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

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

HARRY KNOWLES Because I’m in control of my site and I do – umm – what I feel is necessary to be able to help a film that needs the help that it needs. Uhh – ‘Gods and Monsters’ was a movie that many critics had seen at Sundance but weren’t allowed to publish reviews in their newspapers because their newspaper editors wouldn’t allow them to write about a film that doesn’t have a release date or a distributor in the U.S. because it was non news in their opinion.
(Uh, so you’re saying it’s okay for you to do it just because you can?)

BEN STEIN But so you, but then you are, you have now tremendously expanded, let us say, the ethical box of criticism you might say or stepped outside of the something…

HARRY KNOWLES I’m not so much, I’m not so much of a film critic. I like to think of myself a film advocate. I’m somebody that – uhh – tries to find films that really excite me, that I know have and audience and, by any means necessary, get them out there so that people can find them. I don’t believe in allowing a good film to die. We see so many of them that are great films that never find an audience that never get seen by anyone and that’s because after a critic sees a movie and they write a review they just drop the ball, they, they just pull off, they don’t help it.

BEN STEIN Have you ever heard of a site called Film Threat?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, Chris Gore’s site.

BEN STEIN Now he says that you write fictitious reviews, err write reviews of movies written by friends of yours under pseudonyms and say that they’re great movies and you never say this was written by my best friend or this was written by a guy who works for me and you say that this was a great script written by Joe Schmeckless without revealing that he’s your best friend.

HARRY KNOWLES He was – ahh – specifically referring to a script called ‘Amusements’ written by a fellow by the name of Drew McWeeny.

BEN STEIN Well he actually referred to two of them.
(Actually, no. I quoted Harry in reference to comments he made on behalf of two scripts, but I listed only ‘Amusements’ as being suspect.)

HARRY KNOWLES Right – uhhh – actually the other one he was wrong about. Ummm – but – uhh – Drew McWeeny – uhh – is a unpublished screenwriter who goes out on pitch meetings all the time.

BEN STEIN And you thought you’d help him.

HARRY KNOWLES No! I liked his script. I have many friends that write scripts that never see the light of day. I’ve got, you know, about five friends in Austin that give me scripts all the time and in my hotel room one of my best friends just gave me three of his scripts, if I don’t like them you’ll never hear about them.
(So, because you didn’t lie for everyone, it’s okay?)

BEN STEIN But you, but do you think maybe you owe it to the audience to say, ‘by the way this guy is a good friend of mine?’

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm…
(Busted.)

BEN STEIN Alright, you’ll think about that.

HARRY KNOWLES (speaking over Ben Stein) When, when, when…

BEN STEIN You’ll think about that.

HARRY KNOWLES …When Chris Gore came up with it, I admitted that he was. Ya know, it’s… I said that he was an unknown screenwriter who had never had a screenplay published, never had a screenplay made into a film, that’s absolutely true.
(Hello! Ron Wells! Oh, forget it. Copping to it only when you’re busted doesn’t exactly absolve you from pulling the stunt in the first place, and Harry would have been caught no matter what. It was actually a reader that pointed it out to me after I revealed McWeeny’s name in the first article. If at that time you went on AICN and did a search for “MCWEENY”, can you guess what came up?)

BEN STEIN Alright we have to pause, we have to sell things so that Comedy Central may pay us our modest wage, but when we say we’re coming back we’re not kidding. Please stay tuned.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

BEN STEIN Thank you G-Love and Special Sauce welcome back to ‘Turn Ben Stein On.’ Ya know Harry, what would you be doing if there were no Internet?

HARRY KNOWLES Ummm – basically I would be selling movie memorabilia, which I love doing.

BEN STEIN Door to door?

HARRY KNOWLES No, ahh – just going to shows. One of the great things that I loved selling movie posters is you would have somebody come up and they would, say they were a doctor or a nurse, and they would be, ‘I want to have doctor-themed things’ and so you would have the young interns and you know I would…

BEN STEIN Oh I like interns, I remember that! (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah, I would go through boxes looking for everything that had a nurse shot or a doctor shot.

BEN STEIN Ooh, I like nurse shots! (audience laughter)

HARRY KNOWLES I bet you would!

BEN STEIN You bet I do! You bet I do!

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah.

BEN STEIN Now here’s the gig, I’m a wounded soldier you’re a nurse whose crept into my room, you kind of like… Oh wait, I, I forgot where I was. Anyway, what would you like to have engraved onto your tombstone if you could choose it?

HARRY KNOWLES He finished a sentence.
(What?!?)

BEN STEIN He finished a sentence?

HARRY KNOWLES Yeah.

BEN STEIN Did you have trouble finishing sentences?

HARRY KNOWLES According to my junior English teacher, yes. I kept using ellipses and I still have that problem.

BEN STEIN Now if you could transform yourself, by a snap of your fingers, into any movie star, and be any movie star, who would you want to be?

HARRY KNOWLES Sidney Greenstreet

BEN STEIN Really?

HARRY KNOWLES Yes, I love Sidney.

BEN STEIN Now who is Sidney Greenstreet?

HARRY KNOWLES Uhh – he’s the fat man from ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ He’s the guy with the little fez on his head in ‘Casablanca.’ He just was the coolest fat man who ever walked the face of planet earth.

BEN STEIN And who else besides him? How about Orson Welles?

HARRY KNOWLES Orson Welles was pretty cool but he wasn’t as cool when he was fat as Sidney Greenstreet was, now Orson Welles was really good, his peak for me was when he was the thin Orson Welles. Umm – with the possible exception of ‘Touch of Evil,’ which was amazing.

BEN STEIN But in ‘Othello’ he was thin. Anyway, Harry Knowles thank you for being here very, very much. Ladies and gentlemen, Harry Knowles! And Harry, we have a custom that you do not have to do, you don’t have to do it but what I do at the end of this and I’m gonna do this until I die, which should be any minute now, I’m gonna do some pushups now…

HARRY KNOWLES Ahhh!

BEN STEIN …just to show that I’m still alive. Ready? Band let’s have some pushup music.
(Ben Stein and Harry Knowles do pushups)

FADE OUT
FADE IN

BEN STEIN Most talk shows have talented, fairly talented, house bands but have you ever had the chance to hear musicians who just blow your brains out? Today I’m taking music off the sidelines and putting it on the headlines. Power to the people, G-Love!
(Band plays for two and a half minutes until show ends)

RON WELLS TURN
Oooookay. As the producers felt they couldn’t even fill the entire running time with Harry, I’m curious what might have been left on the cutting room floor. What was included rarely worked to his advantage anyway. As Ben Stein name-checked Film Threat and read from the third feature on air, we had to respond. I get the feeling that at least Bill Maher’s staff had read through the articles as well. Harry might have been able to limit awareness of the Ben Stein show once he knew it was a disaster, but he couldn’t stop promoting the live “Politically Incorrect” until it was much too late.

Part of the problem here is that Harry’s response to any negative publicity is to pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that it blows over. He never responded to the Film Threat features on his own site, and rarely anywhere else. When actually cornered into providing an answer, he too often “shapes” the truth or refers to it sparingly to limit his guilt or responsibility as much as he thinks he can get away with. Look at the evasive answers in the transcript. Hell, remember that whole Joe Hallenbeck/Michæl Gerhard video piracy mess from the third and second articles? I have records of Harry providing three distinctly different explanations of his knowledge or involvement in the whole affair. The first was to Reel.com’s Jeff Wells after the series ran. The second is in an email to an unwitting participant in the debacle. The third response to me in a taped phone interview where he seemed to be searching for how much I knew before answering. From what I’ve learned from other sources, none of these explanations is likely to be the whole truth. What does this mean? Until he decides to respond like an actual adult, he’ll probably have to answer the same questions over and over again, not unlike twice in the last week.

The evasiveness may really be just a symptom of another problem. Who is Harry Knowles, really? The Internet has long been a place where people could create new and different identities for themselves. Harry’s penetration into public awareness is largely due to the image he has built for himself on AICN. The difficulty is determining where the little animated guy on the site ends and the real man begins. Is Harry himself still conscious of the difference? However I feel about Knowles, I’ve tried to always stick to what he’s done and not how he looks. It’s sad that he specifically chose a heavy actor as the one he would most like to be. Is being overweight so much a part of his identity that he can’t envision himself differently? Hell, is the best epitaph he could envision one that only indicates he’s capable of articulating a thought? What kind of self-image does he really have?

I think this is what Ben Stein was searching for from the supposedly innocuous questions asked toward the end. The real defining moment would be Knowles’ selection of “All the President’s Men” as his favorite post-war film, which can be taken in a lot of different ways. First, though I somehow doubt Harry was consciously aware of it, this choice could be construed as a dig at the host, noted Nixon speechwriter/apologist Ben Stein.

Second, it goes a long way toward explaining the intended image projected by AICN. Think about it — a few lone seekers of truth employing colorfully-named confidential sources in the struggle against large corrupt bodies of power. Sure sounds romantic. The irony here is that Harry seems unable or unwilling to comprehend that reporters Woodward and Bernstein desperately struggled to expose illegal acts that were largely violations of ethics. It was the “ends-justify-the-means” and “above-accountability” mentalities that got everyone in trouble in the first place. Sound familiar?

I can’t imagine what’s going through the heads of Scott Carter and the suits at Comedy Central. If they’re going through with this project they’ve got their work cut out for them. I don’t think Harry’s a bad guy, but if he has any hopes for the small screen then he has to start being more honest, at least with himself. Ambition isn’t such a bad thing, but it would help if he sounded as if he still cared as much about movies as he does about himself. Maybe the next time he’s asked the movie question he should pick something less fraught with meaning and mixed messages and more representative of who he is, what he wants, and the trail he blazes behind him. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” sounds about right.

Special thanks to the Ain’t It Cool News talk backers who assisted with the transcript and research for this story.
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Posted on March 27, 2001 in Features by
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