I don’t know why I torture myself like this, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of film reviews online. I’ve also been reading a lot of scholarly-like film criticism, which is a whole different beast. Even though I didn’t end up agreeing with a lot of what Robin Wood said in his book (Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan), he was at least critically engaged with the material. He took what other, more popular critics wrote into account, and then actually took the time to think it all through and formulate his own theories on separate genres/works/directors. Besides Jonathan Rosenbaum, I can’t think of any popular film critic writing today that comes close to this kind of writing – at least consistently.
Part of that is the nature of the beast, and I get that. Obviously Wood had a little bit more time planning out and re-editing the articles for his book, whereas a film critic generally has to write her review the next day or sooner. It’s a hard job, especially when you’re in the film festival environment, seeing five or six movies a day. So my complaint is more along the lines of…what’s the point? Most of us already know what we’re going to like anyway…I mean, are our choices of which films to go see really dictated by what the critics are saying about a specific film, or are we just going to go see Transformers 2 because we like big, awesome robots? And then, if we’re inclined to read the reviews after watching the movie, is this just a way to validate our own opinions that we’ve already started to form? Cement them in our minds so we can be closed off to any alternative criticism? Convince us that Inglourious Basterds was, indeed, “boring” and we can just throw it away like every other piece of pointless entertainment?
There were a few articles I read lately that inspired an even deeper hatred of popular film reviews than I already had. Ebert’s review of A Clockwork Orange has to be one of the worst pieces of criticism I’ve read. At least it’s the worst piece from someone who is considered respectable. (He is considered that, right? He has a lot of books…) In summary, Ebert feels that A Clockwork Orange is a “right-wing film” that “celebrates violence” by claiming that the “hero,” whom “Kubrick likes very much” and thinks is “normal,” is not created by a violent society but is created by a violent society where he might as well be violent, too. What an idiot. The guy doesn’t even take the time and energy to think into some of the imagery Kubrick has put into his film, and instead passes it off as “cute” and “cheap.” The only pseudo-analysis he is willing to go into completely ignores content in favor of form. Not that any of this matters, because in the end the most important thing to Ebert is that the movie was “boring.”
“Boring” is a word that keeps cropping up in every negative review I read lately. This has especially annoyed me in reference to Antichrist. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, but can graphic sex, violence, and a full-on vagina shot really be considered “boring”? Ok, maybe it can, but in a Von Trier movie??? Maybe we should reevaluate the use of the word!
It’s the quickness and stubbornness of the opinions in popular film criticism that is really ridiculous. Why must we be so unwavering in our opinions on what can always be complicated works of art? Yes, some of that art is shit, but isn’t it always saying something? Someone put a lot of time into that shit, maybe we shouldn’t bash it/praise it so quickly in a three-hundred word review.
That said, I do it all the time. On this blog, on Facebook, and especially when I’m writing for Film Threat. Being outraged or overjoyed is fun. I’m about to write a really engaging review of The Final Destination in 3D, so who am I to judge?