Critics: why them?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mike Broadman, Oct 5, 2001.

  1. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    I wonder if anyone can provide some insight into film critics. How does one get the job and sitting around and picking at other people's work? Why are Siskel and Ebert such experts? Ok, maybe they went to some film school or something, but it is all so subjective. After all the wit and pseudo-intellectualism of a review, in the end, you're getting what some guy thinks. Honestly, I see no reason to hold Ebert's opinion above anyone in this forum. Yet these critics hold so much power in the industry. They could make or break a film. That just doesn't seem right.
    Can someone please explain to me how these people get these positions?
     
  2. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    It's pretty simple: Most of the ones that get the plum jobs are knowledgable about film and can articulate it well - and can do it on a deadline!
    It's not as easy as it looks - not only do you have to have some knowledge of the technical aspects of film and the history of the medium, but you also have to have some of the analytical abilities of a literary critic. You've got to be able to take a film you've seen once and refine your view into something a little more sophisticated than first impressions within about a week. Then you've got to write the review(s), generally adhering to a fairly strict word count with a hard deadline.
    This is hard. I consider myself a fairly enthusiastic moviegoer and love discussing it, but I know that there are huge swaths of film history of which I'm ignorant. I can't write on a deadline to save my life. And it generally takes me time, multiple viewings, and discussion to really hone my opinion into something I'd be willing to put into print as a finished product.
    It's not just "what some guy thinks"; it's a skill. And that's why you would hold a critic's opinion over that of any yahoo who posts on the internet.
    As to the power critics have... It's not that great, except in really marginal cases. It certainly doesn't compare to the power of the distributors, and they didn't exactly keep people from seeing the likes of Armageddon and Tomb Raider.
     
  3. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

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    I admire those who can write good reviews. Although I can usually analyze a film well, and decide after a few viewings whether or not I think it's a good film, I cannot get these notions out of my mind onto a written page or even onto a forum like this. I am the worst at getting points across even though, in my head, I know exactly what I mean. That's why many of my posts here are so darn trite. Yeah, that's the ticket! [​IMG]
    That's also why when I read a good review of a film ("good" as in, I agree with the reviewer's comments), it's like seeing my own ideas and thoughts written out, but in much greater detail and clarity.
     
  4. andrew markworthy

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    It's a salutory experience to be on the receiving end of a bad review. I've not made any movies, but I have written a few textbooks and trust me, a bad review *hurts*. What really stings is when the bad review is unjustified. I can hear the sardonic replies of 'yeah, right', but I really did once get a panning from a critic who had completely misunderstood the book, and whose review was full of factual errors (over 30 in one paragraph). The trouble is that it was in an influential journal and although I later got a retraction, the damage was done and the book bombed. Accordingly, I have some sympathy for movie makers when they get a tongue lashing for nothing more than daring to differ from the critic's personal taste. As to how much influence they have - how many folks went to see e.g. The Avengers after the reviews came out?
     
  5. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Roger Ebert and any other person get critic's job because they went through an entire process. First thing they did was apply for work with a newspaper. If what you say clicks with a newspaper editor, then you've got the job. They pretty much then build a reputation from there.
    ------------------
    "I don't know, Marge. Trying is the first step towards failure." - Homer J. Simpson
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  6. Chad R

    Chad R Cinematographer

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    I don't find critics all that powerful. They exert some influence on some viewers, but on a whole if they were that powerful then movies universally drubbed would flop.
    The key to reading critics is to remember that they are just one guy's opinions, and through a short history of reading those reviews find one that seems to share your tastes.
    My local critic doesn't meld with me as well as Roger Ebert (and sometimes I disagree with him). I use Ebert as a helpful guide for movies that I'm not sure about. If I'm dead set on seeing something, nothing anyone says will stop me.
    So take critics with a grain of salt. Nothing they say really matters in the long run. It's what YOU think that matters most to you.
     
  7. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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  8. andrew markworthy

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    Jason, it was just meant to be an example. There are lots of others could have been chosen. What I'm saying is that if critics turn en masse against a movie, it can spell death to it. I agree that an individual movie critic is unlikely to be all that influential, but there are very very few movies which can survive a wide-scale critical attack.
     
  9. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Except, say, Armageddon. I mean, if a movie gets hit with a wide-scale critical attack, it generally stinks and will be torpedoed via bad word-of-mouth pretty quickly.
     
  10. Paul W

    Paul W Second Unit

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    Some people work very hard to become a movie reviewer. Then again, some people turn out to be like David Manning.
    [​IMG]
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    [​IMG] Paul Warren
    Hey fella . . . I bet you're still livin' in your parent's cellar . . . downloading pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar . . . and posting "Me too!" like some brain-dead AOL-er . . . I should do the world a favor and cap ya' like Old Yeller . . . you're just about as useless as MPEGs [sic] to Hellen Keller.
     
  11. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    In some ways, it's like asking why (insert your favorite author) gets to write books for a living? I mean, they just write stuff, makeup a story, and someone then sells it. How hard is that? [​IMG]
    As with all professions (I mean, engineering is just like doing math problems. Anyone can do that. [​IMG] ), there are elements that take specific skills. And even the hardest jobs look easy when performed by a master.
    And like all jobs, there are critics who are not particularly good.
    I do think there is a distinction between film "critic" and "reviewer". The reviewer is a journalist who expresses his opinion on a movie, but lacks the knowledge and skills to place the film in its historical context. A film critic is as much scholar as reviewer, and along with giving his opinion, can put the film in the context of the overall cinematic art.
    My local reviewer, whose reviews I trust and enjoy, strikes me as a reviewer. Roger Ebert, who I often disagree with, is clearly a critic.
     
  12. Hubert

    Hubert Second Unit

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    Well, this is a touchy subject with me. I'm not high on critics. These are people that are not a part of the process, yet they sit around and pick apart the work people have poured their heart and soul into. Also, even the very well known critics rarely agree on films. Again, I think of it as nothing more than an opinion. An educated opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. Another point, these people have an education of film and filmmaking. Yet, if you told any of them to write a screenplay and make it into a film and direct it, it would suck to high heaven. I believe Ebert once wrote a screenplay that was made into a low budget movie, and I also remember it being absolutely terrible. Can't remember the name.
    However, I know critics love movies just like we do. They want good movies. But they take their word as law, and if you disagree, you're the one that's wrong. In the end they do make the movie business more fun. I read critic's reviews, but never let their opinion sway me in the least. But that's just my feelings on the subject. Feel free to disagree. But in the end, I've never felt good about people tearing down other people's hard work. Te old saying if you think you can do better, get your butt out there and do it, seems to apply here.
    I don't take movies so seriously. It's not the end of the world if I end up paying to see a bad movies. Movies for me are purely fun. I have the ability to go to a movie like The Mummy Returns and simply ignore the flaws and just enjoy the ride. That's not to say I enjoy every brainless summer movie.....I don't. Sometimes I feel critics aren't capable of that. I realize it's their job to tell us the flaws. But sometimes I just want them to go into a movie, sit down and shut up, and two hours later just tell me if they enjoyed the movie or not. After, there is no such thing as a flawless movie. And if there ever was, it happens so rarely that it is even worth thinking about it. Besides, you can get to a point where you can nitpick anything to death.
    Just my thoughts.
     
  13. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Critics (the bigger names like Ebert and Maltin) have the ironically unfortunate position of having seen almost every movie in their lifetimes. Whenever they review a movie, they're always comparing it to "that" movie or "this" movie from the past. In a sense, they're spoiled by movies that have come before, and they see any others that have come after to be merely copy cats. So basically speaking, I really don't trust critics at all, as far as recent releases are concerned. But if there is one thing I do trust about them, is their take on older movies and classics. If anybody is to be trusted about current releases, it's friends of your age and the general public. For 99% of the people who watch movies, these people watch movies for fun. That's who I trust.
    ------------------
    "I don't know, Marge. Trying is the first step towards failure." - Homer J. Simpson
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  14. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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  15. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    It cannot be emphasized enough that a critic must also possess writerly prowess. There's a style that must be adhered to, depending on the medium. Professional writers must always write publishable material. It's not a simple matter of spouting off one's opinion--see Jason's first post in this thread. Everything he says is true--and then some.
    True critics are not to be confused with those ignorant yahoos who "review" films for your local nightly news. They're just telegenic persons who happened to be in the right place at the right time. And they're not in, say, Andrew Sarris's league.
    Hey, I never cared for Pauline Kael--but she sure was qualified for the jobs, as a critic, theorist, and a writer. As a result, I (sort of) respected her. But when it came to Stanley Kubrick's work, I just wanted to throttle her.
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  16. Rob T

    Rob T Screenwriter

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  17. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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  18. Bruce Hedtke

    Bruce Hedtke Cinematographer

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  19. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    Being a movie critic is not an easy job. Not only do you hold some of the greatest sway over public opinion about a film but you have to be right about which are going to be real stinkers and which are going to be all-time classics. If you don't pick-up on this you're going to get canned because audiences remember when a critic pans a great movie though they rarely remember when the critic lauds a good movie. The inverse is also true. If Ebert gave 5-stars to "Ishtar" he'd be laughed out of literary circles.
    To be a good critic you not only have to be able to observe and remember plot, continuity, timing, editing, color balance, framing, and everything else technical about a film but you also need to be able to reasonably judge what could or could not make a film good. Not all good movies are for all audiences just as not all bad movies will be bad for all audiences. The critic needs to perceive the audience for a film and judge it upon the criteria that the audience will use. "The Mummy" series is a good example of this. While not great art, it is highly entertaining on a summer night when you go through your DVD collection and are just too tired to think much about it.
    Critics must also consider a movie in light of its genre and its place within the history of cinema. Lord knows it would have taken a tough critic to praise "Citizen Kane" when it debuted because it bombed with an audience not yet sophisticated enough to appreciate its revolutionary techniques; a good critic though might honestly urge people to see it but warn them they might have a hard time digesting it all. Before John Q. Public considered "Kane" great the good critics did and their tenacious defense of "Kane" forced us to keep revisiting it until it seems every cinemaphile let out a collective, "Oh so that's what's so great about it!"
    A good writer, critic or not, will educate and enlighten the reader with new ideas or creative interpretations of old ones. Art critics as a whole might seem a vain and capricious lot but the good ones among them can alert us to rare gems and warn us away from fraudunlent pablum. We may not always agree but think of all the movies out there and then consider what it would be like if all of them came in generic gray boxes and you didn't have a book or web site of critical reviews to tell you what to look out for. Would anyone look twice at the boxes marked, "Mr. Hulot's Holiday", "Un Chien Andalou", or "Battleship Potemkim"? Sound like two documenatries and a home movie to me.
    Pauline Kael LOVED movies the way Roger Ebert does and probably more. Kael lived in the movie theater and wrote profusely during her years at the "New Yorker". She had no formal training, no educational background for movie criticism, or much of anything else yet her mind was a steel trap of film facts and she had remarkable clarity of insight into all facets of film. Kael could love of a movie even if it wasn't high art because she felt the entertainment value of a film was paramount with everything else coming a close second. Try out her anthology, "5001 Nights at the Movies" and you'll get an idea of what good criticism is about. You can also look at Roger Ebert's reviews of his "Great Movies" at:
    http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/
    Hope this helps!
    Jason Ashley
    Warwick, NY
    --To limit yourself to popular hits and recent years is like being Ferris Bueller but staying home all day. --R. Ebert
    [Edited last by Jason_Els on October 06, 2001 at 07:34 PM]
    [Edited last by Jason_Els on October 06, 2001 at 07:41 PM]
     
  20. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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