Critical Vendettas

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List any lifetime (or near-lifetime) cases where a critic has lambasted a specific artist.

An obvious one in the musical realm is Greil Marcus/Lucinda Williams (I'm listening to Williams' Little Honey right now, what triggered this). I was originally going to solicit the weirdest critical vendettas--I'm not a major Williams fan, but I like a few songs, and the intensity of Marcus's ire baffles me--but then the thread will detour into subjective evaluations of the artists (and vendettas where you agree with the critic don't seem like vendettas anymore, just good criticism). So try to take yourself out of the equation.

Film. After a good review of Breathless, John Simon viciously cut Godard apart for the remainder of his reviewing career. Blanking out on Kael...Not sure I'd count Meryl Streep--she praised her here and there, I think. Armond White must have a few.

Extend this to literary or art criticism, or any other field if you want.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 21:42 (nine months ago) Permalink

the intensity of Marcus's ire baffles me

there's probably a reason Marcus goes at her as hard as he does, maybe similar to Christgau calling The Runaways "bimbos" or whatever other condescending misogynistic shit a lot of admired male critics engage in sometimes when dealing with female musicians.

the intensity of a lot of critical ire, much of which tends to err on the side of finding fault rather than giving yourself over completely, is baffling (though i get the instinct to not seem like one of those dudes who writes gushing praise and nothing but.)

omar little, Sunday, 31 December 2017 21:47 (nine months ago) Permalink

Maybe that factors in, but it's the never-ending scorn that puzzles me. Christgau's Runaways review was a one-off, and he went on to write lots of nice things about Joan Jett records.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 21:50 (nine months ago) Permalink

i guess i mean to be Lucinda Williams is to undoubtedly be someone who's faced every kind of bullshit from men your entire career and then to have a guy who's going that hard at you for making music, as if you're committing a crime, probably is affecting to a degree. the Christgau thing was a a one-off i guess but inexcusable, just another bullshit thing from a male academic tossed off at a woman, added to the pile.

omar little, Sunday, 31 December 2017 21:53 (nine months ago) Permalink

Does Pauline Kael/Oliver Stone count? I seem to recall she had good things to say about his talent as a screenwriter early on (for Salvador, maybe?), but then went on to trash every movie of his she reviewed. And did she not infamously say after she retired that she was just happy she'd never have to review another one? I'm asking more than asserting because it's been ages since I've looked at some of those reviews, and maybe "vendetta" is the wrong characterization.

Chickie Levitt, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:02 (nine months ago) Permalink

"The prospect of having to sit through another Oliver Stone movie is too much."[]

Chickie Levitt, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:05 (nine months ago) Permalink

I'd count that in terms of intensity, yeah, but very short-term, about a four-year window (with a few interview comments post-retirement like the one you cite). Marcus and Simon logged about 60 years between them going after Williams and Godard, with no let-up in site for Marcus.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:08 (nine months ago) Permalink

Armond White--Noah Baumbach

Really, Armond to thread.

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:14 (nine months ago) Permalink

Having a hard time thinking of one I associate with Christgau--after a few B-minuses and C-pluses, artists usually just drop off his radar (or a compilation will come along that he finds useful).

Yeah, I figure he must have a few dozen in the works. I've got to look up his review of The Squid and the Whale now.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:15 (nine months ago) Permalink

Good call--it's officially a saga.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:17 (nine months ago) Permalink

Armond White's borders on Baumbach needing a restraining order.

omar little, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:26 (nine months ago) Permalink

This thread is paying dividends--just ordered Mr. Jealousy, which I don't think I even knew about. (I may reconsider that statement when I actually watch it.)

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 22:33 (nine months ago) Permalink

Speaking of John Simon, he had it out for Barbra Streisand whom he considered too ugly to be a lead actress.

After refusing to see Funny Girl because he didn't like the Broadway version, here's how he reviewed her work:

Hello, Dolly! (1969) - pan
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (19700 - pan
What's Up, Doc? (1972) - mixed review
Up the Sandbox (1972) - pan
The Way We Were (1973) - pan
Funny Lady (1975) - pan, with some praise for direction/cinematography
A Star Is Born (1976) - pan
The Main Event (1979) - pan

Josefa, Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:12 (nine months ago) Permalink

^^That reminds me: John Simon--Liza Minelli

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:17 (nine months ago) Permalink

I defended Simon's writing on ILX when he died, but his Streisand obsession also marked some kind of historical low point for seizing on the physical appearance of an actress.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:21 (nine months ago) Permalink

Yep, he couldn't get past finding an actress unattractive - though Streisand and Minnelli got it bad they were far from the only ones who repelled him through the years.

Josefa, Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:22 (nine months ago) Permalink

If I get ambitious, I'll pull my Simon books off the shelf and cull one line from each post-Breathless Godard review. It's quite amazing.

clemenza, Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:28 (nine months ago) Permalink

Marcus has been going after Williams for, what? 25 years now? for her ... lack of authenticity? It was one thing to attack her as a poseur when her first albums appeared, but he seems to hate her just as much now, as if she's done nothing in her subsequent career worthy of consideration.

omar little OTM about this blind spot smelling of misogyny -- also, maybe, of a West Coast critic's difficulty in reconciling the mythic South of his folk and blues canon with the present-day South where Williams has spent her life.

Brad C., Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:50 (nine months ago) Permalink

Dave Marsh--Grateful Dead

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Monday, 1 January 2018 00:05 (nine months ago) Permalink

On the Kael/Streep (semi-) vendetta:

iCloudius (cryptosicko), Monday, 1 January 2018 00:23 (nine months ago) Permalink

Will read that. I got stopped by this, though, about The Deer Hunter: " what was otherwise an incensed pan of Michael Cimino’s Vietnam War film." I've made this point before: that's simply not true.

"And because the director, Michael Cimino, plays them out on such a vast canvas, the film has an inchoate, stirring quality. It has no more moral intelligence than the Clint Eastwood action pictures, yet it's an astonishing piece of work, an uneasy mixture of violent pulp and grandiosity, with an enraptured view of common life-poetry of the commonplace."

That's from the condensed blurb on that Geocities site, but I think it's a fair representation of the full review. She also, I remember, singled out the editing in the Russian Roulette scenes as some of the greatest ever. It was a negative review, for sure, but far from one-note.

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 00:32 (nine months ago) Permalink

This piece is kind of nasty to Kael.

Of course, if her actual intention was to be truly catty or vicious, Streep could have gone further. She could have fleshed out the “otherness” that she implied to be the source of the critic’s nagging insecurity, by noting that Kael was a have-not in the beauty sweepstakes, whose romantic career consisted of multiple frustrated liaisons with gay and bisexual men. She could have subsequently suggested that Kael’s preoccupation with the bodies of performers had something to do with the the critic’s own body having failed her as a sexual object.

Kael was aggressive too, but in the examples quoted she was only ever talking about Streep's onscreen work.

jmm, Monday, 1 January 2018 01:03 (nine months ago) Permalink

I thought Ebert always hated David Lynch but a quick search proves me wrong.

Doesn’t Anthony Lane basically always find Tarantino overcooked and tiresome?

El Tomboto, Monday, 1 January 2018 01:40 (nine months ago) Permalink

if i could venture a possible explanation for marcus's lucinda williams hate other than buried misogyny (which seems fair to me given that marcus's writing about female artists, from the chantels to lora logic to sleater-kinney to pj harvey, seems unusually free of sexist language and assumptions for a male rock critic of his time -- compare to christgau, who's written tons of things every bit as gross as that slur on the runaways), i'm guessing that he's probably heard something along the lines of "you must love lucinda williams, right?" from a lot of ppl, given that his interests in music would seem to give him every reason to enjoy her work, and is overreacting to that. i was more shocked that he also dislikes gillian welch, who even wrote a song called "elvis presley blues," for god's sake.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 1 January 2018 01:50 (nine months ago) Permalink

Ebert always came off as more frustrated with Lynch than actually anti-him (at least until Mulholland Dr, which he loved).

iCloudius (cryptosicko), Monday, 1 January 2018 02:12 (nine months ago) Permalink

John Simon loves Jean-Luc Godard.

My Life to Live: "a repository of every defect the New Wave at its worst can muster."
A Woman Is a Woman: "as bad a film as anyone is ever likely to see."
Contempt: "Until we get an article from Miss Sontag proclaiming Contempt a near-masterpiece, we shall have to consider it trash."
The Married Woman: "an incontestable surfeit of banality and intellectual confusion." (Actually, there are a few things he praises here.)
The Little Soldier: "give(s) Godard a chance to masturbate on screen."
Pierrot le fou/Masculine Feminine: "customarily offensive"
La Chinoise: "a piece of mitigated trash."
1 + 1: "the sound and fury of an idiot who cannot even tell a tale."
Les Carabiniers/Made in U.S.A.: "pretentious nonsense in full bloom.
Every Man for Himself: "several confused nonstories...not even worth summarizing here."

Not many stand-alone reviews--some of that comes from festival round-ups. There's also a long piece in his first collection, "Godard and the Godardians," that's almost as much about other critics--Kael, Sarris, Sontag--as about Godard.

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 16:12 (nine months ago) Permalink

Barely any mention of Weekend--seems to have gotten lost somewhere between the second and third collections. Would love to have read that review.

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 16:18 (nine months ago) Permalink

I didn't know about Marcus disliking Welch, but that seems to be of a piece with the anti-Lucinda jihad. There's something about Welch and Williams' overt appropriations that he finds deeply offensive. I'd have no objection to that as a matter of taste if he weren't at the same time such a massive devotee of Dylan. Compare his reviews of Love and Theft and Time the Revelator in the same Real Life Rock Top 10. Why does he give Dylan's old-timey album a rave and Welch's a dismissive slap? He is a voluble feminist in many contexts, but he seems to have issues with women availing themselves of certain parts of the canon.

Brad C., Monday, 1 January 2018 17:08 (nine months ago) Permalink

(And Lucinda Williams at the bottom of that column...)

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 17:15 (nine months ago) Permalink

Dave Marsh--Grateful Dead

Marsh has a ton, most of them in the punk/new wave realm, e.g. his super nasty review of X in the RSG

sleeve, Monday, 1 January 2018 17:22 (nine months ago) Permalink

I considered Marsh for this. The punk stuff makes sense, though I just don't think he has a feel for that music, and the deeper examples to my mind were Neil Young and Lou Reed. But he's too conflicted in his responses to them, enough of a fan of some of their records to disqualify him altogether (he somewhat fessed up about Reed in a sort-of obit he posted), and most of his vendettas, far as I can tell, have as much if not more to do with the critical stature of the artists than the records themselves. Still, yeah, not a critic devoid of targets. (I will have to check him on the Dead.)

Chickie Levitt, Monday, 1 January 2018 18:29 (nine months ago) Permalink

Karl definitely had it in for Cassavetes, Kubrick and Friedkin.

Akdov Telmig (Ward Fowler), Monday, 1 January 2018 18:30 (nine months ago) Permalink

It's harder to track music critics on this than film critics, because very few music writers (excepting Christgau or the numerous incarnations of Marcus's "Real Life" column) ever had an outlet fixed in place long enough for anything vendetta-like to develop. For a one-place, one-time thing, yes, Marsh had a lot of targets in that book.

Just thought of Kael and Kubrick too--I don't think she ever had much of anything positive to say about Kubrick after Lolita. Her reviews weren't as vitriolic as Simon on Godard--she'd usually find something worthwhile, like the steadicam in The Shining or Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange--but a fan she wasn't.

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 18:41 (nine months ago) Permalink

(I think Karl's bête noire is Mike Matheny.)

clemenza, Monday, 1 January 2018 18:42 (nine months ago) Permalink

i think w/r/t Marcus and Williams, there's a certain vitriol that seems a bit beyond the usual critical panning when it's a male critic levying it at a female artist, or at least when it's made particularly personal. not sure if Marcus' otherwise apparently woke writing gets him off the hook.

omar little, Monday, 1 January 2018 19:17 (nine months ago) Permalink


Lucinda Williams: As great an emotional fraud as Destiny’s Child–wins the prize over them as the most mannered singer in pop music because she’s been fooling people with it longer. A monster of self-praise, of the poor-mouth, to her own self be true, but I love one of her comments in the current Esquire: “Some of my best friends are music critics.” What a shock.

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Monday, 1 January 2018 19:27 (nine months ago) Permalink

tbf GM's forever war on beyonce comes p close -- there's a very overcooked couple of pages on her in the history of rock‘n’roll in ten songs

mark s, Monday, 1 January 2018 19:30 (nine months ago) Permalink

Also from that same part of the online exchange:

Alanis Morissette: Does not know a beat from a bleat. I still think “You Oughta Know” is the whiniest record ever made. She’s better in movies.

Aimee Mann: Up there with Lucinda Williams, but a much more obnoxious whiner than Alanis Morissette–I mean, there’s a difference between making a horrible hit record based on an irritating emotion and basing your whole life on it. The sense of entitlement, of condescension, comes off of her in waves. Given that a whole movie was based on her wisdom, though–who can forget every character, dead or alive, mouthing along to, “Wise Up,” I think, in Magnolia? And then, lo and behold, everybody did wise up. Gosh.

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Monday, 1 January 2018 19:32 (nine months ago) Permalink

In his defense, Mann, Morissette, and Williams are horrible. (Gillian Welch I can take for a song or two.)

grawlix (unperson), Monday, 1 January 2018 19:35 (nine months ago) Permalink

Sidenote, but I thought it was funny that he was lamenting how hard it was to find the early White Stripes records, which at that time (2002) could have been found on LP at any decent indie record store, and on CD anywhere up to and including Best Buy.

Never Learn To Mike Love (C. Grisso/McCain), Monday, 1 January 2018 19:40 (nine months ago) Permalink

In Mann, Morissette and Williams' defence, Greil Marcus is horrible.

iCloudius (cryptosicko), Monday, 1 January 2018 19:57 (nine months ago) Permalink

i guess reed-bangs is the other way round, isn't it

mark s, Monday, 1 January 2018 20:01 (nine months ago) Permalink

I was thinking of the antagonistic relationship with Reed as maybe the closest thing for Bangs, but obviously different in that Reed was an artist he loved. I can't think of a case of Bangs bearing an excessive grudge against a band he detested.

jmm, Monday, 1 January 2018 20:21 (nine months ago) Permalink

the mann and morrissette critiques don't strike me as sexist, really, though it's ridiculous for GM to hold mann responsible for "magnolia." tbh you can pull up pretty much any old ilm thread about a female artist and get more horrible quotes than that within the first three or four posts.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 1 January 2018 23:04 (nine months ago) Permalink

as far as vendettas go, the worst and most indefensible thing GM has ever written was an item from his top-10 column years ago. the lead singer from the spin doctors had been diagnosed with vocal cord paralysis and had lost his voice (he's since recovered), and marcus just quoted the news story and labeled it "best news of the week."

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 1 January 2018 23:09 (nine months ago) Permalink

Agreed. I even asked him about that in one of those forums--he wouldn't backtrack a bit. (And seriously, the misogyny he objected to in "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong"--primarily a specific line--was that appreciably different or worse than a lifetime of stuff he'd praised, from the Rolling Stones on down?)

clemenza, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 14:28 (nine months ago) Permalink

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