Friday, August 20, 2010
A Step Forward in What Direction?
With the continuing advancement of technology those purists keep whining that human beings are getting lazier and lazier. Wall-E may have been a cute and magic cartoon but you could see the parallels on display there. Similarly, whether that assertion is correct or not, it seems that people who read film criticism are getting lazier too. I'll admit it, I'm one of them. Right now I'm reading a 700 page volume entitled American Film Criticism. It's a collection of the very best people who ever wrote about film putting their very best writing forward from the dawn of cinema right up to today. And so far, I've been reading every word of it. I've been reading every word of it for, oh I don't know, six months and I'm around Page 400. It's tough. See, I'm now a part of a generation (although maybe once removed) in which film criticism is reduced to soundbites. I've indulged. Back in the day you picked up a newspaper because it had your favourite critic and you read everything they had to say because they wrote well and were generally more interesting than the movies they wrote about. Now personality is, (somewhat/mostly?) gone. Instead of reading full pieces by one or two favourite critics we read little snippets on Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic of every critic just to get a flavour. It has it's benefits. It is certainly nice to get a wide array of opinions instead of been burdened to just a select few, and it is possible to read the entire review from RT if you come across something you like. It also helps those whose only goal in reading film criticism is to know if people generally like it or not in order to decide if it's worth seeing. Now criticism has gotten even simpler: Why read through all the snippets when RT will summarize them all in a couple sentences for you? Although I am fully aware that they have provided 'Consensus" for some time, I've just recently been paying attention to it. Now I can log on to the main page, see the percentage rating beside the list of new releases on the left, roll my mouse over top of the name and read quickly what the overall jest of the reviews are about. All without leaving that one page. Of course I could go on about how, as a writer, my favourite thing about reviews is not knowing what people think about the movies as much as reading great writing. But that's not the point and indeed it was a long build-up to get to my otherwise nothing point, which is that today I came across a perplexing Consensus on RT. It was for the new Jason Fiedberg/Aaron Seltzer (man it hurts to say) film Vampires Suck. I haven't seen it, but considering that I've sworn to never pay another cent to watch anything those two morons ever put their name on, my hopes aren't high. Right now it's sitting at a 6% rating with 1 person out of 30 actually finding something to like. But now look at the Consensus: "Witlessly broad and utterly devoid of laughs, Vampires Suck represents a slight step forward for the Friedberg-Seltzer team." What's going on here? If it's witlessly broad and devoid of laughs, what is it stepping forward from, killing Jews? Is it really saying, holy crap I can't believe one person actually liked this, that's the best yet or is it saying that this one feels less like getting murdered than just getting raped? Whatever it is it doesn't make sense. Can't we just call a dog a dog? I know a couple million people have read The Secret and want to look at the glass as being half full but really, a glass doesn't even factor into the equation when it comes to these filmmakers. I have no real point here other than to scratch my head and maybe laugh at myself for even being bothered to care. But maybe there is something here. Armond White just told Slash Film that he thought Roger Ebert more or less ruined film criticism and, although I haven't listened to his reasoning, I assume it's because Ebert opened up criticism to a more mainstream audience. It made, so to speak, film geekery cool and stripped criticism of it's intelligence. I don't agree with that logic as Ebert seemed to have shown film lovers that they could take criticism away from the intellectuals and give back to the moviegoers who could just as easily wage their own Siskel and Ebert style debates at home. If that is true (and again, I don't think it is in the sense that it ruined film criticism) than what do we make of the whole of criticism being reduced to one sentence bites of information, especially when they seem widely implausible (based on this example of course, I can't qualify that statement with any other proof). Is this helpful? Is this criticism? Is that, ultimately, what we want? Discuss.