To the editors:
I recently caught up with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of the current Indiana Jones offering, “Temple of Dumb,” published in your June 2 issue.
I find myself amazed and amused that he purports to tell us how this movie reads to the untrained eye. That brings to mind the obvious question: Through whose eyes did Mr. Rosenbaum see this movie? Did he borrow a pair from a less intellectually endowed, non-moviegoing acquaintance? As an experienced reviewer and–though I don’t have his biography or resume in front of me–apparently a well-read and even scholarly man on the subject of movies, surely he cannot himself claim to see this movie as the common man sees it?
And Mr. Rosenbaum is certainly entitled not to like the movie–yea, to heap his scorn upon it. I’m not putting it on my 100 Best list, either. But to cry that it’s manipulative and stifles the imagination? He may as well complain that water is wet.
Yes, yes, many of today’s movies shut off individual creative interaction. Maybe that’s the result of an increasingly directive directorial art, as transformed by the overrated auteur theory, in which the director cum creator chooses what we will see, and how, and ours is merely to react.
And yes, yes, movies are powerfully manipulative, appealing to the instantaneous, uncritical response of the subconscious–always have been, always will be. So, but to a lesser degree, are the stories, myths, legends and epics of human civilization. All but the simplest narratives are by nature layered with subtext, and subtext is by nature just plain sneaky. And that includes the action serials of Rosenbaum’s idyllic, pre-Joseph Campbell youth.
But to uncover Reagan, Freud, Jung, Joseph Campbell and (ugh!) vagina dentata, in the apparently untidy, perhaps evil? and most certainly politically incorrect ids of Lucas and Spielberg? Not to mention the iconic residue (sounds like what I pick up after my dog every evening) of Jesus, Hitler and the Nazis? Whew!
I get an unreasoned thrill from informed, well-reasoned analyses of movies, and Mr. Rosenbaum has provided many excellent examples in the past. But “Temple of Dumb” reads as though he’s prepping for a graduate thesis–and stripmining the material for far more than it’s worth in the process. Without denying subtext, the subconscious, or the value of psychoanalysis, I don’t believe that this is legitimate criticism, and I’m not sure I believe this movie is worthy of this kind of in-depth examination.
I’m going to call his review, Everything I Wish I’d Never Had to Hear from Jonathan Rosenbaum on the Subject of Indiana Jones, and More.
And I issue an invitation to the man who calls Field of Dreams “treacle” to come out into the sunlight and breathe the same air as the rest of us now and then.
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
My use of the terms “trained eye” and “untrained eye” had nothing to do with my own capacities as a film reviewer; as I thought was made clear by the context, I was referring to psychoanalytical training. As to whether “this movie is worthy of this kind of in-depth examination,” I was responding to the massive cultural importance (as well as free advertising) given to this movie by the mainstream media, as well as the “serious” attention already paid to its predecessors by several academics–a blitzkrieg of hype and validation that comprises the sunlight and air that Ms. Langley asks me to share.