There's no place like Hollywood for ego battles, and there's nothing like a fistful of Oscars and a box office record to get the juices flowing for a fight.
Little surprise, then, that "Titanic" director James Cameron -- notorious for his sledgehammer approach to problem solving even before his film won 11 Oscars last week -- took a blunt instrument to Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan this past weekend over the reviewer's dislike of his film.
In a lengthy diatribe published as the lead article in the newspaper's Saturday arts and entertainment section, Cameron virtually invited the paper to fire Turan, who panned the film for a second time two days before the Oscar ceremony. The director concluded: "Forget about Clinton -- how do we impeach Kenneth Turan?"
"Turan's critical sensibility is the worst kind of ego-driven elitism," Cameron wrote. "Poor Kenny. He sees himself as the lone voice crying in the wilderness, righteous but not heeded by the blind and dumb great unwashed' around him. It must be a great burden to be cursed with such clear vision when your misguided flock bray past you, like lemmings, unmindful."
Cameron continued: "Nobody's interested in the vitriolic ravings of a bitter man who attacks and rips apart movies that the great majority of viewers find well worth their time and money. Turan has lost touch with the joys of film viewing as most people would define it. He has lost touch, therefore, with his readership, and no longer serves a useful purpose."
No slouch in the ego department, Turan had defended his original ripping of "Titanic" in a lengthy feature article March 21. In a piece illustrated by a tiny, lone figure standing in the way of a huge ship, Turan said Cameron writes "lowest common denominator screenplays" and is "not someone to be trusted anywhere near a word processor." He said that the fact that the film has become the most successful film in box office history was no reason to recommend it.
"Restaurant critics don't send couples seeking that special anniversary meal straight to McDonald's on the everybody goes there, it must be the best' theory," he said.
But the critic also offered his analysis of "Titanic's" phenomenal success, saying, "Titanic is not an example of Hollywood's success, it's an emblem of its failure," showing "how desperate the mainstream audience . . . has become for anything even resembling old-fashioned entertainment."
This comment really upset Cameron, who fumed that the critic was too arrogant to admit he had made a mistake in slamming the film. "He is now desperate to account for the phenomenon of its unprecedented global critical and commercial success," the director wrote. "To do so, he has settled on the outrageous conclusion that since Titanic' is garbage (because it has been spoken and so it must be), then everything else around it -- every other film in recent years -- must be worse garbage."
Cameron goes on: "We now see his true heart. It's not that he doesn't like some movies, as is a critic's prerogative. It's that he doesn't like all movies."
Cameron was not the only person exercised by Turan's critique. The piece provoked more letters to the editor than anything the newspaper had run in its arts section in recent years, according to John Lindsay, the newspaper's managing editor for features. Some of the letters -- "severely edited in most cases," according to an accompanying editor's note -- ran alongside Cameron's manifesto. Most readers seemed to be taking the director's side.
Turan did not return calls seeking comment. Lindsay said: "Of course we're not going to fire Kenny Turan. He can say whatever he wants." He added: "I think Kenny has a point, and I think Cameron has a point. There is no right and wrong; it's part of the dialogue that goes on. I'd rather have people do this than stew about it privately." CAPTION: Director James Cameron took critic Ken Turan to task in the L.A. Times.