Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"A Critical Condition"

Everybody’s a critic.

I am not being sarcastic.  Everybody, literally, is a critic.  I mean it.

You see a movie.  You go “That sucked!” –   

You’re a critic.

The same with “That was awesome!”  You are just a nicer critic. 

Although, in both cases, in my view, you are being, frustratingly insufficient.  (I always required my children to elaborate on their responses to movies.  If only to give them something to complain about in therapy.  “He always made me say why!”)

Reversing the process of a parent re-conditions their child – “Civilized people do not throw lamb chop bones across the table!” I was often chastised after flinging one over to my older brother because he enjoyed eating the meat closer to the bone and I didn’t – today, I am going in the other direction, telling you – sorry, not “telling” but emphatically encouraging you to…no, still too much – politely suggesting to you with all due deference and appropriate respect, that you might the adopt the (corrected) behavior of my children.

But, of course, you do not have to.

It is not, in my opinion, mandatory that you be a professional in order to express an opinion.  I probably did not need to tell you that.  You have certainly, in the course of your lives, uttered countless opinions, feeling no need whatsoever to await my permission to do so.

“Finally he said I could!  My God, where do I start?  That ‘Delivery Room’ doctor had cold hands!

In fact, with the proliferation of websites evaluating the latest movies, run by… I have no idea who, professional critics have less and less dominion over the moviegoing public.  Especially among people who don’t read the paper.  Newspaper critics must be seriously pissed. 

“I recommended that sweet, little Mongolian picture, and nobody went.  Then they show up in droves for anything that explodes!  Is anybody listening to me at all?”

Um…no.  (Except for certain old people under the continuing influence of the printed review.  I don’t know how many times I have heard “They say it’s really good”, only to discover that the “they” refers to a single movie reviewer in the local paper.  I find this behavior kind of lazy.  Instead of reading numerous reviews, you read one, and simply “pluralize” what they wrote.)  

As an outspoken enemy of snootiness and expertise – Full Disclosure:  I did not know whether to put “expertise” in quotes or if I am legitimately opposed to all expertise; I think, I am not entirely comfortable admitting, it’s the latter.

I wholeheartedly support the democratization of film criticism.  Who do they those professionals think they are, anyway?  (Do you detect a hint of residual bitterness consequent to certain unfavorable television reviews I may have received in the past?) 

I say everybody has a right to their opinion and that those opinions are as good as anyone else’s.  (Argueth the man who sometimes writes about politics, though he has never participated, having even refused the nomination for Class President at Ledbury Park Junior High.)

Wait, parentheses!  That’s an important point you’re making.  Though it admittedly makes a difference that you have have been personally involved in something at least akin to what you are criticizing – you have a legitimate “Insider’s Perspective” – it is hardly a “deal breaker” if you haven’t.  

If “actual participation” were an absolute prerequisite, then only filmmakers could review movies, and only bus drivers could critique bus drivers.

“That was a terrible Left Turn.”

“Are you a bus driver?”


“Then shut the f**k up!”

“I was jolted out of my seat!

Is why they said that.  And they are entirely justified in doing so.  The movie leaves you cold?  The “terrible Left” leaves you jolted onto the floor?  You do not need credentials to sound off on the matter; you are merely responding honestly to what you recently experienced.  And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

What’s important – he said, before finishing the post without making the point he intended to make when he started – is “just” criticism.  Not “educated” criticism – you do not need to be educated to criticize; you only need a mouth – “just” criticism.

How do I define “Just Criticism”? 



“What was – not your – but the filmmaker’s intention when they were making this movie? ” 

And two,

“How close did they come to delivering on that intention?” 

Remembering… (the three dots inserted for heightened emphasis) that “perfection” is not an applicable standard.  (“Perfection” is an unrealistic ideal creative artists employ to hit themselves over the head, or civilians use so they can feel superior to the creative artists.)  (It is, however, not a terrible idea to shoot for perfection, because it increases the possibility of getting closer.)

It does not matter what you wanted to movie to be.  (Differing as it does from the “Phantom Movie” you would have made, but didn’t.)  Nor does it matter that the movie in question was not perfect. 

“What was their intention, and how well – with the unrealizable “perfection” appropriately off the table – did they succeed?”

Keeping those parameters in mind, then you can say what you thought.

Tomorrow, I shall assess the film Chef, and you can critique how I did. 

All I ask is that you do not say “It sucked!”

For many reasons.

And if you choose to say “It was awesome!”,

It is preferable if you could back that up.

Although, “perfection” being an unattainable ideal, including in your responses,

It is possible I could live with that.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The judging by what the filmmaker's intentions were seems to me very important. Otherwise you get silly reviews - I remember years ago reading a review that complained that YES, MINISTER didn't have enough non-white cast members. Well, of course not: the government offices it was laying bare didn't either.

Newspaper critics would probably be irritated that no one was reading them if they still had their jobs. At Roger Ebert's film festival a couple of years ago, one of the panels was about how hard it is for many smaller films to find an audience since so many newspapers have been dropping their film critics. (The same is true for specialists covering minority sports, like tennis in the US.)