If you ask me where I stand personally in relation to films I'll tell you I'm a critic. Sure I watch a lot of movies just for the heck of it and have a library in my head of dates and names and titles and so forth, but even when it comes to viewing just for the heck of it, or to be caught up, the critical gears are always shifting. It's because I love writing. I love presenting arguments and working through them and I like to think that I have enough knowledge and understanding of both the artistic prospect of film along with the business side to create, for the most part, fair and honest assessments. However, even though I love being in the heat of debate, I also love sitting back and watching the way people behave and interact. I love walking down the street or sitting in a public place and hearing the conversations that are going on around me. Call it undercover sociology. I therefore sometimes like to make assessments on observations I've made. So here it is: there are two types of film buffs, Film Buff A and Film Buff B. Let's work through them. Film Buff A will watch just about anything. They are happy with just seeing a movie and see them out of the love movies give them. They love the social aspect, the feelings they get, the reactions they have and because of this, they aren't biased. They'll be just as happy sitting down to The Proposal as they are to Chloe because a movie is a movie. To them, The Last Song say, doesn't signal another horrible Miley Cyrus movie, but another chance for Cyrus to prove she can give a good performance in a sweet romance. Their weak point is that they can't always give valid or meaningful reasons for liking what they like and they sometimes have no idea what makes a movie good or not but that's fine; they are buffs not critics. Because of this though they tend to like trivia, which I guess, to some, passes as film knowledge. However, they are generally nice to be around. The glass is half full with them as they don't care about trailers or advertisements; they just want to see good movies and, at the end of the day, they know that anything can be made into a good movie with the right people under the right circumstances. In a way, even the seasoned critics can learn something from such purity and, in a not negative way, naivety: they think with their heart, find originality to be an abstract concept and look for the good in films, no matter how bad they may be. Film Buff B is the person who is always trying to out-buff you. No matter what you say they know one better and always have to have the final word. They don't so much debate as grace you with the pleasure of their opinion, are quite selective with the films they see (they only see good ones, you see) but see a lot of them, mistaking this for actually knowing something about film. To many of them them Antoinioni is God, contemporary mainstream filmmaking is to be left for the philistines and there is no way they will like movie X because it starred Y or because it's trailer was garbage or it's story isn't original. They employ the originality argument constantly, use trick words like 'interesting' or 'flawed' and usually compose, what they think to be great arguments out of no more than air because, after all, everything they say should just be accepted as fact. This is, of course, an extreme case scenario. In many cases, I suspect, that kind of attitude is unconscious and develops from a desire simply to appear to have a meaningful opinion on everything. These people love to categorize films, as if they should all have a designated place and also love to create lists, as if lists somehow make opinions more legitimate and make a good reference point for further conversation: "Oh yes, Out of the Past was my third favourite 1940s film noir but ranked second on my list of favourite Robert Mitchum films," prompting of course, if all is going well, you to ask what the other 2 were. Is it exhaustive to look at all film buffs in this light? Of course not, there are always middle grounds that exist between the boundaries when you present black and white portraits of two extreme types as I have here but, somewhere, between these two is where just about all film buffs lie. And remember, we are talking about buffs here (self-proclaimed or not), not causal viewers. I'd leave this little editorial with a question about what category you think you fall under but what's the point, just about no one would consciously admit to being part of the second group. But here's a test you can do to see what group people fall under. Write a list of movies on your blog that you plan on seeing in the next week. I'll do a hypothetical one: Transformers, The Notebook, Leaving Las Vegas and Millions. Film Buff A will respond by complimenting your list and saying something to to tune of "Ah yes, Leaving Las Vegas is one of my favourites, Nicholas Cage is fantastic, I haven't seen Millions yet but would really like to, and I hear the Notebook is really worth seeing," wish you a good week and be done with it. They target one or two they love, one they need to see and maybe some helpful advice they have heard and go about their business. They make no critical assessment of the films, only single out the ones they know about and leave it at that. Film Buff B on the other hand will compliment your list if it is up to their standards and then do one of two possible things. They will eaither provide their own little one sentence reviews of each film on the list, even the ones they haven't seen because, whether they've seen it or not, they must have their opinion. They will draw conclusions based on directors or actors in relations to their body of work and any other such thing to cover up the fact that they just haven't seen the movie. Either that or they will break films down into subcategories for you and rank them all. Personally I don't care much for film buffs because, as I said in the beginning, I like criticism and that's something that film buffs are sometimes (maybe most times) devoid of. Whenever I'm encounted with one, especially from category B, I always think of that great quote from Pierre Rissient, "It's not enough to like a movie, one must like it for the right reasons."
I think I am a mix of both...I'll watch, and probably like, anything, but I'll get pissed at people who dare ask who Fellini is. I am the worst of both, I think.ReplyDelete
I agree, interesting. The thing I can't quite figure out, from what you wrote, is why someone can't be both a buff and a critic. Isn't everyone a critic to some degree?ReplyDelete
Like Simon, I'd like to think I'm a good mix of both, with a healthy dose of critic in there because, like you, I just get a massive kick out of writing, although I have a sinking feeling that I'm more in the realm of FIlm Buff B. This is a terrifying concept to get a hold on. Seriously, I've lost sleep over it.ReplyDelete
Loved the post!
Interesting read. Like Ripley said, I think just about is everyone is a mix of both. Personally, I have no problem watching art-house indies or big summer blockbusters, no trouble admitting I enjoyed The Notebook or the first Transformers. On the other hand, don't we all try to change someone else mind or attempt to drive someone to see a movie when we write a review?ReplyDelete
Simon-as a Fellini snob I`d be less pissed about those who don`t know him as those who want to talk about La Strada and La Dolce Vita but don`t know what Voice in the Moon or Orchestra Rehersal are. Then again, I always try to meet people on their level and not bring them to mine.ReplyDelete
Vance- It`s a good question. I think I have an answer. Is everyone a critic to some degree, yes, in an abstract sense of the term. Anyone can write a review and it might be good and it might not be, but criticism I think is something to be left to those who know what they are talking about. I`ll give an example, maybe it`s not a good one, but the difference between a buff and a critic is that a buff will say, well Chloe was a box office failure because it only made X. A critic will say, although Chloe`s numbers didn`t break records it`s returns surpassed it`s budget of Y, although, since the entire movie had made it`s money back before it was even released, it could have made only a dollar and still turn a profit.
Using one more example: buffs what movies, critics have read Bazin and Farber and Eisenstein and Godard and such and approach their craft from that sort of angle, not, hey, was this movie good or not. However, I must assume, that just about all critics are film buffs.
Sebastian- There`s nothing wrong with buff B as long as it`s not in a condescending way. In truth, it`s hard to avoid B from time to time no matter how much you fall into A and maybe that`s healthy as long as you don`t lose friends over it.
Castor- yes we do, but again, buffs don`t need to write reviews. Blogger film buffs do because, if they didn`t write reviews, what would they write. Really though, reviewing doesn`t necessarily mean you belong to B. Yojimbo hit the nail on the head when he said once that as people who write about film we should be seeing everything and not picking and chosing and judging something we haven`t seen. Hard to put into practice if you don`t make money doing this but his head was in the right place. I so hate reading blog posters where authors pass judgement on movies just based on their trailers and don`t even read the ones where they judge the Friday new releases before having even seen them, not to say that the blogs who do that are bad ones, just that writing something of that nature always seems narrow-minded to me regardless of the intentions.
I'm being attacked and must defend myself!ReplyDelete
Okay, I'm not being directly attacked, but I can't help but think that your comment to Castor about unseen Friday new releases was directed at me, sort of. I write a speculative post about Friday new releases every week, but the main reason I do that kind of relates to what you said above about Yojimbo -- how it's hard to write about current films, at a time when it feels current to your readers, when you don't have the money or the inclination to see them all as soon as you'd like, and are not getting paid. Maybe I need to include an asterisk with every Friday new release post that spells it out clearly, but I don't think stating your potential concerns with a film based on its trailers is necessarily a worthless exercise. Especially if you make it clear that this is an opinion not based on an actual viewing.
Let's take this past Friday. I ended up writing about Splice (which I actually did see a couple hours later, and the way I wrote about it was really just an entry point to discussing something else, anyway), but I originally was going to talk about The Killers, and I was going to title the post "Not a killer idea." Should I have given the movie the benefit of the doubt? Maybe. But I think I had enough information about it, without seeing it, to make what would have been my point: That the movie about an assassin who tries to go straight, and whose loved ones get entangled when his past catches up with him, has been done to death. Isn't there a place on the blogosphere to discuss worrisome trends in cinema, without having to see every film potentially involved in that worrisome trend to be sure that you're right?
To put it another way ... film blogs are a place we like to communally discuss our interest in seeing or not seeing films. I feel like a person should be able to say they don't have interest in seeing a film without that meaning they're a snob, or they haven't given the film a proper chance. Writing a longer piece about why you are not interested in seeing a film is just an expanded version of that. I think saying you're excited to see Inception is similar to saying you're not excited to see Marmaduke, in that you haven't seen either film, so you don't really know. Should one have greater value than the other just because it's positive? Or should you really not say anything at all about a film until/unless you've seen it?ReplyDelete
Thanks for the response Vance. I must say I was not attacking you or anyone in particular (so many people write these Friday posts that it would be impossible to single out just one person) and you run one of the most respectable blogs I read.ReplyDelete
To respond to what you said about expressing a desire to see or not to see a film I say, why even bother? I never read Pauline Kael to know what she wanted to see or didn't want to see, I read her to know what she thought about what she did see. Why should I, or you or anyone, after all, care about what I or you or anyone want or don't want to see unless there is a point to be made in their not wanting to see it? To me that's just a waste of space and to quote 8 1/2, it is better to destroy than create what is meaningless. As Castor said to Simon over on his critique of her blog, we're writing blogs not journals. Keeping that in mind, whenever I see a preview I don't say yes I want to see that or guh, I don't want to see that because I know, eventually, I will be seeing it regardless, but that's just the type that I am.
I think however, now we are getting away from a discussion of film buffdon and into arguing about types of film criticism.
Yeah, I took it too personally -- the only reason I did was because I was one of the other commenters on this post, so I figured you would know I'd read it. :-)
I guess that's the difference between my blog and most other blogs -- I don't actually write reviews (on the blog itself). I mostly discuss trends and other things related to film that are not always about their quality, or provide personal anecdotes, or even write about the process of reviewing films. So I guess I'll let myself off the hook (obviously, this has struck a nerve) by feeling satisfied with the fact that I'm not submitting premature reviews when I write these pieces, I'm discussing marketing trends and other industry patterns that these films appear to exemplify. For example, sometimes it interests me more not whether Marmaduke will be a good film or not, but whether the studio thinks it will be good, based on the advertising they have or haven't provided us.
But back to the main topic ... I'm really glad I do get paid (albeit not very much) to write film reviews, otherwise there are certain films I think I could just never justify spending my time on. If I were merely a film buff, I'd have to let it all in, wouldn't I? For example, this weekend I watched Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties in order to review it. Will you eventually be seeing even this, Mike? That's a whole other interesting topic: How do the people who see everything choose which things to push to the back of the list? Or is it all just a matter of opportunity?
Ha, I have indeed seen both Garfield movies and rather enjoyed the first one. As for what movies I see and when I see them, the answer is, whenever they are available. Some movies I download (because they got bad reviews, were made by Tyler Perry or aren't available near me) and don't watch them for years, sometimes they just happen to be ondemand for me for the month and I'll catch them then and so on. I try to only see good ones in the theater because I don't get paid for this but it doesn't always work out that way.ReplyDelete
I'd say I'm more an A-type, but not so naive. I also take care (most of the time) to pick my movies wisely so I can be positive about them most of the time since I avoid the really bad stuff! And I can be quite critical of a movie even while enjoying it for what it means to be (a piece of entertainement)ReplyDelete
Cris- sounds about right. I believe though that we as viewers need to meet a movie on it's level as opposed to expecting it to always raise to ours. You don't end up liking many movies with that attitude.ReplyDelete
I agree with that standard -- I think you have to figure out if every movie is the best version of itself that it can be. If I think a dumb comedy is the best dumb comedy it can be, I'll rank it higher mentally than a big epic that comes up short in certain ways, but is in most other ways considered a "better" or "more important" film than the dumb comedy.ReplyDelete