Saturday, October 03, 2009

Silent Movies at the Shepherd Express

You know, I can’t help myself. Every Wednesday, on my way to the Courthouse elevators, I still have to see if the new Shepherd Express is on the sloppy racks on the ground floor, right next to the Milwaukee Courier and Conquistador. By late morning, the next issue is usually there in bright stacks and, ever hopeful, I pick it up. Hey, I convince myself, I have to have something to read before the Onion appears on Thursday.

Alas, the decades-long disappointment of the failure of Milwaukee to develop a decent alternative weekly continues. Lou Fortis’ vanity sheet has fallen into a predictable tediousness, even worse than we last discussed it almost two years ago. Now, to go along with the embarrassing Boris and Doris society column (now attributed to "Shepherd Express Staff"), the shrinking weekly paper features a full-page (or two) sports "conversation" between formerly respectable sports writer Frank Clines (late of the Journal Sentinel) and S-E’s never-funny mascot Rip-Tenor-as-Art-Kumbalek (on the cover this week as one of the potential governor candidates — hilarious, ain'a? Stop, yer killing me!).

It is the most ludicrous kind of half-informed sports-talk, run through the stupid-on-purpose Kumbalek shtick. Who reads this stuff? Who could possibly think it is funny (if that’s what it is supposed to be)? Who has ever read all the way through even one of these dreadful indulgent exercises in amateur prognostication and sloppy yuk-yuk tripe? Imagine an out-of-towner reaching for the S-E with the Packers cover a couple of weeks ago and finding nothing about the Green-and-Gold but....this crap.

Maybe the S-E can run one of its cheap little polls on this issue. No publication in history has run reader polls less creative and more sloppily presented than the S-E. Whoa! Beer is the preferred beverage by 46% of Shepherd readers! Who knew? Who cares? Next week, how about a poll asking: Which regular S-E feature do you like to read more: Boris and Doris or The Fairly Detached Observers? None of the above – 96%!

But, for all that the Shepherd Express isn’t and never will be, I have noticed something else missing over the past two weeks. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the S-E about the Milwaukee Film Festival that is wrapping up this weekend at various theaters around town. No listings, no reviews – nothing. The absence of any recognition of the festival’s very existence is another example of the typical thumb-sucking by Fortis and the S-E’s supposed film advocate, Dave Luhrssen, who lost their attempt to control the former Milwaukee International Film Festival for their own self-aggrandizement and as a way to keep the struggling paper afloat and are now taking their ball (the one no one wants anyway) and going home.

Since 2002, we have had the fall pages of the Shepherd filled with puff pieces about the big and small films that somehow made their way to the MIFF, which began as a noble effort led by Fortis and Luhrssen and ultimately crumbled last year under the weight of self-imposed financial problems and Fortis’ outsized ego. The interesting story is told here by film actor Mark Metcalf at OnMilwaukee (skip to this page for the money shot).   For Fortis' self-serving version, there is this last-gasp essay.

The bottom line is the chief financial backers pulled the plug and created a new Milwaukee Film Festival, independent from Fortis’ control and machinations. Fortis responded by getting his friend Ed Garvey to file a lawsuit trying to get money out of the festival idea in a way he couldn’t when he controlled it. The lawsuit is properly languishing in the Courthouse. Question: What’s the first thing you do if you file a lawsuit claiming someone is about to hijack your film festival? Answer: Ask for a restraining order to prevent the new festival from going forward. No such effort from Garvey here, showing he knows the strength of his case. Perhaps the defendants will settle at some point for the suit’s "nuisance value", although it is the community at large that is being annoyed.

In any event, Fortis and Luhrssen’s supposed love and support of independent film apparently exists only as far as they can control it.  Their failure to cover any aspect of the new festival puts the lie any notion that they care about cinema in any meaningful way.  If they did, they would put aside their petty disappointments (and get past the Journal Sentinel's sponsorship) and cover, if not promote, a major cultural event in the city.  That they can't makes them even more irrelevant than they were before  -- which was pretty damn irrelevant. 


Anonymous said...

It was obvious from the very beginning that the Milwaukee International Film Festival was a financial investment disguised as a nonprofit that Fortis, Luhrssen and (later) Matt Astbury abused to create revenue for the Shepherd Express and to stroke their own egos. It's no longer disguised--their lack of coverage of the new Milwaukee Film Fest speaks for itself. Way to shoot yourselves in the foot guys!

Anonymous said...

The S-E used to get my attention. Then after some time I just read the first half. Later it became the first quarter of the paper. The two pages. Now, I usually don't bother.

Don't make me start The Wisconsinite again! The static state of Wisconsin's major "alt"-weeklies led us to it once before...