Sunday, July 19, 2009

Critical Success

Lately, as it tends to happen every few years, a few friends have stated that they think movie critics are pretentious and out of touch with what movie going audiences want to see. I've touched on this topic in my "Excess Hollywood" columns on Film Threat, but many of you may not have read those. As you can imagine, I disagree.

Yes, some critics are pretentious. Some doctors are bad. Some insurance salesmen rip you off. Some cops beat their wives. Every field has bad eggs, those who abuse power or get off on showing how smart they are. Being pretentious is not a requirement for the job, though.

Part of the misconception comes from the fact that critics and most movie going audiences are at odds with each other. Critics want to look at a film's place in cinema as art and entertainment. They want to see how it fits into film history, dissect it and see if it works by its own rules. They want to compare it to past films and see if it challenges the art form. General audiences want entertainment for the most part. General audiences made Kangaroo Jack a number one film.

When I talk to people about what they like in a film, I often get general answers. They point to "cool" special effects or one scene they really liked. They don't talk about the story, characters' values, its place in cinema or anything even remotely below the surface. They think explosions are cool, blood is awesome, and tits should be given Oscars. This is where the role of the critic steps in.

Film critics have to have a real passion for the art of cinema. They can't submit reviews that say, "This film rocked because the good guy kicked ass." It wouldn't fly. They have to do reviews that can be understood by both the mainstream audience who only wants blockbusters and the audience that demands a bit more from its viewing experience. A good critic will point out both the positive and negative in a film (or have to do a totally negative review in those circumstances where the film has nothing to offer). That's the role of the critic, and maybe that is why people don't like them.

Critics, because they see a lot of films (and believe me, that is not always as fun as it sounds), are less tolerant of scenes that have been done to death. They scorn those lines of dialogue they can see coming from a mile away. They loath standard endings. They, like any other moviegoer, want to be entertained and moved.

I've been accused of being pretentious. Often this is because I happen to like foreign films, which is a ridiculous charge. If anyone read my body of film critiques they would see that not only do I like some "high brow" foreign films, but also have a deep affection for exploitation films ... films the general audience often finds beneath it. To say I'm pretentious because I dare to take a film like Snow Dogs to task is beyond moronic. It's false. Flat out false. (And yes, while I have given that Cuba Gooding, Jr. epic a lot of flack, it doesn't make me some kind of film snob. I gave The Devil's Rejects all kinds of praise, too. That's pretty damn far from anything that can be considered high class.)

Critics of the critics can continue on their attacks. That's fine ... as long as they can justify them. When they can't, it's just pissing in the wind and puts them right on the same level of the pretentious critic they hate. Don't pay any attention to the critics if you think they are off base. That's your right. Just don't expect film lovers to take your opinion of a film seriously if all you can offer is, "It had a cool chase scene."

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