Monday, January 19, 2015

The critic is dead. Long live the critic!

Either they don’t know… or don’t show or just don’t care…
about bein’ a menace to South Central
while they drink their juice in the hood.
It was 1996, two men are sitting down talking about the nature of comedy and how it is used to bring to light the issues of race and stereotypes. The movie in question? “Don’t Be A Menace In South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood”. The two men? Siskel and Ebert on their show, “At The Movies”. In four minutes, these two film critics had an intelligent discussion about a satirical film that could have easily been dismissed as just another “ghetto” film. And if that wasn’t enough, Ebert, in a very honest moment says that he’s unsure how he feels about the film. Imagine that? A critic who didn’t “criticize” the film, but rather took the highs and the lows and weighed them for what they were.

I love French films, 
pretentious boring French films!
 I love French Films, two tickets s’il vous plaĆ®t!
The role of the critic is a thankless one. These are folks who usually go to school to study the particular field that they are into. They take the history of such-and-such, they read, they partake, they pour themselves all over the medium, yet they don’t create anything but an opinion.
Who chooses to be a critic? No, really, I’m asking. Who purposely decides that they want to look at art and pull apart every aspect of it until nothing remains?
I used to think these people were all frustrated artists, the very epitome of “those who cannot, teach”. But the fact is, a true critic unabashedly loves every aspect of their genre, and will be damned to see it sullied by those who would coast on passable material. At least, that’s how it started.

So, I could go back into the history of the critic, specifically the film critic, but it’s pretty much only interesting to people who are critics. Let’s just say that at one point is was only done by a few people, and that it only got huge when two guys came on TV to share their opinions on films.

There was an explosion of film critics in the ‘80s. And what made them fascinating is the fact that they grew up in a time where “Hollywood Legends” were pretty much accessible. These were journalists who in the ‘60s and ‘70s talked to actors and filmmakers directly. There was a rapport that seems artificial when you watch critics today.
We watched what they had to say and for the most part listened. I know I had my opinions swayed by a critic here and there without giving the film a chance. And why wouldn’t I? These are professionals, right?

In the Summer of 2000, a critic came around by the name of David Manning. David had some great things to say about certain movies. According to David, “A Knight’s Tale”, starring Heath Ledger described him as “this year’s hottest new star!” Now, I personally agree with David, I loved the hell out of this movie and frankly, I think it was Heath’s best performance outside of The Joker.

Yup, David loved a lot of movies, curiously, only films made by Sony, but it would soon come to light why. David wasn’t real. David Manning was a pseudonym used by a marketing executive working for the Sony Corporation. They created a fake critic to give their films positive reviews.
Sony wasn’t the only studio at fault for fake criticism. One critic’s review of “Live Free or Die Hard” was shortened from “hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining” to “hysterically… entertaining.”

And of course, there are the junkets, the free screenings, the food, the accomodations to wherever, the goodies. Studios would do just about everything to get a positive review from these people whom apparently held the keys to the opinions of the common man. But the common man’s (or rather, those who didn’t get kickbacks to watch a movie) voice became the death knell of the critic. Because the internet.

There is no secret that when social media hit, everyone with access became just that little bit louder. And by a little bit louder, I mean everyone felt that their opinion had to be typed in boldfaced fonts and youtubed from their bedrooms, shirtless, sometimes bottomless.
Sites like metacritic became the go-to go-to for what regular folks thought of films. The professional critic slowly became something to be scoffed at, ridiculed, and even mocked. People began to see them as archaic. Even filmmakers began to question why should critics have their opinions held in higher regard than anyone else?

Slowly, the hashtag started to creep onto film posters. The voice of the people was now visible in commercials, in the theaters, and of course online. The professional critic was relegated to blogs and the few websites that still catered to that kind of thing.
The critic was dead. Long live (for better or for worse) the new critic! The very loud, noisy, at times incomprehensible critic!

There is no arguing that the hashtag has become the means in which most people garner opinions. The live-tweet is just a torrent of short one-liners, not unlike the taglines from the movie posters. And although everyone has their opinion, and everyone is entitled to one. A part of me feels that not every opinion is created equal. There is something to be said about a person who studies a particular craft, and can tell you with a learned opinion about what a filmmaker tried to convey; versus someone who went to watch a movie and didn’t understand why the sex scene was filmed in the way it was, but tweeted, #DAT ASS.

I recently posted (in another blog) that I’ve yet to see “Godzilla”. However, I’ve had some friends tell me they loved it, and others tell me it was terrible. I tend to lean to those who I know have a bit of film knowledge. Is it snobbery? I don’t think wanting an opinion from someone who is “in the know” is such a bad thing. But for a lot of people, critics are shit. And at the end of the day, a person is going to enjoy what they enjoy despite of what other people say. Still, I have to say I do miss an educated opinion, not necessarily to sway me, but to start a conversation. And that above all, is what I feel is missing in today’s new critic. Everyone’s yelling, and no one’s listening.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Greetings, Earthlings

If anyone reads my blog; other than the few I know who do, it may seem like I'm pessimistic on my outlook of humanity. Truth is, I love humanity. For all its failings (and let's be honest, there are a shit ton), humanity can do one thing that no other animal on this planet can do. Cross-species empathy. A human who is aware of another species pain has the unique ability to help them in a way that no other animal can do. When we see a bird with an injured wing, we can mend them. When we see a species on the brink of extinction (be it our fault or not), we can use our tools to bring them back. This ability to care about something other than ourselves is probably the sole guiding love I have for our species and that keeps me from giving up on us. It is just a goddamn shame we can't share that empathy with ourselves.

To say that this past year and the beginning of this year have not been our best hour would be an exaggeration. Hell, in the days that I've started and stopped writing this post, there was another person of color killed by police, several terrorist attacks, and even more human tragedy. It's as if we continue to stare into the abyss and the abyss just keeps getting wider and wider, and we're about to fall in at any moment. How is it that we can go on? How is it that we can just overlook the disgusting nature of humanity and pretend to have a good day? Truth is, we can't, and more importantly, we shouldn't.

We should never be blind to the horrors we do. We should never not know about the atrocities, the lies, the betrayal, the murder that one human being does to another. We should feel every injustice, every evil, every disgusting aspect of humanity. We should take them all, and with love, hand-in-hand with each other, we should stand, as one. And in one unified voice say, "No more."

These are things we should do, but we don't. At least not all of us. There will always (and I do mean always) be those who just want to see the world burn. How do you fight something that has nothing but hate in their hearts? You do it, by being the change that you want to be in the world.

And I just don't mean by talking about it. It's easy to say, "Oh, I hate murder." Hating the thing that you would never do because you wouldn't go to those extremes is easy. You have to actively stand for the little things that represent the broader scopes you claim to uphold.

You say you respect women? Then do so, and not only when it suits you. If women have issues with the way they're treated in entertainment, in social media, in life; don't all of a sudden assume that there's something wrong with them because the things you enjoy are being brought into question. Listen to what they have to say. Hear the injustice they feel. Understand the fear they go through on a daily basis even if you're not the direct cause of it but the thing you happen to be into is a factor. Stand with them and say, "No one should live in fear or feel like they are being treated as inferior."

You say you're not racist? Then don't discriminate on the basis of cultures that you don't understand and assume that because someone looks a certain way that he or she must be something that has been negatively stereotyped. Don't get offended when a particular race says you will never understand their plight because you have never been put in that situation. Don't pretend you even know for a second what it feels like to be in a country where the color of your skin defines your importance to a situation. Stand with them and say, "No one should suffer this injustice."

You say you're for freedom? Then don't begrudge others the same freedoms. Don't belittle the protests of those who want to have their voices heard. Don't turn away someone who wants the same freedoms you more than likely take for granted. Stand with them and say, "No one should silence the rights that we claim to uphold."

When we're at our most mediocre, our worst tends to run rampant. We allow fear to dictate what we pick and choose to stand up for. But when we're at our best, when we come together as one, when we solidify as brothers and sisters; there's nothing we can't do together. We are capable of such beauty despite our horrors. I know we can, I have seen glimpses of it, I know it exists. We, all of us, we just need to take a stand. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet. We're all Earthlings here. Let's start acting like it.