AIN’T IT BACKLASH: HARRY GOES ON TV, BUT TV GOES OFF ON HARRY (part two)

TURN BEN STEIN ON – MARCH 22, 2001:

BEN STEIN G-Love! Welcome, welcome, welcome, G-Love and Special Sauce our new band! (applause) Alright, years ago, years ago I was a critic for The Wall Street Journal. I was the TV critic and I was actually in charge of assigning almost all of the criticism assignments and it was a great, great job, never in my life have I had my ass kissed so much, and I had a lot of training to be a critic, I’d studied film criticism at Yale Drama School and Yale School of Art and Architecture and I used to think, “boy everybody in the world would want this job if he or she could get it.” Now, anyone can get it because of the Internet. You can just set yourself up as a critic, start getting scoops to make yourself a reporter and a gossip columnist too, and suddenly, if you’ve got enough charisma you are an online dynamo of criticism. And the man who is our first guest, our only guest, tonight is a dynamo, an actual Grand Coulee Dam of charisma in the world of film criticism and commentary. We’re very lucky to have with us tonight, from Aint-it-Cool-News dot com, a hugely successful Internet site, from Austin, Texas, home of George W. Bush, please welcome Harry Knowles! (applause)

BEN STEIN Have a seat. Harry, welcome to LA.

HARRY KNOWLES Well, thanks for having me on.

BEN STEIN Are you having fun here?

HARRY KNOWLES Absolutely. I uhh…

BEN STEIN Do you love LA?

HARRY KNOWLES I love Austin, Texas, I visit LA.
(That’s it man. Nothing like kissing up to the locals -RW.)

BEN STEIN Now did you grow up in Austin?

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm, I was born in Austin and then moved away for eight miserable years.

BEN STEIN Where, where was that to?

HARRY KNOWLES Seymour, Texas.

BEN STEIN Oh Seymour! I remember. Now where’s that? (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm.

BEN STEIN Now where’s that at?

HARRY KNOWLES If you were to drive from Dallas to Lubbock there’s a stoplight in between.

BEN STEIN And that’s where it was?

HARRY KNOWLES That’s Seymour.

BEN STEIN I see.

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah.

BEN STEIN Okay, good. Now was your father a film buff?

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm, my father actually started the first – uhh – three film festivals in – umm – in Texas and he had – uhh – he would promote films and bring them in all, basically it was a lot of older films but he would bring like Tobe Hooper, was a filmmaker in uhh…

BEN STEIN And he was the ‘Chainsaw Massacre’ guy?

HARRY KNOWLES Right…

BEN STEIN I have never seen that. Is it really gory?

HARRY KNOWLES Actually no, its all up here. (Harry Knowles points to his head) Uhh – people that watch the movie…

BEN STEIN Well its pretty gory up here. (Ben Stein points to his head)

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, it is. Up here it becomes very gory, but in the film, there’s almost no blood at all.

BEN STEIN Really?

HARRY KNOWLES There’s like one guy who gets his finger slashed and that’s the most blood as I think you see in the whole film.

BEN STEIN That doesn’t seem worthwhile then. (audience laughter) So what was you’re first job? Say when you were twenty-one what were you doing?

HARRY KNOWLES At the age of twenty-one I was selling movie memorabilia and collectibles. Uhh – setting up at shows selling movie posters from the teens all the way up to modern-day stuff.

BEN STEIN Where were you selling it?

HARRY KNOWLES Just at shows all around the country.

BEN STEIN I see, now you started your Web site, its become a huge success. How many people come to your Web site every day?

HARRY KNOWLES Uhh – I think it’s like over two hundred eighty, three hundred thousand a day…

BEN STEIN But is that…

HARRY KNOWLES But there’s two million different people a week.

BEN STEIN Two million different individuals a week?

HARRY KNOWLES That’s what they tell me.

BEN STEIN How do you know that?

HARRY KNOWLES Ahhh – advertising company – ummm – monitors it and checks for – like – IP addresses, complicated stuff that I don’t…
(Uh, are you sure about that number? The number Harry reports seems to change every time he’s asked, as to whether it refers to hits or unique users. -RW)

BEN STEIN Wow, that’s fabulous. So do you make a lot of money from this?

HARRY KNOWLES I do really well!

BEN STEIN Now do you consider yourself, you’re, you’re writing criticism but you’re also writing gossip and you’re also hyping scripts. So what do you consider yourself? A nerd critic? A nerd techie?

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm…

BEN STEIN A nerd nerd? (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES I prefer the term ‘geek.’ Ya know, ‘geek’ is a chicquer sort of term to use.

BEN STEIN It is chic?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, yeah.

BEN STEIN Huh, I didn’t know that.

HARRY KNOWLES Well see, see, the thing is, like what’s your favorite movie?

BEN STEIN My favorite movie, by far, is ‘Gone with the Wind.’ (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES Okay, now when you’re watching…

BEN STEIN Why is that funny? That’s a great movie!

HARRY KNOWLES It’s a wonderful movie. Well, when you’re watching it and, and, and Max Steiner’s score is sweeping up.

BEN STEIN It’s fabulous.

HARRY KNOWLES You get excited.

BEN STEIN Yes, it’s fabulous.

HARRY KNOWLES You’re ‘geeking out.’

BEN STEIN Alright we’re going to continue our discussion of Internet, movies, ‘geeking out’ and ‘whacked’ vocabulary after you look at our advertiser’s content. Do not ‘log off.’ (audience applause)

COMMERCIAL BREAK

BEN STEIN We’re back to expand you’re mindwidth on the oxymoronic topic of ethics, Hollywood and the Internet. Our very special guest Harry Knowles from Austin, Texas (Harry Knowles nods), our wonderful new band G-Love and Special Sauce. (audience applause) We’re very, very happy to have them. Now since you’ve become a star critic online…
(Whoa, did he just say ETHICS? This just might get interesting. -RW)

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah…

BEN STEIN You – ah – get flown out here all the time. How often have you been flown out here in the last few days? Or to anywhere where they’re making movies? A lot right?

HARRY KNOWLES (shaking head) Not too much… I mean uhh….

BEN STEIN Does it, well they fly you out here…

HARRY KNOWLES The last ti…

BEN STEIN They put you in a hotel, they buy you your meals, does that, does that…

HARRY KNOWLES Umm – yeah but sometimes I fly myself, I mean there was a movie being shot in Spain, a little Spanish – ahh – horror film, that I was curious…

BEN STEIN A horror film?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, a horror film.

BEN STEIN ‘Horror.’

HARRY KNOWLES ‘Horror,’

BEN STEIN Alright

HARRY KNOWLES ‘Horror.’

That’s different.

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah.

BEN STEIN Okay.

HARRY KNOWLES Anyway – umm – I flew myself out – and umm – visited the set a couple of days, and – ya know – flew back. Umm – but the thing that’s interesting is, I’m an independent, right ya know, I don’t have – ahh – the financing behind me that say the New York Times or say Time Magazine does, where I can afford to send quote, ‘my critics,’ out to go see things, and, but at the same time I’m in competition with those types of organizations for the same type of items. So sometimes I HAD to do that – ummm – its not something…
( Okay, Stein wasn’t asking whether the studios paid for every trip. He was leading into what they paid for when they did. As far as not being able to afford to send his ‘critics’ to go see things, he’s leaving out a couple of important facts. First, most of those studio-financed trips are to Los Angeles. Second, many of AICN’s key contributors, such as Drew McWeeney/Moriarty, live in the L.A. area. The studios are then paying specifically for Harry to come to town. -RW)

BEN STEIN But you are getting, you are getting wonderful perks. Look there’s this magazine ‘Film Threat…’
(It’s hard to tell, but I believe on the word ‘threat’ all the blood rushed out of Harry’s face.)

HARRY KNOWLES Uhh Hmm…

BEN STEIN And it says – uhh – and its an online ‘zine, and it says, ‘Guess what? The studios and filmmakers don’t really care about what Harry, me, or Roger Ebert think until its time to put a line of ad copy on the posters, if then. The rest of the time they look at film critics as a bunch of dingoes out to make off with their babes. Harry Knowles is not a respected expert on film, he’s just a line item on the marketing budget.’ Now that’s kind of mean isn’t it? I mean you’ve got to be…

HARRY KNOWLES (nodding head) Well Chris Gore’s a sort of mean person (smiles) – umm but…
(What part of “BY RON WELLS” do you not understand? Then again I never really expect Harry to maintain a firm grasp on the facts.)

BEN STEIN Because there must be respect for you or else you wouldn’t have people visiting your site.

HARRY KNOWLES Absolutely – umm ya know – I’d like to think that people respect it, but at the same time – umm – if you read the Talk Backs underneath every review ever written I’m being called a retard.

BEN STEIN Oh my God I’ve read them they’re amazing.

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, yeah.

BEN STEIN Now let me ask you something, what’s the best perk the studios ever given you?

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm, I don’t know, see I’ve never considered like a hotel room a perk because I…
(Dude, that’s not what he asked.)

BEN STEIN You have to be there.

HARRY KNOWLES …I would be sleeping somewhere anyway.

BEN STEIN You have to be there.

HARRY KNOWLES Umm – I don’t tend to eat on their… like when they give you – ummm – like room service, who eats in a hotel?

BEN STEIN I do. (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES I don’t eat at a hotel. There’s better food down the street and around the corner – you know so…

BEN STEIN Have they ever sent a cute girl to your room?

HARRY KNOWLES No – uhh – actually, actually in London – umm – in London I went up to the set of ‘The Mummy’ and – uhh – I was in my hotel room and about one o’clock in the morning I got this phone call and there was allegedly this girl down in the lobby who had been sent for me – umm – and I said – uhh – ‘sent by who?’

BEN STEIN Well she was British, she was probably there to spank you. (audience laughter)
(I don’t really need to say anything here. The image speaks for itself. Feel free to go drink yourself into unconsciousness, I am.)

HARRY KNOWLES Ya know, I, I never got to find out!

BEN STEIN Now you recently visited the set of Ron Howard’s movie about The Grinch…

HARRY KNOWLES Right.

BEN STEIN …and you came back and wrote nice stuff about it. But really what could you…

HARRY KNOWLES I wrote cautionary stuff about it.

BEN STEIN Oh did you?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, if you read what I wrote about ‘The Grinch’ I said the set design looks great, but at that time I hadn’t read the script so I mean ultimately if they come across and it sounds like a bunch of nonsense then its not gonna work.

BEN STEIN Have you ever seen a Ron Howard movie that didn’t come across like a bunch of nonsense? I mean has there ever been a less subtle director than Ron Howard?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, that’s the, the reason he flew me out is I’d been writing nothing but nasty stuff about Ron Howard – ahh – in terms of doing ‘The Grinch’ because – umm – he’s basically he’s a television director, he comes out of television…

BEN STEIN Absolutely.

HARRY KNOWLES …meaning he shot, shoots, he shoots every thing in medium shots…

BEN STEIN Absolutely.

HARRY KNOWLES …and close-ups.

BEN STEIN And nothing subtle noth…

HARRY KNOWLES ‘Far and Away’ was, God!

BEN STEIN Everything is right on-the-nose, he’s like Ron Bass.

HARRY KNOWLES Right.

BEN STEIN Who are your least favorite directors?

HARRY KNOWLES Paul Anderson.

BEN STEIN And what’s he made?

HARRY KNOWLES Umm – God, I don’t want to send people out to see this stuff.

BEN STEIN Well just say the name and we’ll…

HARRY KNOWLES He did a movie called ‘Soldier’ – uhh – which is unbearably awful.

BEN STEIN Wait, who was in that?

HARRY KNOWLES Kurt Russell

BEN STEIN I loved that movie!

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah right!

BEN STEIN I’m not kidding I did, Kurt Russell’s married to my high school classmate Goldie Hawn. I loved that!

HARRY KNOWLES Oh – umm – God that movie’s awful.

BEN STEIN Okay, who’s your most favorite director? (pause) Your most favorite?

HARRY KNOWLES I don’t have one.
(OH, COME ON!)

BEN STEIN Okay who are your three or four most favorite directors?

HARRY KNOWLES My favorite is Michæl Curtiz.

BEN STEIN No, living.

HARRY KNOWLES Oh okay, living. Umm – let’s see my favorite living director. I think the one that’s most interesting for me right now is Spike Jones. I’m very interested to see where he goes next.

BEN STEIN (looks shocked) You’re kidding, I can’t watch him! Well, this is interesting now this exactly, so, so you would say that your taste is probably a hundred percent different from mine based on what we’ve said so far, cause you didn’t even like ‘Gone with the Wind’ right?

HARRY KNOWLES I liked ‘Gone with the Wind’ I just don’t love it.

BEN STEIN How about ‘Blade Runner?’

HARRY KNOWLES I liked ‘Blade Runner.’

BEN STEIN Is it the best movie of the post-war period?

HARRY KNOWLES No.

BEN STEIN What’s the best movie since World War Two? Wait a minute somebody shouted something out.

HARRY KNOWLES All the President’s Men (smiles)
(Uh-oh.)

BEN STEIN (talking to audience member) What’d you shout out?

AUDIENCE MEMBER Toxic Avenger.

BEN STEIN No, what’s the best movie since World War Two?

HARRY KNOWLES Umm – kind of partial to ‘All the President’s Men.’
(Oops. Could he have made a choice that was dumber or more ironic? We’ll discuss this at the end.)

BEN STEIN You’re kidding!

HARRY KNOWLES I liked the movie.

BEN STEIN I also, Carl Bernstein is in that movie and he was my best friend as a child, a young child we were together. Alright, we’re going to have to go to commercial in a few minutes and – uhh – I’m not a member of the psychic know-it-alls dot com cult, when we come back we’re going to find out just what the future holds for our guest Harry Knowles, please stay tuned. (applause)

COMMERCIAL BREAK

BEN STEIN Welcome back, welcome back to ‘Turn Ben Stein On.’ I am here with the proprietor of Aint-it-Cool-News dot com, Mr. Harry Knowles, a guru of movie criticism and also TV criticism you had an endless discussion of one of my least favorite shows ‘ER’ on your site not long ago.

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah.

BEN STEIN I couldn’t believe that anyone was that interested in it. But anyway, we’re discussing Internet, movies, criticism, why people go to the movies, ethics. Now you started the site what year?

HARRY KNOWLES Ahh – Ninety-six.

BEN STEIN Was it a hit right away?

HARRY KNOWLES Umm – I had been writing in – umm – ahh – in newsgroups for a really long time online and – uhh – when I first started the site I brought over maybe two thousand or so readers that had been listening to me there and wanting a more permanent location for my writing.

BEN STEIN Now could anyone do what you’ve done? Could anyone start a site and be a critic? I mean assuming that he or she is minimally talented?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of people that sit there and try, the problem is that it takes so long before you can actually – ahh – begin to use it as a medium for employ – umm – you have – it takes a long time to build up an audience to where advertisers will come and pay for your existence.

BEN STEIN Okay, now you started by send… started yourself by sending in some fake emails from yourself that you said were some from other people, correct? I mean I have that in an interview with you.

HARRY KNOWLES Actually, actually it wasn’t, I never sent myself fake emails because I am myself.
(Cut the semantics, Comic Book Guy, it’s not funny.)

BEN STEIN You sent the site e-mail.

HARRY KNOWLES What I would do is that I would spend all weekend and – ya know – all night doing research on a story. Like say I’d get a tip that – ahh – the James Bond film is filming in Bangkok – umm – I would – ahh – begin scouring the Bangkok newspapers looking for information – umm – I would create spies that were allegedly sending stuff up.

BEN STEIN Now do you think that the New York Times does that?

HARRY KNOWLES No.

BEN STEIN …or The New Yorker?

HARRY KNOWLES No.

BEN STEIN …or The Wall Street Journal?

HARRY KNOWLES As a matter of fact…

BEN STEIN Then why are you allowed to do it? Why are you allowed to make up reviews that other critic’s aren’t?

Get the rest of the transcript of Harry’s Ben Stein appearance with commentary from Ron Wells in part three of AIN’T IT BACKLASH: HARRY GOES ON TV, BUT TV GOES OFF ON HARRY>>>




Posted on March 28, 2001 in Features by
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