Here I am, sitting in Moving image Art class (film 101). It’s the first class, and I’m talking to a few people around me. They’re chatting about the shorts they’ve made and the commercials they’ve done and all I’ve really got is my reviews behind me as my experience. Ok, so we came into film from two different points, no big deal right? Wrong, because as the class progresses the professor gets to the part of the lecture about critiquing your classmates work and the difference between critiquing and criticism. Seems like a oddly confusing question doesn’t it? Those two things… are the same thing, just a different form of the word. This is how they describe it: Critiquing is constructively analyzing and giving feedback on a rough cut of the project to attempt to make it better. Criticism is an opinionated look at the final product, and isn’t constructive.
That’s backhanded, but that’s not the worst part. How the professors (we had combined with another class for the latter part of the period so both professors were lecturing) had gotten to this point was by asking us “name some words that you associate with a Critic”
Here’s what my classmates said: “judgmental”, “opinionated”, “harsh”, “harmful”, “condescending”, “not helpful”, “destructive”
And that’s when I realized the big difference between me and them (maybe not everyone’s like this, but for the sake of this rant I will just say “them”). I came into film from the critics side, looking at the overall film first and then as I progressed, looking at how it’s made and wanting to be a filmmaker because of it. They came into it from the perspective of “Oh that movie was cool, I want to try that” and from there becoming more and more fascinated with the intricacies of film, jumping straight into the role of the filmmaker.
Even the professors, who I would expect to have at least mentioned that reviews have their purpose in culture, talked condescendingly about critics, even bringing up specific ones like Roger Ebert. To be fair they didn’t say outright that ALL critics are evil, or even the notable ones they mentioned were, but they still had a bitter tone to their voice and the same word choice as the students.
There are three parties when it comes to movies. The makers, the audience and in-between them are the critics. The purpose of a critic is to let the audience know, in their opinion, what movies should and should not be viewed. Like it or not, filmmakers are putting out these movies for people to pay for, even if it is the penultimate artistic expression of their career. People need to know if they are getting their moneys worth. On the other end, filmmakers who may think that their ideas are great need critics to wake them up and show them when they’re not. For example, during the production of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas was surrounded by yes men who would not argue with him on anything. That movie was shit. Critics had to basically say “George Lucas, you’re fucking stupid for thinking this was good.” Did it change how the other two turned out, no, but if the same thing happened with Spielberg or Cameron or Scorsese, it would be up to the critics to tell it how it is, because these men are so powerful. Critics can help a movie too! Do you think The Conjuring would have made nearly as much money if the Critics hadn’t let the audience know “Hey, dumbasses, don’t go see The Lone Ranger! This movie kicks ass!” Critics praise movies for decades when they deserve it, keeping them relevant to people who aren’t in the industry. What are the odds of people knowing that “Citizen Kane” is the best movie ever, if Critics didn’t keep putting it on their top lists.
Don’t get me wrong, Critics can be judgmental, ignorant assholes. They’ll tear apart movies and say they’re shit, just because they aren’t their favorite genre. Just look at my progression for example. My first video review was of The Legend of Sorrow Creek a low, low budget indy film that clearly had some hard work put into it, but still turned out terribly. I feel terrible about how I treated that film. I totally Nostalgia Critic-ed it, when it didn’t deserve it. I tore everything in it apart, sounding like a whiny snot nose bitch. Here’s the thing about the Nostalgia Critic. He tears apart big Hollywood productions (for the most part) and he does it for COMEDY, with an occasional moral about film. If you can’t take the joke, piss off and I, at the time, didn’t get the joke properly. Since then I’ve learned a shit-ton about filmmaking and have made a few things on my own, but I probably would still be a raging asshole if it weren’t for the moral crisis of Joe Christiana of “The Cutting Room Movie Podcast.” He faced the trouble of reviewing movies, when he himself was a movie maker and when it came to reviewing a smaller indy production he refused to do it, because he didn’t know if he would someday meet those guys. He couldn’t hold himself on a pedestal and judge their work, all the while having the same things said about his stuff. This made me realize that every movie is made by hardworking people, and the redeeming qualities need to be given credit.
Quick sidebar. One reason critics get bashed on is them constantly hating horror films and smaller indy projects that aren’t avant-garde. Again, as a person who has seen Battleship Potemkin and Death Bed I am torn between these two worlds. Yes I understand that in the grand scheme of things a movie like Death Bed is terrible, but it serves its purpose of being a low budget horror film to laugh at and because of this, it’s good enough for a certain audience and deserves credit for such. The same can be said about Sharknado, which is brilliant, because it accomplishes everything it should, just like Citizen Kane accomplished its goals.
So yes, a critic who doesn’t understand the filmmakers point of view is an asshole, the same way a critic who doesn’t understand the audience’s point of view gets no followers. However, that doesn’t mean filmmakers are exempt! Filmmakers who don’t see the purpose of Critics are assholes, the same way a Filmmaker who doesn’t see the audience’s perspective has no viewers. Critics serve as an intermediary and should not be ignored. A filmmaker who understands the perspective of a critic will be better able to not only take criticism, but understand the trends in cinema and what will and won’t work in their movie. This is my main problem with professors who ignore that, because they are hindering growth.
They aren’t wrong though in that there are a lot of critics who don’t treat films fairly. I like to think that I’m fairly balanced in my perspective and thus I can judge a film better, but a lot of critics don’t have that balance between filmmaker, critic, and audience member. It just makes me wonder… will my more critically based eye prevent me from interacting well with my fellow students? Can I help them see the Critics perspective? Or should I even bother when the world of reviewing clearly needs more unbiased eyes?