Monday, July 18, 2005

So Maybe We Should Stop Critiquing Movies

If your local film reviewer is anything like mine, he likes to use phrases like 'exercise in passivity,' or 'bathed in pathos.' He may also wear a fedora (and if there's anything I've learned, Joe Williams, it is that a fedora does not extend your credibility. Quite the contrary, quite the contrary.) He will also critique movies in a hardboiled fashion, gleefully taking out bits and holding them up as 'critiquing modern norms,' and so forth. I am starting to think all of this method of reviewing is bullshit.

The fathers of modern cinema were John Ford (Stagecoach, the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Howard Hawks (Scarface, Rio Bravo), Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M), Alfred Hitchcock, etc. This is nowhere near a complete list. After reading interviews with them in Peter Bogdonavich's book "Who the Devil's In It," I've recognized a common thread - none of these men own up to the artistic flourishes they are credited with. This is not to implicate them and say they are not deserving of the credit they are duly given, each of these filmmakers was incredibly talented. But, for instance, John Ford (who does not appear as an interviewee in the book, but is the subject of a number of other Bogdonavich projects), says that most of the brilliant things you see in a movie happen by way of accident. Howard Hawks stonewalls Bogdonavich whenever the latter asks if he was trying to make a wider, political point with his movie, or if he sees his craft as an art. Hawks says he never believed film was about art, but about fun and entertainment. He also, by way of a number of great stories, shows the archetypal nature of movies - you need a character like this, a character like that - a drunk is played for laughs or as an underdog, not necessarily as this overarching societal character in need of redemption. The main 'themes' in movies that most critics point out tended to happen by accident, or unconsciously in the work of these directors. Hawks repeatedly points out to Bogdonavich "You're looking too far into it."

A movie critic was the person who turned the way we look at movies into an art form. Paulene Kael, I believe it may have been (but could be completely wrong) started critiquing movies as an artform sometime in the fifties or sixties. If I'm writing this, I should probably have looked into that, but this is a blog. Who cares. Before this, movies were just entertainment, purile in many cases.

Is it possible that since the changing of the critiquing guard half a century ago, that filmmakers have become far too aware of criticism? Do they make movies anticipating it, do they look to appease people who want art? "This represents this represents that" is, of course, acceptable for reviewing books. But is it reliable for movies?

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