Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb….
A favourite writer, Mark Cousins, acutely demonstrates how criticism is so much more than writing reviews of the weekly Hollywood spectacular in the February 2014 edition of Sight and Sound:
“The critic, if she’s any good, will have come to realise that she doesn’t merely respond to art, she makes art … there’s the kind of criticism that I am doing now – writing. Even film writing, though, is polygenetic. Critical writing can be reviewing, books, essays and interviews, of course, but it can be letters, hypotheticals and manifestos too, and more besides.”
Read the full article and much, much more by subscribing here.
Too often (myself included) writers have berated the slow dilution of film writing online. For example, videos and articles pick out vague inaccuracies of an imaginative, science fiction film and tactfully ignore the emotional and profound issues raised by the filmmaker. This focus on the irrelevant and easily-processed elements changes our priorities and warps our own perception of film writing – and film – in general.
I have written about the way large film websites, prioritising hits and arguments, happily simplify films into an easy-to-digest language. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy becomes a “Top 5 reasons why Bane is a dull villain” article, opposed to any attempt at highlighting the social and political points raised. 12 Years a Slave becomes merely ‘Oscar-bait’, opposed to a work of art highlighting a crucial moment in America’s history – and its relevance to today…
Last year, Philip French retiring from The Observer marked a change in the guard – as podcast-pro and likeable rogue Mark Kermode took the reins. Mark Cousin’s use of the word ‘polygenetic’ is crucial as it means film writing is influenced by “more than one source”, and Philip French was known for utilising the various forms of art – theatre, exhibitions and literature – to inform his writing. Indeed, that would be a change for the better – a change that all sites could take on.
Could Top 5’s be breaking down the various literary influences on a subject matter? Could we see more blogs and articles comparing and contrasting the stage versions that were adapted to screen – and the screen versions that have now been adapted to stage? Writers could write letters to audiences and filmmakers in an open and frank manner – challenging the status quo and arguing what art should, and could, be.
Barry Norman once wrote that all critics are leeches feeding off the blood of art. But those critics must still stand firm on standards. We hold filmmakers accountable to their actions. Art, in all its forms, is expression and we are to judge it on these merits and not on the pernickety assumptions of narrative, linear storytelling. Film does not need to be neat or tidy; film does not need to speak our language or adhere to our expected conventions. It can – but it doesn’t need to be. Does film challenge us? Does it stay true to the intent of the filmmakers? Are we inspired by it? Or are we shown the depths of our soul illuminated on the flickering myth in front of our eyes?
Film writing, like cinema, is art unto itself. Though we build on films, we build in the same manner that an artist is influenced by another. We don’t simply criticise to deconstruct and spoil the magic – we illuminate the magic and draw others closer to the art form itself.