Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam is not impressed with Errol Morris' new documentary. Beam joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to explain why Morris' film "The Known Unknown" falls flat for him, which he wrote about in his column for the Globe.
Questions have been edited for length and clarity. Beam's responses have been edited where indicated (...).
You totally trash Errol Morris in your new column. How come?
My real problem is I've just never, ever read anything negative about him. It's like an ocean of all his pals fawning over him. You know what he has? He has utter license. He has utter license to say anything he wants to say, even if it's totally devoid of content. I felt this piece had to be a counterweight to this horrible, overbearing presence of Errol Morris love.
You wrote he gets 'unlimited acreage' in The New York Times. Are you jealous?
That's a fair question. He has written some really silly stuff. Because, of course, it's the internet so you can go on as long as you want — four parts of rubbish about the "known and unknown." His stuff on the Kennedy assassination is a complete disgrace. I invite readers to look at it.
However, in my monumental work of unfairness towards Errol Morris, I had to deep-six his really interesting and provocative work with Jim's personal friend, Harvey Silverglate, on the Dr. Jeffrey McDonald case.
What did he do in the case?
It's an interesting story because Morris couldn't get funding to do this movie he wanted to do. Jeffrey McDonald is the Green Beret who was [accused] of murdering his wife and family. (...) Morris and Silverglate took the other side of this case — he has made a really convincing argument that McDonald is unfairly incarcerated. And he really turned my thinking around on this. Because, like the people who refused to give him money to do this movie, I kind of assumed that Jeffrey McDonald is guilty. Morris has apparently written this impossible-to-read 700-page book that literally no one is ever going to read, but he makes a convincing case.
You choose to praise the work of Errol Morris on the radio, but you couldn't write a single word of praise in your column?
Steve Wynn and Mohegan Sun are dueling it out in the pages of the Boston Globe, so we're not writing 800 words anymore.
What are you down to?
600! Naturally, those 200 words would have been devoted to hearing Errol's side of the story.
One of the things I like is that you're not afraid to criticize somebody in our community. When you write a piece about somebody like Morris who's borderline-iconic, is there any trepidation about blowback?
Many of my closest friends are friends of Errol Morris's. I test-drove this idea [with them], and all of them said it was a bad idea. I was really just reacting to the fact that I had never heard a word of substantive, negative commentary about him. He's done a lot, there's a lot of good things to say.
Do you know Errol Morris at all?
We got an email from Art: 'Loved [Beam's] column, especially after the saccharine, fawning piece on the Morris movie in the Globe the other day ... and why do I get the feeling Jim's opinion would change instantly if Morris was going after someone from the left?'
That will never happen, by the way.
>> Hear the rest of the interview, including what's left for regular people to do when brilliant minds — the Mozarts and Shakespeares of the world — dominate their respective fields.