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Film Criticism is Your Friend - Embrace it

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 10, 2014 at 12:10PM

There needn't be a "criticism versus creation" debate. Both universes can exist simultaneously, and be mutually beneficial.
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Film Criticism

The ongoing debate about film criticism happening in the comments section of Andre Seewood's piece on "Collateral" (published yesterday) reminded me of Armond White's 2010 lament that film criticism is dead (thanks to what he felt was a generally-accepted reductive system of rating movies - thumbs up/thumbs down; 4 stars; 6 out of 10, etc), as well as my own questioning what film criticism is, and whether it 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, unapologetically; But maybe there’s a happy middle in there somewhere. However, ultimately, the decision is a personal, individual one.

Although, based on reactions to film critiques and analyses over the years, on this blog, and elsewhere, on- and offline, I've never really quite been able to understand the negativity that some associate with film criticism, suggesting that any critique or deeper analysis of a film is somehow maliciously-inspired, and/or a complete waste of time - a common decidedly derogatory phrase I've seen used is "intellectual masturbation."

It apparently doesn't register to all that some actually like to investigate and get underneath the surface of things, and based on what those *investigators* produce, others just might be inspired to take a look (whether first, second or third) at a work, based on a sound analysis of it, that gives them a new awareness or understanding of the film, or challenges their original interpretation of it, 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 analyzed; and it might be hard to believe that for those who do it, it's not quite the joyless exercise that others seem to think it is. And this reductive “hater” labeling whenever criticism is leveled, is so trite; and just as tired is a common suggestion I've heard made: that film critics are failed or frustrated filmmakers. Quite the contrary. There are those who actually really do love the work for exactly what it is (work, I should emphasize, 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. 

And instead of challenging or attempting to suppress the existence of a work 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, by presenting your own critique of the work - not of the critic.

There's also a hypocrisy I've often witnessed in some of those who criticize, or sought to suppress 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, there needn't be a "criticism versus creation" debate (remembering Kevin Smith's tirade at the 2012 Comic-Con). Both universes can exist simultaneously, and be mutually beneficial.

The bottomline for me is, criticism exists in all art forms, not just in cinema; Substantive and substantiated analysis of an artist’s work can be edifying for both the artist and the audience. I look at the analysis 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 analyses than others, usually because they are armed with more information.

At worst, you can simply ignore the critics, which many already do anyway.

You might recall when, in a historic move 2 years ago, 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, it would seem.

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.

As I mentioned earlier, Kevin Smith went on a anti-film critic tirade at the 2012 Comic-Con (a video that went viral at the time), 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. After all, we're not all of a single mind like The Borg, which is ultimately the point.

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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