You know, much like many people, I was very much hoping to never talk about Doug Walker and the Nostalgia Critic again. I guess I always suspected that that would be impossible, but-eh, yeah, like many of his critics and other contemporaries, yeah, I’ve come to the same conclusion that we do indeed need to talk about this.
Okay, first background. I’ve written on Nostalgia Critic and Channel Awesome a couple times in the past, even once having one of my commentaries on the site’s downfall published on Age of the Nerd.
For those who aren’t familiar, Doug Walker performs as the Nostalgia Critic and does these humorous critical reviews of pop culture’s past. He was essentially the film equivalent of the Angry Video Game Nerd and had-, well technically he still has it, a successful website called Channel Awesome that him and several other internet pop culture critics would post their reviews under the same banner. Unfortunately, for reasons that are way too long to explain right now, that idealized Channel Awesome brand has been heavily tarnished in the last years and basically Channel Awesome is down to Nostalgia Critic and Brad Jones, aka The Cinema Snob, and for very legitimate reasons, him and many of the few people still involved with Channel Awesome behind-the-scenes are very heavily disliked by the majority of the internet review community, especially the majority of their former contributors.
There’s tons of articles and pieces on many of the reasons why this is and documented testimony from several of CA’s former contributors. Somebody even made a feature-length film about it on Youtube..., You can all seek those pieces out yourselves if you’re not familiar with some of the egregious behaviors and practices that Channel Awesome has done.(Search #ChangeTheChannel, google docs, perhaps check out this movie from Cinematic Venom.)
I don’t honestly want to get into that anymore, except to say that as somebody who was/is a fan of the Nostalgia Critic, as a reviewer and critic first and second as a comedic character, these revelations have tarnished my thoughts on him and several of the people who continue to work with him or associate with him. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen a few of his reviews and videos since these revelations, but I’ve skipped most of them in recent months...- and well over a year in fact and I don’t follow Channel Awesome on Youtube anymore for updates, so I haven’t kept up with whatever he’s been doing in the last year as closely as I used to. (I think I watched his "Siskel & Ebert" Top Ten List, which I originally found him years ago, when I found his original Siskel & Ebert piece. If he happens to talk about something that really peaks my interest, I might check him out, but that's few and far between these days.)
So, when I first heard some rather innocuous notes about him doing a bad review of something this time, I kinda just dismissed it at first. Quality-wise I’ve never actually thought his reviews actually varied as wildly as some of his more harshest critics claim, but I was just sorta done with him and didn’t think anything of it. Then, I kept seeing people talking about it, his review of the movie, “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” several people and several people who I wouldn’t normally expect to comment on this at all.
Maybe it’s just the subject matter, I thought. Angry Pink Floyd fans protesting or something? Still though, there was too many commenting and people I respect too who I would normally think wouldn't be interested enough to care. (When Anthony Fantano of "The Needle Drop" commented, that caught me attention, and I don't even usually watch him, but I do know to pay attention when he comments, and yeah, if he's talking about it; I figure, eh, maybe I need to as well. BTW, I haven't watched any other critical review of the review though, outside of internet comments, I've seen they exist, but I haven't watched.) so, yes, I watched the review, reluctantly. Mostly to say I did, I figured post something snarky on Twitter about it, and then never mention it again.
Um..., yeah, unfortunately this is bad. Particularly bad. Unusually bad, and yeah, I think even several of his defenders, however many are left have kinda bailed on this one.
Okay, I've got a lot of thoughts on this, and I'm trying to contextualize all of them. This might come off a bit scattered, this critique, or a review that's already scatterbrained, but I'm gonna to explain how I'm approaching this, 'cause I do come at this from a few different directions, so...
Let's start with this, I’ve seen the movie before. I’ve listened to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album on a few occasions and I own copies of a couple Pink Floyd album and am very familiar with their music; I can reasonably call myself a major Pink Floyd fan. That said, personally, I kinda do get where he’s trying to come from here, ‘cause I don’t actually love “The Wall” that much.
I think it works best as a stage spectacle, and I do love several of the songs on the album, a few of them like “Comfortably Numb” and “Is There Anybody Out There” are some of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, but I actually can’t stand listening to the whole album. I think there is some filler, even if conceptually it's pretty evocative and interesting, but it’s way too long and without the imagery to coincide with the songs, I don’t think the album improves on repeated listens. I like it fine, it's a good, maybe even a very good album, but I don't think it's as great as many others do. When it comes to Pink Floyd, I’m team “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here”, all the way. As for the movie “The Wall”, eh, I kinda have similar thoughts. While I don’t think it’s an outright bad movie, and I can see how certain people can view it as great, Roger Ebert for instance, makes a really good case for it as an ultimate depiction of what Truffaut would call, "The Agony of making cinema".
Ironically, that's one of my defenses for why I like "To Boldly Flee" much more than Walker's other two anniversary movies...- but, anyway, the point I'm making is that, I think there’s plenty of room for legitimate criticism of it, even in comedic parody reviews to be helmed from it.
It’s just so, bizarre-, it’s not-,there's a lot of levels, and I'm not gonna cover all of it; I'm late to this party, and I'm certain others have already said most of the major criticisms of it by now, even how badly he's misinterpreted the meanings of the lyrics, which-, he might be doing on purpose, I don't know-, but I do have a few things I want to say about this, 'cause as bad as this is, and yes, make no mistake about this review, this is terrible on every level, but..., um...-
Okay, look, I'm just gonna roll a lot of thoughts out there, some of them are contradictory and perhaps hypocritical, which considering Walker, shouldn't be surprising or anything. I mean, first thing is, I’m not against non-traditional criticisms or reviews. I mean, hell, online video critical reviews are already a form of a non-traditional critical analysis to begin with. Not all movie reviews have to follow any stringent form of a cohesive structure. Off the top of my head, I can think of several famous Roger Ebert reviews that broke with the format and structure of a traditional movie review. He even wrote reviews in the form of a song parody too. Look up his review of “Wet Hot American Summer” if you don’t believe me which was done as a parody of Allan Sherman's "Hello, Muddah, Hello Fuddah,", or “Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties” which was done in the form of a fictitious interviews with the animated titular cat, or his great movie review of “Pulp Fiction” which is actually written with the same non-linear narrative structure as the film. I’ve written several reviews that differ wildly from the norm. Hell, I wrote multiple reviews of “The Hunger Games” movies in the form of a pro wrestling promo, because I wanted to insinuate just show how much the franchise appeared to be lifting from the narrative structure, story structure and in some cases, actual famous plot elements from famous pro wrestling storylines.
You do this long enough, you begin to play and toy with the structure of a typical review once in a while. So this isn’t an issue with Nostalgia Critic doing a non-conventional review, Or non-conventional for him for that matter, ‘cause he’s done several musical reviews before and several that focused primarily on sketches as opposed to just giving a straight-away review before and no, I may think some of those personally vary in quality, I never came out of any of those reviews of his before, and genuinely didn’t know whether or not I was even watching a review. That was always, always clear!
Like I've said, I never came at Nostalgia Critic from the perspective that I wanted to see something funny; I always came at him as a critic, ‘cause that’s what I was seeking out. Him being funny was and still is secondary to me. This however, I mean, he does give a very minor sentence or two of his thoughts on whether he likes it, but even with that, I’m honestly not that sure I know whether or not he even likes the movie! I knew he cared more about the making funny videos part of videomaking, but I never saw it on the screen until now, not in his reviews anyway. Like, I knew he’s trying to make a review in the form of a parody of the film, and maybe he succeeded in that respect, ‘cause “The Wall” as a movie is also a bit of an eccentric and elaborate mess; but the film was also apparently a nightmarish disjointed disaster of a production to make and it feels like a torturous exercise to watch, and that's why it's compelling. For Walker however, this was not a torturous production. This was elaborate, it was expensive to make, he had named collaborators, he had all the tools to make it, and it doesn’t seem or feel like he had any real trouble making it. He even had extra songs and materials, enough to put out an album from Rob Scanlon, but, there’s no real pain or agony; I’d call it Truffaut’s “Joy of Filmmaking” but considering Walker’s past MOs and work, I feel like this is the “Blissful Ignorant Joy of Filmmaking.”
That said, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to go after him for this,- I mean for this alone, there's other reasons of this being bad to trash him, but I think we’ve all at some point or another had that feeling while creating something. Admit it, we’ve all had a project or two that we all thought was going to be the best thing ever and when/if it ever comes out, everyone else and possibly you at some point, realize just how bad, troubling, disturbing, or all three of those it actually is. I know I’ve had several, abandoned screenplays, movie reviews I wish I could take back; I’m sure if somebody wanted to they can seek out several different blogposts of mine that qualify, many of which I’d probably agree with them on it. I have no idea whether or not Doug Walker has realized the error of his hubris on “The Wall”, (Probably not) but if he hasn’t yet, perhaps he will soon, because here’s the thing, the question I’m wondering the most is, “Why did he do this?”
You don’t go through all this and not have a reason to, right? I hope not at least, ‘cause if there was no reason for him to make this, then, what did he just do? Did he really just put all this time and energy into a review of something that he really didn’t have anything to say or discuss regarding it? Even the reviews of his I hate the most never had that.
Or perhaps, it’s, as many have suspected, that Walker just wants to do sketches and skits in his videos more than reviewing movies and other pop culture ephemera and he thought this would be a way to do it?
Okay, I will concede that that’s probably true. From what I can tell, from a content perspective, the biggest criticism made about Nostalgia Critic’s work, in particular his recent work, is that he now includes way too many sketches in his reviews instead of in his earlier work, where, while there would always be funny bits and asides, he would mostly stick to simply reviewing the movie as an over-the-top comedic monologue. So, that’s the big question that separates people on him as a reviewer/content creator, do you like his sketches or not?
I’ll be blunt, usually, I'm okay with them. Even up to the part where I stopped watching him; sometimes they made me laugh, occasionally they didn’t, sometimes I’d prefer to skim or skip over them, but generally, I was okay with them and never really saw a big problem with the sketches. Mainly because, and this is important, they were done within the framing of a review. If you didn’t think they were funny, fine; I didn’t think they were always funny either, and when they were on their own and he was left to his own devices like in his other notorious flop, “Demo Reel”, yeah, they can be bad. But, I always took them as simply another part of the review, something to add to or place within the context of whatever he’s talking about. In that context, I usually thought they worked fine. It’s the framing device that to me, makes them work…, usually. He usually had a point to them.
And also, I think his defense of them was actually really strong. In his review of “Christmas with the Kranks” he actually takes on the people who make this criticism of him, as he decides to review that movie without any of the extra stuff that his-then typical reviews had and do a review in the same old-style that he used to do, when he first started out with basically just a camera, a basement wall and some clips. He showed how and why it made no sense to continually keep him locked in the aesthetic and approach to film reviewing he had years ago, when he was just starting out, broke, didn’t have the best equipment or ability to do more than just, talk to the screen, and add some minor effects, and no actors or anything else. I understand that. I don’t write movie reviews the way I did ten years ago, why should he? Honestly, I think the argument that he uses too many sketches is kind of a dumb one, even if the argument is that, “They’re not funny,” that might be true, but they can just easily have a larger point regardless and as a tool for a review, I’ve been okay with that; I’ve never honestly thought that that was something he should be knocked for. If anything, I suspect that the people who criticize them more-or-less are more on side of the Nostalgia Critic then they realize, 'cause what they're essentially saying is that, they want him to do more of the actual, movie reviewing. Cause, that's what he does; he's a critic. He might be a character, but that's also his job! He watches and then he comments, reviews and criticizes what he's watched. That's why I stick with contextalizing him as a critic, and not as a character.
At least, that was the reason I can give to defend them…, until now anyway. Cause that framing device, is not in this review. At all. This isn’t a review. It’s completely lacking in wit, in commentary, in criticisms even, and any observations and thoughts there are are all hidden under these pretentions. (Like, why is it a clipless review to begin with? It's not like his reviews of movies that are still in theaters, I get why those are clipless, why is this one of a 37-year-old movie that's readily available, clipless? I mean, you can still do the musical parody, just have clips as well.)
I don’t know; I will say that he was at least ambitious. The ambition just makes it worst, but at least he had that, and whatever he wants to say, it seems like he’s saying it with conviction? Perhaps he feels that it all just went right over our heads? Fair enough, the actual movie kinda went over mine.
Actually, no, I don’t think I can even give him that. This was just inexcusable. Walker's biggest problem,- well, he's got a lot of problems as we've now found out, but his biggest problem as a performer has always been that he's wildly misinterpreted his own strengths and he doesn't truly understand what the appeal of him actually is.
In both a review, and a comedy sketch, you have to have a point of view and it has to be clear, regardless of whatever else you’re doing. Audience may agree or disagree with it, but it has to be pointed; despite how some wish to believe, we aren’t unbias and we can’t review as though we are. Even a neutral perspective is a bias one. Comedy and satire in particular are especially bias if they’re to be any good at all. Which is really why, Nostalgia Critic’s review of “The Wall” doesn’t work. It’s not any of these things. It’s not a critique, a review, a celebration, a piece of admiration, it’s not even fan service as far as I can tell. It’s that rare piece of high-budget, excess gone away from its creator, art that’s truly visionless. He had nothing to say, he had nothing to comment or criticize. He did it because...- I- I don't know, he got the guy from Slipknot to be a video of his and he needed to come up with something for him to do. If anybody's got a better explanation, I'd be happy to hear it. (Actually, no I wouldn't I take that back.)
And, I can see how it’s easy to use this review as a metaphor for Doug Walker and Channel Awesome as a whole. The ability and means to do whatever they wanted and as well as they could, and yet they still manage to ostracize everyone and turn everybody off because of their single-minded and simple objective, of just being famous for making videos online. Well, maybe that’s appropriate. He made a forty-minute mind-numbing aimless review of a 40-year-old movie, that was based on a 40-year-old live show, that was based on a 40-year-old album, and nobody knows why he did it or what he was trying to say about it, and the few things he tried to say showed that he totally misunderstood and misinterpreted the context of the material.
It's bad, but can I ask all of you to do me a favor anyway: if ever I write any piece or review that's as bad as Nostalgia Critic's "The Wall" review, just let me know. (And I mean, "IN THE FUTURE". As much as I'd appreciate the hits, don't go searching through my catalogue to seek out bad work from me. I know there's bad work there, I don't think this bad, but I'm my worst critic. Trust me, the bad pieces from my past haunt me enough, but, in the future...) Cause, it's not fair to just throw this all onto Walker's supposed lack of talent or awareness, 'cause, first of all he is talented, (which makes this failure worst btw) second, he's always lacked self-awareness, so that itself isn't new, but third and most importantly, it can happen to anyone. The idea that this is specifically limited to him, because it's him, that I'm just not buying. Nobody bats a thousand, no matter how talented we are, for whatever reasons possible, we are all capable of creating bad, maybe not all of us, this bad, but still, pretty bad.
I mean, I can see it. I can see how this got away from him. An idea starts out somewhere good, and you start thinking more and more of it, and you keep adding to it and shaping it, reworking, re-editing, you even get others on board to help out with it, but you miss something important. You don't realize it, you may think you even have it already, and that you actually have thought it through, but you didn't, or you did, but it's not as much as you thought it was, and you have other things you want to add on top. You then want to bounce off that one idea to get to another idea so you have to sacrifice parts of that first idea, and that's because ideas evolve; you might start off from one point and then, end up at a different point, and that's okay, that idea might be stronger and creativity works that way sometimes...-
From a creative standpoint, there's nothing wrong with any of this, in theory. Do a review of "Pink Floyd's The Wall"? That's not a bad idea. Do it as a musical parody, again, not a bad idea. Get a rockstar on hand and criticize the movie by parodying scenes from it? Questionable, but it's doable, and it fits the movie he's reviewing. Creating an album of songs for the review? Do it as a parody album to Pink Floyd's "The Wall"? That's getting a bit ambitious, but again, this isn't impossible to do well. Get some animation to go with parts of it? That's not easy, but it's clever and also, not a bad idea at all. Do it as a clipless review? Well, I mean, you could do that, although I'm not entirely sure why you would since it's an old movie that's readily available and not in theaters, but if you have a strong vision and a strong idea...- wait, you do have a strong vision and a strong idea, right? You do have a reason for this idea, you have something to say about the film, right? Other than just, to quote Doug Walker directly, "I liked it fine. A little full of itself, but good music and imagination." I mean, there's nothing wrong with that opinion; it's basically my opinion of "The Wall" too, but I'm not putting all this time, money and energy into saying that. So, was there something more to it then that?
Not that we needed another reason to not be like Doug Walker anymore, but, for a different reason now.