Film critics, and critics of other arts, are often accused of being failed writers or directors; it is the same old “those who can’t do, teach” philosophy that plagues high school teachers. As a young man, I once took an interest in the creation of film and even tried my hand at it once or twice. Before even allowing myself the opportunity to fail miserably, I realized that I had absolutely no interest in it. It was my lot in life to write about film, not to create it. I can’t, however, assume that most film critics feel the same way.
I’ve been writing film reviews professionally since I graduated from high school. In that time, I’ve learned a great number of things about the craft, and I’ve become increasingly frustrated and disenchanted with the way it is often done-I’ve even been guilty of many of the sins that I’ll outline below. The following is a manifesto (kind of) that will result in the salvation of film criticism.
There are only two rules…
Thou shalt not pass judgment.
Yeah, that’s right. No judgment. That means no stars, no “out of five” rating, no thumbs to tell you, quickly and concisely, if a movie is “worth your time”. If you have an interest in film, then every film is worth your time, even the shitty ones. And I don’t need to feed you the obvious stuff, like “reviews are subjective”, do I? If reviews are subjective, then they are meaningless to everyone but the writer. The bottom line is that these kinds of ratings devalue films. Don’t trust them. Don’t write them.
Thou shalt not criticize.
Now we’re getting out there. Yeah, it’s called film “criticism”, but that doesn’t mean we have to playa hate, does it? Don’t trust film reviews that make claims like “the film is flawed”, “the director missteps” or “the acting is poor”. These criticisms imply that there is such a thing as a “perfect” film, a Platonic ideal (or Form) of a film that each film strives toward. This, if nothing else, undermines the authority of the filmmaker to create something unique.
It is the film critic’s responsibility to view the film as if it is an exact replication of the director’s vision. Only from this standpoint can the film be viewed outside of the realm of traditional criticism. The emphasis shifts from “The performances were overly melodramatic” to “The melodramatic performances resulted in such-and-such”. If a performance is melodramatic, we must assume that it was supposed to be that way, and for a reason; the question then becomes “what effect does this have on the film as a whole?” The criticism is still there, in a way, but it loses its bite. The adjective is no longer the end of the sentence, but merely a gateway into deeper analysis.
The ideal film review does not merely convey what the reviewer thought of the film’s quality; it conveys what the reviewer thought about the film. The result of this is a reader that does not think, “I want to go see Glitter because Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said it was good!” (which is true), but rather a reader that might go to see a film because it interests him or her, because it holds some genuine intellectual , and this viewer will probably think about and reflect upon this movie in a more substantial way. Weight
This is the school of thought from which I write my own film reviews, which can be read in The Cord or on my film blog: livejournal.com/~dru_jeffries