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.