Showing posts with label Critics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Critics. Show all posts

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Two Guys Will Yell at You. Reasonable Rates

I read smart critics with a flair for prose, knowledge of the medium they're assessing, and who go beyond the common stock clichés, platitudes and ritual complaints and back up their remarks with pertinent examples. Also, the critics I prefer are pretty much a literate sort, knowledgeable of the arts in general, literature, and who have a grasp of social issues. It's not that I expect critics to deliver exhaustive dissections of films each time they write, but the ability to refer to poetry, novels, plays, music knowingly and coherently and not just other recent movies from the last 30 is an element that brings something "more" to the analysis of a film. It keeps the criticism fresh, genuine, honest, whether the judgement is positive and veering toward the negative. "That's just your opinion" is a response that doesn't cut it, really. Indeed, a critics' view is his other opinion, but that ought to go without saying. Some opinions have more value than others; I prefer the reviewers who get me thinking about what I saw.

 If I come up against a well-written and knowledgeable review that challenges my opinion of a certain film--or novel, play, record album, whatever--it's my task to respond with a strong counterargument. I either shore up my position or be willing to modify my view. Mostly, I reserve the right to change my mind based on new evidence, a strong position. Time was when readers of film reviews debated the merits of what Hollywood did in frank but civil exchanges; debaters engaged each other's ideas and left personal attacks for the wallowing habits of the less perceptive in our midst. Just think of it, the glorious ebb and flow of conversation on subject you're thoroughly engaged with, trading critiques, asides, remarks, information, insights and fertile comparisons of differences with a host of others with whom you may disagree entirely or partially, but who are no less passionate about the arts than you are.

 Imagine as well such knowing and exciting talk without a death threat, a misogynist aside, a racial slur and other varieties of input that demean another's humanity without purpose. It's a wearisome fact that civility seems to be a concept that no longer has utility. Where are the Duncan Shepards, the James Wolcotts, the Manny Farbers , the Paulin Kaels of this generation? Who will be our next Lester Bangs, our next Robert Christgau? Attention spans, as a function of understanding a lot of information and to have a Big Picture as to how the world is operating , a picture that can be tweaked and modified as history marches on, seem no longer able to sustain concentration on those matters that require evaluations longer than a Tweet or a Facebook meme. This shrinking concern for context and critical discussion has effected our politics, as we've become creatures moved to quick frenzies of irrational absolutism  at the mention of code word, the flashing of a threatening meme, the rattling of a rubber sword in a tin foil scabbard.The point is of reviews, and the right to free speech, is to motivate us to have discussions about thing we're passionate about and perhaps learn something from someone else's point of view. But it seems we've rapidly getting to the point where these discussion threads are snake pits for anonymous character assassination. This is a damn shame, as it represents the growing refusal for many of us to take responsibility for our ideas and deeds.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Whither film critics?

Where have all the film critics gone worries a Facebook buddy, citing the herd mentality that seems to come upon otherwise smart folks when they uniformly declare suspect films as "masterpieces". I see his point, that sometimes we who love the craft and honest appraisal of films-as-art as well as entertainment have reason to be dismayed when the judges seem to go from being a Greek chorus committed to telling the truth to a delusional protagonist to a peanut gallery. Time was when if you wanted to read film critics in different cities around the country, you went to the library and read the out of town papers they might be subscribing to. Now, of course, we have the internet, and each is available, every professional critic nearly, not to mention every blogger, content writer, and social media sycophant. It seems, indeed, that everyone who's review can be used in a promotion has read the same marching orders and commits to keeping the fix in place. Honestly, though, I am wondering how much of this is perception, as the sheer glut and easy access to endless reviews make it seem that that unseen hands are controlling the puppet strings. Really, was there ever a glory day when working critics, as a whole, had amazingly unique and significantly insightful thing s to say about Hollywood fare.

Yes, we had our Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris, but I'd wager the majority of the print media critics, the newspaper reviewers, that were very similar in style, argument, and range of views. While the cineastes paid attention to the true stylists and thinkers in the big city papers, the rest of the world remained middle brow and pretty much mundane in their judgments on films, yay or nay. You just didn't seem them altogether at the same time, gathered together around at an open bar. Now everything is online, at your fingertips, and the deluge of opinion, pouring on you like wet cement, can have the effect that the incidental sameness of views can seem the result of a sinister corporate force and a decline in critic intelligence. It's my guess that the ration of smart, interesting critics to the hoi polloi remains the same as it has ever been; I read whole reviews on Rotten Tomatoes more than I should,I suppose, but a fair number of the critics are literate and sharp and brandish a fine prose style, and are capable of making an interesting case for their view. And, to be sure, there's a surfeit of the mediocre opinion mongers with stale views and writing skills as rank as the very backwater that might claim them as local taxpayers.

Friday, September 30, 2011

K and K

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times reviews books like the smartest kid for a junior college bi-weekly student newspaper, which is to say that her insights, her scorn, her depth of field would be amazing for an eighteen year old in any decade. What is amazing for an eighteen year old, though, seldom amazes anyone when the same level of aptitude and attitude are displayed in mature adults; you think  experience along the way to one's thirties and beyond would have seasoned the fact-obsessed certitude with a personality and a weariness of making statements that are applied like nails to a coffin.  This, of course, sets up those who continue to read her to have expectations that she will someday come into her own and develop the qualities one desires in a critic--real passion, a lively, unstrained prose style reflective of a personality that wants to talk to you, and, if it's not asking too much, insights, conclusions and judgments that break away from the clichés and tropes that often, too often pass for commentary. This blossoming is not forthcoming for Kakutani, who remains an underachiever  in the assessment of of other people's work. Her views are so frail in presentation,so inch-deep in investigation that she does not seem that could withstand a conversation with someone wo politely disagreed with. Kakutani seems like she would sulk, cast her eyes down, puzzled about why she is being attacked. She does not sound as if she cares about the books she's tasked with giving an opinion on, and there is mechanical movement to her columns, a method she's seemingly developed in order to dispatch her obligations as soon as possible.She gives you the feeling that she looks forward to getting away from the computer and easing into bunny slippers , cocoa and a dvd she is finally getting around to watching. Pauline Kael cared about the movies she wrote about, and though she faltered toward career's end with messy pronouncements and idol worship, at her best she convinced you that movies were important and had you talking about the issues she's raised.Hers was a passion that would bring you to a tavern after a movie where you would argue with her until the late night about the merits or demerits of a particular director's work. Kael was the sort you thought would continue the argument you just hung up with the first person to come to her door--the mailman,the landlord, homicide detectives--or with whoever chanced to give call at home; her engine was always goined, revving itself for another contest of who had the quickest wit.  Kakutani  just makes you wonder again and again how any reviewer could make reading books or writing reviews about them seem like such a joyless way to spend one's time.