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May 22, 2006

Comments

Michael C.

The issue of whether or not film critics are influential in terms of box office isn't so cut and dry. It's pretty evident that reviews of huge studio films matter very little. People will go see most hugely hyped films no matter what a critic says. Especially one based on one of such a massively best-selling book when there isn't any real compeition in the theatres. But it's also true that for smaller independent and art-house films, reviews can have a huge influence, as you mention in your post... and that can sometimes be unfortuante (when a film needs to have a respectable opening weekend in order to build an audience.)

In the end, a critic's view of a film is simply there opinion. I like a lot of films that critics hate, and hate a lot of films that critics love. I also dislike a whole lot of films that make huge amounts of money... does that mean they're good or bad? Why is my (or a critics) opinion any less worthwhile than all the people who love a film, and vice versa of course.

Still, the nature of criticism and film reviews now that the internet and blogs have come about is certainly interesting. Thanks, AJ, for starting up this fascinating topic.

Michael C. (who hasn't and isn't planning on seeing THE DAVINCI CODE).
Chlotrudis Mewsings

Adam Hartzell

"Or is something else happening."

Perhaps we should toss aside the gross of a film's ticket sales as a determinant of a critic's influence and look at the persistence of MEMES. That is, let's look at which critics are most effective in influencing how audiences READ a film, how they integrate it into their own personal film theories rather than looking at their influence on how many people go or don't go to certain films. Perhaps this is the primary purpose of critics in the first place, diseminating ideas rather than an offshoot of marketing.

Just a thought regarding this often asked question - "Are critics obsolete?" Perhaps we're just focusing on the wrong area of influence. I'm more into film because of the ideas, not the box office. That's why I read Rosenbaum, Thrupkaew, and others rather than the daily dilly-dallies.

AJ Schnack

Adam,

I agree. The notion that a critic's effectiveness or value is based on their ability to build an audience for one film or deter an audience from another seems highly unfair to both filmmakers and critics. They should be judged on their own perspective of film, the prism through which they see others' art.

But I also think that there's another factor here. There's a pretty substantial portion of the moviegoing audience that is looking for something different, perhaps simpler, than what many critics look for.

I was talking last night with a friend of mine about the Jennifer Lopez/Jane Fonda movie Monster-in-Law, which rated a dismal 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Our discussion was that Monster-in-Law is not such an abonination - it might be banal, but it has the qualities that a lot of moviegoers are looking for - big stars, lightweight & sitcom-y premise, a breezy night at the movies. It may not be our kind of movie, but we can see it's appeal to others.

That's the kind of disconnect that ultimately fuels this idea of critics being out-of-touch, I think. Does that mean they should recommend a movie that they don't like? No. But it seems to me that the studios are starting to look at these kinds of films and say "these are our "fast food items" - do we really need the "gourmet food critics" to tell customers how little nourishment is in our hamburgers?"

Adam Jeppson

I, honestly, go to movies because it is an escape from reality. I see enough of the real world in everyday life, and I like to get away from my own little world every now and then to preserve my sanity.

I believe the masses in general are in the same frame of mind as this for the same reason America is (in general) obese, sexually active, and self-absorbed: We love stimulation!

Don't get me wrong, I like to be made "to think" during a movie. But if it isn't stimulating and exciting (emotionally included), its hard for me to be "excited" about it.

If that's what critics are looking for, then they might be out-of-touch with the masses (I don't know how critics think because I don't usually read many reviews...sorry!). But who cares, its their opinion, and they have as much right to speak it as I.

Excellent analogy of food to films, AJ. I'm proud to share your initials. :)

Moira Sullivan

Part of the problem is that there is much to BE critical about in popular culture. It seems to matter little to the public that some critics have studied film just as many do literature, and are familiar with the inner workings of cinema as well as the stylistic system. That is considered high brow. Yet everyone should be able to know about these operations, and many general college courses are teaching it. Cinema enjoys two worlds - film as art and film as entertainment. Some films wear both hats. The discussion about whether critics are out of tune with the public is indeed an ancient one, and depends on if you regard film as art or entertainment- in the case of the film studios and producers- read commerce. Since all things in a market society are commodified, why not film? The styles of critics reveal these worlds. It doesn't matter however if you are a 22 year old blogger or a veteran critic. Good film criticism depends on your sincerity, and your understanding of the realm you want to explore. Its not surprising that print media wants to hire critics with commerce in mind, the problem is that if film is only approached as a commercial entity there is no impetus to demand better film or to know about better film. Filmmakers and producers should realize that not everyone is content with reality TV type film scripts with shallow characters and plots. But of course they are not, look at the ratings, look at the box office. That is where critics come in, if you'll have us. Unfortunately the public is fed a standard diet of shallow , disposable contant --which serves to infantalize us. And nobody wants their favorite toys taken away. So blame the critics for pointing out the elephants in the dining room, fire them.Say we are out of touch with the public. But are we? We are part of it too. Which public?

AJ Schnack

Excellent points, Moira. And I agree, the questions of obsolescence or being "out of touch" widely depends on who is perceived as the comparative entity. Is, if you'll pardon my using the food analogy again, the gourmet food critic "out of touch" with folks who love a quarter pounder? Or do they just have different tastes and desires.

I would certainly hate for there to be an expectation that critics only praise (or the Academy only nominate - another variation on this same theme) the films which seem to be embraced by the public. But somehow, it seems to me, some critics (by no means all) have taken it upon themselves to presume to speak for the public at large when reviewing a film, predicting that their own response is or will be that of the general audience. So, when I read a comment like "you're going to be bored" or "you will have the time of your life", as opposed to "I was bored" or "I had the time of my life", I wonder what role the critic thinks he or she is playing. I don't want a critic to tell me how I'm going to react to something, or even to try to fit me into a subgroup - "if you're ______, then you're going to feel ______, but if you're not _______, then you're probably going to be _______."

I want the critic to point out the elephant and I want them to have a voice and a perspective that is so individual, so much their own, that whether I agree or disagree, I will want to know what they think.

Your blog, by the way, is swell.

AJ

Moira Sullivan

As you point out, producers and filmmakers are starting to take on critics by challenging them publicly after a bad review. After working long and hard on a film, you can certainly appreciate or at least expect that happening. I got criticized by the producer of Abel Ferrara's "Mary" screened at Venice--and I keep on meeting many people who liked the film than not. It may seem easy for a critic to launch into a tirade against a film, based on what appears to be only a personal point of view. That is where knowing something about film operations is important, and makes your opinion have some signficance. Knowledge of lighting, sound, cinematography, mis en scene or composition of the frame, continuity, acting style, art direction etc. Even if a critic dislikes a film there is always something about a film that is done well if you think of these different aspects. So if you point out something about the sound, or art direction that didn't seem to work, it bears more weight than if you just dismiss the film entirely - based on your own value system. Or why not address your ideas to others that might be like minded. Such as how the representation of gender or race may be sterotypical. I agree a personal opinion about a film, is a personal opinion --so it improves a review significantly to bring up examples from the film that can't be dismissed as only that.
But do we want to ban critics from press screenings because they may be out of touch with the public, and potentially squash a film before its release? (They can't--folks will still want to see Julia Roberts, even if the critics say she sucks on Broadway!) Tim Robbin's "Embedded" takes up how the media were enmeshed with the White House and coerced into becoming administration friendly or else be booted from the airwaves. Can it come to the press being booted from movie premieres by the producers?
In 1971, director Tom Laughlin took out a full page ad in the LA Times, blasting critics for disliking the films that the public wanted to see --such as his film "Billy Jack". It hasn't changed much since.In 2005, Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki made a huge public success--"Always Sunset on Third Street", winner of 14 Japanese Academy Awards - and was blasted by one influential Japanese critic, who just didn't like the movie. Yamazaki believes that the critic was infuriated that the public loved and felt this diminished his importance. That may be a text book case for the occasional negative review however whether a critic likes a film or not, it does make a better impression to back up why the film doesn't work, rather than provide personal conjecture as the ultimate proof of a film's failure. Now what about "The Da Vinci Code"---500 journalists at Cannes that have to go through a rigorous accreditation protocol--can they all be wrong, and the public right , or can both be right? Film needs a public, and we need the critics who have something meaningful to say. If not, critics will become embedded with the producers.

Moira Sullivan

PS AJ, glad you like my blog!

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