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 plaît!
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.

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