Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rambling Post On Film Criticism

Hello out there in internetland, sorry it's been so long. I'm currently in finals week of my last quarter of college (for now), and it's been one nutty ride this year. I have not, as you may have noticed, gotten to the many blog posts I have promised so far, but seeing as how I'll have a lot of free time on my hands soon, I'll probably get to them... eventually.

For the time being, however, I have added massive quantities of links to the right side of this page, which should help fill your time until I can muster the brainpower to write a coherent article.

I also want to comment on something that seems to be a topic of interest amongst certain circles at the moment, and that is the nature and public perception of film criticism. Some very smart people have written some very interesting things in the past several days and I thought I'd pass some of them along. Feel more than free to offer opinions and comments, I love hearing from people, even if they disagree with me as long as it's civil and in the spirit of debate-- something that gets touched on in some of these.

There are more out there but these are the three I came across that I found the most thought-provoking. Honestly, I have my own ideas on the topic, and this is something that surfaces now and again as I navigate both the practice of studying film and the social ramifications of being a "movie snob" to people who don't. Let me give you an overview of why I really hate that term, and it isn't just because I hear it in application to myself or to people I happen to agree with, or even to people I may not agree with but whose viewpoint I find interesting. It's because it's a cheap way to invalidate someone else's opinion without having to engage with their actual argument.

Let me tell you a secret that a lot of people don't seem to understand about film: there are very few "right" answers. There seems to be this idea that there's some kernel of absolute "Truth" at the center of anything and that if you whittle it down far enough you'll eventually discover the definitive answer. The problem with this is film is art, and like all art, its meaning and value are totally subjective to the one viewing it. Likewise, are the opinions of those reviewing/critiquing it. For me personally, a good film reviewer is not the person with whom I agree the most often, it's the one who actually thinks about the film and then writes about it in such a way that makes me think about it. There have been numerous films I have watched for a class or on my own that I initially disliked or was confused by, but after reading a thoughtful review or an academic article or even just discussing it with someone else, I learned to appreciate certain aspects of it that I never would have otherwise. They may be things I ultimately disagree with, or they may not be enough to get me to enjoy the film, but I absolutely appreciate having insight into it. That's basically what studying criticism allows you to do: not to arrive at the "right" answer as to whether a movie is objectively good or bad, but to aid in the ability to understand why someone enjoys a film or doesn't.

Another secret: my taste in movies has stayed exactly the same since I started learning about film. There have been a few here and there that I now see in a new light, but by and large, I enjoy the same things I did before and dislike the same things. The only significant change in my discussion of the topic is my ability to articulate why I feel the way I do about a given film. That's it. Well, that and the confidence to actually express my opinion instead of trying to convince myself I like a film when I don't just because I can't figure out why, or I feel obligated to because everyone else likes it. I used to waste a lot of energy trying to justify things in films that I didn't like because I felt I should, for some bizarre reason, and let me tell you, it is such a relief to quit doing that. No, if anything has changed in regards to my movie collection, it's simply the scope. Learning the mechanics of how movies work hasn't "taken the magic out of it," as I hear some people argue, it's actually increased my appreciation for it. The movies I loved before, I enjoy watching even more now than I did when I first saw them because I understand them on a deeper level. I love watching movies. I really love watching good movies, but in all honesty there are so few films out there that I consider worthless; there's usually something I find worthwhile in almost any of them, even if I dislike the end result overall.

But at the end of the day, it's all just opinion. That's all a critic has to offer: the same thing everyone else has, only with better articulated reasons and hopefully some interesting insights. Studying film doesn't teach anyone how to figure out the "right" answer, it helps inform the understanding of why a given person feels the way they do about it. That's it. It doesn't mean you have to agree with it, but hopefully it might make you think a little deeper about why you feel the way you do. Who knows, it might even make you appreciate it more than you might have otherwise, or even interest you in a film you might not have given a chance before. I think one of the greatest things I'm taking away from my film education is the really great movies I've been exposed to that I would never have heard of otherwise. Ultimately, what this blog is doing isn't just providing a platform for my opinions and ideas, but it's a space for me to share these movies with other people.


  1. THIS GREAT POST TO ADD TOO. HULK NOT AGREE AT ALL WITH HOW HE CATEGORIZING WHAT HE SAYING, BUT IT DEFINITELY WORTH LOOK http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/movies/films-in-defense-of-slow-and-boring.html

  2. Thank you, I did think that was interesting. I'll add it with the others.