28 July 2006

boogers from olympus: the reviewing game

Over at a Alligators In A Helicopter that most-excellent blog from my buddy Scott the Reader, there's a post discussing movie critics and their odd response to the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Man's Chest. Simply put, though the movie continues to absolutely dominate the summer box office like few movies in recent memory, critics have been oddly personal and mean-spirited in their complaints about the screenwriting team of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, the men behind both this movie as well as the previous POTC flick which these same critics near-universally loved.

Now, I'll gleefully confess to possible bias in this debate, as I am personally acquainted with Ted and Terry, and I'm likely prone to give them (and their work) a great deal more credit than what many reviewers might. But I do not think that I am such fame-blinded fanboy that I'll dismiss all criticisms as unvalid and off the mark. I liked the movie a lot, and I very much want to see it again, but I do not love it in the same way that I did POTC1, and I can admit that there are moments where the movie (and the underlying story) disappoint me to some degree.

But that's not what I'm thinking about in this post.

What I'm thinking about is the nature of film critics. Their personality. Their general make-up in terms of emotions and motivation and concerns. You see, I have more than a few friends who are, in various degrees, in the game of film reviewing and film criticism. Some are paid pros operating at a high level, while others are more casual — "pro-grade hobbyists," you might say — who write about movies out of pure love rather than for a payday. Others are just active online reviewers who are eager to share their take on movies with anyone interested in visiting theiur site(s).

And here's the thing: after thinking about it for just a few minutes, I get the nagging feeling that a great many reviewers/critics honestly don't like most of the folks who go to movies.

I say this due to the way I see reviewers sneering at such "common" concerns and issues as popularity and revenues. usually the sneering is most pronounced when discussing movies which HE, the reviewer, with his rare and wonderfully perfect insight, has deemed "unsuitable" for consumption by all us mortals slumming around in the mud down here on planet Earth.

By the way these sorts of critics will decry a movie not for a specific fault or failing, but for the way that others refuse to acknowledge or share his views ON this alleged fault or failing.

By the way the critic will say 'well, it's not awful, but it's nowhere as good as [[some other movie]," ignoring for a moment the lunacy of such a comparison (the issue at stake being is THIS movie worth watching" rather than "how do you compare THIS movie to THAT movie in some sort of abstract imaginary mano-e-mano confrontation?"

Imagine if a beauty pageant judge acted that way. "Well, Miss Paducah is fairly attractive, but in all honesty she's NOWHERE nearly so gorgeous as this OTHER woman who's NOT in this contest and who's NOT really under consideration fro awards right now..."

Yet that's what many critics do, and I think often they do this to remind folks (maybe themselves more than anyone) of just how smart and "well-read" (in a filmic sense) they are, reminding us that becasue THEY have slept through, err, I mean watched all of Truffaut's canon, they are therefore more able to say whether or not JACKASS is an amusing way to spend 8 bucks and 100 minutes.

As I said, I have more than a few friends who are reviewers and/or critics, and in most every case I consider them decent intelligent human beings, but they tend to turn various shades of indigo when I remind any of them "you know, it's a luxury to sit back and write only in judgment of the works of others and never have to really expose or risk any part of your own soul with a wholly original creation."

This is not to suggest that film critique and review is not a creative endeavour, nor does it mean that all reviewers are spurned creative writers (though let's be honest — many are...). It's a tough gig to have to contextualize and analyze the creative efforts of others. But consider this: who reviews the reviewers? What standards are they held to? Who publicly rips them a new one when they have an effort that just doesn't come off as planned? Imagine the uproar if a novelist or writer were published in a major magazine or paper and spent 1200 words dissecting every flub and weakly expressed thought in some reviewer's comments?

"While Ebert's analysis initially seems astute and informed, by the end of the piece we realize all too clearly that he is merely recycling cliched hackneyed complaints better expressed in previous reviews, leaving me to suggest readers avoid this review entirely and instead re-read Ebert's more solid opinions from previous years...."

Everyone has a right to heckle the ball player from the sidelines, but there comes a point where, when you realize these hecklers have never and will never actually risk themselves with a moment between the chalked lines, you begin to understand that there are those who play, and those who watch, and those who watch don't always understand the game they are watching as well as what they might like to suggest.

Interestingly, hecklers hate to be heckled. But in movie reviewing as with most everything else, judge not lest ye be judged and found wanting.
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5 comments:

Lab Lemming said...

When writers review critics:
http://www.wordplayer.com/forums/moviesarc05/index.cgi?read=76780

Curtis Edmonds said...

Welly welly welly welly well.

I say this due to the way I see reviewers sneering at such "common" concerns and issues as popularity and revenues.

Why should I sneer at how much money a movie makes when I can just as easily sneer at Akiva Goldsman and Frank Darabont and Angelina Jolie and Central Jersey moviegoers who can't keep their bloody mouths shut? It's a target-rich environment for sneering; there's no need to pick on popular tastes per se.

they are, reminding us that becasue THEY have slept through, err, I mean watched all of Truffaut's canon, they are therefore more able to say whether or not JACKASS is an amusing way to spend 8 bucks and 100 minutes.

Truffaut? I laugh at your pretention. I just want movies to be as good as Hudson Hawk, and it's a shame that so many of them aren't.

"you know, it's a luxury to sit back and write only in judgment of the works of others and never have to really expose or risk any part of your own soul with a wholly original creation."

Yes, well. "It's not the critic who counts," etc. etc. One does what one can, you know. I've always treated movie reviewing as an exercise -- a chance to use different voices, a chance to try out different styles and whatnot. It is not novelizing or screenwriting or whatever else one does with one's words. But there is risk, there is one's own reputation at stake, even for small stakes.

Interestingly, hecklers hate to be heckled. But in movie reviewing as with most everything else, judge not lest ye be judged and found wanting.

Who heckles the hecklers who heckle the reviewers? Me, I guess...

Bear down you Bears of old Baylor U
We're all for you, GO BEARS!
We're gonna show dear old Baylor spirit through and through
We're gonna fight them with all our might you Bruins bold
And win all our victories for the Green and Gold.
B-A-Y-L-O-R, Baylor Bears Fight.

Brett said...

Curtis--

If the shoe doesn't fit, then don't wear it.

meanwhile, I think you can admit that there are some critics who seem more than a little full of themselves and dismissive of the rabble they claim to help educate. It's one thing to dislike a particular movie, but it's another entirely to go into a movie with an angry pissy attitude against that movie based upon some pre-existing feeling toward or attitude about the star, or the director, or the writer, or the best boy, or the fourth special personal assistant to Mr. Cruise.

Movie reviewing is one of those odd jobs where there really are no barriers to entry, no standrads to maintain once yu've gained entry, and no real penalties for being totally and completely incompetent. Any assclown with a modem now can claim to be a "critic", and given that a great deal of the time their work is never critiqued or analyzed, there are no penalties for total ineptitude.

Who heckles the hecklers? Other hecklers. We seem to agree on that. The problem (IMO) is when one of these braying hecklers starts to describe themselves as a "critic" or a "reviewer" rather than "just another of those million clueless monkeys randomly banging on a keyboard."

And so it goes.
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Curtis Edmonds said...

In the great Zoo of Creative Effort, online movie critics are the feces-throwing residents of the Monkey House. Stipulated. I don't, however, know what you get by throwing the feces back at the monkeys.

Brett said...

Balance.

And the teeniest soup├žon of childish satisfaction.
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