Monday, August 9, 2010

Reviews In LIfe And Art

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.


  1. Very well put! Criticism (at least as long as it is constructive criticism) is important for progress. And even if the criticism isn't constructive, you're right that it is an honour to be critiqued at all. And that the critic's opinion isn't everything. Wise words! :)

  2. A review is just one person's opinion. I like to think for myself. Love your blog.

  3. Thanks for the nice review, Madge!

    And, yes, that's the beauty -- you're getting one person's opinion and then another and so on and so on. And not two the same. That's what I suddenly realized is what makes it so exciting.

  4. I love this blog today, and am going to reference it when, one day, my book gets panned. (I am still in shock that anyone could hate Its a Wonderful Life, which is my favorite movie of all time)
    but yes, we all view life and art through our own filtered lens, as unique as a fingerprint. And that's okay.

  5. So at first I was giggling because every time anyone in our house goes to a movie, my husband says, 'read a review... Critiques hated it.' EVERY TIME. We usually like about 90% of these movies, but my husband SAYING this is an ongoing joke.

    But them Barbara, you hit a home run with the sexual innuendo of the process... so KUDOS!

    Deb--Hated 'It's A Wonderful Life"?! Is that even ALLOWED? (it is our Christmas tradition)

  6. I avoid reviews before I've seen a film, because they skew my expectations one way or another, and also because the reviewer's take is almost never the same as mine. I don't want to be influenced either way, though I certainly appreciate descriptive articles when it comes to films. If only they'd leave the judgment out of it. I don't care what the reviewer thinks, what the reviewer's taste in films is, how much more sophisticated a filmgoer s'he is than I am. Just tell me what the show's about. Gimme the basics and hold the weigh scale.

    If I was an artist or published writer I think I'd refuse to read all reviews ... except maybe the positive ones by the viewers who "got" me. I'd want reinforcement, support, rather than to be torn down. Who needs to be criticized? There's enough of that in this ol' world.

    Constructive criticism might be different. Should be different. I say, might and should. Where's the guarantee?

    P.S. I also have excellent insect karma. I use the same trap as you, Deb; and most people look at me as if this is ridiculous. However, were *I* the one wearing the insect's shoes ... well, you know exactly what I mean.

    But I kill mosquitoes with a vengeance. Feeling only slightly bad about it.

  7. While a totally agree with Katrinka, I usually act more like Hart's hubby. I always reference the reviews when we're considering a film (good and/or bad). And have sorely disagreed with both good and bad afterward most of the time. So, yeah.

    And Justice Grrrrl's book will NOT get panned. You read it here.

  8. Barbara: I fully agree with you :)
    As a person who writes during her spare time as well as plays a musical instrument, i am constantly subjected to criticism from others. But without the constructive criticism, we wouldn't get anywhere with our work. However we do have to pick out the opinionated criticism from the technical criticism! The opinionated criticism helps us learn to judge an audience and thus we can alter our performances for different types of people while techinical criticism will simply help you improve in your delivery of the performance overall!
    I think that without criticism, no one would ever learn and we'd forever be stuck with only the most basic skilled performances.
    Deb: hahaha! i just have to say that i have a friend who absolutely loves Moulin Rouge! Unfortunately i, myself, do not watch many movies. I simply am not a movie person. However there are sometimes where i do not see a movie because i hear opinions of it from my friends or critics, so you're not alone in that aspect! I agree with you, we're all human. It's only natural if you specilize in something, for example playing a musical instrument, and you go to see a concert, you will unconsciouly criticize the player whether you like it or not. Even when we, ourselves put out a performance, there are times where we think to ourselves: 'damn! i could have improved that by doing yadda yadda yadda'
    'We are our own critics' : i could not agree more.

  9. I watch a lot of movies. I went to go see a movie this year called the Last Song. My friends all said it was so good, I on the other hand hated that movie. I believe that it was the worst movie I have ever seen. Of corse my friends would not agree with me like I said they fell in love with it. People have their own reviews of movies and thats fine with me,but that dosen't mean that I have to agree with what they say. Great post.

    PS:I also loved the movie Date Night. It was really funny.

  10. Everyone has their own opinion. So everyone has their on critique.
    I was a manager at a video store and when people asked me what a good comedy was, I always asked them what their favorite comedy of all times was. That would tell me if they would like a movie or not.
    Yes I love 'It's a Wonderful Life' but I have to be in the mood for it. It can be very depressing if your not in the right mood.
    As for music, I have been told by musicians the reason they like to go to live concerts is for the mistakes. They watch and listen for them to see how the musician recovers. They learn from others mistakes... unlike the rest of us.

  11. The first time I watched Moulin Rouge I couldn't even sit through it. Recently I saw it again and thought damn, that's good singin'! Tastes change with the people who are doing the watching, and when they do the watching.

    I think it matters when we trust someone with our work; then we want their constructive criticism. I don't want my writing edited by someone I consider a hack, but by someone who is a better writer than I am. Then, I can learn something.

  12. grrr. I posted here. >:( I don't remember what I said. It was probably brilliant. Don't send the critics in. ;)

    (thanks for the nod).


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