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Kevin Smith's Anti-Film Criticism Tirade & Rotten Tomatoes' 'Dark Knight' Comments Suspension

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by Tambay A. Obenson
July 18, 2012 10:00 AM
16 Comments
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Film Criticism

This reminded me of Armond White's 2010 lament that film criticism is dead (thanks in part to Roger Ebert), and my questioning what film criticism is - whether it's essentially more of a seemingly joyless (to some), comprehensive, intellectual undertaking, or whether there is a happy middle - and as others have asked over the years, whether film criticism has any value.

I suppose your answer will depend on what your expectations of the cinema are; are you strictly an escape/pleasure-seeker, or do you regard the cinema as more of an edifying tool?

Personally, as those of you who've been reading this blog since it was created likely already know, I lean towards the latter, and do so consistently and unapologetically; but, again, maybe there’s a happy middle in there somewhere. However, ultimately, the decision is a personal, individual one.

Although I've never really quite been able to understand the negativity that some associate with film criticism, suggesting that any critique is somehow maliciously-inspired.

It apparently doesn't register that some folks actually like to investigate and get underneath the surface of things, and others will be inspired to take a look (whether first or second or third) at a work, based on a sound critique of it, that gives them a new awareness or understanding of it, or challenges their original interpretation of the work, or even enhances their appreciation for it. 

It’s called film criticism; it happens all the time to the best and brightest. No one is exempt. It doesn’t automatically imply “hatred” of whomever's work is being criticized. Actually, sometimes, it’s the opposite. And instead of challenging or attempting to suppress the existence of film criticism, or to discredit (and in some cases threaten, as you'll read below) critics whose opinions you disagree with, it would be far more instructive to instead challenge their analyses.

But this reductive “hater” labeling whenever criticism is leveled, is so trite; and just as tired is a common suggestion I've heard made, stating that film critics are failed or frustrated filmmakers. I suppose it never occurs to some that there are those who actually really do love the work for exactly what it is (work that requires its own set of skills that many-a-critic has spent years honing through education), and have absolutely no desire to do anything but that. 

There's also a hypocrisy I've often witnessed in some of those who criticize, or sought to supress criticism of any kind. When the criticism/analysis is leveled against a work that they themselves despise, they applaud that criticism. Just don't criticize or analyze a film (or other work of art) that they love.

But as I see it, countering what you'll hear in the video below, there needn't be a "criticism versus creation" debate. Both universes can exist simultaneously, and be mutually beneficial.

The bottomline for me is, criticism exists in all art forms, not just in cinema, and I just don't understand how anyone can’t see how substantive and substantiated criticism of an artist’s work can be edifying for both the artist and the audience. I look at criticism as a path towards enhancing the film-goers experience and appreciation for a work, not the other way around.

And I actually believe we all criticize and/analyze on some level (it happens daily on this site, and I'm not just talking about those who write for the site) - some are just more comprehensive in their criticism/analyses than others, usually because they are armed with more information.

At worst, you can simply ignore the critics, which many already do anyway. Strokes for folks, as the saying goes. Divesrsity makes the world go round.

In a historic movie, yesterday, the film review aggregating web site RottenTomatoes.com suspended user comments on movie reviews of The Dark Knight Rises after commenters reacted harshly to negative reviews of the film and in many cases made profane and threatening remarks about the critics who wrote them.

Really. 

"The job of policing the comments became more than my staff could handle for that film, so we stopped the comments altogether... It just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn't even seen," Matt Atchity, the site's editor-in-chief, said.

The wrath of the seemingly scorned fanboy and fangirl. You mean there are actually reviewers who didn't like The Dark Knight Rises? My goodness, how could that be? And I thought the human race was controlled entirely by one mind. Who dares have an opinion that's entirely theirs, breaking away from the collective?

Imagine if we had to start strictly policing the comments section of this site, which can some times get quite hostile. We all have opinions and should be able to freely express them (whether you call yourself a critic, writer, reviewer or audience), without fear of one's life being threatened, or even having to defend why your opinion exists. You should be able to defend your opinion, certainly, but your right to have one is just that; your right.

And over the weekend, filmmaker (and fanboy himself) Kevin Smith went on a anti-film critic tirade at the 2012 Comic-Con, after he was asked by a member of the audience whether he felt there was room for criticism, or if criticism should only be reserved for certain films.

I could take on each argument he makes, point by point, but our friends over at Twitch (specifically Scott Weinberg) already did that quite thoroughly and eloquently, so I'll defer to them instead. You can read Weinberg's retort HERE; although I'd suggest you first watch the 9-minute Kevin Smith invective below, which I'm sure some will cheer, while others will not - which is perfectly ok and should be expected. We're not The Borg:

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16 Comments

  • Miles Ellison | July 30, 2012 10:59 PMReply

    The fact is, there are a lot of films that are shit. Sometimes that needs to be pointed out.

  • Howard The Duck | July 22, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    The irony here is that if it were not for film critic ( Amy Taubin? of the village voice) who screened Clerks, on the last day on the IFP market in 1992 then his momentum to becoming a recognized filmmaker would have taken longer or not at all. Film criticism is not about telling you what is bad about a film but it is an intelligent argument on why a film should or should not get your attention. They provide cultural insight, historical perspective and reveal artistic achievements or shortcomings. At least, that's what it is known for. So, whatever for Kevin Smith.

  • CareyCarey | July 18, 2012 11:41 PMReply

    Did I hear the phone ring? **winking @ Tambay** Anyway, the following is the most poignant and significant part of this post... "I suppose your answer will depend on what your expectations of the cinema are; are you strictly an escape/pleasure-seeker, or do you regard the cinema as more of an edifying tool? But, again, maybe there's a happy middle in there somewhere. However, ultimately, the decision is a personal, individual one". Having "said" that, detailed substantive critical reviews/analysis has it's place, however, I've alway had a problem with the stuff that is obviously mean spirited. I mean, it's goes without question that most unprofessional "criticism" would not fall under constructive-substantive and fair -- to say the least. Also Tambay, your claim that some of the negativity you've witnessed associate with film criticism, suggested that any critique is somehow maliciously-inspired, speaks to another problem I have with some film critics. That is, your words are slanted and seems to have the smell of "biased". Seriously, who said all critiques are maliciously-inspired? I tend to believe if we take each critique/analysis on it's own merit, we'll surely find some who have special agendas all their own -- no doubt. And it's safe to say many "critics" are beholden to their "slave" and/or special interests groups who support their endeavors. But in the end, it's so true, strokes for folks, as the saying goes. Diversity makes the world go round. And I follow a few critics -- each for different reasons. Oh, that reminds me, I vividly remember the little dust-up on S&A when Vanessa Martinez did the review/critique of Matthew Cherry's The Last Fall. Oh lord, many accused the blog of favoritism/biased and closed-eyed reporting. Some even went so far as to call it a "lie" because Tambay was in bed with the production... **Whistling as I return to my fart sack (couch) in my living room to watch 3 more episodes of Starz' Boss**

  • WOW | July 19, 2012 6:30 PM

    TOUCHE Monsieur! ..."I vividly remember the little dust-up on S&A when Vanessa Martinez did the review/critique of Matthew Cherry's The Last Fall. Oh lord, many accused the blog of favoritism/biased and closed-eyed reporting/critiguing... Some even went so far as to call it a lie". The Devil is in the details and TRUTH wins the debate.

  • Justin D. | July 18, 2012 11:27 PMReply

    Kevin Smith is so freaking pretentious. His ego has gotten to big for his hockey jersey.

  • Incrediblejeff | July 18, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    Great article,I looked at the comments under critic reviews of The Dark Knight Rises,and I have to say they made the right decision to axe the comments.They were going way too far.I really don't understand why people get so worked up over another persons opinion.

  • Donella | July 18, 2012 1:12 PMReply

    Some of the fanboys and fangirls (but mostly fanboys) can get a little extra--to the point of cult of personality. Very hard to deal with obsession on that level.

  • troy | July 18, 2012 9:53 PM

    Hollywood wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Cult of Personality. Neither would sport's franchise survive and many other forms of entertainment. Hell the news with the support of the US Government still needed icons to guide the masses. Cult of personality in the church. I like to think that one day our society may evolve out of the need for hero worship but Im starting to think that this is what a society is.

  • RENAISSANCE GIRL | July 18, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    Couple of years ago I got into an early screening of M. Night Shyamalan's film "The Last Airbender." I decided to write a review of the film because it was awful and I had a blog to express myself on. Boy oh boy fan girls and fan boys from all over the world descended on my blog to say some of the most seething comments I've ever read. Thank goodness I could care less what they had to say and most of those comments ended with readers fighting with others and I'm talking hundreds of people. Lo and behold when the movie finally came out a week later a lot of those commenters came back with their tails between their legs and agreed with a lot of the things I had to say. I was just amazed at the die hard loyalty these people had for a cartoon turned movie. There are some crazy fanboys out there ready to ride or die over these movies.

  • al | July 18, 2012 11:43 AMReply

    I agree with alot of what he said. However, I believe that detailed substantive critical reviews/analysis have helped me become a better filmmaker and I'm sure some other filmmakers feel the same way. The stuff that is obviously mean spirited can be disregarded as well as the comments made by folks that hide online, many times behind false names who will never showcase anything they've ever created.

  • Darkan | July 18, 2012 11:15 AMReply

    Here's the skinny in my pov. There was some truth in what Kevin said but some of what he says is actually what has added to the over saturation of the films to the industry as well. Film critics are the consumers first line of defense when it comes to asinine, debased, infantile, sloppy, irresponsible, derogatory, lazy, unhinged, repetitive, unmoving, etc films that are out there. Film critics although not always right (especially if they are biased) are what some people use to decide to save their money and time on watching movies like "Dogma" or "Transformers" and other stink bombs that are made for people who are coerced by mass marketing and polished trailers where the studios used slight of hand techniques to pass onto us because somehow this junk got through the system due to the fact that the guys in suits are 20 year old straight out of college and don't understand the human experience clowns. Yes, sometimes film critics call it wrong and yes everyone has an opinion but at the same time we must remember that every human being loves to be right and loves to feel that their belief is right which makes it to become an atmosphere where there is no way to gauge what is good anymore more or what is bad, what is tasteful or what is tasteless, what is meant to inspire or what is meant to shock. We are living in a dumbed down society where people have no regard for the history of film or true talent and that is the reason why the word "hater" is so popular. No one wants to be judged according to any standard. Kevin Smith and many other directors are like that which to me shows a disregard to the basic fundamentals of understanding of your purpose as a filmmaker. Like it or not as a filmmaker you are a leader and a guide and you must be held accountable for your creation whether good or bad just like in any other job least you continue to make crappy films and the studios continue to "gloss" over bad films to get to the consumers pocket. I tend to read critics just to have clarity on what I want to see in theaters. Unfortunately when it comes to the over glut of shorts, fanbase films and things all I have is a blog like Shadow and act which will review those and that's really where the over saturation in the industry is. So usually I make my own decision based on word of mouth but even then it's a crap shoot. I say thank God for critics because they help "the true" filmmaker to grow and hold responsibility to their "artisty" which nowadays is HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE. The hobbyist shouldnt care because they won't be around for long anyway.

  • Starry118 | July 30, 2012 10:12 PM

    Hey, Dogma wasn't a stinkbomb...the Transformers trilogy, however, was.

  • troy | July 18, 2012 9:41 PM

    So why should the leader follow the critic? Filmmakers shouldnt reverse engineer films editing and shooting with critics in mind.

  • spirit equality | July 18, 2012 10:37 AMReply

    if twitch's retort isn't a piece of art, i'm not interested. let me know when they shoot a short film about it. ha!

    as for dark knight, some critics love to just be contrarian: "so many people like this, i've got to find some way to not enjoy it". sh-t is idiotic. i'm going to see dark knight. nolan has earned my faith with his filmography, in the batman world and outside of it (primarily with following and memento).

  • Ash | July 18, 2012 11:07 AM

    Just because it got bad reviews doesn't mean anyone wants you to NOT go see it. I think that was part of Tambay's point. Film critiques aren't to make you not go see movies you want to see. "The Dark Knight Rises" will be a movie that people see regardless of the reviews anyway. A critique is not a personal attack on you because you happened to like a movie that a critic said lacked depth (or whatever the critique was).

  • Vanessa Martinez | July 18, 2012 10:28 AMReply

    Great post.. this sums it up for me -->"others will be inspired to take a look (whether first or second or third) at a work, based on a sound critique of it, that gives them a new awareness or understanding of it, or challenges their original interpretation of the work, or even enhances their appreciation for it."

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