Critical thoughts

How to be a clever film critic

Matt Groening's 1985 cartoon "How to be a clever film critic"

Is there an art to film criticism, and does it serve any real purpose? Reading the comments on reviews online you’ll find no shortage of  “movies are just 4 teh entertainment and u should’nt think about them LOL” type comments. Perhaps it’s an attitude that has grown in response to being exposed to unambitious and uninformed reviewing. The “everyone’s a critic” mentality is lovely and non-elitist but it suggests that anybody who can string a sentence together can write reviews by summarising the film’s plot and stating a like/dislike opinion. If you’re writing for an older audience then you should complain about the soundtrack being too loud. If you’re writing for a younger audience, then be pithy, smug and snarky. Easy.

I’d rather hear from somebody who has watched and read about a range of films from various nationalities, cinematic movements and time periods, than somebody who thinks The Dark Knight is the greatest film ever. Neither do I want  to read celebrity gossip, casting news, box office figures or marketing campaign analysis – leave that for the entertainment reporters and accountants.

I want criticism that appreciates cinema aesthetically; recognising it as a form of mass entertainment with enormous cultural impact. Good critics offer insights into a film’s visual, technical and storytelling accomplishments or failings. They probe a film’s underlying ideology by examining representations of class, gender, race, sexuality, politics and religion. Good critics share their knowledge, make their passion contagious and provide context and informed interpretation. This is the purpose of film criticism. There absolutely is an art to doing it.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 368, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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3 Responses to Critical thoughts

  1. Glenn says:

    I read this just as I finished typing up my Love and Other Drugs review, which is basically 400 words of bile and 20 “i guess this part wasn’t so bad” for balance. I now feel bad that it’s not deep enough.

  2. Ha ha! I haven’t seen Love and Other Drugs but everything that I’ve heard suggests that it is a film people should be warned about!

  3. Setiawan says:

    I realized that I don’t have the talent to be a movie critic, so I just mostly summed things up now and write for fun. I do think it takes a certain mileage or in-depth knowledge on a subject, because my favorite critics are usually 40 and up. Lol, then I should probably try being a critic again when I’m 40.

    BTW, Love and Other Drugs really is as ugly as everyone said?

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