In an opinion piece posted on Forbes today, Paul Tassi explores the debate of video game length, especially in regards to the recently leaked gameplay footage that clocks total time for The Order: 1886 at about five hours (the YouTube video has been since deleted, however, and Ready at Dawn has remained quiet on the issue). I thought I’d examine this article in more detail since my last post focused on a similar issue, examining it from the opposite perspective of too much story, writing about the narrative excess in Alien: Isolation–a game I found commendable in many respects, but ultimately far too long.
After some derisory remarks I made in my review of Godzilla regarding its script, I had a thoughtful and useful question put to me. I was initially going to reply in the comment section of that post, but as my response developed into a more elaborate exploration of acceptable protocols for determining who to credit with a film’s successes and who to blame for its failures, I decided to feature it as a post.
A rough precis of the question is as follows: does my review of Godzilla essentially establish a baseless dichotomy that credits director Gareth Edwards for all the good bits and blames the screenwriters for all the bad?
To begin with the very suggestion of the question before I get into its specifics: while it is true that I let Edwards off rather easy in my review and ensuing comments, I deny that I make this the case in my reviews rather than the exception. I do not subscribe to the fallacy of assuming the name on the credits tells the whole story of that person’s involvement in the finished film. To use one telling example: David Koepp might have written the inept and pedestrian script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it was Spielberg who takes a sort of masochistic pride in claiming the idea to “nuke the fridge” (one can only wonder what was in the script before that nail in the integrity of the series landed). However, in the absence of direct testimony, we’ve only the credits to go by. It becomes necessary then to approach each credited individual of a film as guilty of his or her contributions until proven innocent. Regardless of this, it remains difficult, if not impossible, to be certain where to give credit or to lay blame. Indeed, I can imagine in some circles one of Godzilla‘s many producers bragging that it was he who came up with the finale, just as easily as I can imagine an uncredited writer doing the same–there’s no accounting for taste. Continue reading
If you’re looking for something inspiring to read, check out Farran Smith Nehme’s essay about Lewis Allen’s most successful and popular film, the 1944 ghost story The Uninvited starring Ray Milland, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
The alacrity by which such troves of insight are revealed should serve as an examplar for any piece of film analysis, be it a review or essay. Amateurs and professionals alike should study its form and nuances to glean what insights they may from it. Everyone else, may I recommend a double-feature of Allen’s The Uninvited with Hitchcock’s most ostensibly gothic masterpiece Rebecca?
Nehme also runs her own blog, Self-Styled Siren, which is similarly filled with brilliant monographs about cinema.
With Gravity soon to hit bluray in what I have read is an impeccable and remarkable transfer, I figured in lieu of writing another piece about why this film is so great (since everybody has been doing that lately), I’d instead approach the film from a different angle, that of responding to its critics who attack the film for what they perceive as insurmountable flaws in the film (since everybody has been doing that lately, too).
Several months ago a man wrote to me describing his issues with the plot of Gravity, and enthusiastically offered me what he believed to be an improved rewrite. As an immense fan of the film, I was suspicious, but was nonetheless taken with his bravado. Reading his version I wanted to be positive, I wanted to agree with his central premise that his version was inherently superior, but as his specious claims mounted, my enthusiasm waned. I knew immediately that I was reading the ravings of one indoctrinated by devastatingly useless ideas, lost on a vainglorious crusade for the formula of the perfect script. To be clear, the ideas were sound in and of themselves, but troubling when proffered as the “improved” version of what was an already sufficiently realized plot. It amounted to a subjective opinion being passed off as incontrovertible objectivity. It completely overlooked the merits of the film as it was to describe a completely different version of the plot as it should have been according to the tastes of one man, bearing as much semblance to Cuaron’s vision of the film as Lindelof’s version of Prometheus did for Jon Spaits original script. Though, to be fair, his was more complete than Lindelof’s hack efforts. By the time I finished I contemplated turning off my computer and never penning a reply. I had almost nothing positive to offer in my criticism. But he had asked me for my thoughts, and I had never maintained any illusions with my readers about my affability.
The problem with the rewrite was that it sought to rewrite what was already a cogent film into something approaching the vast majority of other works produced these days. The rewrite argued for a seven-step process to improve the quality of the movie, ranging from features such as infusing moments of “weakness and need” to “self-revelation” (nevermind that the latter point requires we casually overlook such moments already present in Cuaron’s version). One of his fundamental claims was that the film’s plot as-is left him emotionally uninvolved without any sufficient reasoning. Continue reading
In the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Researchers at the Relationship Institute at UCLA published findings that the divorce rate decreased by half in couples that discussed one relationship movie per week. At the risk of coming off as an insufferable gloater, have I not argued ad nauseum the structuring capacity of film?
Reporting on the study, MDConnects.com explained that “The findings show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods-reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.”
After attending a ten minute lecture on the nature of relationships, participants “then watched Two for the Road, a 1967 romantic comedy about the joys and strains of young love, infidelity, and professional pressures across 12 years of a marriage. Afterward, each couple met separately to discuss a list of 12 questions about the screen couple’s interactions.”
In historical context, essentially this study confirms what the Romantics insisted in every scrap of poetry they ever penned, every apologia produced, or idea expressed (and which the ancient Greeks would have found surprising it even needed mentioning). Take the poetry of Wordsworth’s for instance, which announced in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads with immolating candor the desire to produce a humanist literature that would remind humans what it took to earn that title of ‘human’. Film, hailed as it was the necessary extension of that idealistic (dare I say, romantic) impulse by theorists like Eisenstein, enables this potential for any who might seek its power.
In this new study we have something approaching proof of film’s humanizing potential. This new study ought to give filmmakers pause then, so that they may reflect on the potential of their art, and to consider what its continued cultivation may bring. One way to achieve this, I have already argued (indeed, this entire blog stands as testament), is by reflecting on the very methods and conditions which anticipated and produced this effect. This accountability may sound laughably idealistic, but it bears considering that to whom much has been given, much will be expected; and the more entrusted, the more demanded. Filmmakers, I entreat you.
As digital technology enables countless voices to add their share to the din of culture, it seems necessary to remind my dear readers what passes for a valid objection or a foolish remark that ought to be dismissed outright. This is not to say the original opinion which provoked the retort is correct or valid, but to say that the following rhetoric simply does not (and never will) hold any validity. Thus do I present, in no particular order, the top seven erroneous and frankly idiotic statements intended to silence dissent and the expression of opinion: Continue reading
In 1983 Siskel and Ebert got into a frivolous argument with fellow critic John Simon, then film critic for the National Review and Drama Critic for New York Magazine, over whether Return of the Jedi is a great film or not. I include this piece because it displays the profound emptiness associated with a profession that wastes its time classifying films according to prescriptive judgments. It also reveals that these issues with which we contend in contemporary popular criticism are not so isolated. Though I am undoubtedly on the side of Siskel and Ebert in arguing the technical and affective merits of the original Star Wars trilogy, notice how both sides lapse into strings of non sequiturs when asked if the film is great. The reporter asks “Is this film good?” To which Ebert replies “it excited me, it made me laugh, it made me thrilled, and that’s what a movie like this is for.” I agree with him completely, but this gets us no closer to answering the original question, precisely because the original question is a useless question. Not a good or bad question, but a useless one. Nothing can be made of it. It’s the work of youtube viewer satisfaction tallies, not the issue of prolonged study (though the results could then be tabulated to form the basis of some anthropological observations about cultural responses to art, yet this work would be an abstraction from the original product in question: the film).
The real valuable statements are found precisely in Ebert’s response to the movie. The question “what did this movie do” provokes a more solid and valuable answer than “is this movie good or bad.” Ebert’s remarks are a useful foundation for exploring the film further, while ostensibly acknowledging its intent as an affective rather than intellectual piece of pop art. How did it excite Ebert, and what tools did it employ to do so? How did it thrill him? Arguing whether a movie being thrilling or not thrilling is good or bad is a useless debate. Continue reading
In an interview with Nathan Rabin over at the A.V. Club in May of 2007, Louis C.K. remarked with pointed reprobation the distinction between critic and reviewer:
To me, there’s a huge difference between criticism and reviewing. I really love reading good criticism of television and film. To me, a critic is someone who analyzes a show, describes it, talks about the people in it, puts it in historical context of other shows like it, compares it and stuff, and then talks about the intent of the show and whether it failed or didn’t. At the end, they usually say, “By the way: not for me.” But reviewers now just go, they’re like bloggers, they go, “Ha ha hi. Don’t bother seeing this, it’s shit. Trust me, it’s crap. I like this show. That show I just saw sucks. Fuck you. And by the way, I ate a muffin today.”
I offer his statements into evidence not just to mock those whom I hold in the extreme contempt for this heinous sin of treating all media as their excuse to share flimsily constructed and more often than not ill-considered expressions of something groping an aesthetic impulse, but also because I think it speaks to a broader issue I’ve contended with on my site since its inception and which I have as of late been derelict in my duty of flogging to death.
In lieu of doing a proper post of my own criticism (it is the weekend after all), I thought I would direct your attention to this stimulating piece of criticism on criticism provided by the frequently acerbic and always insightful New York film critic, the late Andrew Sarris. In no small way does his work reflect my own creative impulse to hold modern film criticism accountable to a more formalized standard, it also suggests that my efforts to establish a productive dialectic on the role of film criticism is not altogether unique, nor impossible.
Though something of an historical curiosity at this point, the review is yet another piece in what became a long-standing feud between Sarris and fellow New York film critic Pauline Kael. With just a few paragraphs, Sarris offers a cogent and often humorous dismissal of Kael’s 50,000 word “half-hearted analysis” of Welles’ Citizen Kane, “Raising Kane”, predominantly with her dichotomous portrayal of Kane as “a great American film in a morass of mediocre Hollywood movies”. Also contended is Kael’s now famously debunked assertion that script-writer (and fellow New Yorker alumnus, no less) Herman J. Mankiewicz was largely responsible for the final script. Fun stuff.
“No filmmaker likes critics, no matter how nice they are to him.”
In an exclusive interview Monday, August 5, 2013 with Yahoo! Movies UK, stars of the box-office fiasco The Lone Ranger shared their thoughts on why the film failed to interest audiences. In no subtle way, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer laid the blame at the feet of the critics:
“I think the reviews were written seven-to-eight months before we released the film,” said Johnny Depp. “I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinksi] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do ‘The Lone Ranger’. They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do.”
Not only do I want to consider whether their accusations bear any merit, I also want to examine the impact of this particular brand of film criticism on the art of cinema, one that seems more about raising the state of the publication’s view count than it does raising the state of viewership.