When everyone has an opinion, what's the point of a professional critic?
September 29, 2013 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Some interesting points. On the one hand I am a fan of approaching works on their own ground, picking apart what they are trying to do and seeing how well they succeeded at it, rather than just base cynicism, and there IS more to Forrest Gump than treacle and the message that smartness makes you die of AIDS...

On the other hand there's that Forrest Gump meets The Help movie gunning for the Oscars this year...
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on September 29, 2013

As in music, there's a difference between craft and performance. Bad reviews invite performance from the critic; good reviews demand craft. Performance attracts popularity, but craft commands respect.
posted by Ardiril at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

His Transformers review is the best.
posted by Decani at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

My general notion of the divide is simple: at the end of a review by a skilled critic, the reader or viewer knows more about the art form in question. A review can tell you whether you might enjoy it or how "funny" the writer is, but a critical response illuminates.

Most of the time, readers and viewers seem to want a buyer's guide or a hyperbolic, ostensibly humorous response. Audiences have come to see themselves as consumers who want entertainment value in exchange for their time and (usually) money. Event he review functions as entertainment first and foremost.

Few reviewers can afford to be critics; many critics can only afford to be reviewers.
posted by kewb at 10:18 AM on September 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

He's frequently wrong, but always entertaining... his Danny Dyer impression is priceless.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:20 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing is, negative reviews are often very, very funny. The positive reviews just can't live up to that amount of snickering joy that we get from "I hated, hated, hated, hated" this movie, "ran the gamut from A to B," etc. And when people expect you to gleefully slag on Twilight but you unabashedly loved it (why?), yeah, people will be annoyed when you go against their expectations.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:21 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

gleefully slag on Twilight but you unabashedly loved it (why?)

My theory is he wanted a quiet life from his daughters.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:22 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

No matter how upbeat and excitable I may be about any number of films, the reviews to which people are drawn are my bilious rants – Pirates of the Caribbean, Sex and the City 2, the complete works of Michael Bay – the angrier the better, apparently.

Those were also reviews of very popular movies, and most of Kermode's reviews aren't. Mightn't that have something to do with the relative popularity of those reviews?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2013

gleefully slag on Twilight but you unabashedly loved it (why?)

My theory is he wanted a quiet life from his daughters.

The first movie was actually pretty good for what it was. The subsequent ones were awful though.
posted by srboisvert at 10:29 AM on September 29, 2013

As a book reviewer, I get to read more than the average person who has a different job, because reading (and writing about what I read) is my job. So I think of it as being a tour guide; I haven't explored the whole vast continent of the books published in a single year, but being familiar with four or five hundred of them, I've got some neat places to recommend and some places to suggest you might want to avoid.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:31 AM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think criticism at it's best actually enhances or at the very least changes the experience of something. The best critiques will send me back for something I missed the first time.
posted by nevercalm at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2013

Wait, so a privileged older British man thinks anonymity doesn't serve any purpose? This is strange indeed!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:55 AM on September 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

That article was written by a man who gets paid by the word, and is very aware of that fact. The rest of us will have to spend the next few days conversing in simple phrases with no adverbs , adjectives, comparisons, or metaphors, because he's used up this week's quota.

And, I liked "The Straight Story"...
posted by HuronBob at 11:04 AM on September 29, 2013

Wait, so a privileged older British man thinks anonymity doesn't serve any purpose? This is strange indeed!

Identity based critiques are the laziest.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on September 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

Lately, I've been really impressed with the quality of online film criticism out there. First of all the Dissolve has really hit the ground running with both their reviews and features. And over at rogerebert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz and crew are doing a great job of upholding Roger's legacy. I never miss and episode of the Filmspotting podcast either. And oddly, I've probably learned more about film narrative and construction from Mr. Plinket and Film Hulk (or is it FILM HULK?) than anywhere else.
posted by octothorpe at 11:23 AM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a great article. Kermode occupies the space in my attention that was once occupied by Ebert. I'm happy to have learned of him.

That article was written by a man who gets paid by the word, and is very aware of that fact.

It's an excerpt from a book. Besides, this is the way the man speaks. He's not mercenary.
posted by painquale at 11:31 AM on September 29, 2013

The first movie was actually pretty good for what it was. The subsequent ones were awful though.

I haven't seen it, but Doug Benson's admiration for the final one made me pretty interested in it. He discusses it on some old episodes of his podcast and on How Did This Get Made?
posted by painquale at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2013

I don't think it's been mentioned in the link but Kermode has just moved up to be the chief film critic on The Observer after Philip French retired (who has been doing the job since the late 70s). This kinda now makes him one of the leading critics in the UK (probably the, as he reviews on the BBC news channel and Radio 5)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:42 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I may love Hal Ashby's sublime black comedy Harold and Maude, but the only review of it I can remember is the one in which the critic from Variety described it as containing "all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage".
I can't tell whether it's merely Kermode or the originating critic as well who fail to appreciate just how much fun and gaiety a burning orphanage might entail if all the kids were safely out.
posted by jamjam at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Internet really needs to chill on sarcasm. Sincerity, education and thoughtfulness are a lot more appealing to me when I'm reading a review of something. Sometimes sarcasm or caustic humor can serve to satirize something that really needs satirizing (Leigh Alexander's real review--you know which one--of GTAV is brilliant). Sometimes humor can be used to affectionately highlight absurdities in a work.

Usually, though, sarcasm is treated as a shortcut to intelligence and quips are used in place of wit and the end result is a tone in which the writer appears too aloof and above whatever they're writing about to engage with it. I don't really bother reading things like that. There's no substance, nothing is being said, and often reviews of this stripe will show fundamental misunderstandings about a work or an artist or a medium's history or whatever.

Not every review has to be a glowing glurgy gush. Disliking or being ambivalent about something can lead to insights just as interesting as loving something: Ebert's review of The Lovely Bones is a good example of that. Art is just so much more fascinating than the "rocks"/"sucks" dichotomy allows for that good criticism almost always reaches in a completely different direction than "Here's why you should-or-shouldn't buy this." A lot of the most absolutely engaging works are also often some of the most flawed, and we sell ourselves short when we focus only on negatives or reduce something to a caricature of itself (as with the Forrest Gump example in the article).
posted by byanyothername at 12:24 PM on September 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Semi-related, but wasn't it recently discovered that something like 20% of Yelp Reviews were fake? I mean, this is not an unheard problem from professional critics, but there's at least a big disincentive not to do it because their reputation would be severely damaged.
posted by FJT at 1:56 PM on September 29, 2013

Just started reading Letters to a Young Poet and this stuck out as relevant. More on the reading of criticism side, but still useful and, I think, right:
Read as little as possible of literary criticism. Such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are clever word-games, in which one view wins , and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

— Rainer Maria Rilke via
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:05 PM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the problem is critics have let themselves get pigeonholed into just providing IS THIS GOOD OR NOT? whereas the real value besides film reviews is things like Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops or a lot of the stuff he and The AV Club/Dissolve do in putting films into a wider context. The Forgotbusters series where they look at films that were massive hits in their day but are completely forgotten today is, likewise, interesting stuff to read outside "THIS FILM AM BAD/GOOD."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ironically, I was also reminded that in berating David Fincher's self-regarding, life-lived-backwards boreathon The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I had airily dismissed the movie as "Forrest Gump with A-levels".

I'm always amazed when I remember that the same guy wrote both films, which IMHO justifies at least some scorn.

Then again the guy who wrote and The Salute of the Jugger and Ladyhawke also wrote Bladerunner, 12 Monkeys , and Unforgiven, so it's a weird old business.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2013

FWIW, I read all the terrible, one star reviews I can because they're funny and there's no way I'll see the film.

With films I intend to see, however, I wait until after I've seen the film to read the review. Partly to avoid any spoiler, but also hopefully for some insight or interesting theories regarding the film I just saw.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:34 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think his essential point is a very good one. While rants are a lot of fun, I do think a key job the critic can do is explain why a film is good, and bring it to people's attention. Filmspotting's rhapsodies over the films of Powell and Pressburger persuaded me to see films I had never seen before, which I adore and rank among my favourite of all time (seriously, The Red Shoes and the Life and Death of Colnel Blimp are just sublime).
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:49 AM on September 30, 2013

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