There is a cliche that says “Those that can’t, teach.” I don’t think that applies to creative folks in either the book or film world. Would anyone call James Patterson, Neil Gaiman (teaches Masterclass) or Justina Ireland (Star Wars NYT Best-Selling author who teaches at York College in PA), people who can’t write?
I think that cliche is, in the 21st century, more applicable to critics.
Before I explain, I want to share that Chasing Betty’s e-book is now $2.99! You can get your copy here.
Let’s look at film critic Owen Gleiberman. The dude tries to turn film criticism into a literary exercise. I’ve read his reviews over the years. There are short blurbs, ones only a paragraph long and there are reviews lasting a page.
Now, in fairness, his short reviews have morphed into what reviews should be: do you like the film? Why or why not? If something sticks out, he tells us.
His long reviews, however, are something different altogether. Take a look at this review for Arthur. It has gotten better but he still tries to use words no one’s used in a century at least.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all four increasing one’s vocabulary, but is a film review the place for it? I don’t think so.
As a both a cinephile and bibliophile, I often read critic’s thoughts on books and movies. Being an author and filmmaker myself, I enjoy a variety genres, but sometimes if I am on the fence about a book or flick, or haven’t heard much about it, I will check in to see what the critics have to say. This will often decide if I see it in theaters or add it to my Netflix queue or TBR pile.
Reading these criticisms, I feel compelled to ask: why the hell do they think they are major contributors to world literature? Let me give you an example. This review comes to us straight from Joe Morgenstern of The Wall St. Journal: “The screenplay is simply sensational. Feelings flow like molten lava.The dialogue overflows with edgy wit and acidulous arias of imprecation.“
WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT???!!! I don’t want to have to browse a dictionary when I read a movie review in the paper. Are you seriously that pompous? Do you feel bad that you are stuck writing movies reviews at a paper as serious as the Wall St. Journal and need to use big words to feel like you fit in? Or is that a requirement perhaps?
Michiko Kakutani, a legendary book critic (the Pauline Kael of literature) was so famous her last name was turned into a verb when she critiqued a work, was not guilty of this. She reviewed Don DeLillo’s novel “Cosmopolis” and called it “a major dud, as lugubrious and heavy-handed as a bad Wim Wenders film, as dated as an old issue of Interview magazine.”
I take umbrage not only with the tact that she purloined a word from the seemingly dark corners of Merriam-Webster, but she insulted Wim Wenders, who has not made a bad film. Can’t you just say you were sad a writer of DeLillo’s talent had a subpar work and why, instead of trying to be haughty-taughty?
You need to realize one thing: YOU ARE CRITICS, NOT PROPOGATORS OF THE DICTIONARY. No one is coming to you to find ways to say something is good or not, just whether or not it’s worth our time.
You should take some time to read the reviews at Joblo.com, whom I consider the best online critic and second only to Roger Ebert in terms of reviews. Joblo, aka Berge Garabedian, simply gives us background on the film, explain what he likes and/or didn’t like, and rates it from 1 to 10.
So easy, and yet so effective.
Why is that so hard to do? We just want to know whether or not we should see a movie or read a book. We don’t want to hear words that weren’t used after 1783. If you did that, Ms. Kakutani and Misters Morganstern and Gleiberman, maybe you won’t be considered a supercilious parcel of incongruity.