Film Critics - do you listen?
Lately there's been a move by Hollywood to bypass the film critics and release their movies direct to the public without any press screenings. The critics and press are up in arms about this and strangely every film that is released without screenings turns out to receive negative reviews.
It all raises some larger questions, who are film critics and do the public really need them? Are those who review movies in a group that is destined for extinction? Who are the critics anyway, are they all that they are hyped up to be and do you really listen to them?
Film critic is a strange phrase and it means different things to different people. Some people say that anyone who writes about films are critics, some say only reviewers, and some say that they are a group of professional writers with intelligent insight to give on the Film Industry.
Recently, on a website of someone in my home city, I commented on a post she had written about her experience of seeing X-Men: The Last Stand (review). Her review was harsh, short, and accurate, as well as being extremely personal. I mentioned something about the movie to start a discussion and she responded and called me a film critic. I denied the allegation immediately and said that I just wrote about movies, and she firmly told me otherwise, you're a film critic she said.
That made me think, is that really true? Am I another one of those film critics? This led me to think about what critics really are to me, and I realised that the people who write about movies fall into several groups.
There are the film critics, those who write articles examining movies in great depth, looking at artistic merit and meaning, identifying subtext, subplots and hidden meanings, comparing the movie against others, looking at the process of making the movie as well as the state of the industry itself. These people are the top writers. These are people like Roger Ebert. They produce some excellent work, but are the reviews necessarily accessible by the general public? Are they the ones who make or break your decision to go and see a film?
Then there's a step down towards film journalists. These are people who write by commission and produce reviews for newspapers, online publications, etc. They create straightforward reviews and stories on the movie industry. They can so easily become what I would call institutionalised journalists, they see movies continuously, review continuously, and from what I've seen of them have a very jaded view of cinema. No longer do they walk into a cinema and feel the excitement of seeing a movie, and it must be hard to retain that feeling when you see so many movies. It becomes like a job.
Then there are the reviewers and general writers. This is a wide group moving from professionals through to those running their own online site. These people love cinema, they love the experience of going to the movies, and they review and write about cinema either for themselves or for targeted groups of people. This section can be filled with a swamp of poor writing, but it's also populated with extremely personal and superbly written stories and reviews which are easily accessible and identifiable by those that read them, the public.
Do you see these groups yourself? What do you think about film critics in general, is there a place for them? Do you hold court with a particular critic and why do you? Some people have said to me that they look around at reviews until they find someone they identify and agree with, and that's where a connection and a level of trust and respect grows, only then do they begin to trust that reviewers recommendations.
Others I've talked to will simply search for a number of reviews and make a judgement on a few of them, this can be particularly hit and miss because there's no real way to tell what type of reviewers these people are or if they are reviewing the film for any personal motive.
That's a very interesting point to consider as well, and it's an issue I've found when reviewing films I didn't really like. You see I'll say just that, although I will try and look for the positives in any movie and point them out, ultimately I'll be honest to myself and those reading it. That's gotten me into trouble a few times where I've been asked quite pointedly to bury my review.
With that kind of pressure, and the positive incentives on offer for strong reviews, as well as the potential return on those desired poster quotes, how do you know this is the critic you can trust for reviews?
Personally I think it's a minefield, and before I wrote reviews I fell fowl of the poorer side of reviewers a number of times. Now that I do reviews I see a completely different view. I've seen reviewers who don't turn up for the start of a movie, leave before the end, and other such generally poor behaviour.
I think there will always be a place for good critics and reviewers who stay true to what cinema is and what the audience wants. Perhaps the opening of the Internet and the giving of a voice to the personal, independent critic will help to whittle away those institutionalised and bored with the cinema.
So how do you decide who to trust? Do you read the reviewer and find one you trust and connect with? Do you search for multiple reviews and see what they say between them? Or do you just read a publication that has diffierent critics each time?
The bigger question is do you trust critics at all? Are there different types as I have written about above, and do you find they serve different audiences? Indeed do you think there's no longer a place for the critic? Is the personal Internet identity killing them off?