Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Critic and Their Critics

I’ve now been a regular film critic for two years working for various places, primarily The Film Yap. As with everything I do, I can’t help but over analyze it. This, in particular, is a fascinating subject considering its position and distribution as of late. So here are my philosophies and observations.

A film review has to do two things at once: encourage and analyze. The first step is introducing the film to the reader and through the pros and cons, they will be encouraged to see the film or skip it. Especially for smaller films, the review is their introduction to the film. If the pros connect with what they want in a film, they are going to want to check it out.

Then the difficulty is balancing it for the readers who have seen the film already. What will the review add to their experience? That’s why I try to avoid summaries as much as possible. Already too much trailers and overexposure spoil the stories of movies. The general pitch is all that’s necessary for the audience to figure out if it’s something they want to see.

Majority of the review should be spent analyzing the film. The role of the film critic is comprehending the emotions felt during the movie and articulating them into a way for others to understand. It’s not about saying whether the film was good or bad, it’s about seeing what connected for you and then the reader wondering if that connection is what they value in a film. I could rant about the overdone visual symbolism in Black Swan—And I have!—but most people don’t care about that and this means they are still interested in the film.

In order for film criticism to remain relevant, it needs to be about the critic, not the masses. This does not mean just be a contrarian for the sake of attention—Cough Armond White. Rotten Tomatoes is a wonderful site, but the problem is that people just look at the rating and not the reviews. Most of the time the reviews are really poorly written, but they still count towards the average

Roger Ebert is the king film critic. Once he passes away, there will still be plenty of popular ones on a national level like Michael Phillips, A.O. Scott, The A.V. Club, etc. The reasons why they are so beloved are because people connect to their writings and opinions. A review should be about the film critic, but shouldn’t talk about the film critic. I don’t care about the traffic or if you had a cold. Learning about the critic should be seen through the writings about the film, not the writings about the critic. Save that for your blog. (Or don’t.)

The best critics offer a new perspective that enriches the experience. In an age when the press screenings are starting to dwindle, the unique voices are what will thrive. Places for publication are growing less and less. There are two elements that are causing people to read movie reviews: established experiences (the Roger Eberts) and quality of the articles. Anyone can create a blog and put reviews up of new movies. Hell, I do. The result of getting the article out early helps to establish the group opinion, but once it’s acknowledged that the anticipated movie isn’t a disaster people will go to the trusted voices.

There is a myth that people will go toward critics that match their opinions. That is not the case for me. I always value the ones that articulate their review in a way that brings up education on film history and delves further into what the filmmaker is trying to say. This is what I aspire to do in my reviews.

Often times I find the difficulty of playing to several audiences to be tricky. I rather say as little as possible about the plot, but sometimes I do that so much it’s hard to tell what the movie is about. Also there is the debate on whether it is fair for film to be compared to other films or judged on their own. I say comparing is fair because the reason I didn’t laugh at Hangover Part II is because I already laughed at the jokes in Hangover; being conscious of the last film informed my experience of the film.

The most difficult thing is when you have nothing to say about a movie. Maybe I was off that day or maybe the story was just too middle of the road: not enough good or bad to say about it. I try to give every film its fair chance and sometimes that it tougher.

That attempt at a fair chance is what creates the biggest divide between audiences and critics. The truth is they are the same group. Critics just happen to write down their thoughts for others to read. Critics weren’t forced to do this job. Nobody who hates movies wants to be a film critic. I’m doing this because I love them. I love the inventiveness of storytelling by incorporating so many different techniques to create something truly special.

It seems like I hate a lot of movies but that is because I love movies. I keep my standards higher because I want the filmmakers to strive for those goals. I don’t want to turn my brain off because I prefer to have oxygen and a beating heart. I want the movies that I will remember years from now and want to show my kids. I want to see something that an artist spent over a year putting together and is proud to show the world. I want to see something fresh and new in a time when the lazy say “Everything has already been done.” I want to gasp in the theatre and I want to gasp again when I watch the Blu-Ray.

It’s a weird profession and I think that every time someone reads one of my articles. It’s a job that’s in a scary place right now. It’s not something I want to make a full time career, but for now it’s something I’m honored to be able to do week to week.


  1. "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends."

  2. Good post!

    I certainly agree with you in spirit when you say that "Already too much trailers and overexposure spoil the stories of movies."