Unreviewed screenings, current reading, links, recommendations, free talk, questions, thoughts, informal conversation, anything... comments welcome
>> updates below (sticky entry for a month)
Susan Sontag : "It would be hard to find any reputable literary critic today who would care to be caught defending as an idea the old antithesis of style versus content. On this issue a pious consensus prevails. … In the practice of criticism, though, the old antithesis lives on, virtually unassailed. Most of the same critics who disclaim, in passing, the notion that style is an accessory to content maintain the duality whenever they apply themselves to particular works of literature. … Many critics appear not to realize this. They think themselves sufficiently protected by a theoretical disclaimer on the vulgar filtering-off of style from content, all the while their judgments continue to reinforce precisely what they are, in theory, eager to deny." cited at Jahsonic
I know it's awkward for me to pin down mannerism because I can't write in English, and I'm not even a good writer in French. But I'm against style on principle, not to justify or excuse my own lazy and deficiant wordsmith. Actually I feel more comfortable developping content and ideas in criticism in a foreign language precisely because I don't have the possibility to resort to self-indulgent formulas that plague the French intellectual criticism where nice words worth better than ideas or even substitute them. Although the low brow reviewing is not immune to ready-made clichés. Too often words precede ideas. When you start a sentence, or when you use a certain verb, there is a selected possibilities to follow up that are engraved in the collective culture, a series of clichés embedding consensual ideas into catch phrases. Critics believe they said it all when they come up with a nice sentence while there is nothing really new or actually pertinent to the film at hand below the stylish surface.
bradstevens : "I've always believed that film criticism should be approached responsibly, not as an opportunity for stylish displays of wit that end up trivialising both writer and film. I expect film critics to inform or educate, not entertain." at a_film_by
Criticism is a literary genre and I would have nothing against this practice if it was only the icing that does not replace meaning. The reason it's dangerous and that this fallacy should be pointed out here is that most readers are duped by the icing and since they found entertainment in reading believe the critics did a good job. Mannerism breeds routine, apathy, mindlessness. Readers are happy with "word-dropping", "bon mots", and it spares them the bore of an extended demonstration or the underlaying reflexion overlooked by the critic.
Luis Buñuel : "I loath pedantism and jargon. I happened to laugh to tears when reading certain articles in Cahiers du cinéma."
In a recent article, Charles Tesson (former editor at Cahiers) compiled a list of such "generally accepted ideas" that French critics enjoy themselves with : Dictionnaire des idées reçues de la critique (in Panic #4, july 2006) denouncing these self-satisfied, superior, ridicule, smart-ass, hype sophisms.
He points out to certain absurd word combination, tautology ("rigor of construction"), pleonasm ("classic shot-countershot", "impression of reality"). He warns against denegation that spells in words something that shouldn't be brought to the reader's attention even if disabled by the negative form ("The film is not..."). He's annoyed by the trivialization of great theories through adjectivation ("Deuleuzian", "Derridian"). He calls the emptiness of some overused expressions ("debauchery of special effects", "return to real", "curious alchemy", "magnificent movie", "Death of cinema", "Subtil cinema"). If it was clever the first time, it becomes tired and voided of its sense when repeated at every opportunity and sometimes in the wrong instances. Others examples are typically French, or locale jokes, so don't translate well.
Clive James (NYT) : "To know what can't be shown by the gag writers, however, you have to know about a world beyond the movies. But the best critics do, as this book proves; because when we say that the nontheorists are the better writers, that's what we mean. That extra edge that a good writer has is a knowledge of the world, transmuted into a style."
Clive James on the rest of us -- we're doomed (at a_film_by) follow up discussion
My preference goes to rich and precise vocabulary detailing one's mind (closer to the film's reality, which is accuracy not mannerism) than the use of ready-made phrases or the elaboration of stylistic/rhetoric hallucinations (offsetting from reality). Literary skills could go two ways, one is to refine descriptions, one is to evoke a fertile imagination. The former (respectful, insightful, helpful) should never be overwhelmed by the the latter (dubious, extravagant, risky), especially when the credibility of the critic's taste is in question. If two trusted critics disagree frontaly on a film I want to see, how could I tell which one best assumes my perspective if they can only be compared by their style? It's the contrary for the journalists of course who prefer to entertain the reader nomatter what the film is, rather than to engage in an adequate reflexion on cinema.
Anthony Lane (The New Yorker/Nobody's Perfect) : "The primary task of the critic, and no one has surpassed Miss Kael in this regard, is the recreation of texture, filing a sensory report of the kind of experience they will have if they decide to buy a ticket. A review should give off some reek of the concession stand." at Undercurrent
When a good writer with a contradictory taste talks lyrically about a film I haven't seen, I'm particularly warry of stylistic flare focusing on abstract/general appreciation rather than specific evidences... It's easy for the positive review to emphasizes solely on hyperbolic enthousiasm that informs one of many possible experiences of that film. Excess of literary style celebrates the individual emotional reaction of one person as if it was any indication of what every reader will feel themselves.
What is a spellbinding story? What is a haunting movie? What is a mesmerizing performance? What is a riveting plot? Translating a film into appreciative adjectives assumes we believe anything the critic says without the need for an analytical demonstration or any kind of descriptive evidences that would corroborate this summary opinion. First they are impersonal abstract wordings and could apply to any movie, taken out of context, copied and pasted ad infinitum. Second they are evaluative (on an unspecified scale of values) instead of qualitiative (to characterize a certain detail defining THIS film in particular). Perfect quote-ables.
It could be a relative adjective without referential comparison : "it's great/bad, believe me"; unverifiable gradation (praise, success, quality level) "it's the best film of... [insert director, year, country]".
And finally we have the professional jargon (ellitist technical words), abbreviations (acronym, hip shorthands, truncated titles) -- see Variety!, metaphors (themed vocabulary calling all the funny expressions linked to the film's topic) -- see David Edelstein's review of The Devil Wears Prada, puns (smarty wordplay, jokes with the title or actor/character's names) ...
This fits in the larger rhetorical questions : Can words incarnate the multimedia experience of cinema? And what exactly do readers imagine when reading chosen words? What is the gap between the reader experience and the viewer experience? Don't critics manipulate this gap with stylish obfuscation to push their opinions?
Jonathan Rosenbaum : "although initially [Moving Places] had a very negative effect on my career in film criticism, because it wasn’t film criticism and it wasn’t something that could pave the way toward a career in film criticism. I was naïve enough to believe it was a road out of film criticism. I still have a side of me that has an interest in literary writing." Interview at The House NextdoorMannerism could be the vertue of a certain kind of impressionistic criticism, but I leave that to others to chant its glory because this series only deals with the flawed habits of critics. So please defend mannerism in the comments if you wish, to offer a more balanced view.
"The undefined place where the critic stands. When I was a critic, I thought a film, to be accomplished, should express simultaneously an idea of the world and an idea of cinema. Today, I expect the film I watch to express either the joy to make movies, or the anxiety to make movies and I don't care for everything in between, i.e. all films that do not vibrate."
"Anybody can become critic of cinema; the candidates don't need a tenth of knowledge required for literary, musical or painting critics. A filmmaker today shall accept the idea that his/her work will be eventually judged by someone who hadn't ever seen a Murnau film."
François Truffaut (French critic-filmmaker), "A quoi rêve les critiques?" in Les Films de ma Vie (1975)
* * *
"Oeuvres are of infinite solitude; to grasp a work of art, nothing is worse than the word of criticism." Rainer Maria Rilke (German poet)
* * *
"The critic is meant to make see and make listen" Jean-Louis Bory (French critic)
* * *
"I don't believe, as a matter of criticism, in the existence of objective truths or more exactly, I value more contradictory judgments that constrain me to consolidate mine, rather than the confirmation of my principles by weak arguments." Cahiers #44, 1955.
"The critic is meant to continue -- as much as possible within the readers' intelligence and sensibility -- the shock of the work of art."
"Don't be so severe with the film, put yourself in the shoes of the filmmaker, and find out his/her motivations"
André Bazin (French critic)
* * *
"The best in criticism, it's the dialogue that is, sometimes, established with the radio audience or the reader. Business as much profitable when your point of view is disputed by the contestant. Critical dialogue and tea for two."
"We write our critiques for filmmakers first. Readers shouldn't feleft outout though. They are asked to bear witness, we feel more liberated in presence of a third party to express our sentiments."
"Paraphrasing Flaubert: to be a critic of cinema, one shouldn't know personally filmmakers, actresses, producers... But we know some of them! That's the problem."
"A critic : a resistant -- to pressure, to fad, to consensus"
Michel Boujut (French critic), La Promenade du critique, 1996
* * *
"To be a disinhibited critic, one should be a creator in becoming" François Weyergans (French critic)
* * *
"Every competent critic is an aspiring filmmaker" Roger Leenhardt (French critic)
* * *
"A critic is someone who shoots at his own regiment" Jules Renard (French writer) cited in Godard's Nouvelle Vague
* * *
"To be a critic is to be able to reflect on films. The question of criticism is this : shall criticism evolve because the status of cinema has changed?" Jean-Michel Frodon (French critic)
* * *
"What is annoying, isn't that a critic suggests reservations on our films. It's the manner, the tone, the facile and demagogical use of controversial tricks : this semantic of hatred and contempt." Patrice Leconte (French filmmaker), infamous letter against French critics in 1999.
* * *
"To me, criticism is included in cinema. There is no art without commentary." Robert Guédiguian (French filmmaker)
* * *
"The 'critic' of cinema [in the popular press] (often not a specialist, but a journalist from the "culture" pages) is no longer delegated by the community of readers to the front line of cinema, (s)he is the inert "mirror" of the supposed social class of such readership, and is the commercial target of this publication. He/she is commanded to scout for films that will give readers a pleasant, gratifying image of the imaginary demographic they supposedly belong to, of which the publication is the mirror, rather than the spearhead." Alain Bergala (French critic), Cinemas Vol 6, N°2/3, 1996.
* * *
"Like/Like not : matters to nobody; this, apparently, is meaningless. Meanwhile all this means : my body is not the same as yours. Thus, within this anarchy of taste and distaste, kind of distrait mesh, little by little is outlined the figure of a corporeal enigma, calling complicity or irritation. Here begins the intimidation of the body, forcing the other to bear liberally, to remain silent and courteous before pleasures and denials that (s)he doesn't share." Roland Barthes (French semotician), 1975
* * *
"Criticism is the art of Love. It is the fruit of a passion that is not self-devoured, but aspires to control a vigilante lucidity. It consists in a tireless research of harmony within the couple passion-lucidity." Jean Douchet (French critic), Cahiers #126, 1961.
* * *
"Criticism is a business of provocation rather than conviction. Its best role is to call forth, about a film, some reactions, preferably violent, in the reader." Louis Seguin (French critic), Cahiers, 1969.
* * *
"The efficiency of criticism relies on nothing but the seduction of words" Michel Mourlet (French critic), Cahiers #163, 1960.
* * *
"The critical judgment constitutes the only cultural valuation. The artist exists only under the look of the critic. Artists don't exist without commentary! Death of commentary means the disappearance of the artist." Michel Ciment (French critic), 1999.
* * *
"Criticism is hermeneutic by vocation, normative by fatality, impressionistic by facility and aesthetic in practice." René Prédal (French cinema historian), 2004
* * *
"Open criticism gets its efficiency and its fecundity from its ability to discussion and welcoming." Raymond Barkan (French critic), Cinéma 60, #45.
* * *
"My definition of a good critic is somebody who communicates their enthusiasm for work they find of merit, without ruining the option of you, the reader, also discovering the film's merits. " Lisa Nesselson (American critic), Variety
* * *
"The role of the film critic is to write well, or speak well. A critic is someone who I think should try to tell a story about the film that they're reviewing. And the story can be the story of their response to it, the story of their coming to understand that film, coming to a position on it." Adrian Martin (Australian critic), Undercurrent #1, 2006
p.s. Sorry for the approximate translation. Now what are your thoughts provoked by these phrases? Add other quotes if you have more, I'm always interested in these kind of encapsulated thoughts. Thanks.
[EDIT : See also Citations sur la critique]
EDIT : adding 7 films by Jean-Daniel Pollet I had forgotten, and taking out 7 films that were too "classic".
Klaus Eder : "That we write about this film and not another one, is dictated by the strategy of the distributors. They decide if and when to release a film, and we react and become a part of their strategy, whether we wish to or not. Specialist magazines fortunately have a bit more freedom and distance from the marketing system." Undercurrent #1
Let me know if the search results prove to be more fruitful and pertinent than usual. I will tweak the settings, add/remove URLs, as I figure how to improve the relevance and richness of cinema queries.
2) Second Test
Magic chalk that opens passages to another dimension (symbol of her desire to get out of this world). Hourglass (time symbol referring to Vidal's obsession). One of three safe (wooden, iron, silver, or something like that) to open with the golden key (reminds of the choice for the right Grail, which is not the shiniest), and find the dagger for the final sacrifice (mirrors Mercedes' knife that will stab Vidal). Feast table temptation (interdiction to eat anything, echo of her punishment after first task).
Pale Man : Ogre threat to enforce the interdiction through terror ("what lives there is not human" says Pan). 2 fairies die to save Ofelia because she fell into temptation.
Pale Man is a peculiar monster, scary looking but slow and handicapped (no ears, eyes in his palms). Del Toro explains the orbits in his hands are christlike stigmata, but the symbolism is more complicated. It's disturbingly analogous to the aspect of a phallus (floppy bare skin, bold head, it's called "Pale Man"). The association to treat temptation (grape) from a pervert, the illustrations on the wall of the Pale Man chasing children, devouring them... suggests discreetly a sexual/incestuous molestation in symbolic form (maybe Vidal, although this subplot is very shy). Next to the stoic monster lays a pile of children shoes, remnant of his past victims (a shocking sight recalling the imagery of extermination camps).
Ofelia eats grape from the forbidden table (original sin of the fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Bible = loss of innocence, shame of nudity, sexual guilt of mortals), thus fails her task, but surprisingly manages to escape the monster by opening another door after the hourglass exhausted (which is a contradiction of the rules imposed upfront by Pan, apparently threats and orders aren't as incorruptible as in traditional fairytales... re-interpretation and last minute changes are always welcome).
Ofelia hands over the dagger, but confesses eating the grape, Pan is furious and abandons her, she will never be immortal. Although the mandrake dried up, Carmen feels better, the doctor can't explain this remission. Vidal finds out, and Carmen throws the root in the fire "Magic doesn't exist!" she says, and she suddenly falls very ill again. Vidal had just killed the doctor so Carmen won't be saved... only the baby survives. Ofelia, orphan, is definitely separated from her past, and her mother who compromised with the evil side, now her surrogate mother, Mercedes takes over, and she can fully embrace the rebel side (denial of order, passage to clandestinity).
3) The sacrifice
The final task is to bring the baby to the altar where Pan will shed his blood to re-open the gates of Ofelia's kingdom and grant her immortality. Test of faith (in Pan) v. reason (of her heart). But she refuses, and like Vidal had to choose between saving Carmen or his son, Ofelia offers her life in exchange to save the baby (saved twice from death by the mimetic sacrifice of both Carmen and Ofelia).
Del Toro makes a special twist of the Bible's archetypical sacrifice. Abraham surrenders his reasoning to pure blind faith when God asked him to kill his only son Isaac. The philosophy of this act is not the horror of murdering one's own child, but the absolute trust in a superior Good that man cannot foresee and shall not question. In fact God stops the sword to spare Isaac's life once Abraham has proven his faith to comply without arguing. But Del Toro turns this reference upside down, and questions the faith in a superior messenger and the application of solemn promise (dispute of unjust orders). A 12 yold girl doubts the command from the god Pan, who purposely tricked her to follow a deviant order. The film makes a case for the sovereignty of the individual's choice, and even suggests God can be fallible.
Maya : "Pan, who self-effacingly refers to himself as a faun, when in truth he is a lord of the earth with a ram's crown, scented with leaf-molded earth, chthonic to his bark-encrusted core." The Evening Class
Like in fairytales, Ofelia becomes the hero of an initiating adventure, Pan reveals to her she's the princess of a secret underworld, and she must pass 3 tests before the full moon to save her kingdom from destruction, and become immortal again in the land of magic creatures.
Here we have the desire of delirious escapism children look for in fairytales, they are keen to imagine they have been adopted and are in fact of a noble descent, with superior powers. The infantile megalomania of being the center of the world, and being the last resort to save the world. The parallel with the war makes this regular passion for fairytales all the more relevant to Ofelia, who lost her father, and whose mother married a cold-blooded torturer of the fascist army. I think she misses her father and summons an ambiguous father figure in the person of Pan. To her mother she says Pan is very old and smells earth, which could mean he's been exhumed from the grave. The underworld is the world of the dead, where she meets her dead parents in the end. Of course the final scene shows Pan at the court of the underworld kingdom, with Ofelia's father on his throne, so they are two separate characters. But Pan could be the fatherly friend linking her to her father. On the other hand, the film installs a mimetic parallel between captain Vidal (real world) and Pan (fantasy world).
Vidal is tied to an inescapable fate inherited through the heroic death of his father. The pocket-watch of his father (that reminds me of a subplot in Pulp Fiction) literally makes every second of his life a preparation for a brave death. He is obsessed with punctuality, which is a derivation of this paternal legacy, and a control-freak who imposes his meticulousity onto everyone around him. His only goal is to perpetuate this overwhelming ascendant onto his newborn son, to transmit the pocket-watch and the anxiety by fulfilling his destiny and die like his father. This perspective overrules his love for his wife (and her life), his responsibility for his step-girl (and her life), and even his loyalty to Franco, as his final words will be to negotiate the transmission of this filial bound with the rebels. However the rebels deny him this last will, and promise instead that the baby will never know about his father. And the film ends there on the creation of a new orphan.
Coincidently, Vidal is orphan like Ofelia. Their parallel struggle to live up to the ideal of a gone father makes their love-hate confrontation more interesting. This tension could be caused by the mysterious link between Vidal and her father's death (murder?), Ofelia being a living image of his late rival. And Ofelia obviously refuses to see anyone replace her beloved father.
Although I would expect the symbolism of Ofelia's fantasy to reflect this quest of a missing father, but nothing in the legend really refers to a father figure, and her late father appears in the last scene without any symbolic/dramatic build up...
Pan is the only father figure available to Ofelia to unload her father affliction and repair a dysfunctional family balance. Yet his persona is obscure and untrustworthy. Mercedes warns her against fauns, and her mother flat out denies the existence of fantasy creatures, establishing the critical dilemma to choose between fantasy (immortality, fun, adventure, friends, childhood) and reality (adults, mother, step-father, fear, war, death).
In spite of the scary look, Ofelia feels strangely attracted to Pan (a satyr known to seduce and trick mortals). After all, he promises her immortality and a magic kingdom. Although in Del Toro's world Pan is good, his devious side reveals to have been a test to check how much Ofelia was ready to follow her heart even if it contradicted recommendations made by dear friends of hers. With the minimized role of her mother (even her death is overlooked), Ofelia's journey is mostly independent, in solitude, and the only authority regulating her life comes from Vidal and Pan.
More on Pan's Tests next...
Opening Sequence : Slow travelling forward (swirling?) on a girl laying on the ground with blood leaking from her nose, her head half tilted toward us. Heavy breathing.
This is a glimpse of the last shot of the film, playing backward (the blood appears to creeps back into her nose, which is more a digital special effect than a backward footage I think).
"Bear in mind that this story is set against the background of a war that was won by Spanish fascists, killing millions of civilians and forcing many more into exile, all with the support of Hitler and Mussolini."and acquarello at Strictly Film School :
"Set in 1944, the year that the annals of history have officially annotated as the year that the Republicans were defeated, thus marking the end of the civil war, reality proves less than neatly conclusive as the insurgency rages on (and would continue for nearly two decades), the resistance fighters fortifying their strongholds in the mountains with the covert aid of sympathetic villagers."
Shot analysis :
Isa and Bahar take a sunbathe on the beach, the sun is hot, their skin is greasy and sweaty. She wakes up from a bad dream (she imagined he smothered her head with sand), uncomfortable and lonelier than ever. I believe it's right after the argument they have at a friend's dinner and before the motorcycle ride.
The composition of this static shot is very classic, almost like a kitsch romantic postcard : the beach, the sea, the sky, a couple side by side on the beach cut out in backlite silhouettes. The woman in the distance, out of touch object of desire, and her "prince" in the foreground. They think about eachother and dream of love.
But since the opening sequence (then comfirmed with the bad dream) we know the romance is gone between them. The shot starts with Isa (him) lying down. I can't remember his dialogue (maybe he's still asleep), but I think she doesn't utter a word since the bad dream and just walks away to sit over there (photo above). They are still together at this point but cold and distant. So the dreamy look of this shot is contradicted by the inner conflict bubbling under.
We see a couple sitting away from eachothers, it's easy to understand something wrong is going on with this couple. Not quite the fusional passion of the early days. But the symbolic analysis tells us more about them. What makes this composition so important is there is no other camera angle (that I recall of) to show this part of the scene, no countershot to see her face, no shot of the boat alone, or her in the foreground. This is the end of the scene (long still take) that states, in stasis, the status quo of their relationship (which is not satisfying and shall be disengaged).
The screen is divided horizontaly in 3 strips (sky, sea, beach) with different colors and textures. The beach limit marks the middle, twice as thick as the "sea" and "sky" areas above the mediane. The unity of colors reinforces this grouping, sky and sea are light grey, bright, transparent, etheral, while the beach is rough, darker and textured.
Now the symbols. Each area has its figure that sits on the lower limit, as if stacked on top of the strip below.
This already establishes the partition of (symbolic) space and the clash between characters. Which has not been properly spelt out thus far by the film and announces their violent split up in the next scene, because he didn't see it coming in this scene and didn't hold her back when it was still time.
Acquarello associates the motorcycle accident following this scene (when she blinds him with her hands to kill them both), with the symbolic blindness of him who couldn't see how unhappy she was, how their couple was going to an end.
"[Isa] deliberatively shoots a series of photographs of ancient ruins for possible use in a class lecture, oblivious to his traveling companion's noticeable discomfort and tedium over his latest distractive side trip (a figurative myopia that would subsequently be manifested in Bahar's reckless, symbolic act of blindness during a motorcycle ride), her sense of profound desolation and estrangement momentarily betrayed by the eruption of tears that also escape the self-absorbed Isa's regard."
(s) ++ (w) +++ (m) ++++ (i) +++ (c) ++++
Critical Fallacy 4 : BURDEN OF PROOF
Or lack thereof... the fallacy being to expect detractors to bring evidence you are wrong.
"Meanwhile, film magazines and free city weeklies promote that self-assured nonconformity which prizes jaunty wordplay and throwaway judgments. (...)
Academic writing, you might think, runs in the other direction, overdoing ideas and information. Actually, prestigious academic film talk is drenched in opinions. Theory is a matter of taste: you say Virilio, I say Deleuze. Most film academics don't critically examine the doctrines they applaud. Many dismiss requests for evidence as signs of 'empiricism' and when they cite evidence it's likely to be tenuous or tendentious. They too have a touching faith in zeitgeist explanations. And too many academics seem to illustrate Nietzsche's aphorism that to most readers muddy water looks deep. (...)
But what's an insight? Is it just a twitch or tingle? Or is it closer to a hunch--something that should be speculated on, investigated, analyzed, and tested? Intellectuals should turn insights into clear-cut ideas, reliable information, or nuanced opinions, but neither journalistic critics nor academic ones do this very often."
Against Insight by David Bordwell at Cinemascope
Any journalist knows they are responsible for what they write, and would only print something they double-checked with distinct and reliable sources. Giving one's opinion after watching a movie, anybody can do. Film criticism implies credibility and informed judgment. So as we developed precedently, making sure to avoid deception, manipulation and simplification, the burden of proof is on the critic, which precisely helps to prevent the aforementioned fallacies. Throwing the ball at the reader, or even at the filmmakers, is too easy a cope out to contradict everyone and expect them to disprove every assumption you formed.
Moreover, concerning the job of a film critic in particular, it's not only a journalistic ethic to carry the burden of proof, but also a facilitating way into the film for the reader who hasn't seen it. It's always more interesting to read a review illustrated by examples directly taken from the film, instead of a succession of universal opinions and evasive evaluations out of context that could apply to any other movie. When you read how good or bad was the performance, how good or bad was the story, how good or bad was the direction... in the end all you have is an impersonal list of appreciations that tell you what the critic felt but nothing about the film itself.
We should be able to read a review without agreeing with the writer's opinion, and find some substantial meat that is not censored preemptively by the partisanship of the critic. Otherwise readers would avoid contradictory reviews and that would defeat the purpose of constructing a critical assessment. If dissenting reviews are ignored for opinions out of context that cannot be evaluated by the reader in front of tangible filmic illustrations, then (in the mind of the readers) a "good critic" is a taste pleaser and a "bad critic" is one who disagrees with my anticipation.
By complying with the burden of proof, a critic allows the reader to compare reviews from a common analyzed material. It's interesting to know why this critic liked this scene and that critic didn't. Better even is to be able to confront and evaluate ourselves (as readers) which critic elaborates the impression closer to what I might most likely feel myself, not from his abstract generic qualificatives but thanks to a sensible empirical demonstration. At least part of the review should provide some evidence, description of the film, supported arguments, statements backed by their sources. Again, not only it makes criticism more credible, but it's an invitation to the reader to participate in the evaluation of the film step by step, instead of being delivered a definite conclusion coming out of the blue.
Speaking of evidence, I'm not pretending to give a patronizing lecture or a sentence on right and wrong, (And I'm certain many find it condescending) I'm not pointing finger to the bad apples like if I was a model myself... Quoting other critics and showing snipets of bad examples is meant to make the fallacy easier to understand and to prove I'm not the only one to think that way. I see my job here just to organize a list, cause nothing there is new. Who am I to go judgmental like that? I'm not a critic, journalist, writer or scholar... I'm just a wannabe on a learning curve. And this type of listing secures the obsessive in me. I mean it's easier to notice flaws than to write well. The reason why there are more critics than artists in the world!
I make mistakes all the time in my tentative reviews, and that's why I firmly believe in collegial discussions and online interaction to be able to confront opposing views, measure up to their equally sound arguments and reassess my assumptions. The point isn't to be ashamed of occasional fallacies, conscious or not, because one could argue and defend the rational and redeeming value of such fallacies. I mean it's an open debate! (Just read how pro's and con's Farber quarrel on a_film_by to justify with hindsight his arguable "mistakes")
Although I kinda expected to stir a debate around these issues that plague credibility of film criticism, either in the comments or by inspiring responding posts on other blogs... So now it sounds like I'm lecturing or even talking to myself. I wonder if it's an outrage to criticize critics, if I'm just overstating truisms, or if all this is just B.S. My intention wasn't to make new enemies or make my readers think I'm accusing anybody in particular because it's really just an theoretical overview of most frequently found errors, general principles, from my limited/biased/uneducated perspective. External contributions (which I'm trying hard to include with citations), references and comments would perhaps confirm or infirm these points brought up in the series.
If you practice criticism, just like me, you obviously have a conception of how it should operate and how you function everytime you write on a film, be it an academic rigor or an autodidact improvisation, and it's worth talking about it, and defending the various options and capabilities available to everyone of us.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do a remarkable job at debunking fallacies used by journalists and politicians in mediatic affairs, through irony and caricature. These comedians are more critical than actual journalists even though it's not their job to be relevant and educational. I would have never thought Politics (which is inherently boring and obscure) could feed successful punch lines, much less than comedy would provide check and balance to alienating moral controversies. Where are the Stewarts & Colberts of film criticism to use witty literary style to expose faulty reviews (without taking sides for a movie) and to defend standards of criticism?
I'd rather believe my posts are bullshit than that let readers be cautious against feedback without this little disclaimer. Anyway this is another ambitious project I don't see the end of, so bear with me and be patient if it's of any interest. Comments and support would help no doubt. Or else I'll take this series home, at snail pace, for what it's worth. ;)
In the meantime don't miss Andy Horbal's blogathon on film criticism at No More Marriage! (December 1-3)
Contributions, disputes, examples are encouraged as always.
Coming up, Critical Fallacy 5 : Complacency
See you all there!
On Boredom : (only tangential theme of the blogathon)