Film Critics are ugly, sad little trolls who were never popular in school. Unable to cope with the realities of social interaction they retreated to the cinema, a dark place well suited to the social misfit, where everyone’s attention is focused on the giant rectangle of light instead of the sad little troll tucked away in a corner. Since they spend so much time there escaping from reality they become pretty familiar with the movies. They notice that regular people seem to like them too so in a desperate attempt to belong they foist their opinions about the pictures onto the world only to be met by more derision. Because, as we all know, knowing too much about something makes you a prick. And there’s no sadder prick than the film critic because they are so unnecessary. Anyone, even a kid, can watch a movie and know if they liked it or not. So what good are they?
Okay, I’ll come clean. I don’t believe a single word of the above paragraph. The title of this article was just a means to lure you in. And if you, the person reading this, had a flash in your head when you saw the title similar to something like, “Nice, I can use what this guy says the next time I want to say something nasty in a comments thread,” then you are just the person this article was written for.
The necessity of film criticism, and any criticism, is to maintain the ongoing and vital dialogue of art. This includes the art’s history, its current state, trends and movements, what it has to say about the times we live in, anything and everything. Great critics are great writers too. Somehow that doesn’t enter into the conception of the critic, that they are writers. Writers write fiction, right? Or biographies? They write stuff that’s in books. Expressing an opinion isn’t writing, anybody could do that. This is the vibe I get from comment threads where people instruct the critic they disagree with to apply their tongue to the underside of a donkey’s scrotum. But they are writers and even though they are discussing someone else’s work they still wield the power to move, to challenge, to make you laugh and even cry. There is a difference between that and your buddy saying, “Yeah I saw that thing and it sucked.”
Suck. It sucked. I’ve grown to hate the word, especially when I use it. It’s a lazy sentiment, a hateful and half-invested statement. Where most of us only have the time to ingest, to take in what we’re given on the big or small screen, critics actually take the time to engage. Do you, future nasty commenter, really think that someone would dedicate their life to the pursuit of being a contentious asshole? That’s something a person can’t help being. The critic works from love, is fueled by love of cinema, and they are actually willing to express that love honestly for whoever happens to come across their work. This is a courageous act, standing in the face of detachment and all too easy sarcasm is a courageous act and if you think otherwise you’re not taking the time to think about it. Bile burns out, love sustains. And the critic invites you to share in their love, and crazy as it might sound you benefit from it. You benefit from sharing love. I repeat myself because if you spend too much time on the Internet you begin to lose faith in humanities’ ability to realize that love is the only thing worth sharing.
There is the basic way in which critics are helpful, if you’re unsure of whether or not to spend your ten bucks at the theater, or your legal download…LEGAL download, a quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic can be very helpful indeed. “Ah,” you think, “seems like the majority is saying that this movie is kind of underwhelming. I guess I’ll wait for the DVD.” Naturally curious creatures that we are we run the risk of actually watching a Saw film so critics are vital to our well being. And while it might seem like most of us are content to simply feed on the tit of Hollywood and the almighty TeeVee, critics remind us that we should be mindful of what we watch. It’s like if you eat fast food all the time, just unconsciously shoving “food” into your stupid mouth to get a jolt of pleasure. Your heart will eventually revolt and put your dick in the dirt. You might not think it’s the same with media but barring death as an outcome you are what you unconsciously watch as much as what you unconsciously eat. Being aware is always better. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of watching a movie or TV show we enjoyed as a kid, something that is far far easier to do now than even ten years ago let alone when I was a kid kid, and being shocked by the attitudes on display, be they misogynistic, militaristic, bigoted, or just plain dumb. Seriously, have you watched Night Court lately? It’s fucked up.
And that’s where most of the ire directed at critics comes from. We don’t like to be told what to think, especially when it comes to our pleasures. But that isn’t the point of a critique. The critic doesn’t say, “You must think this,” but rather, “This is what I think, what I feel, how this film worked for me.” Art is the mirror held up to humanity and critics, being humans and all, are our representatives. In the experiments of cinema they are the best test subjects, again, because of the love factor. And don’t worry, it is okay to disagree with them, to hold another opinion. In a debate the question of who won or who lost, to me at least, seems pointless. A debate is about an exchange of ideas. You bring your ideas, the other people bring theirs, and you compare and contrast with the hopes of the discussion being furthered. Winning or losing are dead ends. Discussion carries us forward.
So be kind to the critic. After all they are specialists. You wouldn’t tell a doctor he doesn’t know what he’s talking about…unless you’re eligible for social security. Likewise if your mechanic tells you not to drive your car unless you want to die in a fiery wreck, you probably wouldn’t chance it. The difference with the critic, again, is the opinion thing. How your body or your car is doing is based on measurable factors, not elusive opinion. And it is in the realm of opinion that we must loose ourselves of facts, of right and wrong, and embrace discussion so that we can get the most value for our dollar. The critic can direct you to aspects of a film that you may have not considered, deepening the value the film has for you. Don’t take it as an attack on your point of view. Take it as an invitation to consider why it is you have a particular point of view. Suddenly you’re engaged with a film in a way you hadn’t been before. Suddenly the medium seems more valuable than a way to forget about your problems for a few hours. Art sustains you.
I owe an un-payable debt to critics. Roger Ebert’s Great Movie List directed me to films that changed my life. Just recently the incomparable Steven Boone got my attention on Electra Glide in Blue, possibly one of the best films you’ve never seen. From Jim Emerson to FilmCrit Hulk to Matt Zoller Seitz and too many more to name here my views on this medium that I love so dearly, and for which I intend to be a good soldier of by making movies, have been changed, shaped, challenged and expanded by the good work critics do. They are an invaluable resource and an easily accessible one thanks to the Internet. They are not your enemy, they are not trying to ruin your good time, they’re just inviting you into the discussion. The only prerequisite is that you honestly consider why you love or hate the movie in front of you so much. An invitation to such self-awareness is a gift.
So to critics everywhere, especially the ones I disagree with, I say, truly madly deeply, thank you and I love you.
P.S. I do think, however, that modern British critics should issue an apology on behalf of their predecessors whose poor and horribly short sighted reviews of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom helped put an end to his unbelievably brilliant career. I mean where the fuck did they get off?