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Ken Loach Thinks We Should Fire Critics and Replace Them With "Ordinary Punters"

by Sam Adams
May 30, 2014 1:04 PM
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By and large, Ken Loach has had a good run with movie critics: Not one of his films has an average lower than 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and three -- 1969's "Kes," 1993's "Raining Stones" and 2003's "The Navigators" have a perfect 100. But with his latest movie, "Jimmy's Hall," opening in the U.K., Loach has made it clear the feeling isn't mutual. In a video interview with the Guardian, he suggested doing away with them altogether: "Sack the critics and get ordinary punters in," he said. "People experienced, who know life."

By and large, critics are people who live in darkened rooms. They don't meet the people who are running campaigns to save hospitals or save community centers or are engaging to in that political struggle in the real world.... If they did, they'd meet people who from their own experience can articulate their own ideas, can articulate a strategy for a political campaign or whatever. And they'd find people have a richness of language and a use of language that is very vivid. It's like it's a fantasy for them. 

The odd thing is that "Jimmy's Hall" got fairly good reviews across the board. Perhaps he's talking about Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, who called it "an odd, only fitfully engaging hybrid of 'The Quiet Man' and 'Footloose,' which neither packs much of a punch nor is particularly nimble on its feet," or the Playlist's Jessica Kiang, who said "The complexity of the political landscape in Depression-era rural Ireland... is not so much shown as told, often in awkwardly polemic speeches poorly disguised as casual conversations between acquaintances." Maybe it's Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, who called it "less a portrait of the Irish communist leader Jimmy Gralton than a big, dopey kiss blown at him." Or Robbie Collin, who writes in the Telegraph

This is exasperatingly thin stuff from Loach and Laverty, who have in the past built far more textured narratives, peopled by far richer characters, even while maintaining a fierce, politicised charge. This story, though, is so dramatically facile – working classes good, ruling classes bad – that it all but evaporates on contact with air. Which makes you wonder: why tell it? And why now? Loach and Laverty have both suggested that Jimmy, a threat to the status quo and a man whom the authorities want to do away with at all costs, might be viewed as a surrogate Julian Assange-figure (the director is a prominent supporter of the WikiLeaks co-founder, and helped to raise his £200,000 bail), but Jimmy’s character is so flatly and uninterestingly noble that the parallel feels half-formed, even naive.  

But in Variety, Scott Foundas praised the film's " talky but stimulating ideological tennis matches." Alan Coor at RTE called it a "lovely and lyrical folk history." At Indiewire, Eric Kohn said it "captures more than simply the early stirrings of a cultural revolution. It situates them in the tense, claustrophobic world where any secular form of expression was an automatic taboo." In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote:

The movie is at its best when it simply expounds an idealism, with its own distinctive frankness. There is a wonderful sequence in which people just sit in a circle in Jimmy's hall for a sort of practical criticism session: they discuss WB Yeats's poem "The Song of the Wandering Aengus," and talk about what it means to them. I could watch simple, thoughtful scenes like this for hours on end.

You understand why someone like, say, Seth MacFarlane might rail against critics. But Ken Loach? Despite his proletarian sympathies, his forty-plus year career offers little evidence that his movies are of much interest to "ordinary punters," who've give them far less attention than critics have. Don't be a hater, Ken Loach.

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  • Donald L. Vasicek | May 31, 2014 6:08 PMReply

    What is one of the first you or the person or persons you are with say about a film, after you've watched a it together? I'd be willing to bet that each person has a different opinion about the film, although some might parallel each other. My point is what kind of expertise gives individuals the right to be critics? Some critics can ruin a filmmaker's hard work they put into a film they made. That is usually never mentioned by critics, you know, the hard work it takes to make a film. And it isn't mentioned by critics because most critics haven't been down in the filmmaking trenches. Critics are like parasites. They feed off of what someone else does, and as a filmmaker, I believe that I want as little as possible to do with critics feeding off of my blood, sweat and tears.

  • Jack Lawrence | May 31, 2014 4:26 PMReply

    Go onto Netflix or any other film streaming service and look at the user reviews section. There is your answer as to why this is a bad idea. "Ordinary punters" don't understand how to objectively or fairly critique a movie.

  • Gordy | June 2, 2014 9:58 AM

    You sound butthurt that ordinary people don't like Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson films. I only say this because some "educated" people feel the same way.

  • Neither Dave Nor Bill | May 31, 2014 6:05 PM

    Now WAIT a minute there, Jack. Are you are suggesting "professional critics" DO understand objectivity and fair criticism? Obviously, you're not a golfer.

  • Michael Denvir | May 31, 2014 3:16 PMReply

    Criticism is certainly imperfect, moreso than actual art because by its nature it pretends to a objective perspective that art does not. I come from a background in music, and over the years I've arrived to the point where I find music criticism nearly worthless to me. It just gets in the way of my experiencing and appreciating something I can (and will) appreciate on my own terms without the mediation of someone who did not make the music. So I'm very sympathetic to the idea of ignoring the critics, but I do find myself reading movie reviews often, maybe because I know much less about film, or maybe it's the nature of the medium -- films require to be watched end to end to be viewed fairly while I can figure something out about a song in the the first few minutes... The movie reviews are a good preview. Anyway, I appreciate these articles in Indiewire because they make me think about these things.

  • Sean Juan | May 30, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    Why so defensive? Are you so surprised that an artist might not like or respect critics? Surely Ken Loach isn't the first one to make such a comment. I actually think his words were tempered.

  • Nathan Duke | May 30, 2014 2:32 PMReply

    Bill, I was just ribbing you a little about the name.

    I can appreciate what you're saying. It's just that most of the critics I know prefer to remain that way. Put it this way, I took a shot at working "in film" for several years and I didn't finally give it up because it didn't seem I was going to make it, but rather because it was a little soul deadening.

    On the other hand, watching films and writing about them (which is not what I do full time, but rather on my time) is - for me - a much more gratifying experience than working on movies.

    And given the choice - and I know plenty others who feel the same way - between "making it" as a filmmaker/screenwriter, etc. or a critic, I'd choose the latter without having to give it any thought. Plus, I'd hope you agree that good criticism is an art form itself.

  • Dave (actually, Bill) | May 31, 2014 1:25 AM

    Nathan, you seem like a level-headed, clear-thinking dude, and your argument is sound.

    I still believe, however, that critics should keep their personal grandstanding OUT of their reviews. As this is rarely the case, critics should not be surprised when filmmakers turn the tables.

    Best critics in the biz today work at HR and Variety. They have a near-clinical detachment with absolutely no personal grandstanding, simply a mathematical examination of "Why this product WILL make money" or "Why this project WON'T."

    I do like reading indiewire though. It's great how Sam puts all the critics reviews into one column so I don't have to. Plus the reader comments on the factual errors and constant grammatical errors are HILARIOUS. Plus you get to critique the critics! Fun!

  • Nathan Duke | May 30, 2014 1:59 PMReply

    Dave - or Bill - first off, which is it?

    Here's an interesting tidbit: A majority of the critics with whom I've come into contact are more interested in being critics, not filmmakers. So, the whole "get off your bum and make a movie" to gain "respect" doesn't fly. Would you tell a reporter covering politics to run for office instead? Or a crime reporter to get a job as a beat cop?

    I personally like Ken Loach's films, but this isn't the first time he's made comments I found to be a bit strange - remember, he was among those who believed "Zero Dark Thirty" condoned torture when, I'd be willing to bet, that was an example of a male filmmaker getting bent out of shape that a woman made a better political/war movie better than any other man at that time was doing.

  • Bill (or Dave) | May 30, 2014 2:22 PM

    Hey, man.. quit hasslin me about my name. I'm, like, a sensitive soul, man.

    Anyway, would I tell a political reporter to run for office? Yes! Would I tell a crime reporter to get a job as a beat cop? Absolutely!

    Come on, you have to know that the best writers in the world have actually experienced what they're writing about; Hemingway is an obvious example. But yes, the best "critics" are the ones who also attempt to contribute to the medium they critique. I would much rather hear what Scorsese has to say about a film than some kid on the internet with a laptop and a film theory degree.

    I believe your posit that Ken might have personal vitriol. But it wouldn't be the first time a critic infused a review with personal dislike. Ebert, the patron saint of modern day criticism, did it all the time. Bottom line is Ken's speaks a truth we're all well aware of.

  • Dave (or Bill) | May 30, 2014 1:47 PMReply

    "WHY DON'T YOU LIKE ME?" Is that really what you're saying here?

    Ken speaks the truth: in these days of social activity, fast word-of-mouth and facebook/twitter/instagram/google/whatever else, why do we need a "professional critic"? As time goes on, those two words are going to become increasingly oxymoronic. Ken's right, leave criticism to the "people".

    It IS possible Ken is saying, "I was making movies the day most of you were born. You don't have the integrity or capacity to critique me."

    Sammy-Boy, why is it so confusing to you that you "critics" can bestow heaps of praise upon Ken and he still doesn't like you? Pro-tip: that strategy doesn't work with the ladies , either.

    Critics, get off your bum and make a movie. Then we'll respect your criticism (and then you'll realize how pointless it all is.) I don't believe it's Ken who is the hater.

  • Me!!! | June 10, 2014 10:37 AM

    So, Dave/'re basically forfeiting having an opinion on not just movies, but any medium. You're not a filmmaker, so you can't say whether a film is good or bad. You can only go by what OTHER people say. According to you, if a director said ____ about a movie, you MUST agree with him since HE'S the one who makes movies professionally, not you. Sounds horrible. Give yourself a little credit and allow yourself to form your own opinions....

  • Dave and Bill Together | May 31, 2014 1:36 AM

    Carlos, you lost me at "If you left criticism to the "People" then film would lose value as an art form."

    Show BUSINESS, hello! The only people who see this as "art" are the "critics" who adore the final product, but don't deal with the BUSINESS required to create the final product.

    News flash to critics: the very medium you admire as an art form IS NOT A FORM OF ART. Whoa, dude. The mind reels.

    The "people" are ALREADY in charge of criticism. The "professional critics" are just trying to hang on..... AND MAKE A DOLLAR.

    Leave the art to the artists. We're all making money here.

  • Carlos Aguilar | May 30, 2014 4:37 PM

    If you left criticism to the "People" then film would lose value as an art form. Films like "A Thousand Ways to Die in the West" would be considered masterpieces. The reason why critics are important is because they devote their lives to see films from all genres, to examine film from the past and compare them to the current state of the art form, to see foreign films, blockbusters, indies, documentaries, to form a test and yes, subjectively, judge a film. But the average person who only sees a few films a year or who only sees a certain of film can't have more to add than someone with more experience. We must not equate popular adoration with artistic value. People love "Fast & Furious", "Norbit", and "Transformers" and that doesn't mean they are good films. Ken please stop being a hater towards some of your greatest allies, or stop making films. Specially now that there are so many films every week, any supports from critics is valuable to make your film stand out from the pack.

    Even if a filmmaker would make a better critic in your eyes, it would have to be a filmmaker that has taken the time to see films from all over the world and time periods, and who makes different films, otherwise that filmmaker would only praise one type of film: the ones similar to what he makes. On the other hand, film critics can make great filmmakers (Godard, Truffaut) because they have seen what works and what doesn't thousands of time.

    The "regular people" that Loach speaks of have little interest in his films, he doesn't make mass-appealing films that will open in 5000 screens. He needs critics to promote his films and to get them to his niche audiences, it is absurd that he would detract an element of the industry that has allowed him to have a great career. If every critic would have bashed his films he wouldn't be the acclaimed director he is, and he wouldn't have the chance to keep making films if no none wanted to see them, and who is the test audience? Critics that go to festivals and write about his films. It is easy to bash critics and say "anyone" could do it, but I hardly doubt that regardless of the fact that the internet gives a voice to everyone, I hardly doubt every single person who watches what's popular on Netflix or rents a couple films at a RedBox a month is equipped to dissect a film with context and insight. Just because you play basketball with your buddies on weekends it means you can be an NBA player. Just as with sports film criticism takes skill and endless practices.

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