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Please, critics, write about the filmmaking
March 27, 2014 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Please, critics, write about the filmmaking Movies and television are visual art forms, and aural art forms. They are not just about plot, characterization and theme. Analytical writing about movies and TV should incorporate some discussion of the means by which the plot is advanced, the characters developed, the themes explored. It should devote some space, some small bit of the word count, to the compositions, the cutting, the music, the decor, the lighting, the overall rhythm and mood of the piece.
posted by Wolof (41 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think they already do write about the filmmaking - they will note the color palettes, whether they are quick cuts or long shots, costumes, lighting and pacing. And they'll also include the history of the director where they can, and something about the overall production development.

The reviewers I read at least - Salon, Slate, Globe & Mail & NYT.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:32 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Hmm.

My counter to that: maybe, sometimes, the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well. I've often spoken of stage management as being a job where you only notice what I do if I'm not doing my job right - a stage manager's work is supposed to be completely invisible. It is supposed to be the foundation upon which the rest of the play is built.

This strikes me as a similar thing - the music, the pacing, the art direction, etc. of a film are all things that are supposed to immerse the viewer into a story, and subtly influence how they react to that story. So it strikes me that if the reviews focus only on the plot and the characters of a story, then that's a sign that the art director et. al. have done their job well enough to draw the viewer in. It's when the art director has done something totally weird that you get the reviews saying things like "and in that remake of Moby Dick they had Ishmael dressed in a lime green hoodie and I couldn't figure out why".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


While I love that kind of writing, it's hard to work into short movie reviews. Calling out a specific shot would only make sense if it's a tremendously unusual shot. The one he recounts from "Twelve Years a Slave" is a heavy-handed bit of symbolism, not an unusual approach, and not compelling enough as a shot unto itself to merit calling out. On the other hand, every damn review I've read of "Oldboy" mentions the long tracking shot where the guy with the hammer goes all John Henry on a hallway full of suckas and fools, because that's a rare sight in movies.

That said, I agree that describing the technical aspects of a movie should be done. Especially in long-form criticism, where ignoring those aspects is downright irresponsible. Thing is, per St. Peepsburg above, you do see mentions of color palettes, pacing, use of music, etc. in a lot of reviews.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:35 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Yeah this is kind of odd. Movies and television, being the most ascendent and arguably the richest art forms currently are celebrated and discussed and dissected from all possible angles. Unlike with pop music, which has turned into wallpaper essentially, like industrial design, where critics rarely bother to use concrete formal language I feel like most reviews I read in serious outlets contain a massive helping of the nuts and bolts of film-making. Regular people love to hear about acting craft, and special effects breakthroughs and other behind-the-scenes talk. MSZ is being hyperbolic here in my opinion.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:37 AM on March 27


Most of the critics I read pay very close attention to editing and direction and music and costume choices. In television, this can be a bit more difficult as you're generally commenting on the arc of an entire series, but for series that pay scrupulous attention to detail, that definitely shows up in reviews.
posted by xingcat at 6:38 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Having just seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, I'm not sure how you could write about it without spending the whole time discussing cinematography, pacing, art direction, and costume. The movie is, in many ways, about those things.

And it's a canard that matters of form and style should be invisible in favor of plot. That's like saying you want to be unconscious of other aspects of a work of art in favor of simply reacting passively.
posted by Peach at 6:40 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


As with the music should be discussed more technical post earlier this week, the people arguing this are missing the point of criticism and why so often it's about the people rather than the techniques involved, because these technical details, no matter how fundamental to the creation of art, matter much less if at all in judging the impact of a finished piece of art.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:02 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


My counter to that: maybe, sometimes, the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well.

I see your point, but especially when it comes to the music in a movie, I certainly notice it, big time, whether good or bad. Of course, I'm a musician, so it'd be odd if I didn't, I s'pose.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:15 AM on March 27


I used to be a music reviewer, and I readily admit that I do not have the background in music theory that would have allowed me to talk about music in the way that the Gioia piece requests. But while I would have liked (still would, actually) to better understand the technicalities, I never really felt like that was really necessary in order to do my job, which was to give readers a sense of what the album was like and whether they'd like it.

I find more in depth, technical criticism interesting to read, but it wasn't at all what I was tasked with writing, and it isn't really the sort of thing I'd seek out when I was deciding whether or not to buy an album or see a movie, either. It's the kind of thing I like to read about things I've *already* seen/heard, not ones I'm still considering.

And that, I think, is the crux of the problem. Like most modern media, movie reviews and music reviews exist to sell advertising. Advertisers want to reach people who are thinking about what to buy, not people who are thinking carefully about what they've already bought, so reviews are very focused on the 'will you like it?' question, and strive to offer an audience perspective, not a professional one.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:32 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Many of you are reading very good film criticism. Head over to Rotten Tomatoes and scroll through the non-Top Critics to see paper after paper where writers with no knowledge of how a film is made superimpose the same simplistic reviewing format on everything they see in order to provide a simple thumbs up/thumbs down score at the end.

It can be really exhausting after a while.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:33 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


My counter to that: maybe, sometimes, the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well.

That is perhaps true to a viewer (In general, I disagree, but it's definitely true for some movies), but certainly we should hold the critic to a higher standard. He or she should be able to articulate the artistic decisions underlying the viewer responses, and that includes all of these subtle aspects. Particularly when, often, it's the visual elements and music notes that are where filmmakers converse with other works. To my mind, one of the critic's jobs, as someone who watches and thinks about many more movies than I ever will, to help situate a movie in its context of influences and people (directors, editors, cinematographers, art directors, music directors, etc).

One source of the problem, I feel, is that most movie writing is written for an audience that may not have yet seen the film its writing on. Television is a place in particular where this could be happening, since most writing is in the form of episode summaries and reviews and the episodic nature gives you a built-in audience whereas individual movies are seen more willy-nilly. An example would be Tom & Lorenzo's Mad Style articles, which are impressive close examinations of the costuming decisions on Mad Men. It takes them three or four days after an episode airs to post, but it's some of the most thoughtful consistent writing (as opposed to one-off essays) on visual film/tv making I know of. It is possible to do, and based on the response they get, people seem to like it.
posted by Schismatic at 7:36 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


My counter to that: maybe, sometimes, the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well.

I don't think that's necessarily true of all of those elements, but I will say that when Javert suicides in the Les Mis movie, the sound was incredibly, jarringly loud, and I actually said something out loud to the person I was with at the time. I don't know if the volume of that effect was on the foley guys or the sound editor or what, exactly, but I do know that if I'm wondering who to blame in the middle of a movie, it wasn't well done.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:36 AM on March 27


We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don't know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story's attitude toward those characters. That's a problem.

We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a "shocking" or "unsettling" way, but they don't think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That's a problem.


WHY are these things a problem? He never really explains. They don't sound like problems to me.

Most people read movie reviews to decide whether or not to see the movie, not to simulate film school.

Why is it suddenly lowbrow or dumb to appreciate any cultural product without having this affected, meta-level interest in how it was made?
posted by neat graffitist at 8:36 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Film is an interesting case, as it is, to a large extent, a realistic medium with flourishes of unrealism that we've mostly grown to accept because they are now film conventions. But there is a reason some of the early filmmakers were amateur or professional magicians -- it is because some of the artistry to filmmaking is knowing where to encourage people's attention. Where they should place their eye. What sound cues they should take note of, and what can recede into the background. What props are going to be meaningful and what are just there to reenforce the accumulation of surface detail that presents an illusions of reality.

And these are hard questions, because film is a medium of sheer visual splendor. The screen is saturated with details, and film has a tendency to make all of them feel important. It's this constant tension between making the audience crave to look more and letting them know what they need not concern themselves with (in design, its called the visual hierarchy, but in films there are multiple hierarchies, including the sound design and the narrative of the film, all of which the audience is sifting through to construct the narrative of the film).

So film is not the art of making these elements invisible, it is the art of making the important elements visible, and then, frequently, hiding that decision. But in order to effectively write about film, it helps to know how this is done, and be able to discuss it, because criticisms is, often enough, the process of making the invisible visible.

As an example, during the great era of studio films, there was an official censor and then enormous unofficial censorship from the studios. Theoretically, filmmakers were greatly hindered in what sorts of stories they could tell, and how they could represent those stories. But there is an awful lot of subtext in those films -- far more than we have now, as we're in an almost Elizabethan time where subtext just isn't a big part of filmmaking, and so characters in films will literally state the themes of the films, like the making of a film is the writing of a college thesis. This isn't universally true, of course -- I have made the case in another thread that the most important story in True Detective is told through subtext, and I think that was done deliberately.

The studio era subtext existed in how shots were framed, how the mis en scene was set up, how the film was edited. Sometimes it was enormously unsubtle -- Peter Lorre's homosexuality (which is explicit in the novel) in The Maltese Falcon was literally represented by having him suck on a cane. But with filmmakers like Vincent Minelli and Douglas Sirk, there was a lot of subtlety in the artistic choices they made, and it is very hard to discuss this unless you can discuss the way the art is made.

That's probably not important if, as a critic, you see your role as exclusively to retell a plot and then tell people if you think the film is worth spending money on. But I prefer criticism that is a dialogue with the film, and that dialogue is limited unless you have at least some rudimentary understanding and ability to communicate the way a film is made.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:41 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Most people read movie reviews to decide whether or not to see the movie, not to simulate film school.

I would love to see a cite for this. In my experience, with the exception of a very few critics (like Siskel and Ebert), most American critics have very little individual effect on a viewer's choice whether to see a movie, and it is just one factor, along with whether the film inherently interests them, what their friends are seeing, what their friends think about the movie, if they liked the trailer, and if the film is up for an award.

My experience is based on being an arts critic for 20 years, by the way. I have never been able to keep people from going to a film I think is terrible, and likewise I have never been able to get people to go see a film that I love. I haven't lacked for readers, though, and their response is that they typical read my reviews because I offer a conversation about art.

Besides, if you're trusting a critic to be a consumer guide to the arts, your faith is misplaced. They are capricious weirdos. At least, I am.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:46 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


My counter to that: maybe, sometimes, the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well.

It seems like there's been a trend against extreme or outwardly noticeable aesthetic stylization - riskier filmmaking - except when coming from long vetted and highly trusted sources (Tarantino, Anderson, etc).

When aesthetic stylization is done well and fluently tells the story rather than announcing itself without adding anything, you not only notice but deeply understand the language in a way that lights up your brain with excitement. As long as your primary attention is held by the world and intent of the story, you're still able to subconsciously "notice" the good work being done on all levels of the production. The work is not fully invisible, it's just not shouting "LOOK AT ME" in a way that ruins the story. On the side of "good" filmmaking, there's a spectrum of difference between workmanlike and sublime.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:54 AM on March 27


I agree with every single word that Seitz writes in that article. Most film criticism is terrible and unworthy of reading for exactly the reasons that he enumerates.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:08 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I should clarify, I don't inherently disagree with EmpressCallipygos' comment - but I am weary of the general distrust of stylization these days. It's sort of like in the late 90's / early 2000's when rock records started being mixed super dry with zero verb and everything pushed cleanly to the front. Not sure what it's all about.

It also relates to the article in that I think there's a weird distrust on the part of many reviewers in regards to the filmmakers, which seems to result in the idea that many of the decisions on the filmmakers part are arbitrary or lack a point, therefore don't warrant discussion. Did we all get burned too many times by corporate trainwrecks? The need for a reviewer to claim superiority of some kind over the filmmaker seems to poison a lot of reviews; the notion that if a reviewer did not immediately "get" something then maybe they need to look more closely or watch it again seems to be gone and replaced by "the filmmaker failed me specifically therefore they failed everyone and themselves." Sometimes films / media / art is challenging, even when it's entertaining!

This is not to say there aren't bad films and bad filmmakers, but it does feel like there's no such thing as a "noble failure" to a lot of critics.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:09 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I'm realizing I painted too broad a brush with my comments, actually - what you say about stylization is dead-on. I guess that with the films that do it right, where the style sort of underscores that "this is a quirky fantasy world," it sort of all feeds in to the "everything is quirky and stylized", and you're right that it does get commented upon. I may just have seen too many instances when one of the elements of the design are off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I imagine a big part of the problem in doing this is how hard it is to discuss visual aspects of the film when the audience doesn't have a visual reference. The best examples of this kind of writing that I've read have always provided clips or single frames of the scene being discussed. Without that, I always feel a bit lost and it becomes much harder to follow. Unfortunately, that means that you have to wait until the DVD release, at which point a lot of the public interest in the movie has already waned.

TV would definitely work better since clips/stills can be immediatly posted, but the quick turnaround cycle for TV production often means its a less visually rich medium, with a few exceptions (e.g. Breaking Bad, Hannibal). Hopefully the flood of instant TV recaps that has built up over the past few years will start to die down a little to make room for more of this kind of considered analysis.
posted by parallellines at 9:18 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I may just have seen too many instances when one of the elements of the design are off.

Me too... this might be where the backlash is coming from. It might be oversaturation, too - in the olden days you only had a couple channels on TV and whatever was playing in your local theater(s) that week. Now you can watch anything at any time and theres so much of it and so little time in comparison so your time is more valuable. If a viewer commits to watching something, they expect it to serve them - not the other way around. They want to be sure they made the right investment with their time. I am definitely guilty of feeling this way sometimes... it's hard to avoid these days.

I would hope that the better critics understand that they are acting as a (meta...?) filter not just to keep out the bad but also to find the positive in what otherwise might be overlooked from a broader perspective - which often includes minor successes in the filmmaking while the overall experience may be less than perfect for all viewers. I do think that many critics are like this, it's just not the broad trend.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:27 AM on March 27


One source of the problem, I feel, is that most movie writing is written for an audience that may not have yet seen the film its writing on.

There's no reason not to discuss the broad strokes of set or framing or palette when outlining a film for an audience presumed not to have seen it.

I just finished a review of Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). I expect that a big chunk of readers won't be familiar with the film, and while I spent most of my time setting up the initial strokes of the plot and discussing the overall tone, I point out that the keen of maternal dread suffusing the film is reinforced by the framing and the sets: cluttered rooms, claustrophobic angles, shots where worried mother Ann Lake is trammeled between a detective looming in the foreground and an inspector in the background, windows blocked with bars or spiked fences. The settings and camera angles and blocking conspire to reduce the scope of her world to something confining and airless.

Many audience members wouldn't pick that up on first viewing. Sharing it with a new potential viewer does nothing to spoil the plot and might (might) enhance their first viewing experience.
posted by Elsa at 9:50 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Many audience members wouldn't pick that up on first viewing. Sharing it with a new potential viewer does nothing to spoil the plot and might (might) enhance their first viewing experience.

I have to say, for me, being told about details like that in advance tends to make it harder for me to immerse myself in the movie because I end up trying to pick out examples. "Oooh! Oooh! It's doing that thing! From the article!" is not really the feeling I want to have when I'm watching a movie for the first time. It makes for a much worse viewing experience for me.

It can make subsequent viewings more interesting, but not the first one, where I just want to experience the film.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:23 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Well, of course that's why I said "might (might)" and not "will" or "should." So we each need to figure out who's writing criticism that enhances our viewing rather than containing it, and read them accordingly. Sounds like you won't enjoy my criticism, or for that matter the criticism of Matt Zoller Seitz, who wrote the linked article.
posted by Elsa at 10:27 AM on March 27


ahahahaha i put me and MZS in the same sentence ahahahaha

cheeky

posted by Elsa at 10:28 AM on March 27


Well, of course that's why I said "might (might)" and not "will" or "should."

And that's why I said "for me" and not "for the whole wide world". I wasn't saying you were wrong I was just sharing my experience. I had a whole long sub-clause in there about how I realized that you had said 'might' but I found it was distracting from my point so I took it out. Apparently that was a poor editorial choice on my part.

I probably would enjoy your criticism if I read it after I saw the movie. If I see a movie I particularly love or particularly hate I sometimes seek out the reviews/criticism of it to see what other smarter-about-film people have said about it, and I'd probably be very interested in those types of details then, because then it would be me reading your article thinking "Oooh! Oooh! I totally remember that! From the movie!" which is a much more desirable experience.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:40 AM on March 27


I wasn't saying you were wrong I was just sharing my experience.

Understood, because that's all any of us can do: share our experience and figure out for ourselves the mechanisms to bring our viewing and reading closer to our desired experience. I don't think there's any right or wrong in that.

Like MZS, I prefer to read criticism that addresses the visuals of the film, but unlike him, I don't think criticism is woefully short of writers who address those aspects (perhaps because I don't read current mass-media criticism as widely as he has to); you prefer to save that analysis of form for later so you can enter in experience fresh. No one's right or wrong; these are preferences.
posted by Elsa at 10:52 AM on March 27


I am just happy if they don’t tell me the whole plot, and realize A SYNOPSIS IS NOT A REVIEW.
posted by bongo_x at 10:54 AM on March 27


It's sort of like in the late 90's / early 2000's when rock records started being mixed super dry with zero verb and everything pushed cleanly to the front. Not sure what it's all about.

That was a style choice though, trying to stand out. Reverb was big in the 60’s, dry was the sound of the 70’s, and the 80’s was awash in reverb thanks to the digital. The dry rock sound came back big in the early 90’s as a reaction. "Let Love Rule" in ’89 sounded crazy and different to me at the time because it was so dry. I don’t know that anything has changed much since then.
posted by bongo_x at 11:02 AM on March 27


It's sort of like in the late 90's / early 2000's when rock records started being mixed super dry with zero verb and everything pushed cleanly to the front. Not sure what it's all about.

That was a style choice though, trying to stand out. Reverb was big in the 60’s, dry was the sound of the 70’s, and the 80’s was awash in reverb thanks to the digital. The dry rock sound came back big in the early 90’s as a reaction. "Let Love Rule" in ’89 sounded crazy and different to me at the time because it was so dry. I don’t know that anything has changed much since then.


Fair enough. Maybe not the best analogy. Though I do think it still points toward the trend of shying away from things perceived as "too stylized" (as you could argue dry, though a style choice, is "less stylized" than reverby or utilizing sounds that have been heavily filtered / processed) due to oversaturation and the feeling of being burnt out on seemingly arbitrary style choices, which is what tends to happen towards the end of a trend cycle.

It's also a taste thing, which makes it difficult to debate/analyze this phenomenon. My personal taste is to gravitate towards the more exploratory rather than the conservative, so I would tend to listen to, say, 80's Butthole Surfers / Flaming Lips more so than their less outlandish scene counterparts. Likewise these days with Thee Oh Sees or Ty Segall over bands that are less hyperbolically effected in their production choices. Same thing with movies, and it doesn't mean I don't like movies that are less stylized: what I don't like is when critics pan a movie because it attempts stylization at all, as if just to do so is to give in to the "played out" or the "untrustworthy" (corporate dilution using trends in an arbitrary manner).
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:35 AM on March 27


One source of the problem, I feel, is that most movie writing is written for an audience that may not have yet seen the film its writing on.

Maybe. But, just from reading a synopsis of the movie Gravity, I would never have seen it. I'm not a fan of Sandra Bullock, and it seemed like a fictionalized Apollo 13 which I didn't need. Then I read a review discussing how it was such a stunning feat of directing and effects and that the film was really beautiful to see in 3D. So, I went to see it. It was everything the reviewer promised, and while I knew going in the plot was not my thing, I really enjoyed it.

I realize that most movies aren't such outliers in terms of effects or directing trickiness, and I'm no film scholar. But, I do think some discussion of the directing or music or the set design would make me curious to see a film that I might not otherwise run out to the theater for (but, I may not be mainstream in this regard).

I think a lot of TV critics do discuss technical aspects, though. Especially with the rise of fan interaction with the creators of shows, audiences have become more sophisticated, so perhaps it works better in the TV realm.
posted by bluefly at 12:00 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


the music/cinematography/art direction/editing/etc. are all the things that you only notice if the person responsible isn't doing their job well

I don't think this is necessarily true, but I do think two things about this:

1. It is really hard to notice this stuff if you don't know what you're looking at. As someone who worked in a TV art department for years, I always notice the art direction. The average TV critic has little to no experience with these areas, so it's unlikely they'll notice the relative quality or lack thereof. Consider, for example, Tom & Lorenzo, whose costume-centric Mad Men recaps rest on the fact that the authors have extensive knowledge of 20th century costume. I'm not sure how a generalist TV critic could be expected to have specific opinions about things like sound editing* or set decorating, and neither am I sure that the readers would even want to hear about this stuff.

2. Up until very recently -- and most of the time, still to this day -- most of the technical side of TV is very workaday. TV is shot on a much tighter schedule than feature films, with scant prep time (5-8 days in TV compared to potentially years for a large feature), and for the most part it's not created with the intent to be lovingly watched and re-watched by connoisseurs in the way that great films are. A lot of the time, the reason more obscure technical aspects of TV aren't discussed because they just aren't that interesting.

I'd much rather TV critics sticking to making observations about things they actually know something about, rather than suddenly finding all TV criticism full of nonsensical references to cinematography and art direction which likely are over-analyzed far beyond the thought anyone involved in the production gave to it on the day.

*That said, OMG the kissing noises in Buffy. Why? Just... WHY?
posted by Sara C. at 12:50 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


I mostly agree with Seitz. Not so much that I want every review to dwell on the specifics of the technique or style but I want to know that the reviewer actually understands the art enough to say something interesting about it. Otherwise the reviews are the film equivalent of "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it".
posted by octothorpe at 2:44 PM on March 27


references to cinematography and art direction which likely are over-analyzed far beyond the thought anyone involved in the production gave to it on the day.

The fact that an artist didn't toil over details doesn't mean those details aren't important, though. Every aspect of costume, camera, and production is part of the "text" of a movie (or TV show), just like every word of a story is; analyzing the text is analyzing all its elements. The author's intent, or lack thereof, isn't really relevant when you're in the business of looking at how a text functions.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:00 PM on March 27


This entire thread should really just be people nodding and saying 'The medium is the message.'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:26 PM on March 27


The fact that an artist didn't toil over details doesn't mean those details aren't important, though.

It's not that I think these details aren't "part of the text", or whatever.

I just don't think that talking about the editing is so important to a film or TV review that mentioning that stuff should be mandatory for critics regardless of whether they know anything about editing or not. Like, if you're not a filmmaker, and you don't know anything about the post-production process, and you want to just stick to talking about story, character, performances, tone, themes, etc., that's absolutely fine. Dropping terms like "mise en scene", "jump cut", or "dolly" doesn't make you a better critic.

And, frankly, as much as I respect the production process and probably see media in a different way because I help make it as my day job, I don't think that it's important for critics to have filmmaking experience at all, and I don't think that people who have that experience are any better suited to write about media than people who don't. A good critic is a good critic.

Also, people who work in film/TV have surprisingly shitty taste in media.
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 PM on March 27


I just don't think that talking about the editing is so important to a film or TV review that mentioning that stuff should be mandatory for critics regardless of whether they know anything about editing or not. Like, if you're not a filmmaker, and you don't know anything about the post-production process, and you want to just stick to talking about story, character, performances, tone, themes, etc., that's absolutely fine. Dropping terms like "mise en scene", "jump cut", or "greens" doesn't make you a better critic.

But this is like reviewing a book without mentioning the writing.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:44 PM on March 27


The problem with that analogy is that writing is very similar to the craft of being a critic. If you speak a language, and are literate, and went to school and learned grammar and took literature courses and such (something that virtually everyone with any formal education has done), you have enough knowledge of prose style to comment on it in a book review.

Most minimally educated people have never cut, scored, or lit a film. And, frankly, the number of people who actually know how to do all those things is vanishingly small. Which is why I think that, if a critic has insider knowledge in a certain area, it's great to talk about what you notice. The fact that you were a PA on a commercial once really doesn't qualify you to talk about the sound editor's use of the Wilhelm Scream. And most people who have the kind of specialized knowledge to discuss all of this in depth are probably directing films, not writing movie reviews.
posted by Sara C. at 8:49 PM on March 27


I guess I'm confused why you're conflating 'knows how to do x' with 'understands what x is and can discuss it.' You don't need ever to have picked up a paintbrush to discuss Mirot's brushstrokes; you don't need to have hung par cans to discuss Sirk's lighting.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:55 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Because that's what the article seems to be suggesting:
Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?
The answer is absolutely not on the former, and maybe on the latter, though I think it's a bit ivory tower to say that it's necessary.

I think film critics who are well-versed in film theory are the best film critics. But I think that if you're the Living editor for the Podunk Picayune, and you need to crank out a 200 word review every week for a film that is likely to actually be playing in your town, it's understandable that you don't have that kind of background.

Not everybody is Andrew Sarris, and I think that's fine.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 PM on March 27


The article answers that stub question pretty easily.
It is not necessary for a critic of film or television to have created a work of film or television. But it's never a bad idea to know a little bitty eensy teensy bit about how film and television are made.

I'm not talking about how film and television deals are made: who's hired, who's fired, which show gets green-lit or canceled.

I mean nuts and bolts: where the camera goes, and why it goes there. Why a scene included a lot of over-the-shoulder shots of a character speaking, even though the angle prevents you from seeing their lips moving. Why a particular scene was played entirely in closeup, or entirely in long shot.

Basic stuff.

You don't have to go out and live it. You can read about it. You can ask professionals about it. But you should learn it, and know it and, in your writing, show evidence of learning and knowing it.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:04 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


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