who cannot read.

    P.S. You still haven’t explained what this nonsense sentence means:

    “It’s as if describing something over and again is seen as depth, rather than lauding actually describing something aptly.”

    P.P.S. I am just departing for a major international academic conference to present a paper on the work of Harlan Ellison. Not an argument from authority, but a statement of fact. Ellison is going to be receiving an award at the conferene, for lifetime achievement in literature.




  8. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Dan –

    Then allow me to make #4 who cannot read. Your critique begins with a poor supposition regarding why this is your subject matter — you seem to have “lucked” into this film and reviewed it without any understanding of the subject matter, and also with what appears to be an ax to grind with the director. And, in fact, your responses — some might read “retorts”– to the above comments reaffirm the view that it’s not about the film, it’s about you.

    As a “review” this is poorly written and executed. As a “critique” it should be read with an appreciation of YOUR intent, not the filmmaker’s. As an aspiring reviewer you ought to appreciate more than just your own axes to grind, and try to review things from an objective position.

    And as far as the writing goes, you probably should pick up a dusty copy of one of Harlan Ellison’s books about entertainment criticism — it might help hone those skills.

    Otherwise, the above is nothing more than an exercise in the very sort of egotism you aspire to deflate.

    Game, set, and match.




  9. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Steve, indeed #4; you and yours keep imputing motives not there. What ax have I to grind? You have the ax, and that is blinkered devotion to a subject that you have little understanding of: real creativity, much less being able to expound on why Ellison is good, save that you say so, you like it, and ‘Nyah, nyah, nyah.’ Not a one of you has actually rebutted my pointed comments on Ellison’s writings, and I have read a few dozen stories.

    My comparison to P.K. Dick is apt, although Ellison is probably a better wordsmith; but nowhere near a great one.

    The review’s excellence is immanent, but reinforced by the utter slack-jawed responses fanboys can muster in the face of actual points. But, feel free to pleasure yourself as you will.

    It’s the second inning, and yet a crack of the bat to be heard. But, I’ll keep being Nolan Ryan to you Mario Mendozas as long as you swing.




  10. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Calvinball

    Steve, you don’t engage a single one of Dan’s actual points in the review. You see “I don’t like Harlan Ellison” where he gave specific critiques of the man’s writings and somehow equate this as an ax that he had to grind. Here’s a thought: Dan has said that he has read several dozen of Ellison’s short stories; why don’t you recommend him some of the ones that YOU think are the best and let him tell you about them.

    As to the rest: look at his website. He is not an ‘aspiring reviewer,’ he has done hundreds of reviews of literature and film where he has proven himself one of the best and most objective critics out there, if not the absolute best. Indeed, how you get ANY sort of egotism on Dan’s part, where every single critique that he has made has been specific to the film and its subject, is beyond me.




  11. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Calvinball

    Sam: “…even his most ardent supporters will tell you his few attempts at writing a novel have failed” is a statement to the ARTISTIC success of Ellison’s novels, not his having successfully completed a few, i.e he falls short of the masters of the genre who DID write successful novels, and this lack of success is because his ideas for concepts and mechanics outstripped his actual literary prowess. If you want to argue his treatment of Ellison, argue that, not some fantastical argument about Dan thinking that you have to write a novel to be a great artist. He treats Ellison’s body of work superficially in the review because it’s a review of the film, not of Ellison, and therefore he must take for granted that readers will likely have come to a similar conclusion about the author as him. He does, however, makes specific his contentions with the man’s writings so that those who want to dispute him on the point that he is a minor artistic figure, qualitatively speaking, know exactly where his argument stands. Again, you folks are seeing egotism and hypocrisy where there is none.

    Phil: It as an appeal TO authority to point to publication and awards as proof of literary merit, i.e. because these so and so’s thought Ellison worthy, that makes the case! Not so. If you want to argue against Dan, argue against the things that he has actually said, i.e. his critiques of Ellison’s writing or the fallacies he calls out in your arguments. Pointing to awards and publications and honors is, to any real artist or critic, like trying to mesmerize an animal with a shiny object: a trick easily seen through as a shallow ploy. As for the sentence that you cannot understand: he is commenting on the phenomenon of people believing that over-describing something is writing of depth, rather than description that is sparing and to the point, a.k.a memorable. Perfectly plain English, especially for somebody who claims membership in the world of academia. Speaking of, your last point is an argument to AND from authority: because this conference is honoring Ellison, that means that he’s a successful writer, and because I’ve written a paper that I’m presenting, I know what I’m talking about (implicit in what you wrote, even if you try to deny it and claim that it’s not an appeal from authority to cover your tracks)! Committees and groups honor undeserving things all of the time because the people on awards committees (of all stripes) are, despite their best intentions, the same human animals that participate in uncritical groupthink, even if better-educated than most; there are HOW many undeserving Academy Award winners, again? Being an English major myself and having read (and written) PLENTY of academic work, I’ve seen firsthand that honor from academia is simultaneously a game of darts by unskilled players and a piece of pyrite: entirely random, and worthless when found.




  12. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Mariusz Zubrowski

    Why can’t any of my reviews be home to such intellectual whoop and holler?




  13. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Jeff Lampert

    Dan and Calvinball: First, review the full context of the sentence: “It’s one of seemingly countless documentaries made on minor practitioners of art with pretensions to lasting depth and permanence. The fact is that, despite the film’s claims…Ellison is not a creator of real ‘art,’ much less literature of a lasting value.”

    Dan’s Thesis: Ellison’s work is not real ‘art.’ Not “The evidence presented in this film fails to support the statement that Ellison’s work is art”, but (direct quote from Dan) “despite the film’s claims…Ellison is not a creator of real ‘art’.”

    So first of all, while this will (later in his original post) become a review of the movie, it appears to be, in the first few paragraphs, a complete assessment of Ellison’s art.

    In other words, I read this as “I’ve read Ellison before. The documentary is trying to claim that he does real art, but I know that he doesn’t. Why did they make a doc about him?”

    If this is *not* the case, and you mean, “I haven’t read Ellison. This doc isn’t convincing. From how the doc represents his stories, let me guess/speculate why I think he’s not so good,” then that’s okay by itself. However, a couple of sentences later, you strongly imply that you *have* read him…in which case this is either misleading or disingenuous, depending if it was intentional or unintentional. See below.

    Continuing where we left off: “The man has written some well known teleplays, a couple thousand published short stories, and edited some influential anthologies within the genre, but even his most ardent supporters will tell you his few attempts at writing a novel have failed.”

    Even if we were to assume the novel comment is true, what about the short stories and the teleplays? Are those not ‘real art…or literature of lasting value’? This is, like Poe, the main focus of his work. What about his copious essays? His seminal double-volume of media criticism, “The Glass Teat” and “The Other Glass Teat”?

    Dan immediately continues: “That’s because, like most sci fi writers (see Philip K. Dick), his ideas for potential stories far outpace his writerly talent and skill to execute those stories to their fullest.”

    This is the statement I alluded to earlier. You cannot make literary criticism on his work unless you’ve actually read it. So I’ll assume for now that you’ve read some of his works.

    BTW: Philip K Dick isn’t real ‘art’ either? Well, that’s a separate conversation, so I’ll leave this one go for now.

    Also, again, the way the previous sentences are strung together, it says “He’s not a real artist. He wrote many short stories, but not novels. This is because his talent isn’t up to it.” That says *nothing* about the merit of the short stories or anything else he’s written.

    Continuing where we left off: “Like most genre writers, his tales are high on concept and mechanics but short on depth and characterization”

    First, as Ellison would be the first to tell you – he’s NOT A SCIENCE-FICTION WRITER. Some of what he writes are science-fiction, some are magical realism (just in case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_realism), some are essays and critiques, etc. If they fall into a genre fine, if they don’t, fine. He’s not writing to fit into a genre.

    But for a moment, let’s just focus on strictly science-fiction, and even assume Dan is referring to the short stories as well. If so, Dan does not appear to have read anything Ellison’s written. It is true that there are definitely large swaths of genre-hacks and early pulp-era authors to which this statement certainly applies. In those cases, the focus is on the plot, the gizmo, the world-building, and not on the character or the human condition. Ellison is about as far from the former as possible. “Jeffty is Five,” “A Boy And His Dog,” “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”, for example (there are plenty more). Put them against any short stories by Asimov or Heinlein, and you’ll find more human drama and pain and loss and morality in there than either of those two authors, which Dan cites by comparison.

    (I love Asimov to death, but his focus was almost always on plot over characterization. Part of the appeal of the Mule in the Foundation series is that he’s the *only* one truly fleshed out character in the entire thing! If you want good characterization in the list Dan cited, choose Ray Bradbury)

    Continuing: “; and, the fact that he’s never published a successful novel (artistically)”

    There’s the word ‘novel’ again. Again, I say, what about the short stories, of which there are legion? (Refer to a prior poster’s comment regarding Poe as well)

    ” leaves him decidedly short in the genre vs. the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, or even older masters like Olaf Stapledon or A.E. Van Vogt, who each have some works that their champions can legitimately posit as having merit outside the genre.”

    Okay, so to clarify, Dan is specifically limiting this to science-fiction genre works. He’s looking specifically for works of art which have merit outside the genre.

    What does ‘have merit outside the genre’ and “(artistically)” mean? According to what criteria?

    a) Appeal to Authority? Phil listed Ellison’s myriad accolades in *many* areas, both within genre and without, as well as how often and far his works are published, but Calvinball rejected that as an appeal to authority (in which case we clearly must also reject the acclaim of the other author’s cited as well)

    b) Characterization vs high-concept? (BTW, the two are not mutually-exclusive) I’ve already addressed this above and cited specific examples of where Ellison satisfies your criterion, whereas some of your own authors on the list do not.

    c) Something else? Can you elaborate?




  14. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Sam: You wrote in reply: ‘my own words do not accuse you of saying HARLAN ELLISON NEVER WROTE A NOVEL. Your rather superficial treatment of Ellison’s body of work does, however reduce down to that.’

    In your first response you wrote: ‘In the opening salvos it becomes patently obvious why this review fails to impress: it makes light of the great body of work Harlan Ellison has produced (as though “writing ‘some’ teleplays and ‘a couple thousand’ short stories was something everyone did all the time, ain’t nothin’ special) and then put paid to the damnation with the ever-cited indictment:
    HARLAN ELLISON HAS NEVER WRITTEN A NOVEL.’

    Since I wrote the review, and you are writing of the review’s claims it can only be me whom you are accusing, so your later comment is at diametrical odds with your earlier claim, and this on where you deny stating what you certainly did.

    And you clearly do not know what appealing to authority means. I have stated MY opinions on the quality of Ellison vs. several writers. I NEVER stated, Mr X has shown that Ellison is inferior to Dick, therefore….’ That is an appeal to authority.

    If you wish to argue, a) be honest, b) quote correctly, and c) use logic. You may still be wrong, but the taint of cynicism and deceit will not be around.

    Phil: Like Sam you lied. I did not even call you a liar. I merely stated, ‘Ellison’s readings are all as I described: ‘tinged with occasional banalities, while being mired in overwrought metaphors and strained similes.’
    You mistake popularity and awards with quality; this is the appeal to authority fallacy. And we do speak a different language- I was specific, pointed, and accurate in why Ellison is not nearly as good as his champions claim.’

    You’ve offered nothing in rebuttal w near the specificity of my claims, and hold up a perfectly fine and logical sentence to prove some point, yet come away showing only your lack of reading comprehension.

    So, deceit and poor reading skills; yet you blame ME for your shortcomings?

    Re: your PPS- hope you get laid.

    Calvinball: It’s amazing that you even needed to explain the disputed sentence (although you did it well) since it is so clarion and to the point it boggles the mind as to why it would need such explication. Also, a good point as to why I did not go in to depth on Ellison’s writing (although, again, given this is (see above) a FILM site, one would think that would be obvious.

    Mariusz: The only thing you need to cause a ruckus is a strong opinion and a flock of sheep to bray.




  15. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Jeff Lampert

    PS Dan, can you please cite not just specific criteria, but some actual examples (e.g. stories) for the authors you’ve named that fit this criteria? I’m just curious as to your preferences.

    You wrote to Phil: “You mistake popularity and awards with quality; this is the appeal to authority fallacy.”

    a) Suppose I agree. You did the same thing when you cited “the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov”. You could argue that you’re just listing other authors for comparison — but why cite that they’re ‘acclaimed giants’?
    b) If your concern is how significant someone’s mark on in a field/industry is, sadly art is not the only factor. Surely you can think of people in certain fields who are remembered for many other reasons, popularity/awards among them.
    c) Please define quality. If awards, including those voted on by their peers (e.g. Asimov and Clarke) do not in any way correlate, then what does? Posterity? (You pontificate towards the end as to what, if anything, he’ll be remembered for) That’s just a long-term popularity contest. Or does this just come down to a game of “I like X; You like Y?”

    “And we do speak a different language- I was specific, pointed, and accurate in why Ellison is not nearly as good as his champions claim.”

    As far as I can tell, you made some trite blanket statements without citing examples of how the others you offered as comparison do the otherwise. In fact, I pointed out — using specific examples — that the opposite is true, esp with Asimov.

    I suppose this got wildly off-topic, because this is ultimately a review of a documentary. And if I understand correctly, your point at the end is that either the doc should be

    a) About something significant or
    b) Making something appear significant

    , something that you feel this somewhat failed to do, beyond a certain point. Hence, the beginning was about a) — Ellison’s artistic merits, regardless of the film’s content. (whereas b) focuses on the merits as depicted on-screen).

    I have no comment on b), one way or the other, because it’s not germane to this part of the discussion. But I’d argue that even a) isn’t sufficient…pick any subject, and I’m sure you can find someone to do an uninteresting, unartistic doc on it. So why even discuss a)? I suppose one could argue that the more significant the subject, the greater the likelihood of an interesting doc.

    So the bit in the beginning (and the very end) comes down to “Ellison’s not a significant subject for a doc because he hasn’t done anything lasting. This is because he’s not really a good writer.”

    If the statement was “I didn’t care for the narrative, and I don’t like for his stories because they seem X to me, so there was nothing for me here” , fine. But “I didn’t care for the narrative, and he’s a Bad Writer” is silly (stating an opinion as an Objective Fact). And stating “I didn’t care for the narrative, and he’s a Bad Writer
    because he emphasizes high-concept over characterization” is, as the examples I’ve said, disingenuous.




  16. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Jeff: a complete assessment of the art is fine, but expecting a detailed assessment of every story is not. It’s called opining.

    “In other words, I read this as “I’ve read Ellison before. The documentary is trying to claim that he does real art, but I know that he doesn’t. Why did they make a doc about him?”
    If this is *not* the case, and you mean, “I haven’t read Ellison. This doc isn’t convincing. From how the doc represents his stories, let me guess/speculate why I think he’s not so good,” then that’s okay by itself. However, a couple of sentences later, you strongly imply that you *have* read him…in which case this is either misleading or disingenuous, depending if it was intentional or unintentional. See below.

    Within the very text of the review I clearly state:
    ‘It’s one of seemingly countless documentaries made on minor practitioners of art with pretensions to lasting depth and permanence.’ Thus, your former claim is the correct one, and one I clearly state up front, so why the confusion?

    And I compare him to Philip K. Dick, and give a cogent and clear reason why the stories I have read are not those of a lasting value. If you disagree, so be it. The point is that earlier commenters tried to obfuscate my clear points, and claim falsehoods that I showed, in black and white, were false.

    Now, do you admit they obfuscated and lied? If so, that’s a different argument than whether the Ellison hagiographers or I am right about his work’s lasting value. Correct?

    And I never implied that I had not read Ellison; you assumed it. As for classifying Ellison, the film does that, and the essay is a rejoinder to those claims. Call him a Girl Scout, and the worth of the work is no different. And, I never said he was bad writer, just not worthy of the claims others, including the film, make. Period. He is better than Dick, and many other sci fi writers like Samuel Delany; but his short stories utterly pale to the best that literary fiction offers.

    “What does ‘have merit outside the genre’ and “(artistically)” mean? According to what criteria?”

    It means not being driven by the contrivances of whatever genre- the deus ex machina, the romance potboiler, the machinations of magic and science that is akin to magic. By that criteria, Ellison’s work is virtually dependent upon such. You may like this, but it’s the very thing that limits sci fi (and romance, Westerns, thrillers, etc.) vis-a-vis literary/realistic fiction.

    AS for preferences, do you mean like or dislike or excellence. One is subjective and I like many bad forms of art from Richard Brautigan’s poetry to soap operas to pro wrestling to Godzilla films.

    AS for good short stories, try Irwin Shaw’s early work, or Nelson Algren, or Twain, or the best of Chekhov (for published writers).

    To your points:

    a) Suppose I agree. You did the same thing when you cited “the acclaimed giants like Isaac Asimov”. You could argue that you’re just listing other authors for comparison — but why cite that they’re ‘acclaimed giants’?

    Dan’s reply: No I did not. I just stated they were acclaimed; I diid not try to base my opinion upon that acclamation. Do you really not see that? One has to, when writing, assume that not all readers will know all the works and writers named. It’s also clear that Ellison, by virtue of the film and hagiographers, is acclaimed, so I am making a like vs, like comparison. This is CLEARLY different than what others did. My point is that vs. his claimed peers, he falls short. It’s VERY clear, unless you are willfully obfuscating.

    b) If your concern is how significant someone’s mark on in a field/industry is, sadly art is not the only factor. Surely you can think of people in certain fields who are remembered for many other reasons, popularity/awards among them.

    Dan’s reply: I agree. I never argued Ellison’s fame, only that fame vs. his output.

    c) Please define quality. If awards, including those voted on by their peers (e.g. Asimov and Clarke) do not in any way correlate, then what does? Posterity? (You pontificate towards the end as to what, if anything, he’ll be remembered for) That’s just a long-term popularity contest. Or does this just come down to a game of “I like X; You like Y?”

    Dan’s reply: “Like most genre writers, his tales are high on concept and mechanics but short on depth and characterization”

    “he passages are tinged with occasional banalities, while being mired in overwrought metaphors and strained similes. It’s as if describing something over and again is seen as depth, rather than lauding actually describing something aptly. Or even letting the characterization take hold.”

    Did you read these specific comments? These plus a number of others I could name form the basis for qualitative assessment. Granted, you are free to disagree, but the point is that other commenters tried to make it seem as if I had no basis for my points. I did. I stated them clearly and cogently. I doubt you’ll find many reviews on any subject that do this to this precision.

    This is far from trite, as they are rarely offered in reviews, and blanket only insofar as I am not going to dissect one of his short stories in a film review; so the claims are wildly inappropriate.

    As for A & B, the film fails both; and it’s worth noting that fans of the doc maker should be more aptly taking aim at the criticism, not Ellison’s fans; and the very fact that they do suggests a fanboy, not mature critical, nature.

    And there’s no disingenuousness here, save, perhaps, for your conflations. But, as the religious say, I’ll leave your motives between you and your….God?




  17. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Mark Brown

    Nick Mamatas reviewed this review

    nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1594173.html




  18. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    So, Mark, are you trying to advertise that nihilists are as poor in the reading comprehension dept. as fanboys?

    Bravo! Point taken.

    Love that cool LiveJournal look, too.




  19. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Laughing in Liverpool

    Pay no attention to the Ellison Brats. They have always confused popularity and hero identification with actual artistic talent. Ellison is the Andy Griffith of genre writers; he has plenty of fans, but not much real craft.




  20. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    ‘Twould be interesting to see how many suicides would occur if someone actually did a detailed review of Ellison’s writing, and really ripped it; rather than just a middling review of a film about him.




  21. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Dan:

    What a horrid remark for you to say, even as a joke.

    Don’t worry. Most of us Ellison readers have moved on, and with that, I can at least say for myself that I won’t be back.




  22. - The Critical Movie Critics
     
    Calvinball

    God forbid he make a joke with the word suicide in it.




  23. - The Critical Movie Critics
     

    Sam: You repeatedly lied in your comments over what I said and did not apologize for doing so even when confronted with your deceit in black and white. And you get offended at a joke about HE’s fanboys’ idiocy by responding with more idiocy?

    Good riddance!





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