Hopefully by now you've run into Film Crit Hulk's Hulk-sized essays around the web on everything from film and video games to the Girls backlash and how to best portray Hulk on film. Or checked out the big green guy on Twitter. Once you get over the all-caps thing — let it wash over you for at least 1,500 words, it's worth it — you'll find yourself digging into the archives for hours, digging up gems like his his meeting Quentin Tarantino or trailing Rian Johnson and the Looper crew at Comic-Con. He took some time to talk with The Verge about the Hulk style, strategies for wading into the comments, 48fps, and a deep passion for cinema.
Where are you?
What are you doing right now?
Writing an essay on the pointlessness of plot-hole fixation and typing it on the giant vibranium keyboard that tony stark made for Hulk.
The all-caps style and persona could have prevented you from being taken seriously as a writer, yet you're getting even more popular, with entertainment weekly and new yorker columns and fancy sxsw panels. What do you think it is about your writing that is engaging readers so fiercely?
One is always afraid to "give away the joke," but the whole affectation is something Hulk thinks about a great deal about. And honestly there's a real simplicity at play in all this that Hulk is happy to share.
First off, there are a number of people who call what Hulk does "a gimmick" and Hulk can certainly understand why. They see a film essay written by The Incredible Hulk and the very notion seems like a gateway to nothing but gimmicky jokes and inherent insincerity. And in that moment they either think "this is stupid." or they think "hey, it might at least be amusing." but really that's just the initial surface, because it allows for the following realization of "oh, he's actually being serious with what he's writing... That's curious." and it's the first inversion of the expectation and Hulk can attest that it immediately disarms the reader to having a more open disposition.
"OH, HE'S ACTUALLY BEING SERIOUS WITH WHAT HE'S WRITING... THAT'S CURIOUS."
"IT'S NOT A COLD GESTURE. IT'S NOT CALCULATED."
Then a number of people then say "well that's the worst way to write that kind of big long essay," which is a totally understandable view too, but Hulk thinks the whole thing actually allows for a deeper affectation. For instance, Hulk thinks a few people might be missing that it's not actually gimmick, but instead a device. And actually a fairly standard high/low device at that. Hulk dresses up the sentiment in big silly all-caps and it shows that Hulk doesn't take Hulk-self too seriously. Which is good. Because Hulk really doesn't take Hulk-self too seriously. And that's because the subjects themselves and the thoughts are serious enough on their own. The subjects get all the right kinds of attention too and that's the most important thing. And so that inherent sense of humor and disambiguation that comes with the device is very important to Hulk.
On top of that, there's even logistical reasons: all-caps actually gets people to slow down when they read so it actually prevents a lot of skimming (and to be frank, Hulk has had a fair amount of people who most hate the device also admit they are the kind of people who are not interested in a 12,000 word essay anyway). Granted there are a few people who are genuinely bothered by the caps and it hurts their eyes, but Hulk finds that is really, really a small minority of people and Hulk happy to direct them to Convert Case alas, Hulk's not for everyone, but no one is for everyone. At least there's a reason for it.
And then there's one last level deeper than that. A lot of folks have noticed that Hulk tends to be a pretty optimistic Hulk. And what Hulk has discovered is that if the incredible Hulk of all people is willing to be open, honest, lofty, optimistic, and a big ole' softy... Well... Then why can't they? It let's everyone know that it's okay to embrace these things. That our over-fixation on texture and cool and disaffection can actually be counterproductive. And that you may have expected Hulk to be a big smashy monster, but Hulk isn't smashy at all. Hulk's just a big, stupid, sweet Hulk that's just way too big for it's body. Hulk thinks that defying expectations is one of the most humane things we can do.
Of course, some people still don't like Hulk's whole deal and that's more than fine. Hulk willing to keep trying with them. Always. But at the least Hulk wants them to know that Hulk has truly spent more time thinking about this than anyone on the planet. And it's not a cold gesture. It's not calculated. The distillation of all of this is joyful. And in a strange way, it is the most honest voice possible.
And then there's the truth that Hulk holds to dearly: that banner actually turns into a giant green monster to write these essays and none of you can prove otherwise.... Sorry, you got a Hulk-sized answer on that one.
There's a sincerity to your writing that's reminiscent of many of David Foster Wallace's essays. Does it help cut through the usual flamewars and rants when you dive into article comments?
One. That is the kindest compliment anyone can ever give so Hulk thanks dearly and wants to go hide around the corner.
Two. The sincerity is certainly part of it. Hulk always tries to frame essays from a place that doesn't attack the reader (not always successfully), and letting them know this is a "safe place" so to speak. It sounds silly, but it is a really, really big deal to Hulk. Because the truth is that people just want to be heard. Whether they are writing a long thoughtful comment, cracking a joke, disagreeing vehemently, or simply trolling, they just want to count. To be a part of it. And that's why Hulk tries to engage them. Because when Hulk lets them know that they are actually being heard. And when you do that then this funny thing happens where they are suddenly willing to meet Hulk halfway. Not necessarily in terms of the opinion itself, but in terms of civility and mutual respect. The whole dynamic is actually something that goes back to Hulk's teaching days.
"IN HAVING A CLASS DISCUSSION YOU CAN'T JUST LET PEOPLE BE JERKS."
There's a big policy on the internet of "ignore the combative commenters and get on with your life," which is certainly a functional plan, but Hulk really does treat a comment section like a classroom. This isn't to put Hulk in the "teacher" role, because that can a didactic place to come from when it comes to criticism, but Hulk likes to think of the essays as place to start a good class discussion if that make sense. Which is cool because Hulk really does cherish a good discussion and you have no idea how many great, thoughtful people (the badass digest community is incredible. One of the brightest spots on the internet) have gotten Hulk to refine or change Hulk's initial disposition. But the point is that in having a class discussion you can't just let people be jerks. It ruins the conversation and serves as a block for everyone. So you have to do what teachers do every day. You have to deal with disruptive students and engage them. You have to disarm them. You have to let them know that even though they are trying to fuck things up, that they will be listened to. That they are human beings. That their voice matters. They just have to conduct themselves accordingly. Hulk knows it sounds crazy, but it really does tend to work. It just takes a lot of work. And because of that, Hulk has read every single comment that has ever been written on a Hulk article (one even broke the 1000 comment barrier so it's not easy). Honestly, Hulk wish Hulk had time to respond to each and every one of them, but it would make new article writing impossible. Still, the point is that Hulk always listens.
And it is so very worth it.
"You have to deal with disruptive students and engage them. You have to disarm them."
What's your writing process like?
Hulk is always writing, but no matter what, Hulk tries to refrain from the "quick trigger," which means these articles tend to stew for awhile. For instance Hulk has the popular "Film School" series where Hulk doing acting 101 or screenwriting 101 or something and those pieces are long in gestation for months. As such, Hulk is always working on a few columns at once and bouncing between them. And when you consider the high volume of creative writing Hulk does or is involved with, then that amount essentially doubles. But the thing Hulk loves about creative writing is that it just makes the analytical writing all the more refreshing (and vice versa).
And so Hulk writes very little "momentary reaction" pieces. Hulk will let the ideas stew for a few weeks and cull together the most functional way possible. Every time Hulk sits down to write about anything, the central question is always "what is the most interesting thing about this movie/subject/etc?" and Hulk lets that play out, often months after the popular discussion has subsided. And not only does this make the comments that follow more solidified with the passage of time, but reactions tend to be a little more nuanced. One of the reasons Hulk adores being at Badass is that Hulk really has a lot of freedom with column submission times and they absolutely let Hulk write about anything that Hulk wants. They really are wonderful. But poor meredith borders. She's Hulk's editor and has to deal with allllll of Hulk's over-wordy and over-long shenanigans (still, Hulk has written at some pretty cool places over the years and she is the best editor Hulk has ever had and an even better person).
Favorite place to see a movie?
- New beverly. Second row. Far right seat of the left hand seats.
- Cinefamily. One of the middle couches.
- Le Champo in Paris.
- Arclight. Midnight show. Row n. Seat 21 or 22.
- IFC Center, NYC.
- Mann’s chinese, a good seat in the middle.
Obviously, you were created in a "chaotic lab experiment involving gamma radiation, telepods, and the ghost of Pauline Kael." what else brought you to where you are now?
13 years of serious film criticism writing, 8 of which were either academic or never saw the light of day (for good reason) and a career working in movies/tv.
But a better answer is a life of experience? Hulk's had a whole bunch of weird life experiences and areas of study. Literature. Math, Russian history, oceanography, Caribbean poetry. Hulk's been a farmer, a lobsterman, a lifeguard, a teacher, worked in a brewery, and had half a dozen more odd-jobs to boot. but Hulk likes to think that all of the right disposition comes from general fascination with the world. And perhaps the biggest instrument in that fascination has been that Hulk has always been a big reader. Not enough movie people read in Hulk's opinion and the two inform each other it's not even funny. So Hulk just recommends that people read. Read constantly. Read everything.
But the question after all of that is: if Hulk is so interested in the world at large, why would Hulk always be in love with cinema?
Because cinema is about the world. In many ways, it's just that perfect "lens" for seeing our lives.
Who are your favorite writers to read online? The best on Twitter?
Well, the reason Hulk came to badass in the first place was absolutely Devin Faraci. Hulk has always read him because he has such strong, authentic, and funny voice, but best of all he has a remarkable sense of clarity. It's actually a rare talent because so many writers try to obscure their sentiments in something that sounds pretty, but really doesn't communicate or articulate their idea at all. And devin is always clear and exactly on point with what he wants to say. It's beyond admirable. And now it's funny to be in this position, where Hulk owes him such a great deal for bringing Hulk on. Really, Hulk could not be more thankful.
But there so many others that Hulk's mind racing.... Jeremy Smith aka mr. Beaks is brilliant. Karina Longworth. Emily Nussbaum. Drew Mcweeney. Todd Vanderwerff. Really, there are countless people that Hulk adores and will feel awful for not mentioning. And heck, Damon Houx has probably forgotten more about cinema than Hulk will ever know.
The Duplass Brothers. Photo courtesy Vanessa Lua
What movie has surprised you the most this year (either from festivals or theatrical releases)?
Hulk is one of the biggest leos carax fans on the planet so it's hard to call Holy Motors a surprise (safe to say, Hulk went nuts for it), so Hulk is going to go with the answer that may sound a little weird. Hulk's been following the duplass brothers for awhile of course, but The Do-Deca Pentathlon was the first film of theirs that just clicked for Hulk in every conceivable way. It felt like the perfect distillation of what they've been going for and is so completely and utterly earnest. It ended up being one of Hulk's favorites at sxsw. Two recent surprises at fantastic fest were also The History of Future Folk and the Final Member.
Who is your favorite filmmaker that mainstream audiences haven't discovered yet?
Do foreign directors count? If so Lukas Moodysson, Yoshihiro Nakamura, and Christian Mungiu are amazing. This year seems to be Carax's big year (with a heavy price of course). But that's probably not the right answer. Hulk still waiting for another film from lance hammer?... Um... Of course, hal hartley is always wonderful... Sort of a tough question... Hulk's kinda excited about the mainstream return of shane black too.
What do you think about 48fps?
It just doesn't look like cinema. And Hulk's not some purist. Hulk plays video games. Hulk uses hd tvs. Hulk gets the concept at play here... But with cinema it just doesn't look right. "resolution" is actually meaningless with something that often wants to obscure resolution in pursuit of softness. And now the movement looks like a soap opera, but the biggest problem is how it gives the sets a plasticity. They don't look like a world, they look like sets. There's a resulting falseness to it all and that is a huge problem. When we change the way we capture the image so many people don't realize we actually have to augment what is being captured too. So they are constructing 24 fps worlds for 48 fps view and it just doesn't work.... Sorry for going on like this... Hulk is very, very concerned about it.
What do you think is most exciting about modern comic book movies? Most concerning?
Hulk's answer for both is actually the same thing: Hulk is really excited that we're in the place where people are finally ready to take some damn story chances with super hero films (we're used to them now and ready to move past origin stories) and yet... No one is really biting. Hulk knows a few projects are really going to move forward in a different and exciting directions, but still... It's a real concern. Because the only way we've tried to really mess with the genre is to go the deconstruction route. And they can do so, so, so much more. The best comics use superheroes for a mere canvas of huge ideas. So these movies can just be big, beautiful stories told in a kind of "hyper life" and Hulk thinks it can be pretty damn compelling. After all, it's the direction alan moore went after he was done with his deconstruction days and it's what the movies should aspire to do too.
"The best comics use superheroes for a mere canvas of huge ideas."
You go far beyond simply reviewing movies. You talks about the state of film as an art form, the problems with modern storytelling paradigms, and the craft of screenwriting. You've mentioned making super-8 movies as a kid — do you have plans to write and direct his own films?
Yeah, Hulk really isn't even interested in reviewing movies and if Hulk does have something to say it's usually after the film has been out for a bit so there can be a real conversation (unless it's a festival where the goal is to get the word out early or something). But to the latter part of your question.... Uh... Hulk laugh because Hulk can't really answer that one for a whole bunch of reasons. Suffice to say that Hulk deals with all the things you've mentioned!
Despite all the worries about changing formats, bad storytelling, studio fluff, and every other doomsday scenario thrown around, you always come across as one thing: excited to be talking about film. What keeps that passion alive?
Inherent gamma fueled optimism?
Hulk's always been optimistic that way, but Hulk doesn't want to give a non-answer as to why and say "that's just how Hulk is." there's a bigger truth to the behavior so here's the deal: optimism is actually a survival instinct. Few people think about it like that, but it's true. Optimism is hope. Optimism is fighting for the things you believe in. Optimism is living for tomorrow. And it comes not from naivety, but an understanding of how easy it is to fall into cynical views. To fall into depression. It's so easy to look at the world and see just how very troubled it is. So Hulk found a sense of optimism because Hulk wanted to survive all that. And better yet Hulk wants to help people do the very same thing. Again, it's not naivety of "the world is swell!" but instead hyper-awareness that the world can be pretty shitty. And this sort of shared optimism is the one thing we can try to do. And funny thing is that it has a tendency to actually work.
As such, Hulk is always hoping the next film Hulk sees will be the best one that Hulk will ever see. And that hope, even if not likely, has led to a lot of wonderful nights at the movies.
Hulk illustrations by John Chae
Photo of the Beverly Cinema courtesy Pop Culture Geek
Photo of the Chinese Mann Theater courtesy Prayitno
Photo of the IFC Center by David Boyle