DrewReiber wrote:And I believe the critics are aware of their influence, but do nothing with it.
I agree with this, but again, I don't feel they believe it is their duty
to use their influence for the purposes of education. It may be a waste given that it's an opportunity wasted to examine filmmaking more thoroughly, but it still serves a purpose - although it is a different purpose.
DrewReiber wrote:They only use it to build up what they like and tear it down when they tire of it...
Yeah, but isn't this the nature of giving someone your honest opinion about a film? If the intention is to review and recommend, then this seems like a normal way to deliver your immediate reaction.
DrewReiber wrote:You and I both know that most critics do address the filmmakers in their reviews.... If they have no interest in addressing the filmmakers, why do they invoke their names so often.
Actually, I don't know
that. I do know that film critics address their readers, and that filmmakers often read reviews by film critics. I know film critics discuss filmmaking, but most do so in shallow terms. I do know that in current film culture we have used the auteur theory to have the director take responsibility of the final product. I do know film critics often attach responsibility, through the auteur theory, to the director, in the form of praise or condemnation, and hence "invoke their names" in order to place emphasis on who they believe has creative control. Thus, I know film critics often discuss the creative decisions made by a director, or other filmmakers. However, I do not think that they direct their comments specifically towards the director. They usually don't say "Steven, you are a hack!", but do often say "Clint has continued his recent trend and made yet another mediocre film" (and I'm just placing names here, not making statements regarding my own opinions). They aren't personally addressing the filmmakers, but commenting on the final product. There is a level of disconnect through the film itself, which should make it less personal.
DrewReiber wrote:Just go to Rottontomatos.com and take a look. For the most part, it's just a bunch of generalized blather where they go on and on about how they don't like something the filmmaker did without actually specifying what it is they are talking about.
Well, Rottentomatoes isn't they best way to judge film critics. They only offer a quick reference of one-liners and zingers and most of the critics referenced are not very qualified, given that they are on-line critics without any real responsibility since information on the internet isn't regulated. The internet allows one to voice their opinion without qualification and that's what the majority of these film critics are doing. As well, the entire point of Rottentomatoes is to find those spiteful zingers. Their name (Rottentomatoes) even emphasizes the fact that reviews about how bad a film is are the ones that offer readers the most "fun" - so you can take pleasure in that fact that vegetable produce is being hurled at bad filmmakers, much like most of the fun of going to the theatre, back in the day, was to hurl tomatoes at the performers. To properly judge the critic you have to actually read the linked reviews (which I'm sure you do). It becomes quite clear from reading the reviews that some critics (often very few) are much better, and honest, than others and have provided some thought in their review rather than merely gut reaction. Personally, if we are talking about on-line websites to provide an overall picture of critical reception to films, I'd go with metacritic, even if they favor larger corporate publications.
Your comment on critics not specifying what they are talking about is valid for the most part, but this brings up the fact that reviewers are only given a limited amount of space to discuss the film, as Henrik (and Jun-Dai?) brought up previously. That limited space only allows them to discuss a few aspects, and doesn't allow them to explore the decisions and techniques thoroughly. As well, the majority of their audience of readers doesnâ€™t really want to spend the time and effort necessary to read exactly why the techniques and decisions were misguided or in fact correct. Thus, the reputation and qualifications of reviewers are also often established in their side projects, such as books of criticism they have written.
DrewReiber wrote:I don't know how critics can choose to bring a sense of continuity to their discussions on a filmmaker and his body of work when they are supposedly only trying to reach their mainstream audiences... ones who for the most part don't care about what came before or what the director was thinking. Why are they going halfway on trying to construct an idea of what's happening in the context of a filmmakers progression (or regression) if they don't think they are.
I kind of lost you on the last part of your statement - who are the parties involved that are referred to as "they" and "they don't think they are" what exactly?
As for the "going halfway" part, again I'd have to point out the constraints of space and time to write. They don't have enough space to construct an essay for a national news publication which has a daily deadline. The reviews they write for a magazine or newspaper are not allowed the same liberty or length as a review in a film criticism publication, such as Film Quarterly or Film Comment. Many of these critics do write essays for these film criticism publications (and others) afterwards, when they have more time to defend their initial opinions. Many critics also write longer pieces of criticism in their own books. This is probably, and usually, where a higher quality of film criticism occurs from these reviewers, and where a reputation is established (at least today). That's where you can distinguish between an Ebert and a Rosenbaum. However, the constraints of the newspaper/magazine columns must be taken into account when judging a film review and film reviewer that only goes "halfway". It's a skill to write in a concise manner that conveys a sense of knowledge and offers prompt analysis - a skill I lack completely.
As far as offering this "halfway" criticism to the general mainstream public, I'd say that it's an attempt to justify their initial reaction, without going into greater detail. If I say I didn't like a film, you would probably ask why, and I'd need to provide a reason, and I would thus say I didn't enjoy the use of technique A. You can then ask why I didn't like that technique and continue to get deeper into a discussion, but sooner or later we've alienated the rest of the audience around us, and it becomes a one-on-one discussion where everyone else is no longer interested. Thus, for a national publication, the review is often general to engage the audience but not to limit the entire discussion.
DrewReiber wrote:Yes, but our job isn't to discuss the merits of a film. The problem is that the American obsession over celebrities comes with love and hate. If these critics choose not make the distinction between their own personal taste/distaste for onscreen personalities and what the filmmaker is actually doing, then they're not doing their job. They're talking about who is hot and who is not.
Yes, I hate Access Hollywood
, Entertainment Tonight
, US Weekly
, and People Magazine
(though I'm compelled to buy their 50 Most Beautiful People issue, since it's a superficial magazine focusing on the most superficial topic), as well, but you have to admit that, for better or for worse, the public persona of the celebrity often effects our interpretation of the performance within the film. If star personalities didn't effect our interpretations of films, then director's wouldn't play around with it in casting or call attention to it as much. Ben Affleck's "smugness" often comes off during his performances. There are often times during his films, where his performance descends into ben affleck being BEN AFFLECK and no longer conveying anything genuine regarding the character he is playing. How many films are made in order to make someone a star, or garner acclaim, and thus the performance of the star/actor is question no longer feels genuine, or in service of the greater picture, but rather a showcase where the performance serves as distraction? What happens when a director is called in specifically to make an actor a star? What if the point of the directors work on a film is to create a star (most of Lindsay Lohan's films so far)? Shouldn't a critic be able to comment on this and call it into question? Many critics have commented on how Hollywood is force-feeding us Colin Farrell, placing him in anything in order to elevate him into box-office star with failing results. Why can't they do so, when it is obvious the intent of the film was to do so? Many critics do admit their bias right away - many admit they cannot stand Julia Roberts any more and Glen Kenny of Premiere
states clearly that he doesn't care for Tom Cruise. Part of watching movies is enjoying actors and stars performing, not just a director's ability to exercise his control over a project. Thus, we must critique and actors ability to convey his/her character effectively. If a reviewer believes that an actor's personality, or previous screen persona, is a hindrance to the larger objective of a film, the reviewer should acknowledge this fact honestly (and I'll admit some reviewers do not).
Take a look at Road to Perdition
, a film where Tom Hanks is cast against type as a mob hitman. The film is drawing attention to Hanks's previous on-screen persona, but I would argue it did not go far enough in shattering our previously held beliefs of Hanks and his personality, no matter how hard Mendes, Hall, and Hanks, et al tried. Why can't I comment on this aspect that I feel is a negative? Hanks plays every scene as if he's forced to kill against his will, and that these are simply the circumstances of his life and his actions are required in order to provide for his family. Unfortunately, I disagree with Mendes attempt to make Hanks's character sympathetic. He is a cold-blooded killer, and there are points where we shouldn't be feeling sorry for his circumstances, but genuinely being shocked at his actions. Yet Mendes never clearly shows Hanks killing anyone. It's only suggested and hinted at through off-screen events, or reactions. If you don't actually show the complete continuous shot of Hanks killing someone, you never create a scenario where the audience must deal with the brutality of his actions, and hence Hanks's persona and character remain somewhat unscathed, when they are in fact vicious killers in this instance. Now, imagine Clint Eastwood in the role of the father. This casting changes the dynamics considerably, in that Eastwood's previous persona implies a hard-living, cynical, cold-blooded, and detached killer. Instead of a good man, forced to do bad, it becomes about understanding why a remorseful bad man is acting in such a fashion, which in my mind would have made the father-son dynamic more interesting, because the moral choice of the son would have been actually been a dilemma. I remember thinking this while watching the film, but then I read a review somewhere that mentioned the same casting choice. The reviewer did not go into as much detail, but he did question the casting of Hanks. That in my mind was a justified question to bring up and the reviewer has every right to do so.
DrewReiber wrote:But that's just it, they're not criticizing that aspect. They're criticizing the stars. I just saw a review today that almost spent it's entirety ranting about how Bill Murray looked bored. You know what? I read that same statement about George Clooney. And Brad Pitt. And probably other actors in these two films. What the heck does that have to do with technique? And if it's not boredom, it's how annoying they are.
But, that should be fair game for a reviewer. Why is it so wrong to call attention to the fact that actors do not seem to be engaged or appear to be engaging? Sure, these reviewers may not understand the technique involved, and may not know the intensions of the directors, but they can still offer their opinion of the performances?
DrewReiber wrote:They don't say "the self-conscious style of the film creeps into pretentiousness as they lose sight of what it is they are trying to say". Instead, they just lump the word self-conscious into a list of other elements that bother them as if the concept itself is a negative. Why bring it up at all unless they are willing to explain to us why it's bad?
Yes, that is a negative aspect of the process of reviewing and I wish they would offer more insight, but again the review is not the best place to dive into these aspects of filmmaking. I'd also like to point out that there are some reviewers who probably do discuss the negative aspects of the self-conscious technique being used.
I'd also like to ask why, if we do demand that reviewers justify their criticisms of particular aspects of a film, we don't require them to justify their praise of a film and its positive aspects. We so often allow someone to say "I love this film" without justification and then applaud them for their sophisticated taste that mirrors our own, but we never ask them why. Sometimes the justification for enjoying a film is just as shallow as those reasons for hating a film, yet we don't attack those who love a film we love for not providing a rational argument behind their opinion.
Andre Jurieu wrote:I know for a fact, Ebert always admits he reviews films subjectively.
Always? Ok, so if I pull out a review where he doesn't once stop to say something like, "I'm not looking at this objectively, so these comments are preference only", you will be surprised? C'mon. Siskel used to take him to task for how blanket his comments were.
Ok, well here are his AnswerMan replies to questions by viewers regarding the subjective vs. objective argument (from www.rogerebert.com
- this was the most amount of time I've ever spent on the site, and I'm now convinced the similar NY Times column with Manhola Dargis is much better)
Roger Ebert / May 28, 1995
Q. Do you think that because you've reviewed so many movies, your opinions may not reflect that of the public? If you say the storyline has been overused, does it mean it isn't a good movie to other people who haven't seen as many movies as you? Others may think it's an original storyline and enjoy the movie. Is it possible to be an objective movie critic? (Andy Chin, San Diego)
A. I have no interest in being objective or in reflecting the public's opinion. A critic should not be a ventriloquist's dummy, sitting on the knee of the public and letting it put words into his mouth. The only critics of any use or worth are those who express their OWN opinions, which the readers are then free to use or ignore. Anyone who believes a critic must reflect the views of the public has not thought much about the purpose of criticism.
Roger Ebert / May 4, 2003
Q. I am a student at Queen's University in Canada and have recently begun reviewing theatre productions for the campus newspaper. I feel I have a good sense as a reviewer. I am critical, but fair. I am certainly not afraid (as I find some are) to give praise when praise is due. I have been criticized for my subjectivity. I'll be the first to admit that I do discuss my personal reaction to a piece. What are your thoughts on the subjective/objective responsibilities of a reviewer? (Graham Kosakoski, Kamloops BC)
A. Subjectivity is the only possible approach to reviewing. What is a review but an opinion? Those who call for you to be objective are revealing that they have not given the matter a moment's serious thought. Most times, those calling for objectivity are essentially saying they wish you had written a review that reflected their subjective opinion.
BY ROGER EBERT / July 11, 2004
Q. I read your review of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and I was very disappointed that at NO POINT did you question Moore's political agenda and the reality of all of the film's claims. This seems to be promoting Moore's agenda rather than providing an objective review of the film. I personally hate films that are obviously motivated by a political agenda; it causes me to question how much is reality and how much is exaggerated or fabricated. I don't have the time to review every fact and determine which is real and which is a lie or exaggeration. Moore is obviously a brilliant filmmaker, but I wish he could just do a documentary that focuses on an event, rather than taking an event to promote his political opinions.
Bill Meyers, White Lake, Mich.
A. Moore's film comes labeled as partisan and subjective. Were you equally inspired to ask "how much is reality and how much is exaggerated or fabricated" when the Bush administration presented Saddam's WMDs as a fact? I declared my own political opinion in the review and made it clear I was writing from that viewpoint. It's opinion. I have mine, you have yours, and the theory is that we toss them both into the open marketplace of ideas
DrewReiber wrote:Why does he spend so much time talking about his experience and how he feels about Hollywood when he could just review the movie? Because he knows people read his reviews for entertainment, not because he's actually doing his job.
But if he knows people read his reviewers for entertainment and delivers this in his writing, how is he not doing his job as a newspaper reviewer? His responsibility is towards his readers, the publication that employs him, and himself. If he himself is comfortable with not taking responsibility for the "greater good" of film/cinema/motion pictures and progression of film criticism, then that's something he has to live with.
DrewReiber wrote:Then I'm just going to have to disagree with you again. I also believe that most of the industry would disagree with you as well. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools of the industry, for better or worse. If it wasn't, studios wouldn't decide to release a film without critic screenings. Miramax wouldn't have decided to release The Aviator a week early in 17 cities.
I'm not saying film reviews have no influence, but I guarantee you that word-of-mouth from a friend is much more powerful than word-of-mouth from a film critic's review. Thatâ€™s one of the first rules of marketing. I have worked in Hollywood at 2 major studios and reviews matter only in specific scenarios. The only specific reviewers that were of concern were Ebert, NY Times staff, LA Times staff, the staff at Time, occasionally Newsweek, and of course Variety and Hollywood reporter, but the last two were only really internal industry publications for Hollywood. The decision to not screen a film for critics is only when the studio knows that the film's PR is poor and believes critical reception will be awful. Not mixed (like 48% on Rottentomatoes), but awful (like 10% on Rottentomatoes). Critical reception also matters when they have a film that needs PR to build up for awards, which is another way to garner publicity for more box-office. This only matters when box-office is a concern. However, these types of films (The Aviator
and Life Aquatic
) are for a very specific audience, who do concern themselves with film reviews. The majority of the film going public today remains adolescents who are not concerned with critical reception. If critical reception really had a significant influence then would we see National Treasure
and Bruckheimer films do so well? Film reviews are merely a piece of the puzzle and really only have influence at this time of year when the Oscar Race begins, or for highlighting an art film. Otherwise they are a small slice of the PR pie.
DrewReiber wrote:And everyone I know wouldn't be panicking over the early negative reviews for The Life Aquatic.
Well, the reviews may hurt the box-office, which may hinder Anderson's creative control and financing on future projects, but I doubt he won't be able to create. He may have to change his perspective to a smaller scale, but that isn't always a bad thing for a filmmaker.
DrewReiber wrote:In a world when most weekends open 3 or more new features and the first two weeks of box office is where all the domestic theatrical release makes it's profit, these so-called critics can hold the life and death of a new film in their hands. That's why I'm so disgusted, because they would rather play with people's work than actually give it the respect they feign to carry for the art.
But the word-of-mouth system often still works without the critics, simply based on the viewers themselves. Film history is littered with stories of films that had poor critical receptions, but became successful afterwards, and at present the system is much faster in response due to video/DVD. Recently, films such as The Usual Suspects
and Austin Powers
failed in both critical reception and box-office, but were still successful in video based on word-of-mouth. So it's not entirely life and death.
DrewReiber wrote:But I'm not one to remain silent if I think there is even a glimmer of hope that one person will stop turning to Time Warner's weekly PR magazine to tell them what is popular to do or think.
I think Ebert would say the same thing about his rant against Hollywood filmmaking in his Texas Chainsaw Massacre