Sunday, September 3, 2023

Nightcap 9/3: What does it take to be a critic?

A critic hard at work

For a critic?

You have to watch EVERY movie you can. You have to have an undying passion for ALL films of all types. You need to see movies that make you HAVE to talk about them. Just seeing certain films is dead wrong since you will compare all others to them. Cinema is infinite

That was a response to PR person extraordinaire and wonderful human being Alicia Diaz pondering on Twitter… er X, about what films  you need to see to be a critic. She was looking for a list of five films, but I don’t think there are a set number you need to see.

My feeling is that you can't just see five films you need to see more. Actually what you need to see are hundreds if not thousands of films from everywhere of every type. Film/Cinema/movies are an infinite medium with as many notions of what "film is" as there are creators.

And you can’t just watch good films.  You need to watch bad films, and mediocre films, and boring films and action films, and dramas and comedies and science fiction and horror and children’s films and shorts and features and everything you can get your hands on.

You have to watch films day and night...even when you sleep (leave TCM as you do so- the films will work their way into your brain)

If you only watch certain films, especially just the big films or the awards films you are limiting yourself. You need to go beyond them to anything you can get your hands on.

Yes, you have to watch the big films everyone is talking about  but more importantly you MUST watch the films no one is talking about. You need to go out and watch the small films at festivals that no one is attending, you need to watch the films that don’t have friends. There is very often gold in those films. More importantly you will learn way more from the smaller films than the big ones- why? because you will see things not like anything else, your horizons will be opened.

As a critic you need to have a wide open palette  and be able to acknowledge that there is more to films than the big ones. You need to know where people like Quentin Tarantino is stealing from because a lot times filmmakers are stealing from other people.

If you only watch certain films then your opinion will ultimately be useless to readers. If you can’t put what you are seeing into the context of all cinema then your opinion is less important. I see this with newer writers. Many will not revisit black and white films or anything outside of the Oscar films from before 1970. This makes reading their pieces difficult  because they aren’t aware  of the film’s connections to earlier films or earlier versions. I recently read a piece on a remade film  where a writer talked about how wonderfully new something was while the filmmaker was on record as saying he lifted sequences from earlier films.

Beyond seeing anything and everything you should talk to people and list discuss the films you are seeing. And I do mean discuss.  Go to festivals and talk to the people around you. Talk to other people at the festival. Talk to the other fans and see what they are seeing or what they thought. Talk to the ushers and staff and see what they have liked. Listen to what these other fans are saying. Listen because they will open up doors you never knew existed, in part about the film you are discussing, but other films. Listening will allow you to connect up other films and filmmakers. It will give you new films to see and most importantly it will give you a new set of friends.

Going to the movies is a social event. Be social.

Always have your own opinion. Do not follow the crowd, follow your heart.  If you don't like a film that everyone else does say so. Explain why. Have your own voice and use it- we need new voices not echo chambers.

And stand by your opinion. Your opinion is just as right as anyone else's. Speak your truth because no one else can. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you are wrong. I frequently get into battles over the big award films everyone loves.  In many cases I like the films but I can't go out on a ledge for them. In other times I know I'm right and other people are wrong and I have to try and pull people back from the edge.

Champion the films you love. If you love a film no one else does, speak out. Your job as a critic is not just to critique the films you see but to highlight things you are seeing. As a critic you have to point out the films we might have missed. Champion the things you love so others will find them

Lastly what you need to be a critic is to always remember and never ever forget that you are a fan of the movies. If you ever forget that you were that six year old kid staring wide eyed at some magical thing on a screen bigger than dad and twice as ugly, then you will be useless as a film writer. You need to have a connection to the spark, to the gob smacked sense of joy that made you love the films. You have to remember that what you are trying to do in write on movies is to connect your sense of "WOW!!!" to that bit of every one who reads you or sees you. You want to push the readers emotions so they want to feel what you're feeling and go out and see that film.

Too many critics are buttoned up,they feel they are above the fray. They know all. Being in a critics screening can be daunting because many critics won't talk to you. They won't let their guard or pretensions down. I didn't talk to anyone for the longest time.  But then I began to find my friends, the people here at Unseen Films, and people like the late Gerald Wright and the people in the back row at the Tribeca pre-screenings and I realized that some critics knew they were real people. They loved films because they did. No pretensions, no demand that films be high brow, just a love for a good story regardless. I gravitated to them. I still aspire to be them.

What do you need to be a critic?

An undying passion for the darkness and the flickering images shown there and the desire to share the great things you found there with anyone who will listen.

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