Suppose we created a “who’s who” of people good at illuminating contemporary culture? We would want to include Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. This magazine and this writer are two of my favorite measures that contemporary culture is becoming more robust. (Schwarzbaum sees Roger Ebert and she raises him.)
Here is Schwarzbaum on one of her pet peeves: the cameo appearance in general, and the recent participation of James Lipton (of Inside the Actors Studio) in the film Bewitched.
Lipton’s show is its own mesmerizing bonfire of the vanities, but the gimmick of casting pop-cultural celebs as themselves in fictional situations has become the lazy filmmaker’s shortcut to meta chuckles; it’s also a depressing index of who’s willing to shill his reputation.
Good, huh? But here’s the problem: when someone with Schwarzbaum’s power discourages an aspect of movie making, there’s a good chance that it will disappear forever…especially these days when movies struggle to make their numbers.
It is not hard to see inside the director’s head on this one. When he or she contemplates a cameo from, say, Charlie Rose, a small plane will appear from the margin of consciousness and begin laboriously to cross the mind’s eye pulling behind it the warning: “What if this cameo costs us EW support? What if Lisa doesn’t like us?”
The decision is irresistible. The benefit doesn’t look anything like the risk. Smart directors will can the cameo and with it the sometimes interesting experiments in self reference that cameos make possible.
It is fun to write little essays entitled “what I hate,” and so to sound off in that “pet peeve” tradition. Indeed, this is a staple of the bloggers’ world. But Lisa is not a blogger. Her magazine and her reviewers hold the power of life and death over very risky enterprises. That she has pet peeves should not surprise us. That she is permitted to air them in this way perhaps should. With talent and power come responsibility.
I expect that someone is going to object that it is inevitable that a critic’s preferences should form an industry and that Ms. Schwarzbaum’s has already made her influence felt in this way. My rebuttle: there’s a big difference between approving by degree (this movie is really good) and approving by kind (this practice is really good).