I was a bit more pretentious when I was younger. I say “a bit”, because it is easy to underestimate one’s own level of pretension. Note how I cling to outdated rules of grammar which suggest that just because Latin couldn’t do a thing, English shouldn’t either. But, despite this I think I was really far more pretentious when I was in college, not that I can hope to prove it. When I studied Film Theory (a super-useful subject, that; every financial job I ever had waited with bated breath for my reports on “Out of Currency: Banking Misconceptions in It’s A Wonderful Life”), this obviously meant that I knew more about film than you. If a movie didn’t play in a dank, cramped art house, I couldn’t be bothered with it. No subtitles? How pedestrian. And what’s that? Did I just call a cinematic experience “a movie”? My younger self is so embarrassed by me, right now.
In many ways, none of this is particularly surprising. With maturity comes perspective. But, sheesh. I was super-full of myself, at least when it came to film. I bring this up not so we can all laugh at how naive I used to be (though, if you really want to, I won’t stop you), but, rather, to let you know what we’re getting ourselves into, here.
A few weeks ago, I launched into this project with a post on Xanadu. I learned one thing after making that post: seriously, don’t throw something online early in a misguided attempt to be “topical.” I really hadn’t intended on publishing anything until I had more things written. Experience is educational!
And, well, that post’s subject should have warned everyone playing at home that I wasn’t really going to be toeing the accepted critical line, here. And the reason for that is rooted in just how snooty I used to be (and, to be perfectly honest, how snooty I continue to be, but that is a subject for a different time).
This space will be many things, but one thing it will not be is a place to post reviews of current films. The internet is so full of those, anyway, and although I am perfectly willing to go on record as calling Jurassic World “the worst major sequel ever produced by Hollywood” (and, yes, I’ve seen whatever example you just thought of that was worse), doing so isn’t going to help anything, either. Listen: bad reviews are fun to write. They are witty, zippy, funny and oh! so urbane.
They are also lazy.
It takes far more effort to find the good in projects you otherwise hate than it is to lambaste everything for failing to live up to your personal expectations.
It should go without saying, then, that when I was younger I wrote many, many bad reviews. Once I left school, however, I started to wonder why, if every movie is so terrible, had I bothered to spend so much of my life studying film? In this case, a little introspection went a long way and I developed a fool-proof system to determine whether or not a movie could be considered “good”. It consists of three simple questions:
- Do the filmmakers establish an internal logic to explain what we are watching?
- Is that internal logic then consistently applied?
- On the whole, do the filmmakers get more right than they do wrong?
That’s it: My Handy-Dandy Guide To “Good”.
Initially, I included one more question, which asked, “Does the film contribute to the art of cinema as a whole?”, but I jettisoned that one for what should be obvious reasons. The other three have remained, and they have served me well, even though using them means I must concede that even movies I don’t personally like are, in fact, perfectly fine. Well made, even.
Whereas I might want to launch J.J. Abrams into the sun for what he did to Star Trek, in applying those questions to his reboot, the answers are all, “Yes.” I could go on and on about how nothing in the reboot followed the established cannon of the franchise, but that would be missing the point, because Abram’s version wasn’t supposed to. It might be very hard to admit, having been such a fan of the series for so long, but the new Star Trek wasn’t made for me. And the reason why is very simple: the fans don’t matter, and the industry doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about what I think – or, in fact, what anyone thinks — about their product.
Whether or not a movie is good, bad or indifferent is irrelevant. And far too many critics are laboring under the impression that their opinions matter.
In fact, I’m not entirely certain that critical opinion ever did.
While it is true that a bad review once had the power to severely limit a film’s release, even a complete critical drubbing hasn’t been able to stop any given film from going on to be considered a classic. Likewise, critical acclaim has done little to help a film’s reputation in perpetuity. Cimarron got outstanding reviews, was the first film to sweep nominations for the Oscars, won Best Picture of 1931 … and still didn’t manage to make money.
And, isn’t that the entire point? Making money?
Funny you should ask that. Because, honestly, I’m not entirely certain even that is important. There may be many reasons why you have or haven’t heard of Cimarron, but it isn’t because of its reviews, and it isn’t because of its box office returns.
No, there is something different going on, and that is —
You know, I had planned to have these max out at about 1,000 words, to make them easier to digest (and finish). So, before I go on any further, let me just greenlight this post for a sequel, before anyone has even seen it. That should go over well.