Category Archives: What’s Criticism For?

8 July 2009: the weekly roundup of film criticism news

Anne Midgete at The Washington Post ponders the difference between critics and “user” reviews.

Stendhal at The Unpersons defends the art and craft of film criticism… even in the face of the box-office juggernaut of the critically reviled Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: “A reviewer’s job is inherently narcissistic (just like, dare I say, a blogger’s). A reviewer watches a film, then writes down her observations on that film, using the experiences (both film-based and otherwise) that she has accumulated over the years. Her job is not to agree with the audience, because the audience is not her…. What we need in criticism is not a reinforcement of our existing values, but a challenge against the tastes we have developed and a demand for a different perspective on looking at a film…. [A] critic’s job is to serve her audience — through providing alternative perspectives, analytical acumen, and as Anton Ego would say, “the defense of the new”…

Keanu Reeves tells that he loves his critics: “I want to see what they write, for sure. You know it’s going to be whatever it’s going to be and you have to take a review as it is. I mean, whatever they write is whatever they write, and I’m not going to be able to change it. The review is part of why you want to entertain. You want to know what your audience thinks about the film and the performance. I’m interested in what people think, even if it’s just one person.”

Sean at Film Junk wonders about “the sudden wave of criticism coming from moviegoers who now automatically assume that all handheld camera work is a sign of bad filmmaking”…

how people see film critics

A commenter at the Internet Movie Database had this to say about the film The Stoning of Soraya M.:

It may be too visceral for critics (also like United 93), but film lovers should definitely seek it out.

What does it mean that a film might be “too visceral” for critics? Why does there exist the perception that critics are not lovers of film themselves?

Of course, this is merely one commenter on a site not known for a high level of conversation among its users. But the attitudes expressed here are not at all unusual. What should — or shouldn’t — critics be doing to counter such ideas?

what’s criticism for?

Peter Suderman at The American Scene is glad he didn’t have to write a review of Up:

That Pixar’s marvelous, moving, and altogether astounding Up deserves every one of its accolades, and perhaps more, should be obvious just a few minutes into the film. But I feel a least a little bit sorry for the critics who had to sing the film’s praises. Yes, I love writing about film, and that love is rooted in a passion for sharing — some of my friends might call it pushing — great cinema with others. But every now and then, a movie comes along that’s so effortlessly delightful that I just want it to be mine, a treasure that I don’t have to share.

This seems like an odd contention for a film critic to make: Isn’t criticism a kind of proselytizing? Isn’t criticism about nothing else but sharing a love of film (even if that love is sometimes disappointed) with others?

Suderman continues:

I’m glad I don’t have to write about it in a comprehensive or authoritative way, to summarize its plot or characters and make a careful case for its greatness. Doing so, even to rave, requires putting at least a bit of distance between oneself and one’s subject, and with a film as elegant and lovely and honestly heartfelt as Up, that’s not something I ever want to do.

Does critiquing a film put distance between the critic and the movie? Can’t it bring even a critic closer to a film, by helping him or her better understand his or her own reaction to it?

Perhaps it’s for the best that Suderman was not compelled to review Up after all…

Francis Ford Coppola on film critics

Aaron Hillis at The Village Voice talks to Francis Ford Coppola about his new film, Tetro, and gets some intriguing comments out of the director about film critics:

For me, the role of the critic is to teach me how I can make the next one better. I realize what my flaws are. … There are obviously good critics and bad critics—who, just because the movie isn’t like anything they’ve seen, immediately call it a “muddled mess.” If you do a Google search for “muddled mess,” you’ll see that that’s the common phrase they use when they don’t want to come out and say what’s muddled about it. People are a little bit like sheep, and unable to accept or take anything to heart unless they can link it to something that was successful before. … If a movie comes out and it’s really fresh and new, it’s not like anything else….