In 1995, The Stranger was just a few years old. There was no such thing as an internet version of this or any paper, much less Slog. Once the distro squad took each issue off the street and replaced by a new one, that was it. Reviews were only kept by parents and hoarders.
I never heard from film directors except when publicists set up interviews, and I never really got letters about my film reviews. Sometimes I would see people reading them in Cafe Paradiso, but mostly I was writing for myself and my coworkers. I do remember that after my review of The Indian in the Cupboard, Nancy in sales told me she hadn't planned on seeing it until she read my review. That felt good.
You see, my take on this very strange movie about a boy who is given a wooden cabinet for his birthday, one that happens to bring toys to life, is that it's a coming of age film about a young boy's first sexual feelings. Specifically, it's about a gay awakening, as young Omri brings a half-naked, anatomically correct American Indian to life and doesn't want to share his little male fantasy figure.
So I was sitting in the Honeycomb Hideout, our nickname for the cubicle that all the arts editors shared, when my phone buzzed: “Andy, Frank Oz is on the phone for you.”
“Put him through,” I said as I wrapped up my conversation with my fellow editors. But by the time I picked up the phone, the call had gone to voicemail. Having just gotten a compliment on the review, I thought he might have been calling to commend me on promoting this family film to a new audience.
He left a voicemail:
Andy Spleeetzor, or whatever your name is, my name is Frank Oz. I'm just reading your review in The Stranger of The Indian in the Cupboard. I've been in the business for a long time, and I don't mind a critique, and I don’t mind one that is critical of my work, but you know… YOU ARE A FUCKING HORSE'S ASS. You don’t have a CLUE as to what you are talking about. The thing that just GNAWS at me is when I see little people, working at these little horse-shit rag papers, suddenly think they’re experts on CINEMA and FILM, and they understand the story. You're a fucking dickhead, and I hope… I'm going to be in Seattle in about two weeks. I hope I get a chance to meet you.
Not the reaction I expected. Of course, because Frank Oz was the voice of so many famous Muppets, from Fozzy Bear to Miss Piggy to Yoda, and because The Stranger is The Stranger, we ran a transcript of the voicemail as a letter to the editor… in a word balloon coming out of Grover's mouth.
Obviously something got under his skin about my review, and I don't think it was my calling it a bad but fascinating film. No, I think he objected to me calling it a gay coming-of-age film (an interpretation I stand by).
I'd also like to believe that my review was in the back of his mind when Frank Oz chose his next project: In & Out, the one where Kevin Kline plays a closeted high school teacher who's outed by a former student on national TV. Then again, maybe it's a coincidence.