Many years ago, in a different lifetime, I was the staff writer at Us magazine, back when it was a monthly and, therefore, still semi-respectable. It was like a cross between Entertainment Weekly and Premiere, two late, lamented publications that had class and wrote interesting stories and weren’t just paparazzi rags, but it was filled with pictures of celebrities and “features” that were nothing more than vapid, extended captions.
Anyway, one of my main responsibilities was a section called “Faces & Places,” which, ironically enough, covered events, parties, movie premieres, and so on. I hated it. I wanted to write the features that appeared in the magazine, the 1,000 and 2,000-word pieces that allowed a writer to have real conversations with the subjects and delve beneath the pristine surface of a celebrity. Sadly, I had a boss who wasn’t my biggest fan, and she made it clear that, as long as she was running things, F&P was to be my home at the magazine. No wonder, then, that it didn’t take long before I left and began a career as an indie filmmaker, only returning to journalism later.
My point: I met a lot of celebrities at these events. Hundreds, probably, over the course of the year and a half I did the job. Some were great (Patrick Swayze, LL Cool J, James Cameron, and Linda Fiorentino — who was a pretty big star then — just to name a few); and some were jerks (Wesley Snipes, Tom Petty, Jewel, Joaquin Phoenix); but ultimately, I didn’t feel that the percentage of great people and jerks was any different from that of the run-of-the-mill, non-famous population.
Whenever I told people what I did, and the nature of my job, they would inevitably ask me about meeting celebrities, and what they were like, and so on, and always seemed disappointed when I would say something along the lines of, “Most of them are just like us, they’re just famous.” People wanted more than that. They wanted gossip, they wanted anecdotes, they wanted to be closer to the people that they saw on screen — both big and small — or to whose music they listened and whose records they bought. Even if it was vicariously, they wanted that taste of fame.
Because of that, and because I have worked with and interviewed many, many more famous people in the quarter-century since, I tend to be pretty blasé about these things. Don’t get me wrong, I can get starstruck, too — I have pretty fantastic stories involving Muhammad Ali and Eric Clapton that I enjoy telling — but it’s rare and only in very specific contexts. I certainly do not have any interest in being around celebrities for the heck of it, or to make myself feel important and relevant.
Which brings me to critics groups, their increasingly desperate need for recognition, and the adult members of these groups who should know better.
Awards season goes on long enough, and by the time the Oscars come around, they’re sort of anticlimactic. I’ve written about this in various places before, and I stand by the fact that the parade of critics awards that are handed out from December to March do nothing more than sap the energy of the viewing public and pull away from the whole point of the exercise. That is, to celebrate those actors and artisans whose film work has given them the opportunity to win the industry’s highest honor. If you live in a city, you simply must belong to that city’s critics association, and that association simply must hand out some awards during the winter and, hopefully, draw the attention of some famous folk to legitimize these awards and make the critics in question feel important.
These same critics, who will not give a second thought to lambasting the latest work of said celebrity if it does not appeal to their taste, will also spend the evening glad-handing and getting selfies with them because they happened to enjoy something else the person did. It’s gross, and sort of sad, and even though I used the word a couple of paragraphs ago, I will once again say “desperate.”
I was a film critic for a time, about 20 years ago, working for Star magazine. My blurb, “Viciously funny!” is on the DVD box for Mean Girls (true story! See for yourself!), so that should tell you I was really good at it. Technically, I was eligible to join the New York Film Critics Circle. I was not asked to join, but if I had been, I would have declined, because I sort of think the whole idea is silly. I attended the NYFCC awards dinner once back in 1998. It was somewhat embarrassing and the sour taste it left stayed with me. The idea of being a part of that was … well, let’s just say it wasn’t very appealing.
Now, as the Golden Globes nears a return to NBC — for what possible reason I cannot fathom, as the awards themselves and their importance have never made one lick of sense to me — more legitimate shows such as the SAG Awards and Independent Spirit Awards are still searching for new broadcast partners, and may not even air at all outside of maybe YouTube. And yes, I called those shows “more legitimate” because actors giving each other awards — or, for that matter, any association of professionals honoring their own kind, like cinematographers, editors, and so on — and indie filmmakers being recognized for their work are both far more interesting than critics, or whatever the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is, handing them out like candy.
I mean, did the so-called Hollywood Critics Association really need two nights just to hand out its TV Awards, which were live-streamed online? That more diverse and inclusive critics group has been mired in controversy of late, as at least six notable members have resigned in the last week following a petty dust-up on social media that made me wonder what relevance the HCA could possibly possess in the greater scheme of things. Which Oscar and Emmy voters are taking their cues from this semi-professional group of LA-based critics and pundits? It’s almost as bad as the annual Critics’ Choice Awards, which is up there with the Globes as the most extreme and egregious example of the phenomenon — critics throwing themselves a black-tie bash and getting celebrities to show up because they know the famous folk can’t resist the chance to give a moving speech while hoisting a shiny trophy.
The Critics Choice Association, by the way, has been plagued by some of the same issues the HFPA has been dealing with over the past couple of years, involving their inclusivity, credibility, governance, and myriad potential conflicts of interest. But, hey, they sure can throw a party!
I think the fact that fewer and fewer people care about these things isn’t going to stop the critics — or anyone else, for that matter — from throwing these self-congratulatory and, let’s face it, masturbatory shindigs. After all, if dignity hasn’t stopped them, what chance does anything else have?
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.