Criti”size”ing up the arguments

A lot of bloggers and journalists are throwing out their theories on why they believe there’s discord between what films critics say and what the general public wants to see, from Peter Bart at Variety to just about every other article at Jim Emmerson’s blog Scanners. A lot of the ideas are plain silly, some very well thought out (sometimes almost too thought out), and others search as if it were an elusive riddle that only a sphinx would know the answer to.

One problem, as in most cases, perception of the other person is based on little to no observational knowledge. Democrats believe what the few Democrats on television say about the Republicans and vise versa, but has a tree hugging hippy ever met an old religious Midwestern woman? Not likely. Thanks to those few people on television, now if they ever did I fear they would hate each other upon first sight, without giving the benefit of the doubt. In a similar sense how does the general public view the film critics? Who helps shape their idea of how they should see the films, and of what films they wish to see? The advertisers of course. When Joe Public sees that Time Magazine has given “Ghost Rider” a horrible review, would they rather listen to the words on a typed page, or the extremely exciting visuals thrown at them during a thirty-second TV spot? Haven’t the studios been training Joe Public to listen to them for years.? After all “Star Wars” (the original) was a great movie, and it had astounding visuals, right? “The Matrix” made their hearts stop every time the camera swung around, didn’t it? And when Spider-Man stops a train from flying into the harbor, how visually captivating and thrilling was that? Why shouldn’t they listen to their friend the movie trailer over some stiff who sits behind a desk turning these wonderful moments in film into intellectual dissertations? Isn’t that how the public sees reviewers and critics, unless they happen to write for Stuff or Playboy, in which case the reviewers have made less intellectual connections with their readers and have created something more carnal in nature (if they’re going to show me nude women, why shouldn’t their ideas of what makes a great movie be listened to?). Mike Judge, I think, encapsulates this idea in one of his early cartoon tests…it’s about a minute in, but keep watching beyond, there’s some really great early “Office Space” conceptualizations as well…

For me some of the great cartoonists and comedians can get right to an insightful point, can sum it up with the use of a certain character saying a certain word. The cartoon just takes the fun out of the word film…who would listen to this guy? I would love to hear Jon Stewart or Trey Parker and Matt Stone chime in on this argument…if anyone knows of anything like this feel free to post the information.

Likewise, do critics who theorize about audiences tastes ask the public why they go to see these movies? No. Do the journalists who think that our audiences have taken a step backwards in the evolutionary ladder confer with the public after they’ve watched a film…no. Because the question isn’t why do audiences think so differently about films than critics, the question that’s being raised is why do audiences want to see movies that critics hate, but really it’s the first question that should be more important, after all these critics are going to see these movies…why shouldn’t an audience member? You could say that a critic is paid to see these movies, and logically you would be correct, but…

Are critics and the public really looking for something that different in the films they see? No. They want to enjoy every movie they see. They want to step into a film with the hope that it will be a great film, and when people see those images flash across the screen in a five minute trailer, hope is created. Just because a movie makes a hundred million in it’s opening weekend doesn’t mean that that’s a hundred million dollars worth of praise. The journalist, critics, and bloggers out there seem to equate dollar amount spent before seeing the movie with the joy taken away after seeing the actual movie. Didn’t we all, reviewers and critics alike, walk into “Star Wars Episode 1” hoping that every moment would be as earth shatteringly wonderful as the first three films released almost 30 years ago now. I remember going back to see “Batman and Robin” three times hoping that maybe I wasn’t watching it correctly the first couple. We hope when we go see these films. The critic I’m certain hopes just as much as a civilian that the movie they step into will be a great one, and I’m certain more often than not they might leave with the same reaction. Look how many people loathe “Star Wars Episode 1”! And that is just one example, of many examples. The freshest because I just got through chuckling my way through the last half of “Episode 3” no more than a half hour ago.

What can the critics do to connect with these audiences again…to regain their trust? Maybe they should stop talking down to them, even if it is inadvertently. Maybe they should stop being so cynical and snide towards movies they don’t like. I certainly don’t listen to my friends or Mother when they constantly complain about how terrible something is. If you say something is that awful so many times and for the same reasons, you stop listening. Being critical and being negative are two different things, and I think a lot of the time critics fall into the trap of being negative. Roger Ebert has it right. His ways both infuriate me and put me at ease as an audience member, because he seems to be one of the only reviewers capable of admitting to like movies even when he knows they are not good movies. He gave thumbs up to “Speed 2”, because he was in the mood for an action movie. How honest is that? He never admits to it being a great movie, and I’m sure he hasn’t watched it since. But to me that’s a reviewer your typical audience member can trust. When Ebert doesn’t enjoy a film, then you can be almost certain that there’s probably something seriously wrong with that film.

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One Response to “Criti”size”ing up the arguments”

  1. Paul Martin Says:

    I’m not a professional critic, and my experience is limited, but this is my interpretation. A ‘critic’ or ‘reviewer’ is a cinephile first and foremost – a lover of film – and someone who sees lots of them.

    The average film-goer (in Australia) allegedly sees four films per annum on the big screen. I currently see more than that in the average week. So I see about 50 times the average viewer. When a person watches a lot of films, mainstream fare becomes highly repetitive. Through repetition, one sees patterns. One sees laziness, faults, contrivances, peurile devices that the casual film-goer either does not see, or if it is seen, isn’t problematic.

    A critic is just pointing out what he/she sees and hopefully in some kind of context that the reader can understand or reference. The more astute reader will be more likely to appreciate than the less astute. That’s assuming that there’s some merit to the criticism being made. Of course, there’s lots of mediocre criticism which could be more accurately called reviewing or consumer guidance (which is not necessarily criticism at all).

    Critics and audiences don’t have to agree, because their idea of entertainment, art or whatever may be different. My taste in cinema is generally not mainstream, but doesn’t exclude it. The mass of people won’t appreciate my writing or my recommendations because my opinions don’t align with theirs. But I’m not aiming at the mass. I’m just trying to be true to myself and my appreciation of the art-form, and hopefully others will see some value to it.

    This isn’t a dissertation (obviously), just shedding a little light on the subject. But time doesn’t permit me to continue.

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