Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Art Of The Critic

So, an old argument has come back into play during the last week, in the wake of Kevin Smith's Twitter reaction to a comment by one of his fans. Smith (who became famous for Clerks (1994) and then went on to make a series of similar and divisive 'comedies') basically presented the opinion that critics are pointless and the idea of allowing them to see, for free, an advance screening of a filmmakers latest is a bad idea. To allow these snooty, grudge-holding pessimists to hold such power over a movie is ridiculous, and it would be a better idea for him to pick 500 random people from his Twitter feed and allow them to review the film. He states, and this is a quote, that "film fandom's become a nasty bloodsport where cartoonishly rooting for failure gets the hit count up on the ol' brand-new blog", which is rich coming from a filmmaker who has not only openly criticized other movies, but also developed a massive fan-base and following from his own blog, Smodcast (pictured above). All these points will be dealt with soon, but for now, another quote: (in reference to Cop Out) "watching them beat the shit out of it was sad. Like, it's called Cop Out; that sound like a very ambitious title to you? You REALLY wanna shit in the mouth of a flick that so OBVIOUSLY strived for nothing more than laughs. Was it called "Schindler's Cop Out?" Writing a nasty review for Cop Out is akin to bullying a retarded kid." It goes on for a few more paragraphs, but we now have to reassess the facts. Kevin Smith, a hypocrite, has proclaimed that his movie has no substance (comparing it to "a retarded kid"), he's bashed the critics who didn't give it a good review, and now expects us to be on his side? Well, we're not, and in my opinion, in such a vast cinematic world we need critics now more than ever.
Firstly, lets get Smith out of the way. In 2006 he guest-appeared on famous American review show 'At The Movies', reviewing Woody Allen's Scoop. This point has been covered by Alison Willmore and Matt Singer of, but I feel I have to relay Smith's review. He says that "there's not a single laugh in the movie", a criticism that has now been thrown at Cop Out. I mean, what gave Smith the right in 2006? What sort of right does he have over the professional critics he is now bashing? Smith stated on Twitter that if you paid to see Cop Out, you have a right to bash it. This seems to be one of his big issues with critics, but i'd be interested to know if he paid for his ticket to Scoop and also where he stands on his criticisms now. Smith also put reviews to Half Nelson, World Trade Center and Step Up, giving a 'Thumbs Up' to all three, stating that Half Nelson is one of the ten best films he's seen all decade. I think he'd have had the same opinions whether he paid or not, and it's the same for the critics who see his work.
UK critic Mark Kermode posted a blog about Smith's comments ( and stated a great reason for why we need critics, which is: critics point you in the direction of smaller, more artistic, challenging or underseen films, that you might not have found on your own. In 2006 Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck) was one of those films, an independent drama about a school teacher with a crack habit. Smith helped promote that film in a positive way, as a critic, much like critics back in 1994 helped his debut with positive reviews. But now that a negative review has landed on his doorstep, critics are the antichrist, who have their guns out for him. A little two-sided, eh Kevin?
This is best summed up by a story on the A.V. club, once again brought to my attention by Alison Willmore and Matt Singer of The title of the piece was 'That Kevin Smith Thing' and it told a story about critic Keith Phipps (,39529/). Phipps was meant to conduct a one-on-one interview with Smith about Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) but the interview was soon changed to a Roundtable event, something which does not fit with the style of the A.V. club. So Phipps declined the event and at a later date a different critic gave a negative review to the film. Smith then felt the need to explain this review, commenting on his site that the critic was simply annoyed about not getting his interview. Obviously, given that they are two different people, it shows how sensitive and over-protective of his work Smith is, and also reveals that he simply can't take criticism.
I should also say that Kevin Smith probably thinks his movies are better than Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999), the film I believe to be the greatest ever made ( And that's just crazy, considering he knows and admits that he's making pap. He's unfortunately established himself as nothing more than an accomplished hack, who also happens to be a hypocrite, and a boring one at that (take a look for yourself : ), so i'm pretty much done with his movies, until the critics give me reason to believe he's doing anything new or interesting again. If you still want to know more, you can read his entire rant here: But it's now time to ask the question: why do we need critics?
Well, as Mark Kermode said, we need them to point out the smaller movies, the independent ones that maybe contain something more challenging or artistic. In a blog a few weeks ago Mr Kermode pointed me towards Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (a.k.a The Night The Screaming Stops, 1981). And it's brilliant. A truly terrifying, insane piece of work that's challenging and entertaining, and deserves to be remembered. Without the knowledge of a critic like Mark Kermode, or indeed Roger Ebert (who used to present 'At The Movies' with Gene Siskel) I may not have found this movie, or several others like it. And of course, they do have knowledge. These are people who know the history and the theory of film, watching blockbusters and independents in equal measure, from every decade and country. They have an informed understanding, that can help us form our opinions. They are vital to the film community as they provide us not just with information, but with films themselves, that may have passed under our radar. It's something I hope I am doing myself, on this blog. Sure, i'm no professional, I don't know as much as Kermode, Ebert or perhaps even Smith. But I know critics are vital, I respect what they do and if nothing else, I know that through my 'For Your Consideration' articles, my knowledge, as it stands, might have provided enjoyment for somebody. And they may have learnt something. So i'll keep writing, informing and entertaining, just like those other great critics and the next time you, Kevin Smith, make a grand piece of independent art, or indeed, something funny, you may not be so resentful to my hopeful profession. In fact, you might just eat your words, and start loving us again, like you no doubt did when Clerks made 100 times its original budget back in 1994.

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