The worst thing that can happen to a critic is when they believe their shit doesn’t think.
Despite the popular notion, art and elitism do not mix, and believe me when I say a well written piece of criticism is indeed art. Or something close to it.
What many critics forget is the responsibility that comes with their job. Then pen (or in most cases, keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword, and can be used to champion a film, or rip it apart.
The key to damning a movie is to do so with mature, reasoned objections as to why the reader should not see a film, and possibly send a multi-million dollar project (or low budget indie flick) and the people associated with it to obscurity.
The best critics structure their objections to make entertaining and/or enlightening reading, and trust me, this is a hard thing to do when dealing with an opinion.
Have I ever succumbed to battering a film with less than flattering praise? Of course! Yet I would like to think that I do so with some semblance of professional integrity: if I trash a movie, rest assured my reasons are clear and concise.
One critic who loves to give a film a good verbal walloping is Armond White, scourge to the internet fanboy, bane to the Tomatmeter, and overall shit stirrer.
His shtick has now become infamous: if there is a critically lauded film, rest assured White will trash it.
Toy Story 3: “...is so besotted with brand names and product-placement that it stops being about the innocent pleasures of imagination -- the usefulness of toys -- and strictly celebrates consumerism”; Inception: “Like Grand Theft Auto's quasi-cinematic extension of noir and action-flick plots, Inception manipulates the digital audience's delectation for relentless subterfuge”; and recent releaseThe Social Network: "Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It's really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness.”
To add fuel to fire, White then praises the worst films of the year. Norbit, Transformers 2, and Jonah Hex are amongst his championed films.
White’s refusal (whether pre-intentioned or not) to go along with the rest of the critic community can be frustrating, yet also admirable. His reviews are well written and worthy of reading, even if his taste in movies is just plain terrible.
A growing backlash has seen many a “Ban Armond White!” petition pop up all over the web. I say let White be, and direct the negative energy on those critics way too cool to even sit through a movie in its entirety.
I was witness to this only recently, at a screening for Charlie St. Cloud, the latest Zac Efron movie which has drawn many negative reviews.
One of those came from David Stratton, Australia’s critic supreme and co-host of the review show At the Movies.
Said Stratton of Charlie St. Cloud: “If you buy the concept you might enjoy the film, but if you're a hardened cynic you'd better avoid Charlie St. Cloud, despite the very handsome location photography, which is its greatest asset."
Fair enough, yet Stratton doesn’t reveal the fact that he walked out with a good 30 min left. I know, because I saw him do it.
So, unless Stratton possesses supernatural powers where he can foretell how a movie will end, what he did was submit a review for a movie he didn’t even bother to finish watching. Hardly subjective, or professional.
Yet it is not the first time a film critic has succumbed to such snobbery.
In 2008, Stratton’s American equivalent Roger Ebert posted a negative review for the independent feature Tru Loved, admitting he only watched 8 minutes of his DVD screener before deciding: “I paused the disc, looked at my notes so far, and thought, ‘There's my review right there.’ The movie had left me not wanting to see more.”
His ill-informed professional fumble caused controversy, with Gary Susman from Entertainment Weekly writing: "No other movie critic in America could have pulled off such a stunt without getting fired. I fear that, even though he corrected his mistake, he's still set a bad example. At a time when film critics all over America are losing their jobs, it can't be good for readers, editors, or filmmakers to think that when he did passes for professional, acceptable behaviour among film critics and the outlets that publish their work, even for a moment."
Perhaps Tru Loved writer/director Stewart Wade should have taken a page out of Kevin Smith’s book. He confronted the late film critic Joel Siegel on the Opie & Andy radio program, after Seigel walked out of Smith’s Clerks 2 and allegedly yelled “Time to go. This is the first movie I've walked out on in thirty fucking years!”
To say that Smith handed Seigel his ass (on live air) is an understatement.
Perhaps it’s time there be a set of rules which the whole film critic community should abide by.
I propose the following:
- All critics much watch a film to its completion (end credits optional),
- Reviews must not be submitted if a critic walks out on a movie (no matter how awful),
- It’s fine to trash a film, yet mature and reasoned objections as to why it’s a stinker are a must,
- Alternatively, high praise should not be simplified to “Awesome!”, “Best movie of the Year!”, or other empty phrases,
And finally, just because you are in a position to judge, doesn’t mean you have to be a prick about it.