February 28, 2009
Who Replies to the Watchmen?[With apologies, my "Film of the Week" column was stopped dead in its tracks yesterday when my screener for Albert Serra's Birdsong refused to be recognized by my DVD player or computer. There's a joke in here about the film's accessibility, but instead I'll just say that Astra Taylor's Examined Life was my Friday pick.] The innocent and guilty will be equally protected today: When a certain major motion picture was released this weekend, a certain respected film critic brutally but thoughtfully slammed it, and he was hardly alone in his disapproval. Yet the director of said movie singled out said critic with a venomous, profanity-laden, character-attacking email, which will not be posted here, nor the website where the review ran. Having been forwarded the rant, I began thinking about the one-sided conversation that is film criticism. If opinions are like belly buttons (in which case, Karolina Kurkova is indifferent), might they be honed to help further the medium itself if filmmakers and their critics interacted regularly? Or would that just lead to hurt feelings and more excessively nasty e-tirades? Nobody likes to have their labors of love picked apart for their flaws. One of my major gripes with criticism today is that it's not constructive enough, and commentators are often writing more about themselves than they are the work they're meant to contextualize. Sometimes writing a bad review is more fun; I've said in the past that I'm allowed to be flowery when the films are good, and funny when they're mediocre. But that's ultimately a bad habit many arts journalists and bloggers are at fault for—myself included—and how many of us stop to consider that these filmmakers are potentially our audience? (They should be, anyway!) Would we write such blistering take-downs if we had to read them aloud to their faces? Are we being productive and offering them useful advice that they might cull from going forth, or when we don't like a film, are we lazily heckling to avoid engaging what it is we don't find engaging? Would one-on-one confrontations make us more honest, or would that interaction pollute any chances for objectivity? I reviewed a low-budget indie that few people saw, and let's just say I had been severely underwhelmed. Two months later, while at a festival where both that film and my own were screening, I was forced by happenstance to meet the director. Not only did he recognize my name from the badge around my neck, he was able to quote back the harsher parts of my review while I barely remembered writing them. How awkward! The experience was gratifying for both of us, however, because in his directness, he never questioned my taste, just my specific opinions. We were able to discuss in more detail than my 250-word capsule could why I had issues with the film, what I thought could've been improved upon. In the end, even if we disagreed on some things, we agreed on others, and most importantly, had each other's respect—there was no more awkwardness as we drank beers and watched films together. Could this happen in every case? Of course not, we're all built differently and some have thicker hides. But if filmmakers valued that good critics weren't just a gang of moustache-twirling villains eager to dip their fountain pens in hemlock, and the critics tempered any condemnation with judiciousness as if they were facing each filmmaker with a practical performance review, what do you think we might accomplish?
Posted by ahillis at February 28, 2009 10:39 AM