Tuesday, December 16, 2008

HEADLYIN' (aka THE DARK KNIGHT DEBATE CONTINUES, OR, HOW I HAVEN'T LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND JUST MOVE ON)


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'The Austin Film Critics Association has named The Dark Knight as the best picture of 2008.'
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We have film critics here?!?!


63 comments:

Marilyn said...

Apparently not.

Fox said...

Nice one, Marilyn!

FilmDr said...

I like the edginess of the choice, the lack of commercial popularity. To choose a film as unhyped as The Dark Knight, the Austin Film Critics have outdone themselves in resisting the publicity machine, and the programmed, predictable nature of our responses to movies everywhere. Bravo!

Fox said...

Film Dr.-

You prescribed us a nice dose of sarcasm this morning! :)

Anonymous said...

Or, perhaps, as hard as this might be for all of you to believe, people actually liked the movie. i certainly did. And FilmDr, your "edgy" sarcasm is duly noted. Well done. And keep on fighting that hype machine! After all, people are so stupid and easily manipulated and programmed by the mainstream movie studios (not you, of course) that they need a hero like you. So get to work!

- J. Brown

FilmDr said...

J. Brown,

I liked The Dark Knight too. I just have a hard time separating the massive publicity from the movie, especially the build-up over the summer.

Marilyn said...

Fox, you've been invaded by the fanboy Nazis! Man the barricades. I'll load the catapult with Bresson, Bunuel, and Fassbinder DVDs.

Fox said...

J. -

I mentioned to a friend yesterday that I've heard some eloquent arguments in favor of the The Dark Knight even though I disagree. And I appreciate, and respect, that people like the film, I do.

But I also think it represents a lowest common denominator in critical judgment that we've seen in quite some time.

Also, I just really enjoy - as the Brits say - taking the piss on The Dark Knight. I won't deny being a bit of a bully towards that movie.

Fox said...

Now Marilyn... that's not nice to use the "N" word. Everyone is welcome here! (ie STOP COCK BLOCKING MY COMMENT COUNTER, MARILYN!!!)

Is it me, or do the hardcore The Dark Knight types kind of resemble the Ron Paul REVOLUTION types?

[NOTE to TDK and Ron Paul people: That is not a shot at you. I just see passionate (rabid) similarities, that's all. And I would love to have both of yous types here at anytime]

Anonymous said...

Marilyn,

I am neither a fanboy or a Nazi. I liked The Dark Knight. Its certainly not my favorite movie of the year or anything. And I am a fan of Bresson, Fassbinder, and Bunuel especially. So maybe you should cool it with the thoughtless labeling.

FilmDr...I understand your problems with the hype. Its very strange to see images of Batman on packages of Snicker's bars, especially considering how creepy the actual movie is. I guess i've just been able to separate the intentions of a filmmaker from the commerce that surrounds hims (particularly when it comes to a commodity like Batman).

Again, I thought The Dark Knight was an extremely impressive and exciting movie. Its also kind of a mess.

- J Brown

Anonymous said...

Fox, can you explain more of what you mean by your "lowest common denominator of critical judgement" statement? This question is not an attack, I truly would like to know specifically what your basis is. I guess I just get really uncomfortable when people start throwing around terms like "lowest common denominator" particularly when it relates to peoples reactions to movies or books or music or whatever.

and I also understand the glee of taking shots of a movie like The Dark Knight, or any pop culture phenomenon.

-J. Brown

Fox said...

J.-

I felt, and still feel (especially since the DVD just came out), that The Dark Knight was given a weak look-over by critics... from Ebert to Variety to Film Comment, the whole lot of them.

There were some dissenting voices, yes, but for the most part there seemed to be few challengers for a film that I saw as nothing special. And because our standards have been lowered, I think, a movie like The Dark Knight gets elevated to this high status ("Greatest comic book movie ever!", they said... as if that's something special). In other words, I think critics have lowered their standards with the movies that we've been getting lately. Though, I do think '08 was a better year than '07, a year that I think was extremely overhyped as a good year for films.

Beyond that, I also though that a lot of critics who ripped movies like Saw or Untraceable for their crulety and sadism turned a blind eye to The Dark Knight b/c it was a Chirs Nolan movie (ie technically sharp).

Marilyn said...

Mr Brown - Lighten up. We kid around a lot here. I think, however, that endorsing a best of for TDK shows a certain lack of discernment for all the other gret films that came out this year. There's not a single better movie on this list? I think not. This is just another lazy, cynical pick that rewards popularity.

Anonymous said...

Just because you didn't find anything special about the film doesn't mean that other people haven't (obviously, you know this). Or that they're somehow just deluding themselves. You didn't like the movie. That's fine. But you come across as if you're making a definitive statement, as opposed to merely offering up an opinion. Your thoughts on the film are the correct ones. Those who liked it are wrong. I know you can argue that I'm simplifying what you're saying, but I don't think I am. I'm simply responding to how you've expressed yourself.

And I have to disagree with you about your comments on "cruelty and sadism" in The Dark Knight. I think just applying the Saw torture-porn argument to any movie that has uncomfortable violence that you don't like is kind of lazy. Again, this is just my opinion, but I feel that in making that case you're just grasping for ammunition to hurl against Christopher Nolan. And I'm not a huge fan of his (or a Nazi fanboy as Marilyn likes to say). I did not care for Memento or Insomnia. I liked Batman Begins, The Prestige (although I can't remember anything that happens in that movie) and The Dark Knight. But I don't think he's a genius or anything (in particular, I think he handles action sequences rather poorly). Anyway, I just don't see the connection between Saw and The Dark Knight. But I suppose if I hated The Dark Knight enough I could probably dig one up. Know what I mean?

Fox said...

There's not a single better movie on this list?

By that I'm assuming you mean Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead, right Marilyn?

p.s. Thanks for that link that lists 2008 movies! I usually try to keep my own running tab for year-end purposes.

Anonymous said...

Marilyn-

Perhaps I overreacted to the Nazi fanboy thing. Sorry about that. But I guess what troubles me, (based on your latest post) is your unwillingness to accept that, yes, maybe people do actually think that The Dark Knight is the best movie of the year. This whole notion of varying levels of "discernment" just really bothers me, particularly when it comes to art. I mean it comes down to the simple idea that you feel your opinion is more worthy and better informed than the opinion of someone you disagree with. Maybe it seems like I'm making a really simplistic argument here (as we all feel that our own opinion are the right one and, apparently, thats the nature of criticism) but I can only go by what you write in your comments. And thats the general feeling I'm getting.

Also, I'm not sure I understand your use of "cynical" in your last line. Not saying that you're using the word wrong (although I must say that word in particular is improperly thrown about quite a bit these days) but I just am not really sure what you mean. On the other hand, you thinking that people mainly like this movie because its popular is the most cynical thing i've heard all day.

Fox said...

J.-

Well, I do think that people who like The Dark Knight are "wrong" since my opinion of it is that it's a bad movie, but that's not meant as a dismissal of their opinion. I agree that my opinion is definitive but that's b/c I strongly dislike the film. Again, that's not to say that someone who feels opposite of me is stupid or doesn't get it, we just disagree.

I don't think Saw and The Dark Knight are similar as whole films, I just think they share the modern idea of sadism as entertainment. Heath Ledger's Joker has become this pop cultural cool anti-hero b/c he's so brutal and nasty. Nolan uses those characteristics for laughs and flash in the film. When The Joker slams a pencil in the eye of a thug it's designed to get applause and sick smiles. In that way, I think The Dark Knight plays on the same entertainment tendancies as a Saw does, but just packaged for a PG-13 audience.

Fox said...

J.-

I don't think me, or Marilyn, or FilmDr. have ever expressed an "unwillingness" to accept that people like The Dark Knight. Obviously we recognize that some people think it's the best movie, we just (and I don't mean to speak for them, but...) personally think that's silly.

But I do feel confident that NONE of us feel we are better than anyone else because of a movie disagreement. Maybe you mistake passionate dislike or disagreement for arrogance, but I don't see it that way.

Marilyn said...

Mr Brown - The fanboy Nazi thing comes from having people show up on my site and leave threatening and vulgar comments because the TDK review wasn't positive (my blog partner wrote it, but I endorse it). That's completely ignorant, but when I see a comment now like the one you left, I get my dander up - though yours isn't at all like those. So I apologize for not reading it in the spirit in which you intended.

All I can say is that if people think TDK is the best film of the year, they haven't seen many films this year. That's understandable in many markets and among many filmgoers who prefer multiplexes. I have nothing against people seeing what they want to see, but I DO have something against critics who don't go beyond the multiplex borders to let people know that there are a lot of great movies that can't get screen time because of juggernauts like TDK. It didn't get all those screens because it's Citizen Kane. It got them because it stood to make a lot of money. The emphasis on box office is ruining the film-viewing experience, and I resent critics who support it with their narrow vision.

Marilyn said...

"you thinking that people mainly like this movie because its popular is the most cynical thing i've heard all day."

I didn't say this. My comments are directed to critics.

bill r. said...

Boy, I sure as hell don't feel like getting into this whole thing again. But I'm also tired of the implication that people who loved The Dark Knight don't like "real" movies. It's tiresome, and condescending in the extreme. Sorry, but it is.

Marilyn said...

Bill - Nobody's said that, and I think the implication Brown made that we did is itself uncalled for. I think film critics who are onboard with TDK in this way are doing cinema at large a disservice.

bill r. said...

But, see, THAT'S condescending, Marilyn. As is Fox's claim that none of the critics who praised the film looked at it closely enough, which implies that only those who share a low opinion of the film are smart enough to really tackle the film. We all frequently claim to have a "to each his own" attitude when it comes to opinions on film, but The Dark Knight arguments tend to show the opposite.

Marilyn said...

No it's not, Bill. Yes, everyone's entitled to their opinion, and maybe every critic in Austin agrees that TDK is the most awesome film of 2008. If that's their true opinion, then I have to say that they just don't get out enough. I mean that sincerely, not in a condescending way. They need to see more films. Or you have to saw that TDK was the best commercial film of the year or some other qualifier. That's why I HATE, HATE, HATE these year-end lists. They compare apples to oranges to Highland cattle. There are no criteria that make sense across the broad range of cinematic achievement.

bill r. said...

Well, first, you say they claim it's the most "awesome" film, as if they're all a bunch of semi-literate fanboys for whom "awesome" is a review in itself.

Second, you can say that you don't mean your "get out more" statement to be condescending, but that doesn't mean it isn't.

I don't see many new movies in a given year, and do most of my watching on DVD, but if I take every film I've seen this year, on DVD or otherwise, into consideration -- and you know the kinds of movies I see -- I still think The Dark Knight is right up there. And I think Roger Ebert gets out plenty, as does Andrew Sarris and Manohla Dargis.

Fox said...

Bill-

By lowest common denominator, I didn't mean to imply that people/critics who liked The Dark Knight are less sophisticated, I just meant that I felt that some good minds out there that didn't do their "job".

Now, I'm sure they would say "screw you buddy, I did too! Who the hell are you!??!", and that's ok. It's just goes back to me seeing the movie as nothing special. Because I see The Dark Knight as an empty film, I'm gonna question people - people I view as respectable and intelligent - who disagree. That's all.

And this certainly has nothing to do with The Dark Knight being a popcorn movie or Hollywood movie or whatever. I mean, The House Bunny and You Don't Mess With The Zohan are two of my favorite films this year.

bill r. said...

It just bothers me when people choose to review a film's fans/detractors, rather than the film.

Fox said...

Bill-

You've got to admit, though, that there is a large group of fanboys/AICN people that get really rabid (this is why Marilyn used "NAZI") and cruel when someone dislikes The Dark Knight.

Further, those fanboys tend to grade films like The Dark Knight on levels different than say, an Andrew Sarris, or Ebert, or you. These are the same people we discussed on Rick's blog that get upset when you "take things too seriously" or say, "just have fun and shut up!". And I think there is an argument to be made that that type of mentality is destroying film culture.

Fox said...

It just bothers me when people choose to review a film's fans/detractors, rather than the film.

Fair enough, but I enjoy discussing critics, film culture, pop culture, trends etc. along with the movies, so it just blends into what I write.

bill r. said...

Yes, there are highly unreasonably fans of TDK out there, but why paint all the film's admirers with the same brush?

And taking a critic to task for specific things is fine -- I'm all for it, in fact -- but you're just attacking TDK's fans for liking a movie.

bill r. said...

Anyway, I think Marilyn's mad at me now...

Fox said...

I haven't attacked anyone "for just liking a movie". What do you mean by that?

I've attacked rabid fanboys, but I don't consider those to be people that "just like a movie". They have a theory or philosophy attached to it too. They're in the debate.

I don't think Marilyn hates you. I KNOW she doesn't. It's just passionate discussion.

bill r. said...

Well..."attacking" may have been strong, but there is a tendency to use phrases like "lowest common denominator", and then back up and say, "I don't mean YOU, of course". What does that mean, really?

Fox said...

Lowest common denominator was used because I think The Dark Knight brought out the weakest analytical intincts in critics, cinephiles etc. These are people that I think should know better. They in turn may feel the same about me. So it goes. It's just opinions flying around.

Maybe "lower standards" would have been a better choice, b/c I truly feel many of the critical establishment have lowered their standards when giving something like The Dark Knight 5-STAR status. I felt the same way about Iron Man.

I'm sure they would argue that I'm not seeing certain things, or that I don't get it. And that's totally fine. I like to be engaged in those types of chats. I certainly don't take it as a personal attack. I think whenever you get into the arena of argument/debating you've gotta throw the personal feelings to the side.

bill r. said...

I know what "lowest common denominator" means, but what does it mean to make that blanket statement, and then exclude people from it because they are -- sort of -- standing in front of you? I don't think it's impossible to disagree about a movie without disparaging those with whom you disagree. And I'm sorry, but to turn around and say, "I don't mean you" doesn't mean anything.

Fox said...

But I also think it represents a lowest common denominator in critical judgment that we've seen in quite some time.

Is that the blanket statement you're referring too?

What I meant by that is I feel the high praise for The Dark Knight signifies a lowering of standards in critical judgement. I think if you rate The Dark Knight as a classic, 5-STARS, Best Picture (whatever pedestal you choose) then you either have a permanent, temporary, or momentary lapse in critical judgement.

But that's what disagreement is. I'm sure you think my judgement is off on say Diary of the Dead, right? I mean... that's cool. That's why I enjoy talking with you and hearing your side.

My thing with TDK is that I think that lapse of judgement became much more widespread than I had expected. A film that I though was very poor is being declared by many as a modern classic. For good or bad, I think it shows a shift in film criticism. I think Ain't It Cool News is the touchstone now instead of, say, a Pauline Kael.

bill r. said...

Again, I know what your "lowest etc." statement meant. I've never expressed confusion about that. But would you stand in front of someone who just told you that they liked TDK and say, "That opinion represents the lowest common denominator in critical thinking." Further, if that person then told you they were offended, would you say, "What are you getting so mad about?"

bill r. said...

And by the way, I did respond to you over at my blog, in the McCarthy post, if you want to change the subject.

Fox said...

No, I wouldn't go out of my way to say that to someone's face because that would be rude, but this is a place where I express my own thoughts and feelings.

bill r. said...

Fair enough, and I'm not telling you what you should or shouldn't write. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't be surprised if your readers get peeved, and express their peeved-offedness.

Fox said...

I'm not, and I wouldn't be surprised at all. I expect that in a forum where discussion is encouraged that that's going to get heated now and then. Which I don't mind. It helps me with my own thoughts, and keeps in check.\

But, for the most part, I don't think anyone has ever crossed the line. (Except for maybe those people that told me they liked my blog design. I think now they were taking the piss!)

bill r. said...

Fine. But in this case, I was the peeved off guy, so that thing that apparently happens which helps you with your thoughts and keeps you in check is what I was doing.

Marilyn said...

You know what? I do want to aim high when it comes to criticism. I'm not in favor of establishing a canon; I am in favor of establishing a genre hierachy. Within the hierarchy of fantasy films, or perhaps comic book/video game films, TDK probably should come pretty close to the top. There certainly will be some films that transcend their categories, and these are the films that should be in contention for best films of all time. Maybe you think TDK does transcend its genre; I'm not convinced and that is where we get into the lowering of critical standards. I believe in judging harshly, rigorously. A masterpiece comes along very rarely, but today, everything's being called a masterpiece because of the influence of marketing on our psyches. We've lost the ability to judge material at a high level, and that's what Fox is saying in "lowest common denominator."

bill r. said...

I believe in judging harshly, too. And, once more, I know what Fox meant. Why does no one believe that I was able to follow Fox's point?

And I don't care that you don't like the film, and I don't care that Fox doesn't like the film. My entire point is that disliking a film, and stating why, and all that stuff, is one thing. It's another thing entirely to say "The fact that people love this movie is evidence that we as a species are losing our ability to properly judge art." It's still ANOTHER thing to say that and expect those who like the film to not be offended, or to say so.

And it's not only the people who disliked TDK who have retained their ability to critically judge art. It really isn't.

Marilyn said...

Do you miss the distinction between liking a film and calling it the best of the year? I'm just not getting where you're coming from.

I refuse to be relativist about this. There are standards of excellence that should apply to the best film of the year, and there are many films that meet it better than TDK.

bill r. said...

Well, I'm at a loss. As I've stated, I really do not care whether you liked the film or not. It's the tendency to look down on, and question the ability to think, of those who did like it that I take issue with.

Fox said...

Bill-

1. I didn't say - or think - we as a species have lost the ability to judge art. My thought was that film critics, in general, have lowered their standards. (That can change).

I don't think it's any type of dumbed-down society issue. I think it's a reaction to the poor quality of films. The standards move with the quality.

2. And I never said people who like TDK don't have (or lost) the ability to judge art. I said their judgement on that one piece of art (TDK) is off.

It seems like somewhere we aren't communicating well. I don't feel we are understanding each other. Whether that's on my end or yours I have no idea... but that last comment of yours seems to misrepresent everything I've said.

Marilyn said...

OK, let me put it to you this way. I liked ABBA a whole lot when I was younger. In college, I thought Steppenwolf was the greatest novel I'd ever read. I really liked When Harry Met Sally when it came out.

Now, none of these works holds a lot of interest for me. I got more experience, tried more things, found out more about myself. When a best list comes out, and I see a film that would have appealed to me as a young woman at the top, I wonder whether the critics are really as worldly as I expect them to be. If that insults people, they can tell me to go to hell. But it doesn't make me wrong. Experience counts for something, and I can feel just as insulted that my demographic gets thrown overboard as outliving its usefulness, having old-fashioned tastes, etc etc. Our culture continues to worship youthful tastes, and frankly I think that's just wrong.

Fox said...

Where exactly do you think we are "looking down" on anyone?

bill r. said...

Fox - The statement you're referring to was directed towards Marilyn.

Marilyn, I'm very clear about what you think of TDK. I'm not confused about that in the least. I know why you hold your opinion, and I have no problem with that. I disagree, but that's fine.

My problem has nothing to do with that. My problem is entirely that I'm offended by the idea that those who dislike this film somehow have superior mental faculties when it comes to judging art than those who did like it. That's all I've ever argued, that's been my point the entire time.

Fox, to be clear, this is directed towards Marilyn, although you have sort of implied the same thing.

bill r. said...

Fox, have you not both at least implied that those who dislike the film are better judges of art than those who like it?

bill r. said...

If that insults people, they can tell me to go to hell. But it doesn't make me wrong.

It doesn't make you right, either. My tastes have evolved, too. I don't much like Star Wars anymore. And I never liked When Harry Met Sally or Steppenwolf. I read several dozen books of all kind every year, and see hundreds of movies of all kinds every year, from silent films to movies that came out last week. So what? Why do I like TDK, and you don't? You tell me.

Our varying opinions of TDK say precisely zilch about the critical faculties of either of us.

Fox said...

Absolutely not. My friend that knows theater could run circles around me in an appreciation of plays. You have better insight into literature than I do and could crush me in a discussion. My sister is a chef and thinks I'm an amateur when it comes to food appreciation... and she's right!

Now, I'm not saying that I'm a finer connosieur of cinema than you or anyone else that has commented on this post, OR, anyone in my life that swears by The Dark Knight. I'm simply saying that I think your judgement is off if you think TDK is a great film.

But what is so wrong with that?? Why is that insulting?? Again, I think it's at the heart of any disagreement, at the heart of why I like Diary of the Dead and you don't. Since you dislike the film, wouldn't you say that my judgement is off? How else would you explain the fact that we differ on the film?

bill r. said...

Fox, there's nothing wrong with any of that. But we've been through this, earlier in this thread:

But I also think it represents a lowest common denominator in critical judgment that we've seen in quite some time.

People who rate TDK very highly represent the lowest common denominator in critical thinking. How is that not looking down on someone?

Fox said...

Fair enough. But that's directed toward their opinion/thinking (ie critical judgement) of one movie, The Dark Knight, not their critical thinking as it applies to everything else around them.

It is definitely true that I see a trend of LCD/low-standard film criticism in general that comes from that Ain't It Cool News "Boom! Zip!... hey that was a cool explosion!... whoa, look at her tits!"-type of criticism, and I think that style has taken precedence over more insightful and measured approaches. (Again, as in someone like Pauline Kael.)

That doesn't mean eloquent voices aren't out there in support of The Dark Knight. In fact, I said that I had read/heard some earlier in this thread. I think I made that pretty clear.

Finally, I would also like to point out that there are plenty "high-brow" anti-AICN writers that I find just as obnoxious (probably more) [NOTE: I don't find every writer for AICN obnoxious, in fact, I like some of them, it's the style & tone that I think the site has ushered in that I object to.]. Writers like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Peter Travers, Nathan Lee, Anthony Lane/David Denby are among them.

bill r. said...

I don't like any of the AICN writers, with the exception of Vern -- when he stays away from politics, anyway.

But look...I'm bowing out of this now. I know you and Marilyn didn't mean to insult anybody. I took issue with your choice of words, but quite honestly this has gone on longer than it needed to, for which I'm probably largely to blame. But I've made my point, I hope it's clear, and I'm done. No hard feelings, I hope, with either of you.

PS - I'm only pulling the whole "live and let live" card because I just put up a new post, and I don't want you two keeping clear of it.

PPS - Fox, that PS was meant as a joke, so don't bother telling me that you weren't going to stay away from my blog.

Marilyn said...

Again, I don't want to belabor this, but I am perfectly comfortable rejecting a "best of" list that has a film at the top that seems highly questionable to me. Don't we all play the "Correcting the Oscars" game at IMDb once in a while. It's very, very clear that AMPAS gets it wrong A LOT. Is that elitist? We're talking here about honoring the best achievements in film for a year, which is presumably what "best of" lists are designed to do. I have no trouble making distinctions between the better, the worse, and the best, and I don't think forwarding my own asthetic is elitist. So there!

Rick Olson said...

In my biz, I moderate a lot of committees. When I train others to serve on committees and moderate them, and participate in problem-solving or other kinds of discussion, I train them to discuss thusly:

1. State your opinion by saying "I believe this" or "This is not good." Refer only to yourself and your opinion, not to anyone else's. State YOUR position, period.

1a: Do NOT say "Unlike Fred, I believe that ..." or "Contrary to what those Baptists say, I say ..."

corollary: do not take anything personally, because whatever somebody else says or does, it is about THEM in the end. Their prejudices, their background, their context, what they had for dinner last night.

I hope we can follow some of these rules in our new discussion club.



T

Rick Olson said...

P.S. Let it go, Fox, let it go ...

Fox said...

Rick-

Where were you with that advice 10 hours ago!?!? You sick voyeur, you!

And what is that "T" at the bottom of your comment? Is that a secret code for something?

Bill-

No hard feelings at all! I think everyone had legit points and comments so it was all good. Now, I don't know if anyone cared about it besides you, me, and Marilyn, but I know I got some benefit out of it.

I think it would be really funny if I went to your blog right now and you had a Batman post up.

Marilyn-

This is kind of a piggy-back on Rick's post about lists, but they are an odd thing. They are very self-gratifying, and inner-circle wankerish. But I mean that in the nicest possible way b/c I LOVE making lists myself. I also love looking at lists. I think they make for good shop talk. (Inner-circle wankering isn't necessarily a bad thing!). And they are kind of like a holiday. A day to kick back and discuss who picked what as this or that and why. It's like opening presents on Christmas morning, staying in your PJs all day, and playing with your toys.

Rick Olson said...

Fox, I just stumbled onto it, and you just broke rule number 1, you pedantic wanker.

Rick Olson said...

And by the way, the "T" carries super-secret dot code that roving internet spiders use to send super-secret code to Google saying "Don't index this blog in a million years."

Either that, or I was going to say something else, didn't, and then didn't clean up after myself.

I do that.

bill r. said...

God, are you guys still talking about this?? Change the record, for Christ's sake!