The New Yorker used to be in the habit of sending someone to screenings along with their movie critics for the purposes of fact checking. Anthony Lane’s latest piece of cocktail chat—it’s Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces he’s discussing between sips of his martini this week—suggests that tough times at Condé Nast may have led to an abandonment of the practice. How else to account for the falsification in Lane’s review?
”[Penélope] Cruz is certainly more worshipped than ever by [Almodóvar’s] camera, and you have to laugh when, fresh from intercourse, with mussed hair, she stares at the bathroom mirror, as bare as a baby, and declares, “I look awful.” If you say so, dear.”
What Lane doesn’t bother to tell you is that, just before saying that line, Cruz’s character has vomited. The reason?
The older industrialist who’s keeping her has forced her to go away with him for a weekend and, as she puts it a few scenes later, stayed on top of her the whole time. It’s a powerful moment of sexual disgust. Right after the scene Lane describes, Cruz returns to the bedroom and Almodóvar shows us the old satyr lying in bed, so wizened and satiated that Cruz, and we, mistake him for dead. The image is meant to repel us. In the world of Pedro Almodóvar, a world steeped in the allure of movies and the glamor of stars, the idea of Penélope Cruz being touched by this rapacious old jackal is a violation.
Lane, though, determined to preen on the surface, can only treat it as if this moment were a ridiculous sop to a star’s vanity. But here he lets slip some of the contempt his dry little bon mots usually conceal. The terribly, terribly witty young man becomes George Sanders putting up with Marilyn Monroe in All About Eve. The condescension of his “dear,” written in the tone you use to address a foolish child or a vain, airheaded starlet, combined with his falsification of the moment, adds up to an old story: the voice men use to dismiss women as frivolous, empty-headed narcissists.
Lane has already suckered enough people—many of them who ought to know better—into thinking he’s what a critic should be. In fact, he’s as redolent of the shallowness of movie culture right now as the blockbusters that the people who coo over Lane would never condescend to see. (“Anthony, meet G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I have a hunch you two will get along famously.”) That few people seem willing to demand more from criticism is part of why our craft is in freefall. But what accuracy The New Yorker still demands from its writers, that’s another question.
Charles Taylor is a New York-based writer and critic. Click here to read our 2006 interview with him (by Jeremiah Kipp).