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Monday, April 25, 2011

What's Eating Elvis Mitchell?

The mysterious Elvis Mitchell story is in equal parts fascinating and just plain odd. Mitchell, if you didn't know, just got terminated from Movieline, where he was Chief Film Critic (Disclaimer: this blogger was a writer for Movieline from 2009-10). The exact reason for Mitchell's termination is still unclear. But Elvis is, it needs to be said, one of the best film critics in the United States, as well as a very complicated -- and some might say strange -- chap. Although what I am about to say next wasn't the stated reason for his termination at Movieline, one cannot mention Mitchell without bringing up Mitchell's main problem which is, quite frankly, over-reach.

Mitchell has for some time harbored a desire to make some sort of spectacular Nietzchean transition from film critic to film mogul a la Peter Bart, a man who unapologetically veers between the worlds of journalism and the entertainment industry he covers. Bart has been, in various incarnations, a Hollywood studio chief, editor, producer as well as a former staff reporter for the New York Times. Mitchell, of course, was a New York Times film reviewer from 1999-2004.

The thing is: not everyone can do a Peter Bart. In fact, there is probably no one in the world that could pull off a Peter Bart except Peter Bart. That, of course, didn't stop Elvis Mitchell from appearing in a blow-job cameo on Entourage -- embarrassing, really -- not at all the type of appearance one would expect from a former New York Times reporter (OK, maybe the super-sleazy Neil Strauss).

Anne Thompson of IndieWIRE (via TheWrap) sums it up:
"Elvis Mitchell is such a fascinating, complicated character that he deserves a mini-series ...  Mitchell does what he wants to do: he was supposed to be on the narrative feature jury at the Florida Film Festival last week, emails indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn, 'but never showed up. I found out later he was at a festival in Krakow the whole time. He even did a TV appearance there.' As I have reported before, Mitchell is not good with money. Or meeting deadlines. Filing expenses. Or doing what he says he’s going to do. He has left or lost one job after another, from NPR to the New York Times. Famously, he never turned up for a job he had accepted at the L.A. Times, nor for a job as a development exec for Sony. He has expensive tastes. He likes Versace suits and staying at the Four Seasons in L.A. Here’s Mitchell in a nutshell. At Sundance, I was standing in line at a snack bar when juror Jason Reitman accosted Mitchell, asking him why he hadn’t returned any of his emails or phone calls. Mitchell demurred. He likes palling around with the rich and famous, globetrotting and tomcatting with the likes of Quentin Tarantino in Reykjavik and other places."

Yeah, but film critics are not studio heads. Critics never make as much money as the subjects of their criticism: it is an unspoken law of the cosmos. But Mitchell, clearly wanting to roll with the jet-setters, seemed to renounce the life of critical objectivity, landing sort of nebulous position at Sony's Columbia Pictures division that might have afforded him the lifestyle he so deeply desired.

But he didn't show up for work! From Deadline's Nikki Finke:
"I've known Mitchell personally since 1996 and believe him to be a  brilliant writer and reviewer. But controversy also has caught up with him again and again over the years. Some of it was captured in this New York Magazine article published right after he left the NY Times. Most recently Mitchell was announced as co-host on Roger Ebert's new review show Ebert Presents At the Movies only to have his departure announced shortly after the premiere date was announced. Before that, Sony's Columbia Pictures announced it was hiring Mitchell to start a New York office with producer Deborah Schindler in March of 2005. The studio hoped Mitchell would scout new minority talent and make movies for minority audiences. But he never showed up for work, insiders told me at the time, so Schindler headed the office solo."

Curiouser and curiouser ...

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