Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tilting at Windmills

One of the most buzzed about events among cinematic bloggers this past month has been “31 Days of Spielberg,” on the blog Windmills of My Mind. As the title implies, blogger Damian Arlyn set himself the goal of reviewing at length every film by his favorite director, as well as some TV episodes and even a movie (Poltergeist) that Spielberg produced but didn’t direct. It was a mammoth undertaking, and eventually each day’s review was being spotlighted by the great Matt Zoller Seitz on his popular and highly cinema-savvy blog, The House Next Door. However, ever since it was revealed on this past week that Arlyn had appropratied sections of Warren Buckland’s book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster without proper attribution, a small tempest has broken out- Arlyn admitted to the plagiarism, and his pieces was summarily dropped from the House Next Door's list of contributors.

Naturally, this has stirred up a good amount of debate. Arlyn’s defenders have stepped up to defend his humility, and cite the old adage that “good writers borrow, while great writers steal.” On the other side, his detractors believe that while his intent might have been benign, Arlyn’s use of plagiarism is inexcusable. Regardless of what side you’re on, I believe this incident could potentially have tangible, wide-reaching effects on cinematic writing on the Internet. With the proliferation of DIY Web sites and blogs, there has been an explosion of film criticism on the Web, much of it of an informal nature compared to print criticism. However, over the past year a number of print critics have stepped forward to question the legitimacy of criticism on the Internet. I fear that Arlyn’s very public lapse in judgment, and the resultant controversy, could very well give these naysayers plenty of grist for their argument as to the frivolous nature of film writing on the Web.

Personally, I believe that the Web is the next frontier of film criticism, and the logical progression of cinephilia. As such, I can’t help but find these old-guard critics’ objections more than a little fuddy-duddy-ish, reeking of defensiveness at losing their critical cachet to a bunch of movie-loving kids. However, some of those who have spoken out against movie bloggers (such as Time Magazine’s Richard Schickel) exert a fair amount of influence, and if their anti-blogger screeds seemed like smug elitism before, just wait until they hear about Damian Arlyn. I worry that many of my very talented fellow web-based critics (such as those listed on my blogroll) could find their efforts marginalized as a result of this incident, and frankly that’s an idea I have a hard time accepting. Or maybe I just believe that having your opinions printed on real paper doesn’t make you a good critic; lucid, well-expressed opinions do.

In closing, I just want to state that I have never to my knowledge plagiarized the work of another. If I have done so without my knowledge, I sincerely apologize.


Tucker said...

Just a clarification regarding “good writers borrow, while great writers steal.” To borrow, in the way I used a vairation of that phrase in my comments on Damian's post, is to plagiarize. To steel is to make the ideas of other truely one's own, as does every writer, philosopher, artist, etc. For we all begin, in some capacity, with what we are given. So this statement was not used as part of a defense of Damian, or to "rally" around him, but was part of my argument that there is no need to plagiarize. A number of commenters in the blogoshpere have used this quote as an example of how people are cavalierly defending Damian and poo-pooing plagiarizing. I believe they have missed the point, and I have clarified further on Damian's blog. Maybe someone else used it in a different way.

Paul C. said...


Thanks for stopping by, and for clarifying your own position. I see where you're coming from, as most creative people no matter what their medium are influenced by outside forces whether they acknowledge it or not. It wasn't my intention to hold you or any of the others who supported Damian up to scorn by quoting this sentiment.

Personally, I'm somewhere in between the Damian supporters and the naysayers. Yes, his actions were careless and reflected poorly on him, but in retrospect I feel that whole thing has blown out of proportion. Sure, he screwed up, but he fessed up and he's paid for it, so let's all move on. I think the classy move now would be for him to re-edit the questionable pieces, then press on with the project. He won't finish them by the end of August, but a move like this would demonstrate that his passion for Spielberg and for his project outweighs any troubles that might have surrounded it at one point.

Hope to see you around here more often, Tucker. Always happy to see new faces.