“Next flick, I’d rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed & let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why’s their opinion more valid?”
Why? I’m not sure. If these randoms see the film – and for free, too, which is something else that bugs Smith – and then these randoms write about it… well, they are film critics, right? They just won’t be paid for it. That might be the defining difference for Smith. If you love something, you should do it for free. Film critics demand to be paid. They’re inherently untrustworthy.
Spend too long on the internet and you’ll start to suspect that everyone hates film critics –even other film critics. Salon’s critic Andrew O’Hehir just wrote a blistering attack on fellow critics who publicly complain about the state of their chosen field. Here’s a taste:
“Shut up. Shut up now. Shut the fuck up and get back to work. If you’re worried that people don’t want to read your movie reviews, what in the name of Jesus Christ crucified makes you think they want to read your bitching and moaning?”
I agree with much of his rant. I get to see movies for free and paid to write about them. It is, no doubt, pretty awesome, and it’s good to remember that. Complaining and commiserating about shrinking job opportunities for film critics is best done with like-minded friends, Glengarry Glen Ross-style, and not in grand, tear-stained open letters for all to read.
The part that really worries me, though, is how he suggests that if film criticism “isn’t funny and lively and engaging, it isn’t anything at all.”
I have no problem at all with “lively” and “engaging”. As an occasional academic, I’m constantly shocked by how bad the writing can be in published articles. It’s especially depressing when fun or ridiculous or otherwise hyperbolic art – like superhero comics – is dragged down by joyless analytic prose.
But “funny”? That’s what worries me. Why does everything need to default to comedy? Do lively, engaging, and even insightful reviews mean nothing unless they’re framed with boom-tish pop-culture zingers?
Everyone feels the urge to reach for a joke when they’re worried they’re boring their audience. Sometimes it works. Other times, it just means you’re worried your writing and ideas aren’t good enough, and you’re hoping to distract with a quick gag. Watching film critics scramble for laughs like first-timers at an open mic night isn’t funny – it’s depressing as hell.
Listen to “I’d Like to Spank the Academy” from this recent episode of This American Life. It contains a professor at Alabama’s University of Montevallo utterly destroying the other speakers at a regular debating event – because they’re all motivated solely by the laughter of the crowd. The spoonful of sugar that’s supposed to help medicine go down? It doesn’t work if you’re so busy shovelling sugar down the patient’s throat you forget the medicine altogether.
O’Hehir says that film criticism is more like “performing stand-up comedy than like delivering a philosophy lecture”. Sure, I suppose. But why not make philosophy lecturers tell jokes, too? Wouldn’t that be more entertaining? And why not all movies while we’re at it? I always felt like Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon needed more slapstick…
(Please assure Kevin Smith that I wrote the above for free.)