The battle between Kevin Smith and Joel Siegel is quickly becoming the stuff of legends. What started out as a criticizing blog response to Siegel’s behavior is rapidly making its way around the Internet, creating a question of responsibility towards film critics.

For the uninformed, here’s the skinny: Monday night, famed Good Morning America critic Joel Siegel attended a screening of Smith’s film Clerks II which hits theaters this Friday. Forty minutes into the movie, Siegel got up and left. That’s understandable. It’s not as if Smith’s movies appeal to everyone. While they carry an astute wisdom that Smith’s fans (myself including) can really relate to, that wisdom is hidden behind pounds of pop and geek culture references and tons of dick and fart jokes. You would think Joel Siegel could handle the contents of Smith’s seventh film, after all he’s been reviewing movies for thirty years – a fact he announced to the audience as he departed from the theater.

That’s right – Joel Siegel, professional film critic of over thirty years committed the heinous and cardinal sin of speaking out in the theater as he left. According to reports this wasn’t a low mumbling either. “Time to go,” Siegel announced to his peers. “First movie I’ve walked out of in thirty fucking years!” Walking out on a movie is one thing. It’s rude and totally uncalled for by someone who is paid to review films professionally, but things happen. Maybe his house caught fire and he had to rush home or he was suddenly stricken by a bout of food poisoning and had to make the green apple quicksteps to the closest facility. But announcing that he was leaving, interrupting the film for the others who were watching it and possibly even enjoying it, is unforgivable.

I find it hard to believe that in thirty years, Clerks II is the worst film Siegel has ever seen; a movie so bad he felt the need to walk out of it. After all, I’ve only been in this game for three years and I’ve seen half a dozen movies already I would have been more than happy to leave early (and one DVD that I admittedly couldn’t make it through. If nothing else, Siegel has sat through Smith’s other six movies over the last twelve years alone. I could be wrong though. Perhaps, by some impossibility, Siegel has reviewed films for thirty years without ever encountering a bad movie. But the whole point of being a film critic is that you endure the good and the bad, and then voice your opinion, justifying it through criticism. The point is, the criticism and the review is the proper time to voice your opinion, not the point you feel the need to walk out. That’s the kind of behavior we, as critics, should be attempting to dissuade the general public from, not encourage through our own displays of inappropriate actions.

Understand however, there is certainly a second perspective on this story. The reports that have come out so far have only been generated by Smith’s blog response. Considering how vocal Smith was towards news sites that would rather see him push himself than return again to the tried and true well, you can only imagine how his response to Siegel reads. However, if Siegel has a defense of any sort, he’s slow moving to offer it. Perhaps he doesn’t feel he needs to defend his behavior, but as a fellow, although nowhere near as experienced, film critic, I would love to hear his side of things. Was he misquoted or misheard? Was he really as rude as he came across? Will his job at Good Morning America be opening up for younger, more polite critics?

I believe Mr. Siegel owes an apology to Kevin Smith and the other people in that screening of Clerks II, an apology as public as the dishonorable gesture that started this entire debacle. Let’s not stop things there though. Mr. Siegel should also be extending an apology to his colleagues for sullying the name of film critic with base behavior he himself wouldn’t tolerate if he ever sat in a film with the general public. Finally, why doesn’t Mr. Siegel apologize to critics who didn’t get a chance to view Clerks II in advance? Perhaps he could have saved the entertainment community from his embarrassing behavior by yielding up his seat to another critic who was actually interested in seeing Clerks II. For instance, Cinema Blend missed the opportunity to review the film in advance, regardless of several screenings in close locations to our critics.

Nobody considers film critics to be infallible, but Joel Siegel has added another black mark against the profession. Between Roger Ebert’s recent medical issues and this event, perhaps it’s time to start pulling fresh blood into the known critic pool. I’m certain Smith will use a little more disparaging eye toward the guest list of in the future. Hopefully he’ll stop holding a grudge against those of us who like his movies but vocally wish he’d stretch himself a little bit further as a director, and those who are nationally known celebrities but deeply disrespected Smith with their actions.

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