“Cinematic Litmus Test”

THE MIDDLE SEAT: Column by Steve Matuszak

This week’s column is an outrageous sidetrack of time, energy and thought – and an impromptu diatribe inspired by a response to last week’s column.

“Jay” suggested, in response to my raging and elongated epithet about people who don’t “get” movies, that we should create a list of those people so cinema houses don’t let them in.

Well, for this week’s column, I’d like to elaborate on that list as well as expand to other lists that might serve our industry, and many others, well.

First let me say I love the idea of an exclusionary list. And the precedent has already been set. No one thought anything of it when the TSA created a “no-fly” list. If we have prior knowledge you are a no-good, dangerous person – then you do not get to go on a plane.

Why can’t we make this work for movies? Sure, there are abuses to every system, and sometimes good people will get excluded, but that is the nature of human systems – they are imperfect yet, at times, effective.

Now, while many who read this may disagree with my methodology for how we determine who gets on the list, I am wide open for tweaks and improvements. My initial thought is, we come up with a basic questionnaire, designed by people who enjoy and understand the art of cinema, and anyone who fails it gets put on the list.

Here are some sample questions. Must a movie always have a happy ending where everything works out in the end?

If they answer yes – their name goes on the list and we are never again bothered by the intellectually and artistically disingenuous banter of these people ever again.

Or how about, “Is Keanu Reeves a multi-faceted, depth filled, layered actor?”

A yes gets you on the list. Or vice versa, “Is Javier Bardem a good actor?” If they have never even heard of Javier, they go on the list. See how this works?

Or, keep it simple – “I enjoyed Catwoman, In the Name of The King, Glitter, Boat Trip, Showgirls, Battlefield Earth or Gigli”. A yes to any of those (and many more – add yours in the comments below!!) puts you on the list.

While we are at it, I have always wanted a similar list for actors and actresses in general. When I was working as a professional actor in Chicago, one of the most annoying things I can remember is having to spend half of my day waiting at an audition for a commercial where, after paying $28 for parking and buying yourself a crappy lunch, you had to enter a cramped room and “bite and chew” for 6 seconds then leave. To those who have not experienced this belittling and unnecessary endeavor, it means you “audition” for a commercial in which all you have to do is bite into a sandwich and then smile.

I often asked, why can’t clients just look at headshots and choose the look they want? This is what they are going for anyway, a certain look. The casting agents would often say, “Well, to be honest, we need to be sure the particular actor/actress can pull it off.”

“What?” But, I must admit, they were right! I have seen actors and actresses who could not even handle appearing “real” at eating a sandwich, so the clients and agents couldn’t trust hiring off of the headshot alone. So, I say we need a list of capable actors that have proven they can handle smiling into a camera without looking like they are socially handicapped.

So, what do we do? Easy, we have ONE yearly audition in which actors and actresses must prove they have basic acting skills and then they get to go into the “pool” of trusted headshots that clients can freely choose from knowing the performer, who has the “look” they want, will also be able to handle the role. Just get some great acting teachers, agents, directors, etc. to watch everyone once a year and weed out the overacting, non-nuanced numbskulls.

And why stop there? Let’s make all sorts of lists! Now look, we are talking about the arts here, not politics. This is not McCarthyism, it is Darwinism, where we simply weed out the folks who have not genetically or creatively evolved are holding our art form back.

If we are wise enough to weed out the people that think Crouching Tiger was “unrealistic” from attending movies, let’s weed out every single person who produced and directed “Kazaam”!

Of course, with the advent of the internet and cheaper cameras and editing software, we have a Wild West of cinematic crap and crap-loving digital audiences to wrangle as well.

I want a list of customer service reps so that, when I call Verizon or any similar company on the phone, I get someone who is able to listen to my needs and respond accordingly. And how about a list for insurance people, and lawyers and toll booth operators and … Oh man, wait, how about REPORTERS and NEWS ANCHORS. If they engage in stupid, un-witty banter and lame attempts at transitioning to and from serious stories, they go on the list!

So, I want to hear from you – what lists would you like to create beyond “No-Fly” and “No-See” (for movies)? Any other genres or individuals you’d like to see the mighty hand of evolutionary forces choose for natural, artistic selection?

Bring it on because The Middle Seat just got hot and is burning the seats around it to make LESS ROOM for the culturally uninformed!


  1. Okay, this will controversy it up! They need a list for VOTERS.

    There are people who are so willfully ignorant, that they should be put on a list and refused the opportunity to vote in any election. Questions can be, “Do you watch Fox News?” “Do you think cutting taxes are the answer to all our financial woes?” and “Do you think Palin and Bachman are intelligent?” A yes gets you put on the list!

  2. I’m sorry, I couldn’t follow your thoughts due to that picture of a woman with food coming out of her mouth. I think I’m going to vomit.

  3. What about a list of intellectual and cultural elitists who pretend that their comments about who should or should not be valued in society are worth sharing on a world wide stage? Might that also make an interesting list? I believe I know one commentator who would definitely be near the top, Steve!

  4. Wow, who is “Rob”? Does anyone know? Apparently the fun of comedic writing has taken a jolting HALT! But, whoever he is, I am grateful to Rob for thinking that the playful “movieguys” website of my friends is on the level of the “world wide stage.” Paul Preston, you have achieved international status! Normally, the “i’m just kidding” part of kidding is rhetorical, but, perhaps it needs to be brought back into daily humor writing and speaking. So Rob, please, do favor us with your whole name and connection with anyone here at movieguys.

  5. Rob, you got us here. We are intellectual and cultural elitists. And you aren’t funny. Those are just some things are are true.

    Feel free to start a website where people are coddled from the dangers of satire and comedy writing and I’ll make a comment over there. Boom.

  6. How about a list for really tall or wide people, can’t see through them. For family movies seats should be adjusted so kids can see over the adult in front of them, like a beauty shop chair! If you lowered the ceiling then tall people woulod have to shrug down and then you could see! people who wear hats are out no matter what size. And teenage boys who don’t shower should be sent home!

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