Monday, June 24, 2013

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey: Advice for Aspiring Critics

I really have no business to give aspiring critics any advice, since at best, I’m an amateur critic – and some would still say I’m an “aspiring” critic, since of course no one pays me a dime for what I write (although aspiring implies that at some point I hope to be a professional critic, something I have no delusion about ever happening). But I’ll offer a few words anyway.

1.       Don’t expect to make money. Newspapers and magazines have always been the primary employers of movie critics – and they’re in trouble, downsizing where ever they can. Most professional critics these days are freelancers. You want to be a professional movie critic who wants to make a living off it? Good luck with that.

2.       Do it for the reason I do it – I love movies; I love writing about movies, and writing reviews help me work through my feelings about the movies. I don’t really consider myself a critic – I’m just a guy who watches a lot of movies and writes about what he sees. If a few readers find that helpful, I'm glad for it, but I'd do the same thing whether or not I posted my reviews.

3.       Don’t care what others think of your reviews. I did at one point, but I’ve moved on from that. Be prepared, because even someone like me, who occupies such a tiny space on the internet, has people telling me an idiot. It goes with the territory. Don’t take it personally and move on. They aren’t worth your time. Engage in thoughtful debate with those who want to – don’t trade insults with idiots.

4.       Watch as much as they can – both old and new. If you don’t know much about film history, than you really shouldn’t be a critic. I’ve made my way through many of the “canon” titles through the years, and my list of older movies to see never gets any shorter – I just keep adding titles. It’s a monumental task, and one that will be ongoing for your entire life. You’re never going to get to know film history unless you watch films – one at a time.

5.       Don’t look down at the movies you review. Nothing bugs me more in a review than a critic who somehow holds himself above the films they are reviewing. If you have contempt for what you’re writing about, it shows. Try to meet a film on its own terms.

6.       Don’t get obsessed with a “grading scale”. I used the four star system when I started this blog, because that’s what I grew up with from Ebert and Maltin. I stopped because I was tired of people e-mailing and asking why something got 3 stars and something else got 3.5. I never meant it to be definitive – just a guide - but as soon as you attach a “rating” to a film, some people will forever and ever hold you to that. Have a grading scale if you want – but ignore any question regarding why one film got one rating, and another film got a different one.

7.       Read as much criticism as you can. Read Ebert, read Kael, read Sarris, read a wide variety of people writing now – from Glenn Kenny to James Berardinelli to Kent Jones to Amy Taubin to Manhola Dargis to A.O. Scott to Armond White and everyone in between. Like movies, you’ll like some, and dislike others. That’s kind of the point.

8.       Don’t stop writing. I still don’t think much of my own writing – but I think I’ve improved in the years I have been writing. That’s how you get better, just keep doing it.

9.       Be honest when you write – there’s no shame in disliking a movie everyone else seems to love, or liking a movie everyone else hates. I’ve never believed in the concept of “objective” criticism – as if there is some sort of algorithm that can define a great movie or a bad one. What’s important is that your subjective opinion or interpretation can be backed up by what is objectively in the movie.
That was WAY longer than I intended it to be, but there it is. But, as I said off the top, I’m don't consider myself a critic at all, and I'mcertainly not a professional one. So please feel free to completely ignore me.

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