Tuesday, January 6, 2015

RUMBLE IN THE PENUMBRA: Joe Dante Vs. Cleveland Amory

Writer Cleveland Amory is best remembered for his work as a champion of animal rights. This is because, as a writer, Cleveland Amory kinda sucked.

The late TV Guide critic was a writer in the Hedda Hopper vein, which would have made him feel very much at home on Internet chatboards. You could spend you life reading this kind of "criticism" and come away knowing nothing about movies and television, how they work, or why we waste our time with them. For these people, "criticism" is all about bitchy, nihilistic wordplay, tarted up in run-on sentences in an attempt to mask feelings of insecurity. Amory's style of writing is the mean girl of criticism.

So, when a camp character like Cleveland Amory came face to face with a DARK SHADOWS, you can imagine things got nasty. In the Feb. 1, 1969, issue of TV Guide, Amory famously ripped the series in a futile attempt to understand its appeal.
"A few weeks ago, when we were down with the flu, we watched the show for a whole week," he wrote, presumably using the majestic plural. "Sick as we were - and were a sick boy - we were, compared with DARK SHADOWS, in the pink. But then a remarkable thing happened. At the end of the week, by which time we had decided that this series was, in our considered judgement, the worst in the history of entertainment, we found that when Saturday came and where was no show, we missed it."
A dare you to go back and count those commas.

Trust me. I smoke a pipe.

"And thus we arrived at a true understanding of the secret of DARK SHADOWS' success," he continued. "The worse it is, the more you'll love it." The rectal wart of a writer goes on to ridicule two children (David Henesy and Denise Nickerson, specifically) before fucking off to the next assignment ... which probably involved funding a clever way to get the word "poo" into a review of SCOOBY DOO. (Note: You can read the entire DARK SHADOWS piece HERE.)

But wait! A champion has emerged to defend the honor of DARK SHADOWS!

And he's brought back-up!

In 1971, two years after Amory 's piece was published in TV Guide, Castle of Frankenstein published a lengthy retort by none other than the future director of GREMLINS, Joe Dante. Still several years away from directing his first feature, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, Dante was a regular contributor to the magazine. His piece on DARK SHADOWS was published around the same time ABC was giving the series the boot, and it appears Dante was still a little pissed at Amory's review.

"TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory (both of him) opined that DARK SHADOWS is the all-time worst presentation 'in the history of entertainment.' This reveals Mr. Amory's lack of familiarity with the subject, since everybody's aware that Bert I. Gordon's VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS is the worst thing in the history of entertainment!"

VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS features a giant, toga-clad Beau Bridges go-go dancing. Just so you know.

"The fact is that DARK SHADOWS, a videotaped daily ABC-TV serial, is an oasis in the wasteland of TV's daytime programmed mental retardation," Dante wrote. Even though we're not supposed to use words like "mental retardation" as an insult these days, I appreciate the sentiment.  Dante's piece isn't built on a foundation of Amory-rage, though, and he mounts a sterling defense of the show on fairly technical levels. He applauds the show's use of color (which was actually a lot more tasteful than the LOOK! COLOR! palettes of other show's of the late 1960s) and argues that Barnabas Collins made a better hero than villain.

"(Jonathan) Frid makes a more persuasive hero than vampire, battling in true Van Helsing style against the various powers of Evil ... (and) manages to imbue the character with some dignity and even depth in the face of what is obviously limited rehearsal time," he wrote. "Despite the occasional mistakes, or maybe because of them, DS is highly enjoyable. The entire cast has been able and often better than the material, and the directors frequently work out some stylish effects and unexpectedly nice touches."

You can read Dante's entire piece HERE.

Ironically, Dante can also be partially blamed for the 2012 DARK SHADOWS film. In 1988, he turned down the offer to direct BATMAN. His reasons were noble: Dante said he identified more with the Joker than Batman, which he worried would handicap the film. Burton apparently felt otherwise and let Jack Nicholson run ramshackle of the production. The film's success elevated Burton's career and put him on the path to Collinwood. But that's OK. I'm not holding any grudges.

Against Joe Dante, anyway.


Unknown said...

LOL that last line xDDDDD

Unknown said...

Thanks! I'm thinking about putting in on a T-shirt.

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