Monday, June 14, 2010

Modern Film Criticism: Part Two

Having just written a review for Charles Gramlich's Cold in The Light, I want to continue with the theme of an early post about reviews, initiated by SQT here. Essentially, what is the value of a review and why should we pay any attention to it?

Let's be honest, reviews can be and are bought and sold. When you have five major corporations dominating media, how can you trust a critic from The Wall Street Journal or any of the Fox networks discussing a film  produced by Fox? This was amazingly evident in the release of Avatar. Here was a brawling film with an anti-war, environmentalist theme to it, produced by a man who has openly called out several Fox personalities like Glenn Beck, and yet Fox's arsenal was amazingly silent. Had this film not been distributed by Fox, it would have been shredded by the Fox outlets. Don't believe me? Take a peek at how Fox dealt with Happy Feet.

Neil Cavuto, one of Fox's opinion folk said:
I saw this with my two little boys. What I found offensive — I don’t care what your stands are on the environment — is that they shove this in a kid’s movie. So you hear the penguins are starving and they’re starving because of mean old men, mean old companies, arctic fishing, a big taboo. And they’re foisting this on my kids who frankly more bored that it was a nearly two-hour movie. And they’re kids!

Now, compared to Avatar, Happy Feet was subtle in its underlying thematic content. However, Avatar, which killed at the box office, made a ton of money for Rupert Murdock. It would not surprise me to learn a memo went through the Fox offices cautioning all personnel to leave this film alone.

Using critics to protect the media and to maket titles is nothing new, but when you have so few corporations controlling what is out there, it's a dangerous thing.

Is Dancing With the Stars news? I ask because during the season, it was not unusal to find a five to seven minute segment on the local morning news affiliate about the previous night's show, treating it with the same enthusiasm and diligence that the crew would have given to local news coverage. What about American Idol? Or 24? Or Lost? While these shows are definitely powerhouses in popular culture, do you believe for a minute that the local news affiliates for the networks who produced both 24 or Lost didn't pollinate other shows to promote these television events?

Trusting a critic to give you an unbiased review is about you taking the time to do your homework. Reality is, you'll have to see what corporation that critic is aligned with, then read through past reviews and see which ones you believe best represented an honest assessment of a work of art.

When I critiqued Charles' work for Elder Signs Press's blog, I did so because I had just finished reading it and wanted to discuss the piece. I liked the work and expressed why I liked it. I have no affiliation with Invisible College Press, although I know Charles through online communication. While I enjoy his work, it didn't stop me from being slightly critical of how he began the book. However, in writing a review, it's important to give the reader a balanced understanding of what is good about a piece and who this piece is written for, and where it might fit in from a genre perspective (if that work is genre).

to be continued


Charles Gramlich said...

I find it very difficult to do actual reviews. I've done a few but they are always tough for me. That's why I do so few full reviews on my blog and mostly just talk about what I like. I appreciate your objectivitiy, which is why I was glad to see you review Cold in the Light.

Kathy G said...

I agree with you that reviews can be bought. You can find a positive review of ANY movie, if you look hard enough.

I have a group of reviewers whose opinions I've come to trust, and I let them be my guide.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, it's rough to critique with an audience in mind.

Kathy I don't want to find negative things in film. I will usually try and focus on something positive about a book or film than just flat out tearing it apart.

Barbara Martin said...

When I do my book reviews I try to find something positive to say, especially when I have found the odd book not to be to my liking. There is always another person who may like what I didn't care for. Taste in topics is a personal choice.

SQT said...

What gets me are the reviews that say something is the "best ever" when you know it's marginally watchable. I did a very critical review of a book recently that had all kinds of reviews on Amazon that had to be bogus. That always irritates me a bit.

I had a hard time, at first, reviewing books that had been sent to me because you want to be nice when you're getting free stuff. But then you realize that you have no credibility if you like everything. The hardest part from that point is being tactful.