Ok, ok. So you’re thinking “here’s another guy doing his obligatory rant about the movie critic.” Maybe you’re right. Maybe there’s no need for my opinion. Maybe it’s been said enough. But as someone who loves to not only DISCUSS films but to write about and essentially review them, I feel the need to put my thoughts out there.
I don’t know why today is the day that I’ve decided to write about this but it’s probably because I happened to read two, almost contradictory, articles today. I say contradictory because…well here’s why. One was about the death of the (print) movie critic, while the other was about how to be a great movie critic. Doesn’t that seem strange to have in one news day? I mean it’d be like “oh here’s an article about how its impossible to get a job as a lawyer. Oh! But here it tells you how to be a great lawyer.” After I read through them, however, they both shared a lot of the same sentiments.
One of the main points of both, or at least what I got out of both, is that film reviews weren’t invented to just tell you “this is good” or “this is bad.” I read a film review for the same reasons I discuss a movie with friends, to discover nuances of the film, what it means to me, it’s message and all those other reasons we see a film in the first place! Yea it’s entertainment but I think watching a film or tv show can be just as educational to the human condition as reading a book.
One article cites the internet and sites like rottentomatoes.com as the death knell for movie critics. They cite Ebert and Siskel’s “thumbs up” as the dagger that tore open the movie critic’s stomach, leaving their entrails pouring onto the floor. Ok, maybe that was a bit ridiculous but you get the point. They’re basically saying that the star rating system in combination with movie news/blog sites as our own beloved CHUD have destroyed the need for print movie critics. I say NO WAY! Ok maybe the star rating is a bit convoluted but it really is useful. I mean come on, how many people use rottentomatoes to judge whether they want to see a movie? I know I do. Not all the time of course. There are films I will see regardless and some I won’t. But for those that are right on the edge, the tomatometer comes in handy. What’s ironic is that the tomatometer and rottentomatoes, itself, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for movie critics. Hell, they even have a Top Critics tab for the heavyweights. Still, I do agree to some extent that a film review is much more than just an opinion to help us decide whether or not to go. And that is something a lot of us have forgotten.
Personally, I ususally save reviews for after seeing a movie. I think a lot of the time they give away too much. They don’t give away the ending or contain any big spoilers but they take away some of the mystery. Most people, I’m sure, would agree that the best way to see a film is to go in knowing absolutely nothing about it. I try to approach it like that but of course you want to know if you’re hard hearned 11 bucks (is it more now in NYC???) is a good investment. But I like to read reviews AFTER seeing the film. I want to know what they thought about it. What did they gain from it? What were their insights? Do I agree? Disagree? Sometimes I read a review and think “wow, I didn’t really see that but it’s a good point” and it makes me rethink my whole experience. Other times I think “this guy has NO clue what he’s talking about.” But isn’t that the fun of seeing movies? Debating, arguing, agreeing and ultimately making sense of a 2 hour story.
Why do we read books in school? Reading books is THE MOST essential part to our learning. But why? You probably think this is a stupid question but really think about it. Why did we all have to read The Catcher in the Rye in high school? It’s basically to help us learn about life and the human experience. Sure we learn what metaphors are, what a synechdoche is, what a trope is and all that crap, but when it comes down to it stories help us understand us. I wholeheartedly believe that films do the same thing. Yet we get a whole other dimension. We get body language, we get eye contact and we ultimately don’t always get straight answers. Sure, books are the same way. That’s why we dissect them. But in film we are able to study the HUMAN. We aren’t told how someone looks and acts we can see it with our own eyes. The best movies are the ones where 95% of the story isn’t told through speaking. We have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to interpret it. And just like you’re 10th grade English teacher told you, there are endless possibilities of interpretations. Sometimes, sure, there is 1 universally accepted interpretation. But what’s so interesting is all the different things people can extract from the same story or scene or page.
I think this is where film critics are vital. They are scholars. Like your English teacher, they have studied film. Does that mean going to school and studying? Probably not but they’ve definitely seen a hell of a lot of movies. Now, I don’t think that to be a good critic you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of film, but I do believe that you have to watch a lot of films and know the nuances of film and really why you as a person are drawn to it in the first place. Obviously seeing and understanding as many films as you can is great, but I don’t think people should feel pressure to know EVERYTHING. I don’t always agree with the name dropping that A is just a rip off of B. That stuff comes in handy sure, but it shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it. And thus, another reason for film criticism is born. To help you understand the history of film. When you’re reading a review and someone does drop a name saying “A reminds me of B” and you think “well I liked A maybe I’ll like B” and you see it and love it. You’ve just opened another door in the film canon. Like anything, music, art, you discover, usually, by association. Film critics are great instigators of this. They help you understand where this film falls into place in the grand scheme of things. If they feel it’s necessary to name drop something in order to help you understand where the film is coming from, why it’s great or why it’s just a cheap knock-off, you know have some understanding of where this fits in.
Well I was planning to go on longer, but I think this is long enough. Basically. There is still a need for the movie critic in general. Everyone has their favorite critic, just like they have their favorite director. The critic has a unique style and there’s something that draws them to you. Maybe you agree with them most of the time or maybe you don’t at all. Either way it’s interesting to see how s/he agreed or disagreed with you and why. I think, yea, maybe the print critic is dead. But isnt print almost basically dead anyway? I mean I don’t think it will ever die, but it’s definitely going to change. Now that we have great reviewers on sites like CHUD we don’t necessarily need all the print reviewers, especially if they’re not as good. I still like a few print guys. I have to say I like Peter Travers. I have met him a few times and the dude speaks his mind. Yea he gets his name on TV, but he’s not afraid to say when something stinks up the joint. So anyway there’s my defense of movie critics. Well not necessarily a defense, but I just want to say they have a place in the world of film.
What do you guys think? Hate critics? Love em? What? Gimme some feedback!