Double Standard

Roger Ebert has derided The Hangover, Part II for using perhaps the famous Vietnam War photograph ever — a capturing of a South Vietnamese military guy shooting a Vietcong guy in the head — for laughs. He called its appearance during the still-photo section at the end “a desecration.” But Ebert didn’t complain about Woody Allen‘s using the same photo for satiric purposes in Stardust Memories .

Allen’s character, a distracted film director, has a huge blowup of this photo in his living room in the film. It’s obviously a much smarter and more satiric use of the photo but it’s definitely meant to provoke and amuse.

If it’s okay for Allen to go there, you can’t fault Phillips for replicating the same photo, etc. Once a news artifact has been used in a comic-satric context, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Phillips imitated the shot to get an “oh, yeah” reaction from the audience, and Allen used the shot to say to the audience, “Look at how self-absorbed and angsty my character is.” Allen’s humor is on a much higher plane but he and Phillips basically did the same thing.

Couldn’t someone have claimed 40 years ago that Stanley Kubrick‘s using news footage of Nazi soldiers goose-stepping to the rhythm of Beethoven’s 9th in A Clockwork Orange was also a desecration?

So Ebert isn’t complaining about the photo per se being used for comic purposes — he’s complaining about the vulgarity and the coarseness of Phillips’ intent. Which most of us agree with. Phillips is shovelling mulch in this film. But I will defend to the death his right to use that photo for a laugh or whatever. Because he was only following Allen’s lead.

  • Kakihara

    It’s not like they’re the only ones who used that photo. You occasionally see it in Something Awful jokes.

  • Nick de Jong

    This famous photo is used a lot! Enter: Vietnam War in Google Images and you will see it immeadetly.

  • littlebigman

    This is a dumb ass post, Jeff. Really.

    On the one hand you seem to understand the difference between what Allen and Phillips sterling – and yet you fail to grasp why one is appropriate and helpful to understand a character and the other trivial and offensive.

    Ebert is right. Again. With the hell he hath endured he has become one of our great sages.

  • LauraReeling

    There is no comparison between the two…

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Comedy is comedy, you boobs. Woody Allen would’ve been the first one to tell you this. There is more than a valid comparison between the two. For the instinct to use that photo on Allen and Phillips’ part came from the same basic place.

  • Rashad

    Eddie Adams wishes he never even took the pic

  • Glenn Kenny

    “Woody Allen agrees with me. I have no way of proving that. Fuck you guys anyway.”

  • Versus

    Desecration? It is not a sacred object. It is only a picture. There is a difference between using it and using it well. It may have been used in a stupid way but why blow a gasket about simply using it?

  • Jeffrey Wells

    What Kenny said.

  • messiahcomplexio

    “Comedy is comedy, you boobs. Woody Allen would’ve been the first one to tell you this.”

    Can’t prove it (of course) but I sincerely doubt that.

    Ask Dave Chapelle if comedy is just comedy. Dude bailed on his highly successful show because he didn’t like what people were laughing at. Why someone laughs is almost as important to a comedian as if they laugh at all. I can’t see Woody saying “who cares what they’re laughing at. They’re laughing. Comedy is comedy.”

    Now I haven’t seen the photo in context myself, so I can’t judge this particular situation, but to suggest that the context of the pic doesn’t matter to how the comedy is received is pretty tone deaf.

    That being said, Ebert almost certainly overreacted.

  • Mr. Muckle

    “What Kenny said.”

    Are you kidding? Kenny is facetiously paraphrasing your comments to show how ridiculous they are. The salt air must be rotting your brain.

    You will NOT defend to the death the use of that photo. If the choice is between that and death, I’m pretty sure you’ll fold.

  • Mr. Peel

    Any equivalence between this and the moment in the Ebert-scripted BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS where Z-Man tells the Nazi Butler, “Make sure you turned off the oven”? And I love BVD.

  • EricGilde

    “There are two things you can’t argue in film: comedy and eroticism. If something doesn’t make you laugh, no one can tell you why it’s funny, and it’s difficult to reason someone out of an erection.”

    -Roger Ebert

  • great scott

    What Jewelez Azner said.

  • George Prager

    If it bends it’s funny.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    I had no idea this site was now Inside The Comedian’s Studio. What is your favorite curse word?

  • raygo

    Comedy = Tragedy + Time

    Tragedy = The Hangover x 2

    Sight unseen I hate this movie already. And does this post mean that Wells considers Woody Allen and Todd Phillips to be peers?

  • alynch

    “And does this post mean that Wells considers Woody Allen and Todd Phillips to be peers?”

    Does this post mean you have terrible reading comprehension?

  • Hollis Mulwray

    Too soon???? Would either man have been justified in using instead the iconic image of the screaming young girl who has just been napalmed? She lived. This fellow is dead. Is there a difference?

  • George Prager

    “They thought it was NORMAL!”

  • LexG

    Ebert is kind of insane now.

    I say that with all reverence for him and totally sympathy for what he’s been through the last five, ten years. But the fact that he’s SUPER political and aggressively PC now isn’t exactly headline news.

    But he’s been Kakihara-level random and arbitrary and weird since at LEAST the mid-90s. This is a guy who gave The Cell a FOUR-STAR review, had made no mention of how unpleasant it is… A guy who thinks KNOWING is a masterpiece… A guy who in his review of Halloween III discusses at length how Michael Myers is killed in the first scene (?) and scientists study him (???) for the rest of the movie, none of which happens.

    The man who gave LESS THAN ZERO four stars in 1987. The man who thought CRASH was profound.

    He’s always been decidedly wacky.

  • Ryan Stewart

    Lex couldn’t be more right about Ebert. I remember reading his review of The American after seeing it and in the middle of his review he lays out this whole theory about how the film revolves around a character saying two words at just the right time (long story, but it hinges on whether or not one character is a traitor) and it seemed so weird to me that I actually went back and watched the film again and he had *completely* misread the entire thing. His analysis couldn’t have been more factually wrong.

  • MasterGGG

    Not really original to use o photo that has been used allot! But still i really like the Hangover! ;-)

  • Ms. M

    The Chief of Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who killed the man in that photo hardly did it for laughs and the executed man was no innocent – he was caught murdering over 30 people, six of them being Loan’s godchildren. The photographer came to regret the negative impact the picture had on Loan’s life, including the closure of Loan’s business in America when his identity was discovered ( Just saying that a picture doesn’t tell the whole story.

  • Jeff and/or Danny Is Always Wrong

    What Ms. M said. One of the most misinterpreted photos in history. Combatants caught out of uniform can be summarily executed in accordance with the Geneva Conventions– it’s why you fight in uniforms.

    It’s only in bad taste if you’re ignorant, Roger.

  • berg

    “he’s been Kakihara-level random and arbitrary ….”

    you know that Kakihara writes a wrongful review and then cuts off his …. oh, nevermind

  • MarkVH

    What Lex and Stewart said. Due respect to the man himself, the deification of Ebert in certain circles these days is hilarious, as the dude’s been kind of off his rocker for years now. Great movie fan, no doubt, but as a philosopher? Not so much. “One of our great sages”? Jesus.

  • Phatang!

    Completely agree about Ebert. Completely think Jeff’s post here is bogus. The line for what’s offensive is a personal one, and I can easily see being pissed-off that Todd Philips used that photo in his ugly, money-grab of a movie. Quibble with the use of the word “desecration” if you want, but don’t present this as a free-speech issue (“I will defend to the death his right to use that photo for a laugh or whatever”), because the man’s only stating his personal revulsion, not asking for Todd Philips to be thrown in prison.

  • DavidF

    “Comedy is comedy, you boobs. Woody Allen would’ve the first one to tell you this. ”

    OK…is Stardust Memories a comedy?

  • Geoff

    Fincher’s trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo fucking OWNZ!!!!

  • great scott

    I find myself in the strange position of actually agreeing with David Poland. The movie had quite a few laughs in it and the audience seemed to enjoy it. It has an A- from Cinemascore. And Owen Gleiberman gave it a B+. Even Ebert admits in his review that it has a lot of laughs. Seemed like he might have given the movie two and a half or maybe even three stars, but that picture so offended his PC sensibilities that he couldn’t help himself and had a little tirade.

  • bluefugue

    >The man who gave LESS THAN ZERO four stars in 1987. The man who thought CRASH was profound.

    >He’s always been decidedly wacky.

    His movie opinions have always been hard to track — you’re not going to consistently agree with him whatever your tastes are.

    Four things about Ebert, for me:

    1) His prose is strong, and sometimes lovely. A lot of today’s movie blogger types can’t write very well. Ebert can.

    2) His best reviews move beyond the movie to general observations (see the opening of his Swingers review, or his comments about being a slacker in his Suburbia review). Those paragraphs stick with me more than the direction of specific thumbs.

    3) Post-jaw surgery, he has indeed become this sort of Emersonian sage, and I think he writes everything from that place, whether about movies or not. It’s remarkable to watch him deal with that illness with such enormous spiritual/cultural strength.

    4) His Great Movies series is a hell of a place to start for a general grounding in a cinema canon.

    All in all, I think he is an invaluable resource although I disagree with many of his pronouncements on individual movies.

  • Geoff

    People who point to Ebert’s likes and dislikes, CRASH 4 Stars, KNOWING 4 stars, BLUE VELVET 0 stars, and say “see look, he’s really wacky” come across as complete douchebags to me.

    Ebert is not Armond White. He writes passionately and always gives a valid REASON for why he likes or dislikes each film.

    And like bluefuge said, his prose are strong.

  • Rashad

    The thing about Ebert is most of his reviews come off like reading the synopsis rather than actual insight.

    It was funny reading his Thor blog, and almost every person corrected him on what he got factually wrong about the movie. It was like he didn’t watch it. That and the fact he never finds it hard to mention how much he hates 3D in a review too.

  • Krillian

    One reason Ebert is still movie-critic king is because he’s such a good writer. Siskel always said it was Roger’s greatest strength. “Even when he’s wrong, you can still expect a well-written review.”

    Now when he goes off on other stuff, sure, he’s militant PC these days. I read somewhere that Michael Moore had an interview with him and came out gasping, “And I thought I was liberal.” And I don’t always trust Roger’s opinion on things. But I at least generally by the end of the review understand how he arrived at his conclusions.

    I don’t think Woody doing it first justifies Todd doing it. I think Todd thinking to himself “This might be funny” justifies him doing it. If he’s wrong, he fails. If he’s right, the audience laughs. Roger thought he was wrong. I haven’t seen it, but now that the element of surprise for this image is gone…

  • HarryWarden

    Ebert long ago lost it. He’s too one-sided to take anything he writes seriously.

  • actionlover

    I’m totally with Lex and the gang on this one regarding Ebert.

    And Geoff… I don’t recall exactly, but did he write passionately and give valid reasons why he liked “Speed 2 – Cruise Control” and “Nutty Professor 2 – The Klumps”?

  • LexG

    Just to clarify, having now seen the movie:


    Phillips doesn’t use the real picture. In the photo montage at the end, it’s a quick, two-second shot of Bradley Cooper with a gun to Ken Jeong’s head, posing like the photo. I would wager 99.99999999% of the people who see the movie don’t even get it.

    But the actual photo is not in the movie.

  • berkguru


    The horribly lame Mike Tyson cameo at end was WAY MORE offensive. Brutally lame.

  • bluefugue

    >he’s militant PC these days.

    I’m not sure what this means. Ebert passionately opposed the recent expurgated edition of “Huckleberry Finn,” which doesn’t seem to me a particularly “PC” stance, at least as I understand political correctness.

    Ebert isn’t “PC.” He’s liberal, avowedly and unapologetically so. The two are not equivalent.

    >He’s too one-sided to take anything he writes seriously.

    What on earth is wrong with a one-sided movie review? Surely that’s preferable to a wishy-washy one?

  • berg

    this guy I know, he actually goes to films all the time, and we never agree but i like him because he actually goes to the movies … tonight I saw him and said, “Tony what movies have you seen.” His reply “I saw Hangover Part Two twice.” Shit, I thought I’ve only seen it once, so I replied “What did you think about Thor.” “Oh man,” he groaned, “That was a chick flick.”

  • Kai

    A world famous photo which reminds the world the horrible events that took place during the Vietnam War. An act that shows what great violence humans are capable of. Great violence that still exsists today…

    No comedy is connected to this photo in any way..

  • Sniper

    I wonder if Woody Allen regrets his choice…

  • Kai

    I hope he does..

  • Sniper

    I think he does. But hey..Everybody makes mistakes, tight?

  • Buk94

    “I’m totally with Lex and the gang on this one regarding Ebert.”

    Actionlover going with the crowd? I’m not shocked.

  • BobbyLupo

    “Comedy is comedy, you boobs.”

    Jeff, the O’Donoghue quote that you always misuse is actually explicitly talking about the difference between Woody’s use (good) and Hangover’s use (bad).

    You don’t understand the difference, you don’t understand the quote… dare I say that, in looking at your reviews over the years, you really don’t understand comedy.

  • actionlover

    Excellent contribution to the discussion, Buk94.


  • actionlover

    David Bowie recreated this (a bit abstractly) in the video for “China Girl”.

  • Terry McCarty

    Lex G wrote: A guy who thinks KNOWING is a masterpiece…

    Given Roger’s enduring love for Alex Proyas’ DARK CITY, it was inevitable that there would be an Ebert come-through for KNOWING (which, to be honest, I avoided).

    Wondering if Roger will write a commentary for a special edition DVD of KNOWING and have it delivered by Bill Kurtis.

  • Buk94

    Back at ya. Anyway, picking apart Ebert’s opinions in a 40 year career as a critic is seriously ridiculous. And this isn’t just aimed at you, AL. I’m sure all of us, if we listed all of the films we love or enjoy, could have our lists picked apart.

    Of course, if we did this, most people would never be honest about it. They’d write down the films that make them seem smart or deep and leave off Red Dawn and Fletch.

    Paul Thomas Anderson loves Adam Sandler movies. Does this hurt his street cred one bit?

  • jesse

    Anyone who uses personal taste as the main criteria for a critic being considered good, bad, out of it, crazy, whatever, is probably an idiot. Oh shit, Ebert gave four stars to a movie with a bad reputation that I probably didn’t even fucking see!!! CAREER INVALIDATED JUMP THE SHARK SO OVER IT and more bullshit non-criticism jackassery. His writing is good, his analysis is interesting (if sometimes a bit synopsis-heavy, but that’s a problem with a lot of mainstream critics who are, after all, trained to write for an audience that hasn’t seen the movie). Sometimes he gets a detail or two wrong but that doesn’t make him a doddering crazyhead.

    My taste certainly doesn’t line up with Ebert, particularly with comedies. Off the top of my head, I know he hated Brain Candy, Wet Hot American Summer, Napoleon Dynamite, and Your Highness. Completely disagree with him on most or all of those. But strangely, I don’t read critics based on their ability to match my personal taste as closely as possible.

    I agree with Jeff’s general sentiment that if Woody Allen went there, it’s silly to say Todd Phillips isn’t allowed. But these things strike you differently on different days. Or in different contexts. It says more about the mood Hangover II put Ebert in than it does about some supposed lack of consistency in his taking it to task.

    And yeah, there was no reaction to that photo when I saw Hangover II because likely hardly any of the audience got what they were parodying. It’s a little more of the “AHAHA THERE’S A PENIS AND BRADLEY COOPER SAID FUCK YOU!!!” crowd.

  • Rashad

    Knowing is pretty good.

  • LexG

    Hangover Part II is a 3.5-star work of genius, and my third favorite movie of 2011. And should go on the short list everyone always brings up with Godfather II, Aliens, Empire Strikes Back, and Another 48 Hrs. One of the best sequels ever made. But it’s really not worth arguing in favor of it on a movie blog where everyone was guaranteed to hate it from the jump. And never any way to explain why something is funny to people who don’t think it is.

    Absolutely loved it.

  • jesse

    Lex, no one brings up Another 48 Hours. Even for worst sequels. Because most people barely remember it exists.

    Phillips is as lazy as ever. I feel like even my crowd for Hangover II, which was CRACKING UP at a lot of mundane Bradley Cooper-led non-jokes (Cooper acts dismissive and says fuck a bunch of times! COMEDY!!), felt kind of muted by the end of it. Just not a lot of big laughs from the crowd. Maybe it was because the movie isn’t that funny, but really, a lot of the funniest stuff is in the middle third or so, but nothing there seemed to get them rolling (except maybe the Ed Helms prostitute thing) like BRADLEY COOPER SAYIN’ FUCK DURING EXPOSITION IN THE DENTIST’S OFFICE! What a fucking delight.

    Phillips still doesn’t know how to build scenes to actually maximize what’s funny about them, rather than just plopping it down front and center. The characters find out something horrible or go through something horrible, and then they scream about it, and then it sort of… trails off and they go on to the next scene. No momentum. The sameness with all of the callbacks and stuff didn’t even bother me much (although the Tyson thing was… actually, with the tattoo gag, very clever. With the second Tyson gag, fucking hacky). It’s just kind of a lazy, surly, sour movie, which makes the eighties-comedy-sequel-style mechanics to get everything back the way it was at the beginning of the first movie a bit more visibly lame than they might otherwise be. In other words, in this movie was even as funny as the first one, it wouldn’t matter as much that it’s basically like Ghostbusters II but not nearly as enjoyable.

    I will say Phillips handled the comic-mystery aspects a bit better this time around. And he has a decent eye for shots if not actually gags.

  • LexG

    Jesse, disagree. Strenuously. But like I said, it’s not worth getting bent out of shape over, because I’m never going to convince anybody it’s funny who doesn’t think it is. Those epic shots of the city, however, looked HUGE, really great stuff… To me a GIANT CITY with ENDLESS BUILDINGS is the most cinematic thing ever, from Tony Scott to Innaritu to Mann– it’s NEVER not exciting to me to see teeming cityscapes. That stuff looked enormous here– Phillips should consider doing an action movie.

    I will say, re: Bradley Cooper: It’s because he’s the “cool guy” we all wish we were or think we’d be in that situation, when 99% of us are totally Ed Helms. Cooper gets the laughs because pretty much every guy in the audience for a Hangover II wants to be THAT guy, all flippant and cool and who-gives-a-fuck ringleader; He’s like Tim Matheson in UP THE CREEK or something.

  • actionlover

    “Paul Thomas Anderson loves Adam Sandler movies. Does this hurt his street cred one bit? ”


  • actionlover

    Props for the UP THE CREEK reference.

    Mike the Dog owns!

  • great scott

    My favorite Ebert whack review was his zero star rating for The Life of David Gale. He gave this engrossing, well acted movie no stars just because it was about the death penalty and took place in Texas (with its record number of executions) and the final twist at the end made the anti death penalty antagonists (like Ebert himself) look foolish and stupid and basically made them the bad guys.I guess if it made pro death penalty people look like buffoons he would have liked it more.

  • Gnome Sayin

    ‘The Life of David Gale’ is ham-fisted idiocy. That’s one of Ebert’s most lucid moments. An atrocious film.

    I dunno, I’ll take Ebert’s eccentricity. Doesn’t mean he isn’t often wrong, but I do believe the reactions are genuine and personal. I find far more fault with critics who ape consensus thought and always seem to be looking over their shoulders to ensure they’re still on the same page and their brethren will approve.

    The most tedious shot at a critic is always “This is the guy who loved/hated _____”. Well, except for Poland and ‘Land of the Lost’.

  • berkguru

    LexG in all seriousness give us 5-10 reasons why Hangover 2 is a 3.5 star movie. Open mind here.

  • Terry McCarty

    jesse wrote re ANOTHER 48 HRS:

    Even for worst sequels. Because most people barely remember it exists.

    Renenberubg it since I was an extra in the squadroom scenes involving Frank McRae (cut from the theatrical version)–and for the bus crash at the beginning, which Justin Lin paid homage to in the opening of FAST FIVE.

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