Yesterday I held forth briefly on public radio's movie reviewers. Today's Slate has an excellent piece by Jacob Weisberg called "Uncritical Critics" on the same general (although non-radio) topic, a response to the Warner Bros. opening of "The Avengers" movie without the usual free pre-release reviewer screening. Here's some quotes, with my reactions:
Reviewers... have a stake in keeping up the pretense that most films are worth reviewing. Were they to acknowledge that 95% of what comes out of Hollywood is eyewash <1>, there wouldn't be much left for most of them to do.Well, duh <2> - to me these "theories" are practically self-evident - another case, I suppose, where the cheerfully bubble-headed would label my skepticism as "cynicism", since I consider the sudden grasp of this conclusion as naïve. I really enjoy film, because I've seen many great movies which have changed my life. <3> This is why I get so cheesed off when I'm tricked into sitting through rubbish, and why my brain implodes when confronted with someone who seems to like the garbage, because garbage is all they've ever seen. (Common comment from them: "Just sit back and enjoy it, it's only a movie!") Only a movie? Have you never been moved by a great film, never left the cinema with an inspiring feeling of exhilaration? I guess not, if all you've been fed is a steady diet of slasher gore, sit-com humor, car chases and explosions. "'Poor, ignorant booby,' I thought" - Charles in Brideshead Revisited.
A couple of years ago, Susan Sontag argued in an article in the "New York Times Magazine" that the decline of film quality is a demand-driven problem. What's killing cinema as an art form is the demise of the audience with a taste for serious and challenging films. If she's right, there may not be much reviewers can do. But it would be nice to see them rage a little against the degradation of the medium they're supposed to love. One way to protest would be to follow the "crank" critics in acknowledging that movies such as "Deep Impact" and "Small Soldiers" don't require evaluation. A newspaper that wants to serve its readers well can provide a paragraph-long capsule and a Zagat-style reader rating instead. Critics should address the larger question of why Hollywood thinks so little of today's film audience. And if Warner Bros. doesn't want "The Avengers" reviewed, reviewers should be only too happy to oblige.Actually I don't see why these free screenings are even necessary. The newspaper (or even the reviewer) should spring for his ticket, to avoid any conflict of interest. Does the "press kit" supplied really provide any information a competent critic doesn't already have? Oh right, that requisite schmoozing - I forgot for a moment all I learned during my LA days about how The Industry really works. As for not reviewing the dross, I'd like to see things taken a step forward - elimination of the crap. Regarding all those wretched films at the video store, which weren't even good enough to be released - why can't those tapes be degaussed? I weep at the soul destruction going on, when people can't find anything "good" <4> at the video store - so they take home instead something that sounded good on the box, but they've never heard of - well there's a reason it's unknown!
Final note on the feature film, from another review in Slate by David Edelstein:
And there's something reassuring about the fact that 'The Avengers' is so rotten: proof yet again that people with piles of money can hire wizard production designers but can't fake class... As the eccentric master villain who controls the weather, even Sean Connery is flat-out terrible, acting high on the hog. To think Connery once found the Bond films so far beneath him! When he sputters lines like "Time to die!" one imagines Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Blofeld snickering in the wings.By the way, I have no interest in "The Avengers" movie, having never watched the television show - what little exposure I received was off-putting; too twee for me. In my world the Avengers are a lesser squad of Marvel Comics superheroes (originally led by Iron Man and including Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk) - less than interesting since my own loyalties go with the Fantastic Four; but these days the X-Men are getting all the attention.
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<1>"Eyewash?" Eye-poke is more like it.
<2>Or, as V's older sister would say, "No duh!"
<3>I remember asking a former coworker about a movie, using this
expression: "Did it change your life?" He found this amusing - the phrase sounded too deep
to him, but he eventually understood what I meant, as I hope you do. See my
related discussion on books, where
I use the same qualifier.
<4>It's tragic how the "Classics" section is generally overlooked