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Monday, May 28, 2007

In Defense Of Film Critics...?

"Filmmakers need an audience, that's for certain. but do filmmakers need film critics? hmmm... i wonder. One thing for sure, filmmakers have absolutely no use for self-proclaimed film experts or film pontificators."
The above quote is a post by filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad (Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin) two days ago at the Malaysian Cinema mailing list, during a discussion (it's ironic that the whole thing was sparked by a short film of a new member I introduced the mailing list to) two days ago. Which started to make me... think.

What is a film critic? Perhaps to many, they are those who are paid to write film reviews and criticism on printed press (or online). Immediately, the term 'film critic' makes one think of Roger Ebert, or the late Pauline Kael.

Many regular filmgoers or lover of mainstream cinema tend to have a negative impression towards film critics, feeling that the latter are too snobbish, too highbrow to enjoy popcorn entertainment, that they embrace abstract arthouse films that no sane person can like. After all, most of the time, a normal filmgoer enters a cinema expecting to be entertained, whilst a film critic seems to watch a film waiting to be impressed. Ultimately, the criticism leveled by a film critic upon a well-liked (among normal audiences) film will come across as too pedantic or nitpicky.

Numerous filmmakers have shown their own disdain towards film critics. M Night. Shyamalan, in his last film, LADY IN THE WATER, tossed in a cartoonishly snobbish film critic character (to get killed in an ugly manner). Roland Emmerich named the useless mayor character and his aide after Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel in his 1998 GODZILLA movie. Here's even a quote by indie filmmaker Vincent Gallo:
"I never apologized for anything in my life. The only thing I'm sorry about is putting a curse on Roger Ebert's colon. If a fat pig like Roger Ebert doesn't like my movie, then I'm sorry for him. "

So yes, some people are always defensive towards their own creative works, including myself. It's human nature. It's just a matter of how much you let others affect you.

But ultimately, dissing film reviews by film critics is like dissing a person for having an opinion. Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one. What is wrong if a film critic happens NOT to like, say, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 as much as you do? It's not the end of the world. I doubt a particular film critic, or film scholar, or film academician would feel that riled up if they happen to meet someone who does NOT like Robert Bresson or Hou Hsiao-Hsien films as much as they do.

Even if these critics decide to diss people for not sharing their opinions, suddenly becoming entirely condescending towards mainstream audiences, ranting against popular culture, this is really a matter of CHARACTER FLAW (or to put it bluntly, BEING A ASS), not because of their PROFESSION. A film critic dissing other people for their opinions is no different from other people dissing a film critic for their reviews. It's, well, uncool.

In the 50s and 60s, the French New Wave (which influenced many independent Malaysian films of today) is started by a group of radical French filmmakers who reject classical cinematic form. Some of the most prominent pioneers among the group like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette, were, ironically, FILM CRITICS for the famous film magazine Cahiers du cinéma.

Is there a double standard where they can be forgiven for being film critics (or self-proclaimed film experts or film pontificators) because they are filmmakers? While Truffaut's status as a legendary director is undeniable, how can one overlook his role as a critic who championed the films of Alfred Hitchcock (I've just posted two blog entries in a row that mentioned Hitchcock!) as artistic works?

(Even award-winning local filmmaker Tan Chui Mui has served as a Cannes Film Festival correspondent for Sin Chew Daily, penning out her reviews for the films she saw at the festival. Is she not being a film critic as well?)

A couple of other posts came up, I'll just highlight two.

The first one is from Kairospirit:

"You only need to look at history to know that there have been many,
many great film analysts, critics and academics who have contributed
greatly to the art of cinema without even shooting a single frame

Admittedly there are indeed some out there who try to pass themselves
off as important "critics" but are really just spewing a bunch of big
words and terms which few even understand or use, and of course, name-

Kairospirit's second paragraph was more an attack on self-indulgence, arrogance, snobbery and elitism, traits possessed by people who aren't necessarily film critics.

The second post is by chinvinsen.

"Filmmakers need to realise that everyone in the audience is a film critic. Everyone is just as able to tell someone else what they've watched, what they've felt about what they've watched, give their views on it, recommendations, complaints, or even ask others not to bother. Some members of the audience happen to have a wide network of people listening to them at coffee breaks, gatherings, or casual conversations by phone, email, sms, chats. Some have blogs to post their views, and some work for publications who post their views onto a medium that reaches even more.

It is simply too easy to label one of the above categories of your audience with a tag different from the others. After all, what is a critic? Someone whose views are valued by others who are interested to hear it, whether they agree with it or not. Everyone I know is one.... probably even yourself."

And that's the whole point! What is a film critic? Since when are film critics limited to only those professionals who write for printed press? We have evolved past that. Everyone's a film critic, their different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, education, intellect, tastes, all these allow them to voice widely different and varying opinions and interpretations of the same film.

That, to me, is the beauty of film criticism.

That is the reason why everyday I would frequent sites like Rottentomatoes, Cinematical, Twitch, Lovehkfilm, or Lunarpark6. That's the reason why I frequent blogs of film critics like Matt Zoller Seitz or Michael Guillen.

That is the reason why I would encourage people to leave their opinions of a film on this blog (notice how many times I've said "tell me what you think after you've seen this movie"), or even ask others to leave me links to their film reviews. Just to see what other people have to say about a film I've seen. Why do they like it when I dislike it so much? Why do they hate it when I liked it so much? Why do we both like this film? Why do we both hate that film?

A film can be kept alive when people can keep on talking and discussing about it. That is how a film can prevent itself from being forgotten by audiences after it isn't showing in the cinemas anymore.

A filmmaker who cannot accept film critics is a little similar to an author who cannot accept fanfiction.

As a (small-fry) filmmaker myself, I don't think I'll ever question whether I need film critics or not. Nor will I prioritize film audiences over film critics, or be more bothered by the words of film critics over film audiences. Are they not the same? Film audiences are film critics just as much as film critics are film audiences. The only difference is that some have a bigger platform to voice out their opinions. And some, being opinion leaders, can sway others too. But that is not limited only to professional film critics.

I've met my share of self-proclaimed film experts or pontificators myself, in university (film studies and screenwriting classes... *shudders*) last year and screening events this year. Many seriously annoyed the heck out of me, some even make me want to strangle them (and other sadistic things in my mind not fit to mention in this PG-13 blog). But I can assure you that this definitely has more to do with their attitude problems than anything else.

Sure, film critics can be douchebags, but not all douchebags are film critics.