I purchased the current issue of Cinema Retro on the promise of its insights into the obscure film, Candy. Instead, I was punished with a four-page rant by Dean Brierly who, in his brief bio, could not supply the name of a single film he liked (his "favourite films are the ones nobody's heard of") nor the name of any article of note. You do list magazines he's written for, including Men's Health. Why I make mention of his scarce credentials is because he so severely botched the opportunity to discover in a film its many treasures -- foregoing the requisite fairness called upon when assessing someone else's work.
For one, Brierly fails to mention the inspired Dave Grusin soundtrack (in fact, so inspired that Steven Soderbergh uses it in Ocean's Twelve), which makes effective use of Steppenwolf prior to Easy Rider. The music serves the film's surreal aspirations and it is through that lens that many positive assessments have sprung forward -- certainly positive enough that most people wouldn't wish to have "committed suicide halfway through" or preferred "having a root canal without anaesthetic" to watching it again. A bit over-cooked, that writing from Brierly, and certainly not justified in its humor or wit. While he uniformly ridicules the performances, many fans out there have pointed out how wryly funny Brando is while using his role to poke holes in his very own iconic status. Brierly writes that "Brando's excruciating exhibition foreshadows his eventual artistic decline," proceeding to briskly gloss over one of the greatest comebacks in show business! He makes grudging mention of The Godfather (considered to be one of the greatest films of all time) and Last Tango in Paris, but forgets to add Superman, The Nightcomers, Apocalypse Now and his lively performance in Don Juan DeMarco. These omissions are more glaring considering that, on page 8 of the same issue, your very own esteemed Raymond Benson lists Apocalypse Now as one of his "Top Ten Favourites" of 1979, and Lee Pfeiffer agrees with Richard Schickel on page 15 that "the most underrated work of Marlon Brando's career... Reflections in a Golden Eye remains one of his best performances," released just a year before the offending Candy. On the Cinema Retro webpage, you just have to scroll down five blurbs from Lee Pfieffer's half-hearted defense of Brierly to get to the news on Superman, where "Brando memorably played Jor-El."
I, for one, found James Coburn's Dr. Krankeit very funny in his exchanges with John Huston, and that the hospital theater-in-the-round was inspired, original and interesting. It never occurred to me that Coburn was "[s]porting an appallingly unbecoming Fidel Castro beard" -- seriously, does this critique merit a cover story? Brierly wants every hair on Coburn's face to be a testament to the fact that Candy is so awful, it justifies his own inability to write with credible skill and/or wit.
The high-strung critic also fails to recognize that Richard Burton displays comedic skill during his scenes -- especially his opening where, looking a bit like Bill Murray, he delivers his purple prose with just the right mix of smug seriousness and satirical accuracy. Brierly makes great effort to not understand the concept surrounding the film: simply, that Candy is a pure and innocent creature who is entirely unsafe in our world. Instead, he offers annotated snarky asides like, "Um, okay," while letting the thread of meaning fall flat the same way a mature critic wouldn't. The prosecutor buries the evidence, withholding those clear thematic traits expressed by Candy, who doesn't tell falsehoods, follows instructions with doe-eyed zeal and genuinely believes she can help others by giving them what they ask for. Making this a cosmic creature -- one whose soul traversed the heavens to get here and, having experienced our world, transcends upwards a little wiser, is not "arguably the worst cinematic excreta of all time" -- such wistfulness exists in popular films like Avatar, and in the hearts of many fans hoping to finally get a photo taken with the delightful Martine Beswick. I get that Brierly is making a personal judgment call, but he sullies the evidence in his delivery -- much like Lenny Bruce's assessment that prosecutors were convicting him through their shitty delivery of his jokes.
How else can you explain Brierly's comparison of Ewa Aulin to "the Incredible Mr. Limpet in drag?" It's unfair to hit that low in a film critique, ridiculing someone in an unnecessarily nasty and hollow manner... in a retrospective magazine where she is on the cover! Brierly slams her looks with great pomposity yet obviously failed to get a consensus on the matter; Lee Pfeiffer states on the webpage that he's grateful to "publish so many gratuitously sexy photos of Ewa Aulin."
The lack of professionalism persists. For a cover article to be the opinion of a chap with scarce credentials, you expect to see the proof in the writing. Instead, we get "inherent crappiness" and "craptacular" to smear someone else's prose, Brierly first blames Buck Henry, of whom "Candy remains an ignoble blot on an otherwise praiseworthy career." Great research by Brierly, who failed to notice that this same career includes Town and Country, First Family and Is There Sex After Death? As a critique, it is as if composed by a bored fourteen-year-old itching to simply add "etc" to every sentence where he finds research a hassle.
On the cover, you ask, "[W]as it the worst film ever made?" Little did I expect the answer to be a resounding "yes" to a picture that has a 5.2 out of 10 on the IMDB! To make such a claim, I'd expect a Cinema Retro to have, at the very least, hired a writer worthy and ready to prove his case. Thank you taking the time to read this. Cinema Retro is a terrific publication, but this cover article is a striking and shocking embarrassment.
Retro Responds: Jon, why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell us how you really feel? This is probably the first letter we've received about an article that almost exceeds the length of the article in question. Actually, your well-outlined criticisms deserve a serious response. First, I should say that we gave Dean Brierly an opportunity to respond but he declined. However, as some of your complaints seem focused on our magazine and policies in general, I'll take the opportunity to address them.
With all due respect, a cover that asks rhetorically if Candy is the worst movie of all time doesn't exactly imply an objective look at the making of the film. Also, Candy is not an "obscure" film. It was a major studio release that cost quite a bit to bring to the screen. The disastrous reception accorded it by critics and the public derailed the once-promising directing career of actor Christian Marquand. Brierly is an opinion writer, not an objective film historian. It's the difference between a news anchor person like Diane Sawyer and a political commentator such as Bill O'Reilly or Rachel Maddow. Brierly is encouraged to share his opinions whether we agree with them or not. We often print articles that we personally don't agree with, but Cinema Retro's policy is to never interfere with editorial content from our writers. As for Brierly, he has been one of our top writers since the beginning of this magazine over seven years ago. He has provided in-depth analysis of films ranging from the Tony Rome movies to extensive pieces on the film adaptations of Alistair McLean's novels. Brierly liked any number of these films, so he is not quite the Scrooge-like crumudgeon you accuse him of being.
Regarding your opinion that Brierly has thin credent
ials, I should point out that Cinema Retro, like most niche magazines, does not "hire" writers. We rely on their kind contributions, which are given to us gratis. The main benefit for contributors is exposure to their work and any number of our writers have obtained book contracts because of their contributions to Cinema Retro. Consequently, many of our top contributors have other professions that pay the rent, including Brierly, which is why his writing credentials may not rival those of Stephen King.
Most of your complaints center on subjective criticisms such as the worthiness of the music. I can only assume that if Brierly felt passionately about that aspect of the film, he would have mentioned it. The fact that you feel differently is to be respected, but doesn't negate his opinions.
You wonder why Brierly doesn't supply a long list of Marlon Brando's other acting achievements. In fact, the article isn't about Brando's career, it's about his brief contribution to Candy. Writing for a magazine is far different than writing an article for the web. Space is finite in a magazine and articles have to be kept to appropriate lengths to make room for other content. For example, I would not be able to publish but a mere fraction of your letter in the magazine, while on the web site, space is not at a premium and I have run it in its entirety. In any event, the films you criticize Brierly for not mentioning as indications of Brando's achievements are somewhat debatable. While I certainly enjoyed his turns in Superman and Don Juan DeMarco, wouldn't it be more persuasive to argue that Brierly should have referenced the actor's triumphs in A Streetcar Named Desire or On the Waterfront? While I also agree with you that his work in The Nightcomers was praiseworthy, the film is not generally well regarded by critics. As for the worthiness of Apocalypse Now, it may interest you to know that critical response to Brando's performance at the time was largely negative and is rarely cited as one of his triumphs (though I agree with you, that it should be.)
Regarding Brierly's sarcastic comparison of Ewa Aulin to "The Incredible Mr. Limpet in drag", again, that is his opinion. You can't debate with someone about whether or not they should find someone attractive. They simply do or they don't. It's like trying to convince someone they should enjoy dining on a meal they hate. You then cite my favorable comments on the web site about Ms. Aulin's physical appearance as being inconsistent with Brierly's article. It's not inconsistent, because it's two different opinions from two different people. By the way, on a personal basis, I agree with you that Ms. Aulin doesn't resemble Mr. Limpet in drag. However, the fact that I find her so attractive has been keeping me awake nights because I'm worried that I may have a subliminal crush on the late Don Knotts.
Brierly's reference to James Coburn's Castro-like beard did not merit a cover story, and indeed, I don't believe you will find a reference to Coburn's beard on the cover. We are, however, planning a major cover story about Walter Brennan's teeth in a future issue.
In your criticism that Brierly did not do justice to the career of Buck Henry, you cite (among other works) the disastrous 2001 box-office and critical bomb Town and Country that I strongly doubt even Henry keeps on his list of top credentials. One would think you might have cited achievements like co-creating Get Smart and writing screenplays for such "minor works" as The Graduate, Catch-22 and What's Up, Doc? The point is that you accuse Brierly of ignoring what you consider to be Henry's seminal works when you also don't cite the achievements he is most known for.
Regarding the cover copy that asks if Candy is the worst movie of all time, writers don't write their own cover copy. Publishers write cover copy, so toss your darts in my direction. Brierly did not come up with that line, and frankly we expected everyone to take it tongue-in-cheek, not literally. In fact, no list of the best or worst movies of all time is anything other than entertaining nonsense because logical arguments can always be made about films included or excluded.
The fact that IMDB readers give Candy a mediocre 5.2 rating instead of something more disastrous doesn't prove anything because, again, we are dealing with one writer's personal opinion, not a poll of movie lovers. In any event, the majority of readers who have responded to the story believe Candy is a terrible movie and a missed opportunity. That doesn't negate your opinion that it isn't something more than that, but it also means that Brierly isn't out there on a limb when it comes to his observations.
Finally, I do want to take the opportunity to make a general observation that is illustrated by your letter. Cinema Retro sometimes receives negative feedback pertain to articles and coverage. I have to say, however, that we never get the kind of juvenile, hate-filled tirades that many other publications and web sites receive. That speaks volumes about the intelligence of our readers. While I obviously don't share most of your opinions about Brierly's article, I do want to thank you for expressing your opinions in an intelligent manner and for taking the time to share them with other readers. (Hey, remember when President Obama had that "Beer Summit" to sought out differences between a police officer and the professor he arrested a couple of years ago? Well, if I can get you two guys together, we'll follow the same strategy and the beers will be on us.) - Lee Pfeiffer