Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, in his increasingly angry and fun-to-read Roger Ebert’s Journal has once again hit the nail on the head. His subject? The fact that movie critics everywhere are getting fired and thoughtful reviews are being replaced by celebrity news briefs about Britney’s clubgoing or cute bits about how Suri “won’t wear pants.”
I quote: “The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically.”
I have been thinking about printing some kind of critic’s creed for this site, something that attacks “critics” who spend half of their review summarizing plot and/or making snide remarks about the actors in the film they are reviewing, rather than getting involved on any sort of deeper level with the movie itself. Ebert wrote his own personal Little Rule Book just last month. (Examples: Provide a sense of the experience, Advise the readers well, Keep track of your praise.)
Don’t get me wrong. Celebrity culture has its place. It’s not for me, but I get why it exists. It’s just that when I go see a movie, I like to get lost in it. I don’t want to be thinking about Suri’s dressing habits or Tom jumping on the couch when I watch “Mission: Impossible III.” I want to believe, for two hours, that superspy Ethan Hunt fears for the life of the girl he loves. Or that sexist evangelist Frank Mackie from “Magnolia” has a secret buried in his past that makes him say vile things in public and make a tremendous amount of money from them.
That’s because I love the mystery and magic of filmmaking. That’s why I do this site. I love to see films, write about films, discuss films, and examine how they reflect my life and how they open my eyes to others’ lives. Film is culture, that’s all there is to it. Anyone who doesn’t see that isn’t thinking about what they see.
Ebert mentions several great film critics whose prose is as good as their content. I’m always working on both and I’m never quite content with what I write, but I always strive to get better—more focused, more insightful, honest. There are/were also plenty of of lazy-ass critics out there who love to be the first ones to see and pass judgment on a film and really think nothing of it. I’ve seen plenty. In print and in person. They like nothing better than wielding what little power they have, and think very little about the consequences of words and comments tossed off so nonchalantly.
One reason people are becoming so pissed off at critics is because most of them are so formulaic and boring to read. Reviewing film is not a checklist activity. You don’t go right on down the line and talk about every little technical issue without discussing overall content and culture. The cinematography may be beautiful to look at in “Australia,” but how does that relate to the story? What is the filmmaker telling us? Is it different from what he thinks he’s telling us? Are there mixed messages being sent? The neo-realistic puke-cam look of “The Blair Witch Project” advanced that film’s purpose a thousand times better than the big-budget excess of “Australia” because the horror movie’s design was absolutely tied into its lack of budget.
If reviewing movies is different, then, from simply commenting on whether the acting was ”astounding” or the set design was “marvelous,” what is it that bugs you about movie reviews? (I’ll tell you what bugs me: Quote-whore critics who throw one-word value-judgment adjectives in movie ads.) What would you like to see writers avoid? What are you tired of? Or, what would you like to read more of? Now is your chance to sound off.
I hope you will start thinking soon, because it won’t be long before you will be a scene-stealer. Big changes are on the way here at Scene-Stealers.com, and soon this site will be allow YOU to be the critic. Ever wonder how that line gets drawn in the sand between a “credible” critic and everyone else? We are going to kick it right back in the faces of anyone who doesn’t think our opinions about movies matter. We’re the ones they make them for, after all.
Now it’s their turn to listen to us.