I often hear, "I didn't know you were a writer!" I quickly correct anyone who thinks this about me. "I'm not a writer. I'm more of a typist. I kind of put some words down on paper and hope that they form sentences."
I'm not a writer, and neither, it seems, is web scribe Harry Jay Knowles of the website AintItCoolNews.com. I've never been a big fan of Harry's website due to his laborious "scene setting" efforts that attain John Grisham levels of annoying details: "Every review I've ever posted has probably at least paid lip service to the circumstances in which I saw the film: going there, who you're with, what it reminds you of, how it reconnects you with the continuum of your life. I just think that's endlessly relevant."
Despite this irksome style, I thought I'd give Harry's book, Ain't It Cool? (ISBN: 0752264974) a chance out of "car crash curiosity" -- it's one of the few books I've ever seen attain a solid "F" in Entertainment Weekly.
Clocking in at 318 pages, Ain't It Cool? is an excruciating exercise in self-love. The introduction alone us a harrowing journey into Harry's tenuous metaphors and inappropriate peppering of movie quotes. In this case it's an overabundance of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK lines. A few hundred pages later, Knowles appears to give other aspiring scribes advice in aping the Knowles style including these sagacious pointers: "If you're excavating the latest gleaming factoids from a desert of archeology, see yourself as Indiana Jones digging up the Well of the Souls, searching for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Or a three-quarter-ton dolly happens to be down on top of you? Make it the giant boulder from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. This isn't rocket science. It's free association and anyone can do it with a little practice. But it looks great when all of a sudden you do it in an interview." Obviously, Harry practices what he preaches. It's just a shame that he preaches such tripe.
Ain't It Cool? serves as another medium for Harry to use as a pulpit. Yet, it's also his confessional. It seems that Harry wants to come clean. He shares his twisted family history (TMI!) and shares his less-than-honest journalistic tactics. Harry describes how, after being carted to a Sundance screening of GODS AND MONSTERS, he "filed equally glowing reviews under seventeen different names, which I think went a long way toward convincing distributors that the film appealed to a broad cross-section of people." Harry doesn't claim that he was directly responsible but heavily implies that it was his influence that won the film a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In another section, it's inferred that Harry's championing of James Cameron's TITANIC (a film he just won't shut up about) swept the Academy Awards as well.
There are a few "no duh" nuggets of insight in Harry's book ("traditional entertainment stories come from press releases," over-testing of films creates lowest common denominator entertainment) and one line even provided a belly laugh ("the late, lamented Film Threat Magazine") but the majority of Ain't It Cool? makes one's eyes bleed even when skimming through pages of self-congratulatory chiding of Hollywood and awestruck star-fucking. That it took Harry and not one but two (!) ghost writers to squeeze out this turd truly boggles the mind. If anything, at least co-authors Paul Cullum and Mark Ebner curtailed the excited punctuation from the "Impresario of Exclamation Points.
Addendum: I remember hearing an episode of "The Howard Stern Show" in which Howard grilled critic Roger Ebert about Harry's appearance on Ebert's television show. The question of Harry's odor came up and Ebert denied that Harry emitted any foulness. Curious about Harry's alleged aroma, I consulted a friend who had put up (and put up with) Harry at a Southern film festival. "Tell me," I demanded, "does Harry stink?" With a roll of her eyes and an exasperated sigh she confided, "None of the other people we hosted would even be in the same vehicle with him. Do you remember that episode of 'Seinfeld' with the stinky car? That's what my car was like after Harry had been in it." In other words, I think Roger Ebert was being nice.