Featured: Critic, Moi?
“Are you the critic guy?”
It was one of the attendants tearing my ticket at my local cinema. I’m not sure where he recognised me from and, to be honest, I was concentrating on not dropping my popcorn/Coke combo while he handed my ticket back to me.
It turns out I was the critic guy he was thinking of, he’d listened to my little podcast and said he enjoyed it. Smiles all round and off I wandered to find my seat.
Sitting waiting for the film to start I thought about his statement: “the critic guy”.
Immediately I thought ‘of course not’, but then, being the nerd I am, I thought about his statement a bit more.
It was the word ‘the’ that made me dismiss the statement out of hand. I am most certainly not the critic guy. There are many many film critics, for example Mark Kermode, Jason Solomons, Robbie Collin, Catherine Shoard, Barry Norman, Jonathan and Paul Ross, Christopher Tookins and legends such as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael – all them are significantly better qualified than me. They’ve gone to film school, studied film theory, read film studies, examined films academically, watched everything that is released, watch every film at least twice, they hone and craft their reviews, research details, develop thesies, and then wrap all that work up in eloquent, sharp, precise prose that is witty, lively, readable and authorative.
Me? I’ve seen a lot of films and I’m a gobby shite. I do not inhabit the same rarified atmosphere as these people. I am most definitely not “THE critic guy”.
But how about being just a critic?
Well I’m critical, sure. I won’t hold back on an opinion when asked, in fact my whole podcast with my good buddy Mat is all about us voicing our opinions, and sometimes those opinions are critical of the films we are talking about.
Does that make us both critics? Just because we have a broadcasting platform on which we can voice our opinion, does that really make us critics? Nowadays anyone can have a podcast and reach millions of people around the world- the broadcasting platform is not the definition.
Barry Norman is a well-respected critic. For decades he was THE film critic for Britain.He got that position because someone at the BBC saw Norman, or heard him, or read some articles written by him, and felt he had something important to say so recommended him has the anchor of the BBC’s film programme. The result? Barry Norman becomes voice of film for a couple of generations of British filmgoers.
With the advent of the internet, the barrier to entry in order to broadcast to a wide audience has all but disappeared. You no longer need to be ‘discovered’ by someone with the ability to grant you access to a broadcast platform, like the producer or talent scout that spotted Barry Norman. You can do it yourself, buy a microphone, subscribe to Libsyn and off you go. Maybe there’s an audience for your show, maybe there isn’t. But does that make us Film Critics of the same ilk as Kermode, Norman, Collin et al?
In his book Hatchet Job, Mark Kermode argues against critics who just criticise for the sake of criticism – the classic hatchet job review – saying that they are doing this simply for emotion’s sake. Likewise those critics who write for the poster, you know those classic lines like “Joanna Lumley in her best role ever” which get splattered on the side of a bus or comments from august film magazines like “Elle” or “Good Housekeeping” are, he says, useless. It is his job to watch a film and give a decent impression of the content of the film so that the general public can make up their own mind whether or not that film is for them. He even subtitles his book “love film, hate critics”.
So finally I have my answer. I’m, primarily, a film fan. I love cinema, I’ve loved it ever since I first went to a Fleapit (the Bath Odeon – now a comedy club) and saw my first film (Michael Crawford in Condorman). I’ve seen a lot of films, some I love, some I hate, and I speak from the heart when I say I like or hate this film. What is different now I have the podcast, is that I justify my opinions (as I see them) because I have to explain to Mat and our listeners why I felt this way. why they should see this film, why they should avoid it. Likewise I listen to Mat’s opinions and take them as someone else’s feelings about a film; opinions that may not be the same as mine. I am always conscious that someone else may adore a film I really dislike. Mat says I’m soft on films I don’t like, I think I’m sensitive to other audiences. I really disliked the recent XXX film, I found it unpleasantly sexist, crudely shot, poorly acted, badly written and, crucially, not any fun. However that may be someone’s ideal movie – a 5* classic in their eyes – and I have a duty to be sensitive to that.
Does that make me somehow better than other ‘citizen critics’? I don’t think so, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Does that make me somehow closer to the professional critics? Maybe. It is a discipline I have chosen to employ in my reviewing process and a standard I hold myself to. I don’t have to, no-one has insisted I do so, I just feel this is something I should do on behalf of my listeners and readers.
So all I do is give my honest opinion, explain why I felt that way, and describe the film in such a way that my audience can make up their own mind as to whether or not to see a film. Sometimes I will be critical, other times gushing, but my comments will always be mine.
So I’m a fan, with an opinion, and, thanks to the guys here at InSessionFilm, an expanding platform from which to express that opinion.
But I am not a critic. A critic has the experience, academia, study and respect behind their opinions that provide weight that I simply don’t have. So feel free to ignore me, come back and argue against me, that’s fine, my opinion has no more weight than yours.
I’m a fan, not a critic. See you in the cinema sometime.