"Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon." ~ Gloria Steinem

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Don't Read Film Reviews, or You Are Useless To Me, Critics/Fans/Netflix Users

Well, the title pretty much sums it up, yeah? However, I guess I could explain why every film review I've ever read was completely useless--as I said in the title, whether it was written by a fan, a Netflix user, or a bona fide film critic.

Here's the thing about film: for some reason, everyone seems to think a major defining characteristic of a "good" movie is, or should be, mass appeal. And I'm not talking about demonstrable financial success; I'm talking about the assumption--the insidious assumption--that there is such a thing as a categorically "good" film, and everyone should like said "good" films.

Let me explain. In every review, a value judgment is assigned to the reviewed film; the review is written as though this value judgment should be agreed upon by everyone--it is assumed that the film will be universally received by any and all viewers, and the reaction has been predicted by Sir Film Critic, God of the Cinema. Fuck only knows who decided Sir Film Critic has the magic secret to finding the universal value judgment.

But here is my opinion: no value judgment exists. Shocking, I know; the idea that people might not agree on something is truly revolutionary.

Enough of that. My main point: film reviews are useless, and should be more like album reviews.

I do not, personally, read album reviews, but my boyfriend tells me they are exceedingly useful; different albums of the same artist are compared, critical reception is discussed, the artist is compared to other artists in order to better describe what you're getting when you buy the album. In short, useful information. Information that helps you decide whether it's music you might like, based on what you already know you like. Information that helps you decide which album to start with if you're interested in getting into the band. Information that is fucking relevant, and doesn't presuppose that you're going to like or dislike the band based on someone else's entirely subjective opinion.

So why don't film reviews follow the same tack? Why don't they talk about the actors--compare this movie to previous work? Why don't they talk about the director, the costume designer, and the cinematography in the same vein? Why don't they compare the style of the cinematography, the type of humor, writing, plot, pace, and so on and on and on and on and on, to other films, films by the same people or different people? Why don't they give you something useful?

That's why I don't read film reviews. I love movies; I fucking love movies. I can get a pretty good idea of what I'm going to think of a film just from the trailer, but review give me nothing useful at all.

Perhaps it comes from the strange notion that has built up around films--the idea that art can be categorized and numbered and judged. Film is more accessible than music, perhaps; more mainstream. It's all about the money, so in order for filmmakers to get studio funding for their projects, the public must be convinced that film is objective...?


Regardless, I'm still not planning on taking up reading film reviews any time soon. I think I could write a pretty useful review myself, though. For example, when reviewing Down With Love, I'd describe the  visual feel and style of the entire film as an homage to the bit in Breakfast at Tiffany's where they spend an entire day doing things they've never done before. I'd call Mona Lisa Smile a less depressing, more historically contextual Dead Poet's Society for women. I'd point out that Amelie is so engrossing that you might forget you're reading subtitles, that Kinsey is a rather slow-paced, detail-oriented biopic that might be boring for a lot of people, and that you might need to watch Pride and Prejudice a few times to get used to how fast the actors speak, but once you understand what they're saying, you'll find all kinds of delightfully funny gems buried in the British.

Maybe I'll give that a shot; I'll start with the genres I've recently created for my movie library: "Movies That Make You Glad To Be Alive", "Movies That Make You Want To Die (But You Love Them Anyway)", "Desert Island Movies", "Feel-Good Classics", "Formulaic Romantic Comedies Of The 1990s", "Bette Davis"...the list goes on and on.

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