Film Criticism

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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knives
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Re: Film Criticism

#976 Post by knives » Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:49 pm

That's fair, and a lot more reasonable than what I took Tenia as saying. I don't, to run with my example of African American cinema, see evidence that every African American is connected to that artistic culture for example while some white or Asian people are. That said, and I hate to sound like Scalia here, but if the pool of critics is largely people from the same two or three schools who grew up in the same ten neighborhoods than that limits the opportunity for natural diversity. In that vein as much as I, for example, may enjoy and have a mature understanding of black theater, but that diversity of thought isn't going to be the same as someone naturally born and raised in that cultural milieu.

All of this reminds me of that reaction to that AXIOS photo which was rather monochrome. Certainly, as you say, there could be a diversity of knowledge and experience in that group, but by not being inborn to that experience their very perspective of that knowledge will be lacking. Mine, and I hope these actresses, argument isn't for more bubbles. Rather it is for a greater diversity of starting points.

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tenia
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Re: Film Criticism

#977 Post by tenia » Wed Jun 20, 2018 3:01 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:34 pm
We need people who can get outside their own bubbles, not more bubbles.
That's very well said.
knives wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:41 pm
This is blatantly true with what gets imported and celebrated (how many African comedies get imported compared to dramas).
We've had the same issues with Japanese and then Korean movies in the early 2000s, when these 2 countries were mostly seen in Occident through their action and gangster movies, as if they were only producing these kind of movies. That was very problematic because it has, on the long run, created expectations about how these countries were "thinking" on screen and thus what their views towards this or that was. For Korea notably, I remember seeing a lot of reviews using the more violent movies as an explanation about how Korean industry was simply more lenient towards violence, almost as if a cultural thing. I highly doubt this was the case, but that this impression simply came from the kind of movies we were importing.
knives wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:49 pm
That's fair, and a lot more reasonable than what I took Tenia as saying.
I might have poorly phrased my view, but Mr Sausage's post sums up quite well what I wanted to convey : summoning different communities to review this or that won't automatically mean a wider wiser view on what is reviewed, but might just mean getting other biases.
I also strongly believe that there shouldn't be the idea of people being put in "silos" like this, but only people with a higher willingness to dig and be curious about what they're going to write about, and I don't believe that, say, being Asian automatically makes you a better reviewer for some Asian movie (the reverse being true too).

I've seen that myself with Get Out : I had a colleague that went as far as saying that the main character could have been white and that it wouldn't have changed a thing in the movie (clearly missing the whole movie, to be it simply), while I had to remind him about how heavily referencial the movie was to the current US socio-racial climate and how this is a clear core element of the movie. But we're both white middle class men in their 30s, and yet, I was willing to dig a bit more about the movie, and he simply wasn't. He just didn't have this general knowledge, despite most of these references being explicited on the movie's IMDB trivia.
I hope I'm clearer that way.


This being written, I also strongly believe that there is a high need of new fresh blood in the current critics pool and that this renewal should come with a better demographic representation.

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Re: Film Criticism

#978 Post by knives » Wed Jun 20, 2018 3:10 pm

That's all fair and it seems to what extent there is disagreement it could fit on a needle's head. Certainly the Chinese thing is still true. Just look at what Johnnie To movies get exposure to see the whole thing in miniature. It would be theoretically nice for critics to be able to naturally think outside their bubbles and engage with works that don't fit their preconceived notions, but that's not an easy trait for people to acquire in general and until it becomes more greatly emphasized in schools, training, etc having more women or African American or Korean Americans or people not named Dave is a perfectly fine bandaid (which I suspect is the limit of our disagreement lies).

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Re: Film Criticism

#979 Post by tenia » Wed Jun 20, 2018 3:19 pm

I actually understand and partially agree with your last point. It might be a fine band-aid until more people are able to go outside their comfort and habit zone, I'm just unsure of that, but it might just be a case of needing a demonstration through the example.


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Re: Film Criticism

#981 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Wed Jun 20, 2018 4:32 pm

tenia wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 12:33 pm
In any case though, this is just a case of "Who needs film critics" (as the Guardian writes it). In France, it's almost a running joke as old as cinema itself. It turns out it mostly just is some kind of cognitive biases' personification : when people like or dislike movies, they prefer to be said they're the norm, not the outliers. Who's better for movies than film critics, just like you'd go to a doctor if you think you're ill or how you'd trust an airplane pilot to fly a plane ?
There should be distinctions made between film criticism and film reviews--not because there can't be insightful criticism in a film review, but because a reader needs to appreciate the job the writer was hired for: Is this a piece where I can expect explorations of a film's function, regardless of whether it's "good" or "bad," or is this, before anything else, a consumer guide with a ranking? The vast majority of misnomered online film "criticism" is aimed primarily to guide the movie consumer toward worthwhile products, and this necessarily entails clearcut ratings and an unambiguous endorsement or rejection of the film by the reviewer. I have a big problem with rankings, because they always privilege writers' biases--or, at the very least, force writers to apply criteria and methods that lead to a simplistic thumb-up or -down--whether those biases are based on the ignorance of alternative viewpoints or simply a self-aggrandizing attempt to canonize what they happen to enjoy in any film. Built into rankings is the assumption that one formal quality or type of film is "better" than others. Given that movie reviews have this primary mission of qualifying--given that it is intensely limiting because of this--then it absolutely does behoove us to find writers from a myriad of backgrounds. Reviewers are representing themselves more than the films they review.

I like Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's reviews, for example, because they occasionally explore his own expectations almost in spite of the letter grade he obligatorily attaches by the end. Most film reviews don't bother with this kind of nuance, and I say this, again, not without sympathy for those writers; they have restrictions on word count, tone, mode, and ambiguity imposed by editors--that's the gig. But given this, we can't expect film reviews to be anything much more than a stand taken, which by my lights, is the shallowest approach to cinema. And certainly not one that can contain an expansive view, except by way of including caveats like, "This is too violent for children," or, "This is a long overdue subject, even if the film is not good." Worthwhile critics need to go against their own grain, alternately assert and doubt.

I realize the dictionary definition of "criticism" includes evaluation, but I take the more academic approach toward the term, which necessarily entails analysis that is embarked upon in the spirit of discovery, with the intent of deepening our understanding of cinema beyond just a one-movie case history--and however complex or tidy, not merely compiled evidence toward a work's value intuited in the immediate aftermath of a viewing. Most reviews, I would argue, don't even go as far as to compile evidence! Instead, they replace evidence with mystifications and vague feelings that, again, delineate the reviewer's personality more than the film's value. You read Anthony Lane for his bons mots--his extremely limited breadth of tone--more than his judgment, and I think Lane is better than most! He has more wit, energy, and personality when he is mocking a film than when he extols one, which is not uncommon. Movie reviews accommodate the well-crafted putdown more than rich analysis. "Hot takes" are often ridiculed on this forum, but I would argue that 99% of film reviews are precisely that: excluding judgment imposed in the midst of a new release's attraction of readers' eyes, carving out a personal aesthetic sense that can be applied identically with every release, exploiting the attention drawn by a new release in order to inscribe deeper one's own brand of discernment.

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Re: Film Criticism

#982 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Jun 20, 2018 5:54 pm

knives wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 3:10 pm
That's all fair and it seems to what extent there is disagreement it could fit on a needle's head. Certainly the Chinese thing is still true. Just look at what Johnnie To movies get exposure to see the whole thing in miniature. It would be theoretically nice for critics to be able to naturally think outside their bubbles and engage with works that don't fit their preconceived notions, but that's not an easy trait for people to acquire in general and until it becomes more greatly emphasized in schools, training, etc having more women or African American or Korean Americans or people not named Dave is a perfectly fine bandaid (which I suspect is the limit of our disagreement lies).
There's nothing in your posts that isn't perfectly fair. It's the other side of the dialectic. But I'm going to complicate the issue a bunch:

Your bandaid solves a political and social problem more than it solves one of ideas or opinions. That's to say, giving excluded socio-political groups increased opportunities is an obvious good thing. But it's more complicated when it comes to ideas.

Most people don't know much about their own culture. Not through lack of interest, tho' there is that, but just through taking it for granted. Think of it as trying to define a word, a phrase, or an idiom that you'd picked up in childhood and have always just used instinctively: you know how and when to use it, know implicitly what it means, and know for sure when it's being used improperly. But if you're asked suddenly to define it, how quickly all your knowledge disappears and you're left unsure of what to say. You realize what you thought you knew was more a feeling than a thought, more a behaviour than an idea. That's how most people interact with their own culture; and similarly, most of them are going to have a hard time communicating their culture to other people, falling back on cliches, received ideas, or a shrugged 'that's just how we do it' to make up for a lack of explicit knowledge. Truly understanding your own culture takes thought, a deliberate attempt to make your implicit knowledge explicit to yourself. And communicating that to others, especially those outside your culture, requires not insider knowledge but adopting an outside perspective on what you inhabit. To defamiliarize what has been far too familiar. One of the reasons experiencing and learning about other cultures (and history!) is so important is that it's the best way to know your own: it forces your own differences on you.

Even then, for all its benefits, insider knowledge is its own limitation. There is a real benefit to an outsider's perspective, if it's learned and thoughtful. Insiders take things for granted, and don't see what an outsider can. Both are necessary perspectives, and we should be wary of over-privileging one or the other.

So the assumption that a particular member of a particular group is going to know their own culture well and have a different and needed perspective on things is not a given. Merely being part of a socio-cultural group is not enough. You also need to be thoughtful, critical, and familiar with a range of things outside your own culture with which you can compare and contrast. Indeed, in my experience, the group that tends the most towards diverse opinions and perspectives is that amorphous group of people who are between categories, who have parents from different cultures or who grew up in multiple countries or milieus, ie. people who have both an insider and outsider perspective, who grew up without any one culture being a given. But then that group can attract a lot of fear and hostility for not having an easy-to-spot identity or in-group. Mary Douglas did a good job of showing how our ideas of taboo and (blood) pollution are a result of our fear of things that are between categories or have no stable identity. But I digress.

The above is not an argument for the status quo, because the status quo's big problem is precisely that its entrenchment breeds complacency which breeds narrowness, and we need less narrowness.

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Re: Film Criticism

#983 Post by knives » Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:36 pm

I think we largely agree which is why I made sure to mention that there are African Americans devoid of any knowledge or expression for something as specific as African American theater. There's clearly two measurements we are talking about. On one hand there's knowledge and ideas where we seem to line up on and on the other there's experience where we seem to disagree on the value of slightly.

To give a slightly personal example is you asked Juan from San Ysidro to give a serious examination of border existence he would likely flop such a thing relying only on his experience especially when compared to Katy Mae from Dayton who has studied the topic professionally. If we were to train Juan though and give him the knowledge and ideas to explain his own experience that shift in perspective from Katy Mae would be invaluable. I agree there is immense importance to the outsider as well as the insider, but neither category is monolithic. There are multiple outsiders so, for example, immigrant So Yeen from S. Korea who grew up in Fairfax is an outsider as well, but a very different one from Katy Mae. Their differences while both being outsiders are equally important as long as they work in a dialogue and not just in their bubbles.

That might be were our disagreement lies (this is mostly for me working out the problem). We both seem to be against just adding more bubbles, but I think that the additional bubbles, if used correctly, can externally pierce the hegemonic bubble while it seems to me that you are giving more primacy to an internal bubble bursting through an expansion of knowledge, experience, methods of thinking, and all the other things that would make for a good critical thinker. We both agree that the external and internal are necessary going forward. It is just the assumptions of an algorithm to get to that more ideal state is different.

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Re: Film Criticism

#984 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:54 pm

It does seem like we're just voicing different aspects of a problem we largely agree about. Your comment about our slight differences is fair and well observed.

I take your points above. Nothing I've said is an absolute; there are going to be situations and contexts where an insider's perspective is a lot more valuable than an outsider's. A life-or-death border crossing, for instance.

At the same time, over-privileging insider perspectives ends with everyone sticking to their bubbles and is the true death of diversity (as you no doubt agree). It's one of the reasons I'm so irritated by our current identity politics debates: there's this idea that we all ought to separate into our respective milieus, small as they are, stifling that cross-pollination we need to become wiser, more thoughtful, knowledgeable, and mature people.

Thanks for the chat. It's given me some things to mull over.

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Re: Film Criticism

#985 Post by knives » Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:32 pm

Thank you as well. This likewise has given me a lot to chew on as I find myself having to look back on some deeply held beliefs and ideas that don't seem to be enough as my own leftist milieu finds discomfort with my development as a person.

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Re: Film Criticism

#986 Post by Boosmahn » Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:23 pm

Not trying to undermine(r) the points made here, but I'm touched by the diversity of this thread. CriterionForum: from eye-opening realizations on the nature of individual perspective to a critic's fetish with Elastigirl.

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Re: Film Criticism

#987 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Jun 21, 2018 3:13 pm

That Guardian article from the previous page appears to be causing its own storm of controversy as an article by a woman was originally commissioned and then cancelled.

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Re: Film Criticism

#988 Post by furbicide » Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:30 pm

The piece that was spiked, for comparison:

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts ... sm-matters

There seem to be three different things going on here: one is whether it's right to agree to publish a piece and then dump it when a better one turns up (it sucks, but that's normal behaviour for big news organisations, I think); second is whether it's ok, when faced with a choice between a female and male writer on gender issues, to pick the latter (clearly it must be, in circumstances where one piece is substantially better and more relevant than the other; so why not one that is, in the editor's view, marginally better? Where do you draw the line?); and third is whether the editor was wrong and Salmon's piece itself was inadequate (in its, say, failure to include the voices of female film critics).

I understand the writer's frustration, but I know of few publications that are more devoted to women's issues and promoting marginalised writers than The Guardian. So the fact that this one time a female writer's piece on gender was pushed aside for a man's (unless we argue that all men's writing on gender is inappropriate always, and I'm sure there are some who would) suggests to me less evidence of systemic discrimination than a legitimate editorial choice.

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Re: Film Criticism

#989 Post by Reverend Drewcifer » Wed Jul 11, 2018 4:49 pm

Due to the rolling-thunder collapse of all media, The AV Club and the other Gizmodo sites are on the block...again

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and A.A. Dowd will (hopefully) land on their feet at another site or at AVC 4.0. D'Angelo, however, should search his couch cushions for spare change. If I were the buyer, I would implement a key-man clause in the sale specifically to exclude D'Angelo.

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Re: Film Criticism

#990 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Jul 11, 2018 4:58 pm

I don't know if he's interested were the opportunity to arise, but I think Vishnevetsky would be a wonderful fit as the 1st critic up at some publication. He tends to get more obscure second and third-fiddle review assignments at The AV Club despite more of an interesting perspective than Dowd, and some of his most enjoyable reviews tend to be of blockbuster or prestige fare, often finding an angle that many critics have not on whatever film he's focusing his attention on.

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Re: Film Criticism

#991 Post by MongooseCmr » Wed Jul 11, 2018 5:28 pm

I thought IV was being wasted at AV for a while now. Watching him invent columns to write about the obscurities he watches over whatever blockbusters the site would rather cover and see two comments under it was always a bit sad.

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Re: Film Criticism

#992 Post by Kirkinson » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:43 pm

I also think IV's writing thrives at greater lengths and deeper dives than AVC tends to give him space for. I often feel like his reviews there are just getting interesting right when they seem to get cut off. I like Dowd too, and I enjoy their back-and-forth Film Club videos (though I also wish those were longer — a podcast would be great).

I've even warmed to D'Angelo somewhat since I started following him on Letterboxd, where he seems to be able to express some of his more weirdly subjective idiosyncrasies in a way that feels more honest and personable.

Of course I don't want any of the writers there to be out of a job, even the ones I don't get especially excited about, so I hope everything works out one way or another.

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