Barbara: I’ve been thinking about reviews lately because a) Gae at Trying to Stay Afloat in a Sea of Words brought up the subject last week in her blog, and b) my film opened last Friday and obviously got some reviews. Now, the question Gae asked was how can we accept reviews when they are often so unreliable for our own standards. She had just seen a Broadway show that she and her friends hated for many sound reasons, only to read later that the critics loved it for all the same reasons. It threw off her sense of judgment. It made her question how we can possibly have—if not consensus in art—some kind of accurate barometer. How can something be so completely wonderful to one person and so loathsome to another? And how are critics truly different from any other discerning, intelligent, knowledgeable person with an opinion?
The truth is, as much as I’ve hated a critic or a review—both for myself, my projects, or my favourite pieces—I think it’s also what makes art art. It reminds us that anything created by the human imagination can also be examined and evaluated. And so it should be! Art is like a crystal prism: you turn it one way and one colour is refracted, turn it another and a different colour shines through, and on and on in infinite variations. It isn’t a static thing that is either GOOD or BAD, end of point.
Let’s face it, it sucks to have someone hate your work. Yes, the film did have a few detractors—it is a quirky, complicated vision—but it also had great reviews and zealous fans. Of course, I obsessed over the negative words. I’m funny that way (omg, are we not all like this?!). But then, after awhile, I found myself slowly shifting from disappointed to galvanized. Critiquing is actually a sexy process if you think about it. It undresses the work, then tweaks and prods and strokes. It sees everything from close up. And every critique is a little different and performs the deed in its (his/her) own way. You hate the process, love it, resent it, desire it, dismiss it, yearn for it, push, pull, push again, grab it back. When it’s through with you, you lie worn and exhausted on the bed. Spent. But strangely satisfied.
Many of you are creative people and will be subject to reviews of some kind. I just want to remind you that if and when you ponder the reviews or the possibility of reviews, you should also see it as a part of the whole experience. Your work is now bigger than it was before, bigger than you. So make sure you take your satisfaction.
Deb: Barb, I LOVED your take on critique completing art despite the pain it may cause the artist. My husband and I have a theory about critics and critique of art. They fall into two categories. Those who loved Moulin Rouge and those who hated it. We use that one as an example because we have discovered that there is no one in-between. You loved it or you hated it. The same with Across the Universe. Now I know that the same could be said of many, many films but there are a scant few films that fall into the love it or hate it category.
We were having a dinner party with two couples who are dear to our hearts. Both couples hated It’s a Wonderful Life. We stared at them and time stood still. What? Are you ... and we stopped ourselves from saying ... are you fucking crazy? We even tried to lure them with the fact that Jimmy Stewart’s performance (particularly on the bridge) is one of the most brilliant acting moments of all time. So here is the thing. Do you a) berate them? b) belittle them? or c) respect them? Well, despite the fact that we a’d and b’d them behind their backs after they left, we had to live with the fact that this is their opinion and that makes it of real value.
We tease our sister-in-law about loving Rat Race because we thought it was the lamest film ever. But is it? She loved it. She laughed. It spoke to her, therefore, it is of value. After all, a critic is just one opinion. A film-educated opinion I grant you, but one opinion nonetheless. I saw Terms of Endearment weeks after losing my beloved aunt at fifty-two and my dear friend in her twenties after childbirth. I HATED IT! The timing was awful for me, given the subject matter. Was I being objective? No. Neither are critics. They are influenced by what they think is cool and current and avant garde and by what affects where they are in their lives right at the second they saw the film. They would deny this, but it is true. Because they are human.
I watched Date Night (which got panned) on a plane last week and I slapped my leg laughing several times. My reviews of comedy movies are based on not the two thumbs up but the leg slap. My problem is that I sometimes do not see a film because of the critics. That is a shame and I hate it when I do that. For, as Barb so brilliantly put it, they are necessary to the industry and to the art, but not necessarily to us as people. As artists, we put it out there to be judged and despite the judgment, good or bad, we keep putting it out there. As an audience, as individuals, we laugh or we cry or we slap our knees or we get up and walk out. We are our own critics.