“Where Michael Bay has mastered a kind of sensory-assaulting pop art, Favreau is a born storyteller, who engages the audience’s imaginations rather than crushing them in a tsunami of digital noise.” – Scott Foundas, LA Weekly
Without having seen Iron Man, I can’t agree or disagree with Foundas’s assessment of Favreau’s storytelling abilities (I also haven’t seen Favreau’s previous forays into directing, which he praises), and I’m not highlighting this little bit because he’s taken some kind of oppositional, principled outré stand—reviews thus far have been largely positive.
However, this brief comment—“Favreau is a born storyteller”—somehow got my mind racing about the triangular relationship between critics, audiences, and distributors. If this film were, say, the new work from an acclaimed young Romanian filmmaker, I could imagine Foundas’s quote plastered at the top of ads from coast-to-coast—he’s a legitimate critic, for my money one of the few truly thoughtful writers left amongst the rotating stable his syndicate employs, though whether or not readers are attuned to his specific voice, or just his attribution is an open question.
Does Iron Man need a Scott Foundas quote or review to succeed? Surely not. And given that the big movie machine works as hard as possible to erase the individual effects of non-brand directors (i.e. Spielberg) from their films, surely not if that quote attests to the director’s storytelling abilities instead of the special effects work or thrill-ride escapades. But yet here it is, snuck lightly into the last paragraph of a fine, well-considered piece of writing—it’s pretty much sold me on a ticket, but not that the studio really needs me either. Does the studio need any reviews at all to make this thing succeed? Probably not to cross the threshold into profits via ancillaries, but a gaggle of good reviews for big movies still holds sway, I think, for a certain group of folks who generally worry about leaving these sort of films assaulted and insulted (i.e. Michael Bay). Foundas's writing for them, for me—certainly not for the studio here.
Before Foundas was syndicated locally, the only chance I had to read him was via the internet. There’s been a lot of typing expended on the effects of the www.world on the critical voice and it seems like there’s a general lack of consensus out there, aside from inside the thick skull of Armond White, who seems to view all us blog philistines as the imminent death of film culture. But is it possible that the movement of film criticism away from print might allow readers a more intimate connection with their cultural critics, one that I’d say has been largely severed over the last twenty or so odd years of media consolidation and saturation? Can we now seek out and find those voices like Foundas (or, modestly, Reverse Shot, for that matter) that speak to us? And what do we lose in terms of geographic specificity—that great hometown critic who knows his or her audience because they have been sprung from them? The age of the monolithic critical voice may have already closed—critics can still make and break certain films at the box office, but is that a role they necessarily should have or aspire to? Being able to influence readers is important, but what of dominating them?
We haven’t really taken a detailed plunge into this question at Reverse Shot yet, and this certainly isn’t it—we’re more concerned with diagnosing the changes in the medium at present. But I think we’ll get there. In the meantime, thanks to Scott Foundas for his review.