The Purpose of Criticism

Last week, I saw a discussion of Facebook about “critics” on the Internet Movie Database.  It was about the recent movie about Bruce Lee, Birth of the Dragon.  So, I checked out those “reviews.”  They tore the film to shreds.  Here’s the thing, though:  Most of those “reviews” were mostly just single sentences.  A single sentence does not make a review.  It’s stating an opinion, but it may have no value to the reader.  Strangely enough, it got me thinking about the idea of criticism and what and who it is actually for.  I’m not necessarily talking about just film criticism, but art and writing as well.  The idea of criticism has been around since time immemorial.  The difference between criticism today and criticism centuries ago is the technology available.  With the Internet and social media like FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit, there are many methods of putting critiques out on the ‘net.  Over the past few years, I’ve been noticing an increase of attacks on critics by artists, film-makers, and authors alike.  Attacking critics, again, is something that’s existed LONG before movies ever existed.  If someone like say, the Emperor of China, noticed a negative opinion, they would have sentenced the person who wrote that opinion to death.  Stuff like that still happens today in the 21st Century.  I’m not going to be talking about the actual violence against critics, but rather the vocal opposition to what people write about certain works.  In this case, movies.

Film criticism is a form of journalism, even in the loosest sense of the word.  It’s about informing the audience about movies and whether or not they should see said movies.  In my opinion, we are guides, nothing more.  We try to give people information that they may need if they decide to see a movie.  Whether or not they actually see the film is their choice, not ours.  The thing is, a number of film-makers like Alex Proyas, have come out against critics because they said some of the movies they made are crap.  Sorry, Mr. Proyas, Gods of Egypt was indeed a big pile of steaming horseshit, but that’s neither here nor there.  That is my opinion, and quite frankly, the opinion of many others.  Going after people for voicing their opinions about films can be a very, VERY dangerous proposition, unless you’re going after those dingbats on IMDB who can’t form a cohesive opinion of their own.  In that case, knock yourself out.  Just don’t go after folks who are trying to offer constructive criticism.  Are there critics who clearly have an agenda that is liberally or conservatively biased?  Do certain critics have an axe to grind or have it in for a particular film-maker?  Definitely.  Uwe Boll is notorious for going after his critics, going so far as to challenge them to a boxing match.  It was a publicity stunt, but still.  The critics that clearly have agendas tend to stick out, so they are generally easier to ignore.  At least, in my opinion.

It’s not just directors that go after their critics.  Actors do it, too.  Jesse Eisenberg tried to attack film critics using a short story called “An Honest Film Review.”  If he was trying to attack film critics, he didn’t do a very good job.  As I said above, going after a film critic because they didn’t particularly care for your movie is not a great idea, especially if that critic has a wide audience.  I’m lucky to be small enough not to be noticed by these guys.  If you put anything out there like a movie, song, painting or hell, even film review, it’s going to get criticized.  That’s the reality of the world we live in.  Everybody’s a critic.  How you respond to them could affect how people respond to you.  I try to keep my reviews as fair as humanly possible.  Sometimes, I can’t.  We’re only human and we have voices.  If you don’t like what we have to say, feel free to ignore us.  You’re not going to hurt our feelings.  If you have an issue with someone’s review, try to approach them in a constructive manner.  Have a discussion.  You may find some kind of insight that you might not have thought of before.  Don’t get me wrong.  Getting criticized can be painful.  I’ve had people criticize my reviews from time to time.  But as I said before:  How you choose to respond to that can make all the difference in the world.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen movie bloggers go after film-makers for various reasons.  I’ve seen critics attack folks like Quentin Tarantino for the level of violence in his movies, and that’s all they focus on.  That is not constructive criticism.  That’s pushing an agenda.  That’s taking a “won’t you think of the children” approach which is a completely false narrative to start with.  Tarantino’s response to those kinds of questions is probably the right one.  He doesn’t give a damn what you think.  He never really has, which is why he’s able to make the movies that he makes.  He’s gone after critics, to be sure, but the critics he went after had an agenda and didn’t understand the movies that he made.  So, there are two sides to this issue.  On the one side you’ve got egotistical film-makers that get butt-hurt because somebody didn’t like their precious film and you’ve got critics with an over-developed sense of social justice.

Again, I ask:  What is the purpose of criticism?  It’s to give people a certain perspective on a particular subject.  That’s generally all we film reviewers have to offer:  A perspective.  I can only speak for myself, but I try to be fair on each and every film that I review.  However, sometimes a movie sucks so bad, I just can’t help myself and I tear it to shreds.  Criticism doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It is a tool that one can use to improve upon something.  In this case, if you made a movie that isn’t so good, you can take the criticism of the audience and certain critics and you can build a better film from there.  Just don’t try to silence us.  We only get louder….and we are here to stay.

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