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Feel left in the dust?

 
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 25, 2002 8:21 pm    Post subject: Feel left in the dust? Reply with quote

Do any of my fellow reviewers feel left in the dust, like they feel that no-one reads your reviews?

I do.
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Alex Paquin
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do.

As some of you may know, I used to write on Epinions, where I had a few readers, but the whole enterprise was massively one of mutual back-scratching, "I'll rate yours, you'll rate mine"-style, where you never were quite sure if anyone read your review or just pretended to. In any case, my readership there has dwindled to practically nothing, not only because I only publish a review there when I want to, which means once every three months, but also because Epinions has done everything in its power to piss off its best writers. And because the abolition of the penny-per-hit system destroyed rubberstamping rings.

I also keep a website outside HBS/EFC where I also publish the reviews I write here, plus some more on older films, as well as essays. According to my web host, I get about 100 unique hits a day, but how many of them are actually generated by readers? I get about one or two film-related e-mails per month amid the tons of spam. Those e-mails give me hope that someone actually reads me, but if that's only two persons each month, is it really worth it?

It is one thing not to make any money writing reviews (I could never collect a single Epinions cheque because I need $100 to collect it and my balance is currently only at half of it, and nobody cares about ads or "affiliate programs" on my personal website or any other); it is another to write something nobody bothers to read. My review of "Die Another Day" took two days to write; I am still dissatisfied with the final outcome, but I was too tired to make it perfect when I realized it was all futile and all a waste of time.

It seems that if you don't get to extremes, like one or five stars, especially for negative reviews, you can't attract a readership. That's why a few online critics only bother reviewing films they hated. Then you have critics' circles and other cliques, the "professionals" telling you you can't possibly be reviewing films because you don't have the credentials and training or because you're not doing it professionally or not doing it on a regular basis. Just look at the criteria for being merely LISTED on Rotten Tomatoes: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/pages/critics

And if you persevere and write on films, but only occasionally or as an amateur, they will compare you to the ordinary film fans who feel empowered because anyone can publish anything on the Internet. The fact that you are writing on Epinions or Amazon.com, or the IMDb for that matter, or any other place without belonging to a critics' circle does not reduce you to an ordinary fan who cannot write a decent review. It is not because you live in an apartment building where prostitutes are staying that you are necessarily one, or one of their clients. You should not have to scream out the window or post a sign on your door to prove you are not, either.

In the film criticism world, it's all about Rosenbaum talking to Ebert talking to Hoberman, etc. An amateur may be better than an ordinary critic, because the enthusiasm is there. I have always wondered, what is the point of reviewing a film there is no possible chance you are going to like, strictly because you are forced to? Those critics who do might know that their readers are more interested in what the critic is going to say than about the film at hand. There is at least one critic I read strictly to find out what he thinks about the film, or film in general, than to find out about the film itself.

Those of you who have been on this website for a while know about my various controversial articles, particularly "The Case Against Film Critics" and my open letter to you-know-who. I hope I did not come across as an opportunistic bastard who would do anything for exposure, because that wasn't my reason. On the contrary, I am so pissed off at the world of film criticism that I wanted to express my thoughts before I stopped writing about films. Not because I had hopes of launching my career.

Read my reviews of "Die Another Day" and "Bowling for Columbine", not because I want more exposure or praise on them, but to understand my point. Does it come across that I was trying to find the energy to write these reviews, that I had no enthusiasm at the keyboard, that these reviews are done perfunctorily by someone who had no interest in writing on these films, or on any other film, whether it has been reviewed ten times or ten thousand times by other critics? In other words, that I was having the impression of wasting my time?

Honestly, I am currently working, among other projects, on an article entitled "How to kill your interest in reviewing films in x easy steps". Apart from an essay idea on West Point-based movies, it may be my last article.

There are several retired film critics on the Internet, retired because they have discovered it isn't really worth it. Their websites will just fade away like a ghost town, and no one is likely to notice. I will most probably become one of them, and my website will probably go the same way.

Alex.
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Oz
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 5:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In all seriousness, whether you're read or not comes down to three things.

1) How you promote yourself - ask Erik how he managed to get himself up the ladder - it had a lot less to do with luck than it did persistence. The guy really worked ahrd, for an extended period, at getting his name out there. That means setting up a mailing list on which all his reviews went out on, writing for anyone and everyone that would give him a forum, calling up talkback radio shows and bitching about movies (with a plug of course), and reviewing a ton of stuff. Which leads me to number 2...

2) Review a ton of stuff. The more of your writing that's out there, the more it's going to be read, the more people will come back for a second look. James Berardinelli, to me, is awful. I never agree with him, his reviews are (to me) bland, and I've noticed he rarely disagrees with Ebert by more than half a star - if at all. But the dude has been around for a long time, and thus his stuff is seen by a lot of people. He doesn't take three days on a review, he gets the review out there.

3. Review things nobody has reviewed yet. Our system sends a link submission to the IMDB every time someone reviews a movie that didn't have any reviews before, which means when someone goes to look up Cum Gargling Butt Sluts on IMDB and the only review link is for eFilmCritic.com and it's your review, you're getting exposure. And that really is a large portion of the traffic we get. If you add the 14th review for Die Another Day, you're basically just stretching your muscles, but when someone comes looking for a bunch of movie reviews in one bulk hit and you've got 600 in the database, you've got a saleable commodity there.

So, in summation - market yourself, persist and don't cover well-trodden ground unless you're aware that you're doing a 'portfolio piece'.

I get a lot of people asking for help getting a foot in the door of getting paid to write, and you'd be truly shocked at how often those people balk at having to write anything they're not used to - short review, capsule, TV review, corporate work, it all helps you polish your style, even when (or should I say especially when) you hate the gig.

I know I can write any kind of review that's needed for any situation becuase I've handled every situation you can imagine - if Stuff Magazine needs a capsule review of something, I can do that. If MrSkin needs a nudity-oriented review, I've got that covered. If I'm doing an HBS review, that's another style again. And on the odd occasion that I've got my hiney in a respected newspaper, that's another ballgame again. I've written gonzo stuff, I've written content for a women's magazine under a female pen name (ask me about orgasms sometime), I've written the label copy for a soy coffee substitute and web content for moving company websites (in fact, I've done about six of those in the last three months) - and every one of those jobs has made me a better, more adaptable, more marketable, more employable writer.

And you've got to be able to adapt if you truly want to earn a crust doing this stuff, and if you don't want to earn a crust you should rethink things IMO. I mean, that's like practicing your bat swing but never actually wanting to play a game. You might as well get out there and get your shirt dirty and see how you compare to the big leaguers.

But having said all that, there are plans afoot to get non-new release reviews a little more coverage here. It's hard to go into details because things tend to move slow when nobody's being paid, but plans are afoot.

Oh yeah, one other thing that helps you get noticed - a regular column. Tell 'em, Thom.
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y2mckay
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Solid words, Oz. Personally, I just wanted to write this shit for fun. I never had any plans to become a pro critic or anything (though I sure as hell wouldn't balk at it). As it turns out, a sweet writing gig just fell into my lap thanks to my involvement at HBS, so ya never know. Keep plugging away and posting as much shit as you can, and someone will notice eventually. Just have fun with it, and don't let it be about waiting for the payoff.
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Charles Tatum



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Inspirational words, since I review stuff no one can find, but I am more interested in one thing...where can I get a copy of "Cum Gargling Butt Sluts"??
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Alex Paquin
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 4:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oz writes:

Quote:
James Berardinelli, to me, is awful. I never agree with him, his reviews are (to me) bland, and I've noticed he rarely disagrees with Ebert by more than half a star - if at all. But the dude has been around for a long time, and thus his stuff is seen by a lot of people. He doesn't take three days on a review, he gets the review out there.


Indeed, Berardinelli's resemblance to Ebert is uncanny, which may explain why Ebert calls him the best online film critic. But also interestingly, somebody pointed out on another forum that Berardinelli still has to work as an engineer because he cannot make a living from his film reviews. And he has been writing on the Internet since 1996, which is three years before I got my first computer with a modem (which I am still using, btw). As I used to write, if you were writing reviews on the net circa 1997, there was a chance you could get a name. Forget it now that everyone is writing reviews on the Internet.

Three days is a fair amount by my standards. My review of "Khartoum" took me 2 weeks in research of historical background alone.

Quote:
Review things nobody has reviewed yet. Our system sends a link submission to the IMDB every time someone reviews a movie that didn't have any reviews before, which means when someone goes to look up Cum Gargling Butt Sluts on IMDB and the only review link is for eFilmCritic.com and it's your review, you're getting exposure. And that really is a large portion of the traffic we get. If you add the 14th review for Die Another Day, you're basically just stretching your muscles, but when someone comes looking for a bunch of movie reviews in one bulk hit and you've got 600 in the database, you've got a saleable commodity there.


I usually write on older films, and my recent reviews of "Bowling" and "Die Another Day", and my forthcoming review of "Gangs of NY" are truly exceptions. Also on my "forthcoming" list are "South Pacific" (1958), "The Vikings" (also 1958), "All the President's Men" (1976) and, somewhere along the line, such kitschy output as "Ivanhoe" (1952), and "The Robe" (1953) and "Demetrius and the Gladiators" (1954). That is, if I find time to write them. I agree that nobody reviews those old films unless they have just been released on DVD, but the pool of readers interested in those films is proportionally small. Being the 500th to review a film everybody cares about is about the same as being the 5th with less than one percent of that "everybody" bothering about it. True, if you don't have a name, it might establish you as a niche reviewer, but you will always stay marginal. What if, for example, someone launched a site dedicated to films starring Charlton Heston. It would of course be of interest to Heston fans, but other people will just stay away.

Another problem with older films is, they require a greater amount of contextualization, not only because of the different mores of the time, but also because of the past and future films. We know what happened after "Goldfinger", we don't know yet what happened after "Die Another Day".

I have never had thoughts of doing it professionally. As I said, I didn't care about writing stuff without getting paid, but the fact that I seem to have very few readers matters a great deal. Heck, If I wrote stuff according to my background, I would be a political reporter, or even a public relations guy, not a film critic.

More thoughts on the subject later.
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TheAngryJew
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 4:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All I can add is this:

1. I read every review posted at this site.

2. HBS would be less cool without Alex and his reviews.

3. Write for yourself, not others.

4. Nobody's dealt with more disappointments, as a 'professional', than I have. I still plug away because this is what I love. ONE complimentary comment from a fellow HBS monkey is enough to keep me going for another week...and if that comment never comes, I still have another review to add to my tally.

5. If you're feeling burnt out, force yourself to take a hiatus. After 2 weeks of watching movies (and reviewing none of 'em), your batteries should be recharged.

6. Realize that if you're writing here, you are getting some attention. Maybe not a lot, but more than you'd get at Epinions these days. Plus now you're writing for movie fans, not SAHMs who are busy reading diaper reviews.
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Jack Sommersby
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 5:06 pm    Post subject: -------------- Reply with quote

Ah, I don't worry about it all that much. If people read mine, cool; if not, I'll live. I just take it with the persepctive that just to get published is great; the rest is up to the potential reader. However, 'ol Oz pointed out the favorable things Erik did for wider exposure, and, obviously, it's worked.

Even at a mediocre site like Epinions, however, I manage to garner an e-mail from a filmmaker occasionally, and this is strictly because it was picked up at imdb.com. A neat one was from the foxy female star of this 4-star sex comedy called "Sexual Chemistry"; and there's this priceless one from Michael D. Druxman, the director/writer of the 1-star fiasco "The Doorway". I have the review posted on this site, and here's that e-mail from last year:

Mr. Sommersby:

I seldom, if ever, respond to negative reviews...but in this case I
must
make an exception.

You didn't just knock the movie. You went out of your way to trash me
personally.

I'm wondering why you decided to do this.

Have I ever done anything to offend you?

I can't help thinking that you must have something against me to have
gone
on such a tirade.

Certainly are entitled to your opinion of the THE DOORWAY. To be
frank, the
reviews have been running about 50/50. The people who saw it thinking
it
was a horror film, which is how the distributor sold it, hate the
movie.

However, reviewers who saw that I was making a campy black comedy were
quite
positive in their comments.

Incidentally, the hand in the shower was not done with strings or
wires. It
was a real hand.

And, as far as KEATON'S COP is concerned, I couldn't agree with you
more...but I had very little to do with that one. One of your fellow
Texans
rewrote and directed my original script and little except the basic
outline
remains from my work.

That aside, I still wonder why you felt a need to go after me
personally.

I wish you well.


Michael B. Druxman
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UDM
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 26, 2002 10:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sometimes the little devil on my left shoulder whispers in my ear, "UDM, face it, nobody cares what you thought about Cocksucker Blues." But I'm not here to become a Net God. I'd go about things a lot differently if I were. I'd actually go see the Spielberg movies, the elf movies, the Men in Black movies, whatever; and then I'd come home and spew venom all over the Internet.

In over 2 years here I've gotten exactly one compliment from a Famous Person, and that's just 'cause I sent him, unsolicited, something I wrote. Chiefly, I'm just looking for a forum to practice writin' stuff. Up until fairly recently, I had a job as a (sort of) technical writer; I cranked out anywhere from 500 to 10,000 words a day. You had to write really fast, and our clients usually didn't care if you split infinitives. (In fact, our clients usually couldn't spell "cat" if you gave them the "a" and the "t". You have no idea of the illiteracy of the average citizen.) It helped me overcome my perfectionistic tendencies, and taught me how to put words on paper without obsessing over every little detail.

Now that I no longer have that job, it's nice that I can come here and write anything I feel like, so I don't forget how to string words together. Who knows--maybe one day somebody will pay me to know the difference between "convince" and "persuade."

I don't think I'm an especially good reviewer, but I appreciate having a tiny forum where I can honk my horn. Heck, if I thought the whole world read my pieces, I'd probably freeze in panic.

UDM
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Maegs
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 12:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sometimes you get an unexpected compliment.

A few years ago, one of my professor's sent some reviews that our class did of Sondheim's work and we actually heard back from Sondheim.

After the general responses, Sondheim asked my professor to please tell me something. He called me by name and said that my review was the best review of his work that he had ever read. He said that I had a future in this.

Anytime that I think I can't write, I just think of that.

-M
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Charles Tatum



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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 2:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, Ultimate, because of your "Cocksucker Blues" review, I wish I could see the movie. I know you didn't think much of it, but I had only heard rumors of its existence before your review came in.
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y2mckay
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow. That's a pretty cool story, Maegs.

As for my stuff, the only people I know of who read it are my friends, co-workers, and an ex girlfriend. Of course, they all tell me how great it is - but then, they aren't exactly objective third parties are they? Still, if they can get a laugh out of it, then it's all good.
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Oz
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Assorted thouhts...

Sommersby: Druxman emails anyone who reviews his work, don't take it personally. He even sent us an email asking us to add some of his other titles when I reviewed Keaton's Cop (which I thought was fun, indefensibly enough). He's got a lot of time on his hands apparently...

Maegs: You should be reviewing more. I always read your stuff. You're funny n'shit. I once interviewed Mike Figgis via email and at the end of his answers he said he really enjoyed the questions, that they were smart and incisive. I was high on that for a good three months, so I know how you felt with Sondheim. "What? Me? Get out."

Everyone: There's not many traditional film critic fully pro gigs out there - not these days anyway. For me, being a film critic and getting a little cash out of the deal means I can watch movies all day long and nobody bugs me about going to Albertson's and signing up as a shelf stacker. I always held the ideal that, if it grows into something more than that, grand, but my long term plan was to write a book or something, once I had a thousand reviews together.

But wouldn't you know it, got to Sundance, got into a few nice glossy mags, wrote a book or two for other people, kept the electricity on, managed to put the moves on two actresses from my 'three actresses I must proposition before I die' list and I haven't stacked a shelf yet. On the worst day you can have as a film critic, it beats the best day you can have digging ditches for a living. You just need to learn how to eat on $20 a week, that's all.

And you'd be surprised how many times someone will mention that they read some long forgotten review from three years ago of Some Shitty Movie 2 and enjoyed reading it, leaving me to ask them "did I like the movie?"

Berardinelli isn't being paid for his work because 1) his work stinks, 2) being friends with Ebert isn't enough, you've still got to go look for jobs, and 3) his work stinks. There are plenty of folks who've come along since he hit the scene that are doing just fine thank you very much. If Berardinelli is the barometer of internet film criticism success, then myself, Scott, Erik, Jim, Collin, McKay, even K-Dog are at the top of the profession - and I doubt that very seriously. We're good, but...

So tell 'em where to find you, tell 'em you're available, make 'em laugh, baffle them with your speed and intellect. Jobs, audience, these things follow.

PS: Maegs should write more. So should Frosty.
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Jack Sommersby
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 4:50 pm    Post subject: -------------- Reply with quote

Oz,

This weekly's issue of "Ft. Worth Weekly" has a honey of a front-page article: the memoirs of the first year of their talented film critic, whose first gig at this this is. Yeah, he cited the general inconveience of having to drive to Dallas to see a majority of the critic's screenings, but the gist of it is this: It's absolutely fucking great, and only a fool would claim otherwise.

Sufficed to say, I wanted to take the lucky son of a bitch out right after reading it.
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UDM
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Charles Tatum wrote:
Actually, Ultimate, because of your "Cocksucker Blues" review, I wish I could see the movie. I know you didn't think much of it, but I had only heard rumors of its existence before your review came in.


If you're a fan, it might be worth having. Heck, if you've got a few bucks, I can probably locate a bootleg for ya. Just be advised that the bootlegs out there look like mud--the one I saw looked like a copy of a copy of a copy.

UDM
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Oz
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 27, 2002 11:26 pm    Post subject: Re: -------------- Reply with quote

Jack Sommersby wrote:
Sufficed to say, I wanted to take the lucky son of a bitch out right after reading it.


Like, out to Sizzler?

Yeah, actually putting a hit on a film critic is just about the only way to get one of those sweet gigs. I think if I were back home I might be able to swing one now, but then what? There's only one promotion available in the world of newspaper film criticism - level one, you're not a critic, level two, you are. Spend the next thirty years writing for a local paper? Sod that, there's too many things to do in the world. Besides, more people see your writing here than see it in page 49 of the Gulargumbone Gazette.

120,000 people a month, folks. That's some readership right there.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 11:13 am    Post subject: Re: -------------- Reply with quote

Oz wrote:
Jack Sommersby wrote:
Sufficed to say, I wanted to take the lucky son of a bitch out right after reading it.


Like, out to Sizzler?

Yeah, actually putting a hit on a film critic is just about the only way to get one of those sweet gigs. I think if I were back home I might be able to swing one now, but then what? There's only one promotion available in the world of newspaper film criticism - level one, you're not a critic, level two, you are. Spend the next thirty years writing for a local paper? Sod that, there's too many things to do in the world. Besides, more people see your writing here than see it in page 49 of the Gulargumbone Gazette.

120,000 people a month, folks. That's some readership right there.


Oh, the readership is killer here, Oz. But here's the thing that sticks in my craw: they get to see films for free, and mostly in critic's screenings without any noisy, inconsiderate audiences. Ah, Death I have felt thy sting!!!!!
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Oz
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 3:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tis true, tis true. And they know what their paycheck will be next week.

The bastards.

But then, they also have to plan their days around the screening schedule and deal with publicists. that can be nasty in itself.
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Charles Tatum



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2002 5:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

UDM wrote:
Charles Tatum wrote:
Actually, Ultimate, because of your "Cocksucker Blues" review, I wish I could see the movie. I know you didn't think much of it, but I had only heard rumors of its existence before your review came in.


If you're a fan, it might be worth having. Heck, if you've got a few bucks, I can probably locate a bootleg for ya. Just be advised that the bootlegs out there look like mud--the one I saw looked like a copy of a copy of a copy.

UDM


I wish a reputable company would release it, uncut and all. There is a lost Jim Morrison film out there called either "HWY" or "Highway" that would be interesting, but it too is stuck in bootleg hell.
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UDM
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2002 8:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Charles Tatum wrote:
There is a lost Jim Morrison film out there called either "HWY" or "Highway" that would be interesting, but it too is stuck in bootleg hell.


Yep, seen that too. It's about 45 minutes long. Morrison walks around the desert for a while, jumps up and down on the hood of a car, makes it to the city...not much happens. For fans only. I should do a review of that, too, while I'm at it.

UDM
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Charles Tatum



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 31, 2002 9:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I saw an article in the magazine Cashier's du Cinemart, a better read than Cahiers du Cinema.
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