Critical Mess: the fall of film critique

Siskel and Ebert in a theater set
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It’s hard to be critical about things consistently without getting introspective. In my case, I have to think if some of my opinions on certain subjects are more trivial than necessary. I justify it to myself that while the big problems are more apparent and do result in more apparent damage to a particular piece of media, the small issues are what bring continual unease in the consumption. Like an undetected subtle medical issue, it can’t be readily seen, and the effects can only be assumptions based on experience. I see it as my purpose in reviewing and critiquing anything that I show my hand, explaining my reasons for why these issues are worth mentioning. That is what critique is for.

But like anything with value, the more there is of something, the less valuable it becomes. Essentially, I feel certain criticisms have deflated in value due to how often they are being used; and unlike consumable products, opinions will now last as long as disk drives will. Critique has seen a large deflation in value when it comes to movies. I see this as a result of two issues, larger than what I usually feel comfortable talking about.

[Like most opinions, this is based on my observations, and thus should only be taken as such. I welcome countering opinions, as this is a topic I think warrants discussion. When I am referring to ‘Critique,’ please remember that this is mostly contained in the medium of film.]

Reason number one is very simple to understand. The old guard of movie critics have either long since become one with the soil, or have lost their way. Siskel & Ebert & Roeper. Three names synonymous with movie criticism, two now carved into stone and the last now focusing on a personal blog or as a contributor. Anytime I see a critic mainly posting on their personal blog, I start to disregard their opinion over time. Nothing good comes from an isolated opinion. However, in the vacuum of their passing or irrelevance, we have a thousand other critics that have risen in their place, adding their voices to the storm.

But not many of them are worth their salt. Just look at a few major releases recently, and the discrepancy between their words and the opinions of their audience. Sure, they don’t have to match up, but I start to get suspicious when publications publish articles blaming a boogeyman for the discrepancy. This is how conspiracy theories start. If you need something to blame, perhaps choose something with a name that’s worth mentioning. This will be discussed later in this article.

Opinion is equally worthless if it doesn’t have a human name attached to it. Movie ads show stars and positive quotes all the time, but they seldom include the name of the article author. Generally, it’s only the name of the publishing outfit. Unless they hire only the best reviewing team on this rock, the publisher’s name alone isn’t worth the pixels they’re printed on. It honestly feels like these publications are purposely trying to take the credit for the opinions they publish. Sure, you can find the name on the article itself, but it’s usually relegated to a corner of the page, in the smallest readable text possible. Some publications even have their comments disabled for whatever contrived reason. Nothing good comes from an isolated opinion.

This has made it a chore to become an intelligent consumer. Instead of being able to trust certain voices, we now have a variety of things that get in the way of that. The potential of a critic being a plant, sponsored, or behind the scenes dealing for positive coverage; or negative coverage from slighted reviewer or publication that has a personal vendetta. Negative or positive coverage for being none or one with the critic’s ideology. Critique is not often alone anymore, usually accompanied with disclaimers or laying out the cards of the author’s personal biases. While certainly not a negative thing, it does display that critique is becoming less about the actual components of the film, but about the author. It’s why I refer to the Storm of opinions as a sewer.

This Storm is reason two. With the advent of digital technologies, it has never been easier for people to get their opinion out into the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, following the principle of Freedom of Speech does come at the cost of having to wade through the open sewer of the Storm. Thousands upon thousands of opinions, ever conflicting; some intelligent, some just equating something to feces.

Nevertheless, where consistency can be found also comes another problem with this Storm. I have heard plenty of people mention to me that they’ve heard a critique mentioned many times before, and they just don’t care anymore. With the arrival of the thousands of newly (and potentially self-) appointed critics, saturation of critique is slowly starting to become a problem. People hearing the most popular critique and repeating it everywhere, essentially making it into something that can be equated to a buzzword. This certainly can gain traction if it’s a supportable argument, but when something is just repeated because it’s become popular to say is when that critic should hang up their hat. Unsupported arguments and critiques are how you lose a debate, and that is a skill that is sorely lacking in this day and age, even in debate teams.

Film as an art form has been on life support ever since modern Hollywood started to be obsessed with itself, and now we’re seeing the degradation of the potential future cadaver. The well-known secrets of Hollywood’s skeletons are finally coming out of the closet, with even the wordplay becoming somewhat true. Molestation of child stars, rampant sexual abuse, Hollywood accounting, and Scientology. These are a few of my problems with the city of cameras that aren’t in the films they make, but they are supported by their success, or even “failure” according to Hollywood Accounting.

What baffles me is the outright condemnation of the previously mentioned heinous sexual acts but the indifference to commit to something to fight back against them.

This falls into the degraded value of critique. While it is the result of the prior two reasons, it’s certainly as powerful of a destructor of quality. Inexperience (or outright unsuitability) of some critics and saturation of unsubstantiated critique culminate in people not caring about the media they consume. The Transformers series is a great example of this. Nearly universal opinions on how terrible the series has become past the first mediocre installment, but people keep going anyway. No one cares that it’s objectively bad, they just want to be entertained. While that’s fine in of itself, the trickle of quality productions is being equally outweighed massively by cash cow films.

The lack of value of critique placed by the public certainly helps in the creation of these film cash cows. It takes a severe screw-up film for a critical opinion to make its way back into the spotlight, and this can be seen in the recent Star Wars movie: The Last Jedi. The consumer opinion is extremely divisive, but critical opinion is nothing but glowing adoration for the Mouse’s new sci-fi film. This could easily be ignored if it weren’t for articles published shortly after this discrepancy was discovered.

A compilation of article headlines related to the opinion division for The Last Jedi. Compiler: Anonymous

“Damn the opinions of these ‘fans’, they’re not true fans;” or “This boogeyman was the reason for this sharp division of opinion.” It’s like I’m in high school fan clubs again, bloody gatekeepers. I’m not putting forth the opinion that all opinions must be representative to be justified; rather, I understand why trust in film critics are very low. You have critics giving glowing reviews to things that a great portion of the public sees as having glaring problems and whining on a public platform that these people don’t like what I like. Perhaps that’s why author names aren’t in trailer quotes anymore.

Critique is something I value greatly, as it’s something that has greatly helped me become the person I am, rather than some layabout stuck where I started. That may seem unlikely, but I will say not everyone is built the same. Being a critic is where I have learned to channel what I learned into being a tool for the consumer to use. Improvements can always be made, and the role of a critic is to find them for any form of art or media.

When I started working here at the University Chronicle, I started to see the degradation of an occupation and hobby I enjoyed before I even really got my foot in the door. I have never aimed to be anything but a tool for your use when I have put out a review. Sure, it will be written with my biases and hangups, but at least you will know them. I have a name I’m proud to put out there, and will leave behind people I know that can do a job better than many of the thousands already online. I’m not the Men’s Warehouse, but I guarantee it.

My name is Cody Poirier. I am the Lifestyle Section Editor and media critic for the University Chronicle. I waste my time so you don’t have to.

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Cody Poirier

Cody Poirier is an Entrepreneurship major, and is the Lifestyle section editor, business manager and a critic for the University Chronicle. He wastes his time so you don't have to.

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