MovieBob - Intermission
How to Read Movie Criticism

Bob Chipman | 22 Apr 2011 12:00
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I'm often surprised by the volume of emails, messages and general feedback I continue to get from Escape to The Movies fans. After I've finished deleting all of the variations on "Where do you get off?," "What's wrong with you?," "What's it like to be insane?" and so forth, I'm then surprised by how much actually still remains.

For whatever reason, a lot of what's come through lately has been questions about the critic profession itself, mostly in the vein of "Who should I listen to?" or "What should I look for?" - the dubious logic of which (i.e. the dual assumptions that I'm some kind of professional and/or that I can speak with some kind of authority on a profession) amuses and troubles me - but doesn't quite surprise. The notion of art/literary criticism as a form of literature or journalism in its own right - as opposed to a glorified variety of consumer reporting - has largely vanished from the cultural mindset. And that's kind of a shame, not just for my own egotistical reasons, but for people who're potentially missing out on how much reading criticism can offer them outside of just "What should I go see?"

So let's call this a primer on how you can get the most out of not only Escape to The Movies, but the wide variety of critics and criticism available to you - both because that's what it is, and because that sounds better than "Bob's Rambling Whinefest About How People Keep Missing the Bloody Point."

"Real" Criticism Is Not Consumer Advice

Don't get me wrong: While I'm sincerely flattered by the sentiment when people tell me "I'm seeing this (or not) because you said so," I also end up feeling a little bit guilty. There's really no sure way of knowing that our opinions would've actually lined up, and thus I feel partially responsible for potentially talking someone out of an experience they might've enjoyed - or into one they wouldn't. Except, of course, in those rare instances where I've actually stepped aside from mere analysis and have openly advocated for attendance (aka: "Go see this.")

The thing is, reactions to art are wholly subjective, and since that subjectivity is the sum total of what a film critic's opinion can offer you ... well, do the math. Since there's no "right," "wrong" or any other definitive concepts to speak of, film/art/book/etc. critiques are a different animal from, say, the consumer critique of a household appliance; practical things either work or they don't. Incidentally, this is why videogame critics have a harder job than film critics; they have to work simultaneously in both realms at once, finding the balance between frequently contradictory questions like "How does the story make me feel?" and "How's the response time on the ammo-switching mechanic?"

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