Who reviews movie reviewers? pt 2
In Part One of this post, we discussed how, when it comes to movie reviews, two factors make movie reviewers largely unreliable: the highly subjective notion of a “good” or “bad” movie and the personal bias of the reviewer.
If we really can’t trust a review on the whole, then what can we get from a review? And who should we listen to for an honest review?
I posit that we should listen to those educated in the art in which we seek the review, taking into consideration their personal bias.
I also rail against those not educated in their medium, those Monday morning quarterbacks who say how they would have called the plays in the Super Bowl.
The argument against “person on the street” movie reviewers
Like independent media, there’s a place for everyone. But let’s be honest. When it comes to finding out how you should spend your hard-earned $10 (more if you live in places like New York City or Los Angeles, or see IMAX 3D), do you want to listen to a yahoo on YouTube or someone with a bit of knowledge and experience?
Let me put it another way.
If your car breaks down, do you call the high school junior who knows cars from playing games on her PS4 or do you call a mechanic?
Call me an elitist, but my happy ass is getting that mechanic to fix my car.
For movie reviewers, I’m going to listen to someone who understands the movie-making process from pre-production to post. Someone who can see the trends, the history.
I’d rather not listen to a fanboy who’s only reference to the art of creation is watching the final product.
But here’s a caveat to the learned scholar angle: even they fall into what I’ll affectionately call the “Cavill Trap”: bringing your world view into your review.
So can even the learned movie reviewer be trusted?
Ron Marz and my angle on movie reviewers
I’ve done the film school thing and am an avid student of film.
I’ve read and understood the Laura Mulvey article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema;” “Men, Women and Chainsaws,” Carol J. Clover’s seminal work on gender in horror movies; I know about the auteur theory and similar sacred texts. Did the four years in university.
I’m also a published author with a few almost produced screenplays in the mix. I’ve spent time on some sets as a production assistant, writer and producer.
I’ve worked twenty years of live events for acts like Jimmy Buffett and Electronic Arts.
I feel that gives me a bit more insight into critiquing pop culture than most.
But I also feel that my opinion is not sacrament. I don’t know everything. What inspires me may bore someone else.
In that regard, I’m more interested in what “Witchblade” writing guru Ron Marz stated in a great blog post on the art of the critique. He made the following four points on reviewing (in this case comics, but it applies to all mediums):
- There’s no excuse to not do the job properly, to not do your homework, or to not know the proper terminology
- A review is not a plot summary
- Reviews are also not a venue for what the reviewer thinks should have happened instead. The comic should be reviewed as it exists, not compared to the hypothetical comic that exists only in the reviewer’s mind
- Reviewing comics is the quintessential “jack of all trades, master of none” pursuit. It’s not necessary to be able to do any of the jobs on a creative team, but it is necessary to understand each of them
To me, following these points take us beyond whether the art is “good” or “bad. ” It allows us to educate ourselves in whether or not an artist succeeds in their artistic vision.
The purpose of art is to draw an emotional reaction. A reviewer’s purpose is to determine if the artist succeeded in generating that reaction. The reviewer can then discuss how they did it, and, if they failed, potential reasons why.
They can also discuss why an audience may have had a reaction contrary to what the artist intended.
A new definition of “good” and “bad”
Basing “good” and “bad” on whether one liked a movie or not is subjective. I prefer determining the artist’s ability to convey their story and whether said story as told works coherently within th framework they establish.
Some movies can be convoluted messes of twisted plot hole crap, and even if it entertains, it’s still not a good movie.
I’m looking at you, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
That’s not to say that one can’t learn or be entertained by a bad movie. It’s even okay to like a bad movie.
Honestly, there are probably some good movies you’re gonna hate. I hate the lead character in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that was some damn fine filmmaking (on the whole). And you won’t catch me watching “The Lobster” any time soon.
Don’t dismiss “bad” outright; you may learn something
I present Exhibit A: “Jupiter Ascending.”
The movie did many things wrong, but dismissing it belittles the attempt by the Wachowski sisters to create a unique artistic vision in a cinema dominated by comic book and TV adaptations, reboots and remakes.
I even find kernels of knowledge in the critically maligned “Batman v Superman.”
So when you read a review, be sure it’s from someone who has an idea of what it takes to make whatever piece of art you’re seeking advice on. Take into consideration the background of the source to understand their bias. Then decide if the movie succeeds in telling its story.
But above all, learn from your experience, educate yourself, and make yourself the best reviewer for you.