Knowles, Harry (Jay) 1971-
KNOWLES, Harry (Jay) 1971-
PERSONAL: Born 1971.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—P.O. Box 180011, Austin, TX 78718-0011; fax: 512-857-0132. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Founder of Web site Ain't It Cool News, 1996—; salesman of vintage film memorabilia.
ADAPTATIONS: Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out was released on cassette, Time Warner AudioBooks, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Entertainment Weekly's Brian M. Raftery called Harry Knowles "one of the few bona fide stars of the Internet: an average moviegoing schmo who parlayed his penchant for gossip into one of the most feared—and revered—Web sites in showbiz." Knowles launched his movie gossip Web site Ain't It Cool News in 1996, and Raftery wrote that "depending on whose spin you believe, [Knowles] is either an asset or an adversary to the film studios, which by now are familiar with his movie-mad MO. He posts early reviews of unfinished flicks, campaigns for his favorite projects to be greenlit, and hypes movies he feels have been given short shrift by both the industry and critics."
Knowles, who is feared in Hollywood, lives in Austin, Texas with his father, where they share a house. His parents, who divorced when he was a child, had always collected memorabilia, and it was movie collectibles that laid Knowles low when he was struck in a parking lot by a dolly filled with them while attending a show. Paralyzed and confined to his bed, he began to explore the Internet and develop his Web site. In reviewing Knowles's memoir Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out in the New York Times Book Review, David Edelstein, commented that as Knowles "tells the story of his bumptious memoir-manifesto, it sounds like a populist superhero saga for the twenty-first century: Take an ordinary (albeit 300-plus-pound) movie geek, crush him under a dolly bearing show-biz memorabilia, attach him to a machine that links his brain to those of movie geeks everywhere, and you have Superfan! With his posse of spies who sneak into hush-hush test screenings and pass him inside dope on troubled productions, Superfan strikes fear in the hearts of Hollywood power brokers, among them his archnemesis, the head of a dastardly audience testing service."
Knowles named his Web site for a line in the film Broken Arrow, when actor Christian Slater tells John Travolta he would be crazy to explode a nuclear device, and Travolta replies, "Yeah, ain't it cool?" Los Angeles Times writer David Weddle noted that, "like other overnight internet sensations, Knowles refuses to confine himself to the narrow job descriptions of the 'old media' and assumes a dizzying variety of roles: gossip columnist, movie critic, neo-gonzo entertainment reporter, industry insider, power broker, and cult personality. No matter which hat he's wearing, he remains—first, last, and always—a wily provocateur, unhindered by editors or such antiquated notions as journalistic integrity. Instead, he operates with two overriding imperatives: make the writing lively and exciting, and keep your readers pumped up on a constant adrenaline rush of fast-breaking scoops. It's a simple formula, but it's extremely effective."
Films have been delayed and/or changed based on Knowles's online comments, and he has discussed films alongside Roger Ebert. Knowles has received tips and reviews from industry spies and from people invited to test screen films, one of the latter who slammed Batman and Robin three months before it was released. But Knowles has also been invited onto the well-protected sets of films like The Lord of the Rings. After his very negative review of Rollerball, the studio delayed its release for six months, giving them time to reshoot scenes and make improvements. In 1997, Sony served Knowles with a restraining order for posting an article about the computer animation in Starship Troopers and unauthorized photos of the film's monster bugs.
Gillian Flynn wrote in Entertainment Weekly that "as Knowles's influence has grown within studios, so has the criticism that the onetime iconoclast has sold out by accepting red-carpet treatment. (He hobnobbed at Kennedy Space Center for 1998's Armageddon premiere.) 'This is a guy who has credibility problems and a constituency saying "Gee, have you been coopted by Hollywood?"' says one insider, who suggests Knowles's Rollerball slam was a means of reestablishing his indie cred."
An online contributor to Atlantic Unbound stated that Knowles's Web site "maintains the feeling of a small-time site on which dispatches are posted as they're written, with little attention paid to spelling and grammar, and even less attention paid to political correctness."
In a Brandweek article, Philip Van Munching commented, "Here's the real reason that Hollywood isn't wild about Harry: He is the anti-marketer. Before Ain't It Cool News, all we knew about Hollywood's product was the stuff they wanted us to know, the stuff churned out by relentless studio promotion machines. Set access was granted almost exclusively to friendly (read: gushing) journos; information about budgets and grosses was just understood to be fabricated." Variety's Rex Weiner commented that "as Hollywood spinmeisters attempt to colonize and exploit cyberspace for their own purposes, they are finding that the Web is a big, unruly place that resists the best efforts of studio control freaks who depend on carefully crafted buzz to launch their movies."
At Ain't It Cool News Knowles posts not only early movie reviews, but also plot synopses of big films and television series. He was offered a legitimate screening of the newest Star Wars film in 2002. Edelstein said Knowles the outsider gave it a review that was "the sort of rave that would gladden the heart of any studio head." Edelstein noted that Knowles writes of the films that shaped him and called "striking" some of the passages that reference his family. Knowles writes that his mother was an alcoholic who died in a fire, and his grandmother was a schizophrenic. "Although he devotes a chapter to scorning his exmentor, Matt Drudge, Knowles strives to be a kingmaker himself," wrote Edelstein.
Whitney Matheson wrote for USA Today online that "some of the most entertaining stories involve Knowles's intersection with celebrity. For example, every few months, Knowles 'paints models' with director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn, Spy Kids). … And then there's Quentin Tarantino, who wrote the book's foreword. The director met Knowles at a film festival several years ago; he insists 'if Harry likes or loves a film, no fair lady ever had a stronger defender.'"
A Kirkus Reviews writer felt the most intriguing aspect of the book to be its demonstration of the power of the Internet, noting that television shows, studios and national publications "now court the opinion of a self-described overweight nerd pecking away at a computer keyboard in a bedroom in Austin, Texas."
Booklist's Mike Tribby thought that Knowles's focus sometimes wanders, but added that he "can be a real treat for those who appreciate film as art and enjoy guilty pleasures like The People vs. Larry Flynt."A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Knowles's book "a rollicking memoir, a passionate analysis of film industry flaws, and an infectious appreciation of 'the last bastion of true democracy in America'—movies."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Knowles, Harry, Paul Cullum, and Mark Ebner, Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out, foreword by Quentin Tarantino, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, March 1, 2002, Mike Tribby, review of Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out, p. 1076.
Brandweek, February 19, 2001, Philip Van Munching, "The Devil's Adman," p. 34.
Daily Variety, March 19, 2002, Mare Graser, "'Star' Shines in Preview for Webhead Knowles," p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, June 23, 2000, Jeff Jensen, "Wild about Harry: Cybersurfers Wage War on Ain't It Cool News Honcho for His Star Wars Reporting," p. 106; February 22, 2002, Gillian Flynn, "Prince Harry: How an Online Knowles It-All Conquered Hollywood," p. 8; March 15, 2002, Brian M. Raftery, review of Ain't It Cool?, p. 70.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of Ain't It Cool? (audio), p. 87.
Los Angeles Times Magazine, September 3, 2000, David Weddle, "The Trouble with Harry," p. 10.
Newsweek, July 21, 1997, Brad Stone, "The freshest Dish for Movie Geeks," p. 69.
New York Times Book Review, April 28, 2002, David Edelstein, "Revenge of the Nerd: The Creator of a Web site for Rabid Cinema Fans Tells His Life Story," p. 26.
New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1997, Bernard Weinraub, "Harry Knowles Is Always Listening," p. 119.
Premiere, December, 1998, Gregg Kilday, "Has Harry Knowles Gone Hollywood?," p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of Ain't It Cool?, p. 86.
Variety, July 28, 1997, Rex Weiner, "CyberGeek Leaks Freak Pic Biz," p. 1.
Wall Street Journal, November 14, 1997, Eben Shapiro, "Weird Web Site Spooks Hollywood," p. B1.
Ain't It Cool News,http://www.aintitcool.com/ (July 15, 2002).
Atlantic Unbound,http://www.theatlantic.com/ (September 2, 1998), review of Ain't It Cool News.
USA Today online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (March 15, 2002) Whitney Matheson, "Knowles Keeps His 'Cool' in Revealing Tale."*