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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Guest Post: Is Film Criticism another Casualty in the Culture Wars? By Kitty Holman

Many thanks to Kitty Holman, who contributes today's guest post on Film Criticism! If you'd like to write a post for this blog, let me know on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom... Now, over to you Kitty!
For those of us who are in the business of either producing or consuming films, movie reviews and criticism have always played an important role in our evaluation of film as art, for some more than others. Since the astronomic rise of Internet media in the past five or ten years, however, traditional film critics have become veritable dinosaurs they're influence (if ever such an influence existed) has been drowned out in a sea of movie bloggers. Of course, we can argue all day whether the rise of amateur movie reviewing on the Internet is a bad thing or a good thing, but this takes out nuance from the equation. And nuance is a characteristic of argument that is all too often cast aside in the vitriol that comprises so much of cultural criticism in the first place.

So the questions that many of us are asking are quite simple: Is the democratization of film criticism making the art or criticism worse, better, or does it have little impact at all? Are traditional print and televised critics losing their relevance? Can anyone "do criticism"? While looking for answers to some of these questions is important, it would behoove us to perhaps take a slightly different approach. For one, there's no denying that we are in an age in which "everyone is a critic," but some forget that everyone's has been a critic for centuries, much to "professional" cultural critics' dismay. The only difference now is that the Internet provides a platform in which more people can disseminate their views to more people.

That isn't to say, however, that traditional critics matter more or less than they ever have. Before the Internet, bad movies were still blockbuster hits despite bad reviews, and well-made, "artful" fare has always had a more modest following. So in a way, reviews have never "mattered" in terms of changing popular opinion one way or another. If anything, I'd say film review readers read reviews to confirm their tastes, previously through the authority of a print critic, now through the authority of anyone who cares to purvey an opinion. Of course, there's a lot of crap amateur stuff to wade through, but there is a lot of wonderfully incisive film criticism in the blogosphere, too.

For those who write screenplays or are otherwise involved in the production of film, next to watching a ton of films and reading a ton of screenplays, reading film criticism is perhaps the best way to inform your craft. Why is that? Simply because good film criticism, whether in print or on the Web, makes you think. An incisive review isn't one that presents a simplistic thumbs-up-or-down dichotomy, nor one that gives a short summary of the plot followed by a few remarks on its plausibility or the chemistry between its leads. A good review rather gives the whole picture it leverages an understanding of film history and film production in order to help readers grasp what the film does (successfully or unsuccessfully) in the context of wider artistic, social, and even political issues. For screenwriters, good film criticism expands the way we think about our art.

And that, perhaps, is the critic's foremost value, and you don't have to have a degree or any other credentials to present that value. So instead of lamenting or celebrating the supposed death of criticism, we should instead ask what constitutes good film criticism, no matter what the medium is or who the reviewer is. We should ask also what we can learn from it that will enable filmgoers and filmmakers alike to advance the development of film as an artistic whole.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who regularly writes for Nursing Colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: kitty.holman20ATgmailDOTcom.


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting point - I was reading about this recently in Moviescope too. Funnily enough, American critic and quite hated man Armond White was making a similar point.

I review films for 2 movie blogs. I do this because I want to show off my skills as a writer and because I believe I'm quite good at it. I get to watch films (most of which are bad) and I get to show my opinions of them. It’s a win-win situation for me.

Does anyone read them? Probably not. I've not had many comments in my years of doing them. And if they do read them, do they listen? Who knows.

Bottom line, I review films because I love talking about films.

However, the argument on whether movie bloggers are making "proper" critics redundant is one I tend to disagree with. You've only got to read a couple of reviews on IMDB to realise that most of "Joe Public" don't know what they are talking about. The "reviews" are badly spelt, poorly worded and their arguments hold no grounds. Once you've read a couple of these, you'll learn to avoid them and not bother listening. I’d like to believe I’m not alone in this thought process.

I'm a subscriber to Kermode's podcast or I buy Total Film. If I want a movie review, I go to people who know what they are talking about.

A movie review is only as good as the person who writes it.

Mieko said...

Well I used to watch the BBC's Film, whatever year, and read Empire when I was younger to ascertain which films they were raving on about then not go and see them instead watching the ones they gave poor reviews as these tended to be the complete opposite of my tastes.
These days I scan some online sites and blogs but that's due to my long interest in film. I tend to make up my own mind on what to watch.
Certainly everyone is a critic in one form or another, as taste is subjective. Its good that the internet has provided a means for like-minded people to get together and create discourse.

James said...

The real problem is homogenization of opinion.

I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine rents videos from a specific critic because he picks the movies she tends to like. When he gets replaced, she has to settle for someone else's picks that she finds God awful.

We don't see this kind of criticism anymore. We see a blanket sameness. Which is somewhat ironic with the rise in quantity of reviews.

"A good review rather gives the whole picture it leverages an understanding of film history and film production in order to help readers grasp what the film does (successfully or unsuccessfully) in the context of wider artistic, social, and even political issues. For screenwriters, good film criticism expands the way we think about our art."

I disagree. In fact, I think that is a pretty pretentious view of film criticism.

Film criticism is simply an indicator (to the public at large, moreso than those behind the scenes) as to whether or not an individual would want to go see a movie. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I do agree that the quality of film criticism has become anemic. Short of listing box office receipts or simple plot summary, there really aren't that many "critics" that give reviews I couldn't gleam from the trailer.