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Bad Review Blues

The Noise Pop Film Festival kicks off with the critic-bashing documentary Heckler.

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If you ever want to experience one of the most eviscerating, torturous, spiteful forms of public humiliation that exists, try Googling yourself. Especially if your name is Paris Hilton, Jesus Christ, or Jamie Kennedy. Or Mike White, the Chuck and Buck director who said, in an interview in Kennedy's new documentary, Heckler, that whenever he wants to feel bad about himself, he types his name into IMDB.com. In the film, Kennedy promises to historicize and psychologize "a type of individual who has existed since the beginning of history," but he ends up merely bitch-slapping his critics.

Granted, an artist can't go slitting his wrists every time he gets a whack review — or else Kennedy would be long dead. But fame and fortune don't inure one to the chorus of boos. In Heckler, Kennedy shows how much it sucks to be a public figure and constantly have your ego batted around by every "critic" with a Blogger account. Billed as a Margaret Mead-type "exploration" conducted in 2005 — two years after Kennedy unleashed Malibu's Most Wanted onto the world — the film comprises interviews with the likes of Jon Lovitz, Carrot Top, Bill Maher, Patton Oswald, Roseanne Barr, Arsenio Hall, George Lucas, Chingy, and Jewel — all kvetching about the hecklers, critics, bloggers, and focus groups who done them wrong. Apparently, this whole democratic media thing is overrated.

Still, the idea of a performer turning the camera back on his critics seems apropos for the Noise Pop Film Festival, which started in 2000 and typically emphasizes music-oriented documentaries or first-run films with a weird angle. This year's lineup also includes a biopic of Wesley Willis and the Germs' Darby Crash, a variety of short films, and a documentary about punk influences in the Japanese designer toy scene. Noise Pop co-producer Kurland said that while the festival is now actively pursuing films and received "boxes full" of submissions, he isn't going so far as to make the festival bigger than it needs to be. "There's enough film festivals in San Francisco," he said. "It doesn't make sense for us to compete."

They may not have to try. With the Noise Pop name continuing to grow in stature, the film aspect appears to be gaining its own audience, like when it screened A Skin Too Few, a documentary on songwriter Nick Drake, in 2002.

Heckler, which screens at the Roxie, may resonate with performers, but, not surprisingly, isn't doing so hot with reviewers. The film's main sticking point is that professional critics like The New Yorker's David Denby get clumped together with the drunk people at LA's Laugh Factory and the random badgerers on IAmAnnoying.com. Kennedy seems indiscriminately pissed off at all three groups, though, in order not to generalize, he diagnoses each with its own psychosis. The heckler's problem is that he's jealous because he wishes he could be on stage, too, even though he's not that funny. If the heckler is female, she's obviously trying to get inside the (presumably male) comedian's pants, but doesn't know a constructive way of doing it. The blogger's problem is that, like the heckler, he's untalented, unfunny, and witless, and just wants to be seen. The (presumably male) critic's problem stems from a more primal form of hateration, owing to the fact that all critics are 55 years old, balding, rheumatic, cranky, unsavory, virginal men who live in their mothers' basements, and have nothing better to do than take down all the young, rich, fashionable entertainers whose lives they secretly covet.

A particularly poignant scene of Heckler has Kennedy confronting Tyler Morning Telegraph critic Jon Perry, who panned Malibu's Most Wanted as a "worthless vortex." Kennedy retorts by asking if Perry has ever had a "slunky" — i.e., a very elaborate blow job that involves a lot of coughing and choking sounds. Perry's obvious discomfort underscores what's apparently the main argument of the film: namely, that critics would stop being so critical if they got more blow jobs.

While it's not the year's most compelling or thought-provoking documentary, Heckler does have some highlights, particularly when the entertainers lash back at unruly audiences. Kennedy includes archival footage of Barbra Streisand, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Hicks all losing it. In one clip, German filmmaker Uwe Boll challenges critics to a boxing match. Of course a film about hecklers wouldn't be complete without a cartoon reenactment of the infamous Michael Richards meltdown.

But there's a little too much purging going on throughout Heckler, which mostly serves as Kennedy's self-pitying screed about how he's been victimized and abused by the press. The comedian's biggest problem is that he can see that his film is annoying, and he acknowledges as much, and even gets self-conscious about it. It's kind of like that friend of yours who apologizes for being an asshole, and then persists in being one. 

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