In Defense Of Criticism

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by David Echo, May 12, 2002.

  1. David Echo

    David Echo Stunt Coordinator

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    It seems to me that lately on this forum there has been a kind of anti-criticism feel in many of the "Discussion" threads. Anyone who differs from the prevailing viewpoint on the thread is either marginalized or outright attacked by the majority in control of the thread.

    People, it seems, just do not want to hear a dissenting voice. And I think I have an inkling why.

    Simply put, the majority of people do not understand what criticism is, what is does, what its' purpose is.

    Here's one dictionary definition that I think works -

    Criticism: the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature.

    But it really only goes halfway. By this limited definition anything anyone expresses about a work of art is criticism. However, there is an important second component to criticism - the Standard.

    Standard: something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example.

    All real, meaningful criticism is based on comparing something new to an established standard. The standard is usually considered to be the highest level of excellence that can be achieved in a given art form.

    I am sad to say that this unfortunately is not what is meant by criticism by most people, especially by most movie "Critics." Mainstream critics rarely "Critique" a film anymore they "Review" it.

    And the standard they use is usually "Is this worth xxx dollars for the average filmgoer?" They are more like Consumer Product Reports really. There is a built in assupmtion that people will see x #'s of films a year out of the total # available. So, out of those which are worth your time and money?

    Not seeing any films because they are all bad or uninteresting is not even part of the equation.

    Likewise when the average person give you their "critique" of a film what they are giving you is their "Opinion."

    Now the problem on the Forum as I see it is that we have all 3 kinds of viewpoints bumping heads in the same threads. Some posters are trying to "Critique" a film, Some are "Reviewing" it and some are giving their "Opinion." Just as God intended.

    This isn't going to change any time soon, so maybe we can all at least be aware of it and if you're going to disagree with someone at least do it with someone who is using the same technique as you.

    I'll close with one final definition -

    Discussion: consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate.

    Thanks for listening.

    Dave
     
  2. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    You make some important distinctions, David--some of which many people may not be familiar with.

    • A film critic is different from a film reviewer. Correct. Your distinction in your post accurately conveys that difference. Any yahoo can "review" a film. But not just anyone can offer genuine criticism, which, by its definition, must be steeped in the knowledge of film, film technique, and film history. Andrew Sarris, therefore, is a film critic, while the loud talking head on your local news channel is but a reviewer.

    • Also deserving of mention is the film theorist--and some critics do double-duty as film theorists. A noted film theorist who was also a lauded, noted filmmaker is Francois Truffaut.

    Criticism is to be valued, helping to put the best expressions of the cinema art form into proper social and historical context.
     
  3. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    And criticism plays a vital role in UNDERSTANDING any art form, which in turn plays a vital role in attempts at understanding life and mankind's place in it.

    But there are plenty of times around here where the OPINION being given has none of the above intent.

    Discussion of art is key to appreciating it. I would say that art criticism and discussion are art's version of scientific testing. It's how we are able to come to a better understanding of the subject.
     
  4. Janna S

    Janna S Second Unit

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    There's a related thread going in "after hours" right now - "How do you analyze poetry?"
     
  5. Brad_V

    Brad_V Second Unit

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    There was a fun thread going where anyone could bash any movie and the rules said no one could then defend that movie, and I thought it was great. I finally got to rip on Wizard of OZ like it deserves to be ripped on.

    But a couple people "who didn't understand the thread" felt the need to bash the thread instead of just not reading the thread, so it got locked. One person bashed the thread and then said he wouldn't read it anymore, which is a good way to get your licks in and then jump ship before you are called on it. The people who didn't see the purpose of the thread are the ones who didn't play by the set rules and got it cancelled. Which is unfortunate.

    It was a thread to voice your criticism (usually in a fun, over-the-top way), but it got canned. Too bad.
     
  6. Steve Y

    Steve Y Supporting Actor

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    This is a nice thread.
    I believe an understanding of the "standard criteria" for good film is not necessary for "true" film criticism because the film critics themselves cannot decide on this criteria. If a uniform code existed for good cinema, we wouldn't need critics. We would just need reviewers to tell us which films, good or bad, are the most entertaining.
    The distinctions between terms like opinion, review, criticism, theoretical analysis (etc.) are often at the heart of any debate about the validity and purpose of "real" film criticism. The trouble is that these values are difficult to quantify and metacritical debates exhaust energy defining (and then defending) the "proper terms".
    At the end, the critic (or whoever) may tell you whether or not the film is effective "as a film", "as art". What then makes good filmmaking? Is there one genre, style, setting, acting style of a film that is effective above all others? i.e. is there "one standard" (as mentioned in the first post) by which any film might be judged?
    The Dogme 98 crew would say yes (thematic restrictions as well as stylistic), as would some Bay Area film critics like Richard von Busack, who are sent to (poor unsuspecting) mass entertainments on a weekly basis.
    Critics like Roger Ebert review by genre. He plows into the artistic merits (+ lack thereof) when the situation demands, but also lets the public know whether that horror movie with the giant snake is worth $10 as a horror movie (he thought it was). Does it satisy the criteria? "It may be dumb, but does it follow its own internal logic, however flawed."
    Some refuse to call Ebert a true "critic" although he satisfies the abovementioned criteria at least some of the time, using his knowledge of film history and technique in essays on subjects ranging from Sergei Eisenstein to Michael Bay (may the gods strike me down for pairing those two!). Critics like Ebert also write clearly, and everyone knows true theorists must mask their thoughts in obtuse terminology. [​IMG]
    So... if the Friday section "criticized" America's latest sex comedy using as a benchmark Francois Trauffaut's technique, it still (in the end) is judging its palatability for the masses, in the end sticking that half-star above the clever blurb... but does it thus rend the critic not a critic but only a half-a-critic perhaps a mere reviewer?
    "It wasn't effective as film and here's why" transforms into "not a fun movie and here's why" into the basic "I was disappointed" or "it lagged" or the ever-popular "it sucked".
    I never find fault with critics who define their terms and back up their claims, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. I've read film experts who utilize their vast knowledge of cinema to back up critcally dubious arguments, as well as small-time internet reviewers who formulate fairly complex (if essentially "uninformed" in terms of cinematic context) critical arguments.
    ~Steve
     
  7. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Brad, that was me that ripped the thread.
    My intent was to let it be known in that circle that not everyone around here was giving that concept the "thumbs up". I did NOT read anymore in that post because my point was to NOT debate, per the request of the thread starter. But if I hadn't said anything I felt it was sort of a acknowledgement that those sorts of discussions were A-OK with everyone around here, and that isn't true.
    I simply said my peace on the subject and left. Funny that you found that such a problem in a thread whose very message was to RIP AWAY WITHOUT DEBATE. So why would you expect me to come back in and debate???
    You had a problem with me slamming the thread without debate in a thread about slamming films without debate. Oh the irony.
    And I clearly said in that thread my specific problems with the theme, ie NO DISCUSSION just bashing. That's not a topic for a film discussion site. That is better suited for someplace like AICN, which is why the mods locked it.
    I am not a mod and if I was the only one who felt that way then the thread would have continued on just fine after that point. I even said that people should just ignore my post as someone who just doesn't get it and continue on without me.
    That's a hellava lot more understanding than your typical thread fart film basher, who wants to do nothing but tell everyone else they are dumb and stir up the shit.
    For the record, IMO you don't need a thread like that because you should not be getting run out of a film discussion thread for disagreeing in the first place. However, if your method for disagreement is harsh and unthoughtful then it doesn't offer anything to the discussion and comes across as just creating a negative atmosphere.
    We had a great thread where the request was for fans of top films to look at possible flaws in them (Godfather, 2001, Lawrence of Arabia). It wasn't "Godfather sucks" type stuff either. So it's very possible to criticize a film around here without being attacked. If you politely and thoughtfully express why a film doesn't work with you then you SHOULDN'T be chased out of a thread...therefore there is no need for a "safe haven" thread of unquestionable bashing.
     
  8. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    While I stayed away from that thread in question, it was locked down and for good reasons. I was surprised it remained open as long as it did.

    That thread did not provide any sort of valued criticism or an educated enlightenment as to what people disliked about films. From the very start, the thread was nothing but pure negativity and hatred in its tone without the benefit of a decent counter-argument.

    I, for one, am glad that it was shut down.

    ~Edwin
     
  9. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    I understand most of the things said in this thread, but what exactly is film theory? I read quite a bit on it, and I'm not sure what its aim is.
     
  10. David Rogers

    David Rogers Supporting Actor

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    Oh dear.
    If this is prompted by some recent threads I've read through (thinking of the David Fincher/Stanley Kubrik thread, one of the several threads here on Episode II, and also the Spider-man review/discussion threads) where one or more individuals staked out a position favorably towards the movie or person, then acted like a jittery guy with a baseball bat (swinging at every comment other than 'yes I totally agree your opinion rocks!' that comes into range) … well I can see how you'd want to talk about it.
    It's okay for folks to not agree with you. It's also okay for folks to not like what you like, and further still, to think the same person you feel is a Divine Gift to Cinema is really a hack using a rusty razor blade and scotch tape to slap a film together with.
    It's also okay for someone to very much not appreciate an opinion. However, where it comes down to "I liked it and you don't", and neither have any concrete non-opinion based reasons for their positions … there is no discussion there, no possibility of one. You have a fan and a non-fan who are conversing only in the language of "I loved it, how can you not!" "duh, it was lame, anyone with brains can see that". People, I feel, should know better than to engage in subjective discussions that lead only to fannish screaming.
    Now the recent Spidey thread was a different case, I felt. In that, most posters were hot and bothered over what Ebert wrote about Spider-man in a very negative review. However, in that instance Ebert was factually in error on a very KEY plot and character development point which he was complaining about in his review. But in that thread there were people complaining about all the flames towards Ebert … in that instance I feel a disagreement with discussion was warranted. Again, Ebert had blasted the film in his review but was clearly in error over a key point he'd used as a reason for his dislike of the film.
    That aside, there's something of an art to disagreeing without belittlement. Some people don't know how to say "I don’t like that" without also adding in text to the effect of "and anyone who does is weak/lame/pathetic/lowbrow/childish/uncultured/….) etc… We need more people who know how to disagree politely, and more people who know how to accept polite disagreement without feeling the disagreement is some sort of judgement against them personally.
    The way I put this kind of thing (disagreement without belittlement) is "Takes all kinds to run the world" We need the kinds of people who think an English Period Drama with a running time of four hours and every word of dialogue in original Victorian English is great. We also need folks who hop up and down with uncontrollable excitement over a new Star Wars film, and others who laugh themselves sick at a Jim Carey grossout comedy, and still others who adore modern legal dramas.
    Takes all kinds to run the world. Takes all kinds to love movies. Takes all kinds.
    That's my piece on this one. [​IMG]
     
  11. David Echo

    David Echo Stunt Coordinator

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    Brad - with all due respect that thread was a bashing thread (I know I posted on it in the spirit that was established) based purely on OPINIONS. What I'm talking about here is NOT BEING ALLOWED to engage in a DISCUSSION with my fellow posters beacuse my viewpoint does not always agree with the majority.

    Here's an example: Yesterday (13/05/02) I posted to the Star Wars Thread (200+ page sucker) where I posed the question "Are some SW fans so taken with the SW Universe / setting that they are perhaps blindly accepting of anything bearing the SW logo?" A fair question I think and one worthy of being as least acknowleged by someone on a SW DISCUSSION thread. But nope, nada, nothing. Not one response. Last I checked they were yapping about music cues and wondering where Terrell is (Where IS he btw?)

    But I guess I should be glad about merely being ignored and not belittled in front of everyone.

    So my intention in started this thread was to inform my fellow Forum-ers that such a thing as film criticism existed and that it had a well established method for critiquing film.

    AND that it was possible to critically dismiss a particular film on that level and still LOVE it on yet another.

    My typical example is Cutthroat Island. I don't think this is a good movie in any way, shape, or form BUT for reasons too complex to get into here I just ADORE it and consider it a real guilty pleasure of mine.

    One of the first things I learned in my philosophy studies was how to argue logically. And in order to do so we were always encouraged to take positions COUNTER to our own beliefs thus allowing us to THINK our way through it instead of FEELING it.

    Now I don't expect everyone here to do that but they can at least be aware that when I post something in a thread it is not an off-the-cuff trolling comment but something well thought out that I think is worthy of a response.

    Seth and Jack both had great comments on the value of criticism in film. And in all other human endeavours.

    If it wasn't for Criticism then Microsoft would be the most powerful software development company in the world.

    Oh, wait . . .

    Dave

    P.S. You had some great things to say too David. Don't want you to feel left out.
     
  12. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    AS someone who has ripped (in passing) on film critics in this forum in the past I must say that for the most part I'm not bashing film critics, but bad reviewers that try and miserably fail to be critics.



    It boils down to this, there are two things I hate about reviewing(which I define as: pounding a film into a genre or sterotypical classification), and sometimes this applies to criticism: one is a basic lack of history, knowledge and passion for the medium of film ; two is the obscene prevalence of bias, favoritism, and general lack of objectivity on the part of the reviewer.



    For example, our paper's local reviewer, when he did his column on Panic Room devoted more than half of the column to tired cliches bashing country music, how much he hates it, and the fact that it has a countrymusic star in it makes it terrible. There was no mention of the fact that the film contained no country music, that Dwight Yokum turned in an excellent preformance or the other merits of the film. The rest of the column was devoted to how he thinks the 'cool' camera moves were way overused and super obvious they were using them. He didn't acknowledge how essential those many unbroken bullet time shots were to giving the audience a look at the exact layout of the house, where exits and entrances were etc. Establishing an enviroment is very basic film theory that any reviewer or critic should understand, but he showed no comprehension of any of it (Let's not even go into his astoundingly terrible review of bortherhood of the wolf).



    So, on principle I dislike film reviewers if they have no knowledge of film and can't objectively write on the current film. Reviewers like Harry Knowles are acceptable, he has a vast knowledge of and passion for film, so his reviews are always entertaining to read, and he's always looking to see if the film managed to speak to him as an audience.



    I dislike filmcritics on principle if they are insistent on projecting an air that only high art is worthwhile, and there are no merits whatsoever to lessor films. Still a knowledgeable critic's review can still be educational, even if you disagree.



    This is the key difference, I think, between criticism and reviews. Criticism can promote intellectual debate on the film's merits, reviews are trading catchphrase opinions. However too much criticism also fosters a disdain for lessor films and places certain films on a pedestal, a required 'like' list, and if you don't like them your opinion is meaningless and misinformed. These films are not open for debate and discussion. It also states that genre films are not allowed, ever, to be considered great films (today this only applies to speculative fiction though, Westerns were recently accepted), that is reserved for 'REAL' films like "Citizen Kane".



    The opening argument spoke of a basic standard which criticism is based upon. Most people's disagreement's with the standard is the basis for their disagreement with criticism. someone who's standard is "the day the earth stood still" is quite different from someone who's basis is "Lawrence of Arabia"



    Film criticism is analyzing how well everything worked together as a cohesive whole in the final product, film theory is breaking the film into it's component parts to analyze why it worked. Unfortunately there is a great deal of chaff to be separated to enjoy the wheat.



    In a critique or a review, the first thing I look for is a passion for the medium of film. Someone who will watch "How Green Was My Valley", "Pollyanna", "Citizen Kane", and "The Godfather" and understand that they are all masterful films for completely different reasons, none of which makes any of the others a lessor film. Too often the intellectuals embrace the violent and cynical, looking only for the dark aspects of human nature as worthy of film; they reject any film that examines the uplifting tenacity of the human spirit and dismiss it as maudlin, saccarine, or my favorite, steeped in bathos and pathos. What I'd love to find in a film critic, or a reviewer, is a voice that doesn't base their standard on being overly intellectual [I loved the existential qualities and use of mise-en-scéne in Mulhollund Dr., it makes it the finest film of the year], or down-home-with-the-boys [Snow Dogs is GREEEEEAT fun!]. Once again I find myself looking for a happy medium and moderation, even here (dang the Buddhists have something going). [​IMG]
     
  13. Samuel Des

    Samuel Des Supporting Actor

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    I disagree [​IMG]
     
  14. David Echo

    David Echo Stunt Coordinator

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    So would that be a Critique, Review or Opinion Samuel? [​IMG]
     
  15. Samuel Des

    Samuel Des Supporting Actor

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    [​IMG]
    Best, Sam
     
  16. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Seth, Edwin: I think I remember that thread you guys are mentioning. Didn't I close the thing down? If the thread's the one I'm thinking of, it was terribly juvenile in nature. Like the ones that get started by that kid who just loves to attack venerated films that are universally loved (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, etc.). JB
     
  17. Kevin M

    Kevin M Producer

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    I agree......WAIT.....no I disagree.....NO WAIT......I'm not sure if I'm qualified to think about it.
     
  18. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Hmmm....Criticism...
    First, regarding that other thread, it seemed that the problem was not the thread itself, but those who didn't like it, and bashed the thread, without adding anything positive (I'm not sure why in that case, it wasn't considered thread-farting [​IMG] ).
    That particular thread had some of the more interesting criticism I've read around here lately, particuarly the comments I disagreed with.
    But, back to the topic at hand. I see two immediate difficulties to real criticism via online discussions.
    First, the personal aspect of ignorance. Simply, I (for example), am unfamiliar with many "great" movies. I don't have the background in film history to do real criticism on many movies. I can only discuss their merits based on my limited experience. I see this evinced in others, too, exemplified by Double Jeapordy. This was a fun movie. I enjoyed it. It was also a near copy of the outstanding The Fugitive. To critique DJ without reference to TF is extremely limiting. Likewise, I suppose I am limited in my comments about A.I., having seen few Kubrick films, none recently.
    The second problems is the mechanics of this forum. A non-threaded discussion format severely limits the ability to have a conversation about a specific point. It also makes it hard to read a conversation, in order to then respond to it. Rather, it encourages a Memento-like discussion, where people only remember and talk about the last few comments made. This is why I don't usually bother posting to long threads (10+ pages); I don't know what's been said. I can't follow a conversation, much less respond to it, and it feels like my comments just get lost in the commotion.
    This is not to bash the HTF. Threaded forums are not a panacea, and people here do amazingly well given the limitations of typed words. [​IMG]
     
  19. David Rogers

    David Rogers Supporting Actor

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    "limitation of typed words"
    See, I don't see it that way. Not at all.
    I can express myself far more effectively in written format than in spoken, even though I'm fairly well spoken as these things go. Via text, I can check spellings and references, look up backgrounds, reread and adjust my wording, etc... I post when I'm satisfied my comments are expressing the thoughts I'm trying to communicate.
    Obviously I'm at odds with the "dash a quick comment off" folks, who far outnumber me online.
    [​IMG]
     
  20. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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