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    Mr. Queenan seems not to have grasped that satire is a weapon of the powerless against the powerful. When satire is aimed
    at powerless people, it is not only cruel but profoundly vulgar.
        -Molly Ivins, NY Times Book Review on Imperial Caddy by Joe Queenan

It's hard to imagine how Molly Ivins could be more wrong, though not the least bit surprising that she is.  The natural target of satire is not power, but stupidity, and it is simply one of those brutal facts of life that the powerless are often so because they are stupid, while the powerful, though quite often stupid themselves, are usually less so.   Satire is however an important weapon to use against the powerful, because their stupidity has a tendency to affect us all, whereas the stupidity of the powerless is generally fairly harmless.  She is right though, that the satirist will often appear to be cruel and vulgar; after all, their profession basically consists of pointing out how stupid people are.  But it is possible, perhaps even necessary, for them to leaven this effect by pointing out one other thing : their own stupidity.  No humorist is more savage than Joe Queenan, but in recent years he's learned this lesson and taken to making himself the butt of his own humor.

When his job as a self described "hatchet man critic" found him watching the Robert Rodriguez film, El Mariachi, which was notoriously said to have been made for $7000, Joe Queenan decided that he was so sick of hearing these kinds of obviously confabulated stories about independent filmmakers that he would try it himself :

    [A]ll Rodriguez had proven was that someone could make a movie for $7,000. What would be
    really cool was proving that anyone could make a movie for $7,000. And that anyone was going to
    be me.

This book details his misadventures as he sets out to do just that--well, actually to make one for $6,998.

He quickly determined that in order to keep costs down, and headaches to a minimum, his movie, Twelve Steps to Death, would have to be made without professional help, or rather interference, because professionals wouldn't be willing to make the necessary compromises.  So instead, he wrote, directed and acted in it himself; used friends, family and neighbors; and shot the whole thing in his hometown of Tarrytown, NY..  Much of the book is taken up by the script and by the very funny process of making the movie, which ends up costing twice the budgeted price even with all the corner cutting.

Then an interesting thing happens, Queenan finds himself getting caught up in the whole deal and starts to think in bigger terms than just showing it can't be done.  He starts to think about having a finished product that people will actually pay for.  The cynic starts to care.  And so he begins blowing larger and larger sums of money to get the picture edited, add sound effects and music, and produce a quality print.  He stages and of course wins his own film festival, where Twelve Steps is the only entry and the judges are friends, in-laws, and his mother.  Then he takes the movie to a Dallas Film Festival...and the roof falls in on his dreams.  In its review of the movie, the Dallas Observer compared it to "a flatulent snuffalupagus, pausing before each target and expelling noxious gases."

This is all very funny, but along the way something more profound is also revealed.  Queenan discovers that it just isn't that easy, despite all his sniping over the years, to make a good movie.  More important, he offers the reader a chance to see just how divorced from that reality he became.  Queenan actually deceived himself into thinking that the movie was good, when it was manifestly, and virtually had to be, awful.  And he's one of the most cynical guys on the planet; imagine how much easier it must be for artists, with their inherently dreamy temperaments, to trick themselves.  No wonder most art isn't very good.  The people who produce it are fundamentally incapable of maintaining the emotional distance that is required to judge it objectively.  In the end the joke is on Joe Queenan as he learns this valuable lesson--that people don't set out to make crappy movies, they just turn out that way, despite their best intentions--in devastating, but very amusing, fashion.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

See also:

Joe Queenan (3 books reviewed)
General Literature
Literary Criticism
Book-related and General Links:
    -Joe Queenan's Contrition Web Page
    -Eat It Raw: The Joe Queenan Directory (GusWorld)
    -BOOK SITE : Balsamic Dreams :  A Short But Self-important History of the Baby Boomer Generation by Joe Queenan (Henry Holt)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of : Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue: Lagoon Joe Queenan's America
    Rocky Ages: Round six: Sylvester Stallone vs. reality. (JOE QUEENAN, December 19, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Xtreme Investing (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 03.19.01)
    -ESSAY : Lighten Up, America (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 10.09.00)
    -ESSAY : Fear & Greed (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 11.13.00)
    -ESSAY : Gored (And Ignored) By The Bull (Joe Queenan, Forbes ASAP, 04.03.00)
    -ESSAY : If You've Got Dough, Act Like It (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 10.11.99)
    -ESSAY : I believe in yesterday (Joe Queenan, Forbes Global, 03.22.99)
    -ESSAY : Five Crappiest Tech Jobs (Joe Queenan, Forbes ASAP, 11.27.00)
    -ESSAY : Vinnie van Gogh is right at home here (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 11.16.98)
    -ESSAY : Don't worry, be happy (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 10.12.98)
    -ESSAY : Why can't billionaires grow up?  (Joe Queenan, Forbes Magazine, 10.13.97)
    -ESSAY : The Civil War Sucks! (Joe Queenan, March 1994 Spy magazine)
    -ESSAY : In Defense of Dave (Joe Queenan)
    -ESSAY : Unusual Tattoos (Joe Queenan)
    -ESSAY : This time, it's personal :Once just the goofy dimwit, Keanu Reeves finally looks as if he's playing with a full deck as a vindictive killer in The Watcher. (Joe Queenan, February 24, 2001,The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW : Gone in 60 Seconds : Isn't larceny grand? :Jerry Bruckheimer and Nicolas Cage always make a winning combination. Joe Queenan clocks the latest fast-cars-big-stars-big-budget blockbuster (July 28, 2000,The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW : The Apartment : Shooting the works :Depressed about going back to your desk? There's othing more harmful to your happiness than watching office-based movies in January (Joe Queenan, January 6, 2001, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of How to Be Good  By NICK HORNBY (JOE QUEENAN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of NANCY REAGAN The Unauthorized Biography. By Kitty Kelley (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  BROTHERS NO MORE By William F. Buckley Jr.  (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HIPPOPOTAMUS By Stephen Fry  (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HOLLYWOOD KIDS By Jackie Collins  (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW :  PRIZZI'S MONEY By Richard Condon (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  HELL OF A RIDE Backstage at the White House Follies, 1989-1993. By John Podhoretz (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PLUTO, ANIMAL LOVER By Laren Stover  (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BLOW How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million With the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All. By Bruce Porter (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE IMMORTALS By Michael Korda (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of RAPTOR By Gary Jennings (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of NEEDFUL THINGS By Stephen King (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of TAKING THE WHEEL Women and the Coming of the Motor Age. By Virginia Scharff (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of VITAL SIGNS By Robin Cook (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GOOD OMENS : The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of  Agnes Nutter, Witch.   By Neil Gaiman and  Terry Pratchett (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Lloyd: What Happened A Novel of Business. By Stanley Bing (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MY STORY By Sarah, the Duchess of York, with Jeff Coplon (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE WOMAN AND THE APE By Peter Hoeg (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SUSPECTS By Thomas Berger (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The World on Blood By Jonathan Nasaw (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE LAST PUMPKIN PAPER By Bob Oeste (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Sick Puppy By Carl Hiaasen (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Without a Doubt by Marcia Clark with Teresa Carpenter (Joe Queenan, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit by Mort Rosenblum (Joe Queenan, American Spectator)
    -PROFILE : of Michael Fumento : Straight Talk about AIDS (Joe Queenan
Forbes Magazine, June 26, 1989)
    -ESSAY : Points Unknown : Why you will watch the Super Bowl. (Joe Queenan, Jan. 23, 1997, Salate)
    -ESSAY : Diary (Joe Queenan, Oct. 19, 1996, Slate)
    -ESSAY : Pollock Jokes (Joe Queenan, 1/99, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY : Close, but no Cigar (Joe Queenan, 12/98, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY : A SPECIAL, INANELY ELABORATE SPY EASTER PRANK (Andy Aaron and Joe Queenan, SPY Magazine, April 1992)
    -ESSAY : Gullible's Travels : Venture to exotic lands. Find cool companies. Buy them (Joe Queenan, The Industry Standard, February 01 2001)
    -ESSAY : SERVICE WITH BILE : Traveling first-class isn't always so suite (Joe Queenan, Success, December 01 1998)
    -INTERVIEW : A conversation with Joe Queenan : America's nastiest funny writer hates boomers and has given up trying to be nice (Josh Karp, July 2001, Salon)
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT : Joe Queenan (WBUR)
    -INTERVIEW : Lone Gunman : Joe Queenan, America's Funniest Character Assassin (Stuart Wade, Austin Chronicle)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Author Joe Queenan (August 8, 1998, Whadda ya know, NPR)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Joe Queenan ( February 5, 2000 , Whadda ya know, NPR)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Joe Queenan.  (Originally aired on July 28, 1998, The Connection)
    -INTERVIEW : with Joe Queenan (Book Reporter,  April 7, 2000)
    -INTERVIEW : with Joe Queenan (CitySearch au, 2/20/00)
    -DISCUSSION : CUTTHROAT ISLAND  : As Survivor mesmerizes the country with castaways' spats - and all those rats - TV Guide asks a panel of experts who will be the last man or woman standing. (TV Guide)
    -PROFILE : If You're Reading This, You're in the Wrong Part of the Bookshop : Joe Queenan has been publishing books here for a decade, yet despite being one of the funniest writers in America as yet he's still to go stellar here. LOUIS BARFE pulls back the veil on the Queenan universe and introduces the man who was Mickey Rourke for a day (Book Ends)
    -ARCHIVES : "queenan" (Forbes)
    -ARCHIVES : "queenan" (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : "Joe Queenan" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "Joe Queenan" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of THE UNKINDEST CUT How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card. By Joe Queenan (1996) (JULIA PHILLIPS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (JOHN D. THOMAS, Creative Loafing)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (Terry Lawson,  Knight-Ridder Newspapers)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (Adam Mazmanian, Library Journal)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (BookWire)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut and If You're Talking to Me (A. Bennett Howe, Film Written)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (David Drayton, Toronto Eye)
    -REVIEW : of Unkindest Cut (a.d amorosi, City Paper)
    -REVIEW : of My Goodness A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood. By Joe Queenan (2000) (Bruce McCall, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of My Goodness A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood. By Joe Queenan (Jam! Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of My Goodness  (David Smillie, Book Ideas)
    -REVIEW : of My Goodness (Maxim Online)
    -REVIEW : of CONFESSIONS OF A CINEPLEX HECKLER Celluloid Tirades and Escapades. By Joe Queenan (2000) (Michael E. Ross, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Confessions (David Smillie, Book Ideas)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon by Joe Queenan (1998) (Lance Gould, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon by Joe Queenan (John Gross, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon by Joe Queenan (Dwight Garner, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon by Joe Queenan (HEATHER MALLICK -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster (Susan Wickstrom, Willamette Week)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster (DAVID DAVIDAR , The Hindu)
    -REVIEW : of Red Lobster (Rex Roberts, Insight)
    -REVIEW : of IF YOU'RE TALKING TO ME, YOUR CAREER MUST BE IN TROUBLE Movies, Mayhem, and Malice. By Joe Queenan (1994 (Hal Goodman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of If You're Talking to Me (Manuela Hoelterhoff, wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW : of IMPERIAL CADDY The Rise of Dan Quayle in America and the Decline and Fall of Practically Everything Else (1992) (Molly Ivins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing (Richard von Busack, Metro Active Books)

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Joe Queenan (Imdb)
    -INFO : Twelve Steps to Death  (1995) (Imdb)

GENERAL :
    -ESSAY : The knock on negativity (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic, February 27, 2000)

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Joe Queenan (Imdb)
    -INFO : Twelve Steps to Death  (1995) (Imdb)

Comments:

No man is as powerless as one who has lost his will.

- Lamar Cole

- Jan-14-2006, 16:45

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