“Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.”
— W.H. Auden
So, I saw Suicide Squad. It was okay. There were some issues with motivations, a few plot holes, some unnecessary scenes, but Amanda Waller and Deadshot were pitch perfect, Harley was a fair interpretation, and the Enchantress was a decent villain, if nothing we haven’t seen before. DC seems to be heading in the right direction, which makes me hopeful for the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League projects. It wasn’t bad.
There’s a lot coming out about Rotten Tomatoes and how they may or may not be biased against DC Movies. That’s not quite what I want to talk about. I’ve seen a lot of anti-critic sentiment floating around over this, and just in general. I find this almost unsettling, mostly because criticism is kind of what I do here? And while I certainly lean more towards academic criticism than professional, the two are becoming more and more similar. In some areas, criticism is slowly becoming an art form in itself. But there are people who question why we need critics at all, if they’re not going to reflect the popular consensus? In my last “The Case For…” post, I had some video resources, and I have some this time too. First, we’ll be exploring Kyle Kallgren’s review of F For Fake which is a review of Orson Welles’ last completed film as Director. While most of the review is focused on the nature of art and its relationship to its creator, there is quite a bit about critics, called “experts” in this case, and their relationship with “fake” art. After that, I’ll be going back to the Nostalgia Critic with his video essay “When Are Critics Wrong?”, discussing the disconnect that sometimes happens between critics and audiences.
“Experts are the new Oracles. They speak to us with the absolute authority of the computer and we bow down before them. They’re God’s own gift to the faker.”
— Orson Welles
Welles is talking about art experts, mainly, as F is for Fake is a documentary primarily about Elmyr de Hory, the notorious art forger, and his biographer Clifford Irving, who also wrote a “biography” of Howard Hughes. One of the main parts of an art expert’s job is to determine whether or not any particular painting is real or a fake. Kallgren’s review starts off with the question “Is there such a thing as fake art?” The role of the critic is similar, trying to determine what kind of art any particular movie is. Not necessarily real or fake, but good or bad. Authenticity is not the goal, but quality. And there is certainly such a thing as bad art. Kallgren notes that the expert is the closest thing F for Fake has to an antagonist, and he talks about how expert functionality works. That sitting in front of a camera and talking about a thing makes him an expert. By the transitive property, that makes me an expert as well. On paper I’m not– I have another year to graduation, I’m studying English, not Film Theory, and even then it’s Creative and Technical Writing, not English Literature– but the format of this blog places me as a functional expert on the things that I want to write about. But that’s what the Internet does, it creates functional experts. Anyone can write 140 characters about something they want to talk about, art or otherwise. Online, everyone’s an expert, so what’s the big deal about critics?
Well, probably because they’re experts outside of the Internet? The idea that the Internet isn’t the real world is slowly dying, but there is still a disconnect. There are also certain people who are more qualified to be critics. Through study and experience, there are many well seasoned critics working for major papers that probably have a more educated viewpoint than I do. I am not actually an expert on much besides Harry Potter. But I still put myself in the position of expert whenever I sit down to write here. These people who are claiming that we shouldn’t trust the critics, the experts, on their opinions seem to forget one thing: if the premise that I should care about no one’s opinion but my own is true, why should I listen to yours? Because I think that’s all they want. They disagree with the “experts”, failing to recognize that they are experts in their own right, and lash out against the perceived system that they could change if they just joined it.
The Nostalgia Critic brought up a few points about being a critic that many people forget. They have to see every movie, which means that when they see something new, they’re interested. Birdman got great reviews from critics because of the filming techniques they used to get it all to look like a single shot. Phantom Menace actually got good reviews because no one had seen a movie with so much CGI. I find in my experience that many critics are also looking for things that further the art, whether they’re talking about film or poetry or what have you. No one reads House of Leaves for the plot. The Critic also talks about how sometimes critics do seem to dislike things because they’re supposed to dislike them. Movies like Home Alone, The Shining (which got nominated for Razzies, including Worst Director), and The Wizard of Oz didn’t exactly open to rave reviews, but they’re classics now. And most of all, critics are people, and people have varying tastes. One of the reasons Siskel and Ebert At the Movies did so well was that you had the two of them bouncing ideas and opinions off each other. Some of the better episodes are when they disagree. There will never be complete consensus on a movie, so there really isn’t anything wrong with liking what you like. Movie-wise that is, if you like, say, stealing stuff, that’s kind-of illegal, you should probably stop.
I started with that Auden quote, and I want to talk a bit about it here– eventually, the great will stand above everything else. Yes, we’ll lose some of the good along the way, but the truly great art? That will last. I’ve watched a lot of internet reviewers watch a lot of bad movies. But 50 years from now, are people really going to be watching stuff like Pluto Nash or The Oogieloves? No, they’ll be watching Star Wars. They’ll be reading Harry Potter. They’ll be going to see Hamilton (assuming they buy their tickets, like, right now). As for the rest? Perhaps it will be brought up again by some distant descendant who thinks they were “born in the wrong century”, or some such, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important right now. How many people talk about John Carter of Mars? Not the Disney movie, but the old book series by Edgar Rice Burrows. Honestly, not that many, but without it, we wouldn’t have Star Wars. People might not talk about Willow, but they will watch The Lord of the Rings. Thor and The Incredible Hulk might fall by the wayside, but we’ll always have The Avengers. Sir Issac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” In any cultural endeavor, while you may strive for being Newton, there is no failure in becoming one of the giants. It is the job of the critic to keep the good alive long enough that someone will make something great, and to acknowledge when something great has happened.
The phrase “everyone’s a critic” has never been more true. With the power of the Internet, everyone has the ability to go out and write whatever they want to about any movie they like or dislike. Every single one of you can be an expert on Suicide Squad or Ghostbusters or whatever you want to write about. And Rotten Tomatoes? That’s just a portion of what’s out there about these movies. There are tons of ways to talk about stuff you like.
Now go do it.
I mean it– if you don’t agree with the critics, go write about it. 140 characters not enough? Facebook has you covered. Want to add pictures throughout the review? On Tumblr, Blogspot, and even here at WordPress, you can do that. Feel more like shouting, or just speaking? YouTube is free to sign up. There is no shortage of outlets for you to speak your mind. But don’t sit back and complain that the critics aren’t representing your opinion, because they can’t do that. Only you can.
So what’s stopping you?