For years now, I have been traveling extensively and attending many film festivals. I have always been surprised at the large number of film press and film critics attending and reporting from them. Nevertheless, time and time again, I have been underwhelmed by these representatives of the film press being very undeprepared.
Earlier this year, at the Transilvania International Film Festival in Romania, I met a producer and we sat at a table with two other journalists. We mentioned the French New Wave and discussed extensively The 400 Blows. It didn’t take long for said journalists to admit that they had never heard of Truffaut, Godard or Varda, and eventually say that they never had time to watch movies but were obsessed with Game of Thrones.
This is by no means a solitary incident. I consider myself a good friend of a film critic who has been traveling to various film festivals for over five years and strongly believes that films are not necessarily worth anyone’s time. The reason why I can consider her a friend is that I can openly oppose her views but still constantly tell her to please, for goodness sakes, leave the world of film journalism at once.
I struggle to admire the vast majority of contemporary film critics. Many who used to have a strong voice seem to have grown far too disenchanted over the years. Those I do admire are ones that have knowledge and enthusiasm. Jay Weissberg of Variety is often malicious, though quick to praise a film he really likes. The thing that makes his writings rewarding is that he clearly knows what he is talking about. In fact, when it comes to film criticism, it’s not important whether or not the critic is right or wrong, but the ways in which they support their arguments for or against the film in question. Weissberg’s writings, whether you agree or disagree with them, will always have you thinking and more often than not may introduce you to a fact about the cinematic culture – historical or contemporary – that you are not aware of.
This is a fact that is almost always overlooked by the contemporary critics, particularly the younger ones, born in the 70’s and 80’s. What I believe is imperative for a critic is knowledge of the history of cinema, and world cinema at that. It is not enough to simply be a fan of one specific type of cinema. I would very much argue against the politicized film critic as well. If cinema as a whole is to be taken as a starting point for debates and various forms of representation, then singling out one viewpoint alone is totally wrong. A filmmaker should be free to examine a leading character in a non-sympathetic way, just like a viewer should be free to hate or love said character.
A worthy film critic should also be aware of the high volume of self-proclaimed film critics in the modern age of the internet. It is not enough to write about a film; it is important to represent a type of film criticism as a whole. In later years, I have taken to advising people who review films to stop and understand what their critiques are coming from. It would be a good idea for anyone choosing to start a blog on film to dedicate their first post to a manifesto; an explanation of what in their opinion is a good film. It should be as long as it takes and it should make reference to film history and the history of critical theory.
James Curtis, the well-known biographer and author of books on classic Hollywood, recently told me in Pordenone in Italy: “there’s a lot of really bad stuff out there. But the good stuff is there, you just have to look harder.” I say, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t actually have to look harder?