Earlier today I was wandering around the NY Times website, and clicked on an article about Invasion, the upcoming remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (The movie stars one person I despise and one person I like. If your choices are Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, I would hope that you figure this one out pretty quickly.) I'm planning on seeing the film, mostly because I like that sort of psychological/alien thrill sort of thing. It also looks sort of pretty, if the above photo is any indication. And, well, it's summertime. I'm supposed to watch this sort of stuff. Fall is for indulging the hifalutin.
But this post isn't about the movie. It's about Dennis Lim, the man with the byline. Or rather, it's about his job. Dennis Lim used to (or maybe still does / update: nope, does not) do the movie reviews over at the Village Voice. I know this because I read a few of his reviews back in the day. And they were fine. They were bland. In fact, Dennis Lim's name only really stood out the day he reviewed my friend RL's book, Sightseeing. And that's when I got pissed off. It's not a very good review, both in the sense that Lim doesn't like the book much, and also in the sense that the review, qua review, isn't very thoughtful or well-written. I've read some less-than-stellar reviews of the book, and while I don't agree with them, I can see that the reviewer has taken his/her time in understanding the object at hand. Lim fails to do this: he hastily breezes through the stories, with quick one-liners.* It's just not very rigorous from someone who I'm pretty sure regards himself as a nuanced critic. I also remember thinking at the time: Doesn't he do film reviews? I remember getting vaguely indignant, muttering something along the lines of how he shouldn't quit his day job, only with more expletives.
A little over a year later in the NY Times, resident film critic A.O. Scott reviewed Donald Antrim's wonderful memoir The Afterlife. As you read the review, you get a sense of the memoir's place amongst other memoir, and a sense that Scott may have actually read the book a couple of times, to get a feel not only for the book, but also for how he might talk about it. It's a thoughtful review, and got me thinking a bit more about my own experience of the book (which is a must-read, by the way).
My point: it's all fine and good to have folks from one field wander over into another one and give their two cents. It's what I do (did?) as an academic, and I think it's absolutely necessary to see/read/experience the world through other frameworks. Film critics take apart books quite differently than literary critics do, and when it's done well, it can be a pleasure to read. And it goes the other way, too: I'd love to hear what Michiko Kakutani has to say about films, for instance. Moving across disciplines is necessary in order to produce new ideas and new lenses through which to view those ideas, as well as to strength one's understanding of one's 'home' field.
I guess my other point is that Dennis Lim doesn't do interdisciplinarity very well. I would say that he should stick to film, but I'm not even sure I can say that with much confidence, either.
* You're raising your eyebrows, I'm sure: But doesn't Probably Awkward pride itself on snap judgments and zingy one-liners? Yup, we do. We also sometimes write less pithy things. (Sometimes.) But the thing is: we don't take ourselves very seriously. We're not in the business of trying to get our readers to make informed judgments about the thing they're about to watch/read/buy/consume, based on what they read in our posts. We're all about crazy, maniacal rants couched in occasionally theory-minded language. We're not fooling anyone. Dennis Lim, on the other hand: he's all about the attempt to be Meaningful as he zips around disciplines. Key word: attempt. Also a key word: zips. Zipping: not very rigorous at all.