In defense of criticism

Allan Lamb

Bored, the first time I’ve had time to be bored in weeks, I was browsing through the Internet Movie Database’s constantly fluctuating Top 250 list. While it contains some great movies, although in a debatable order of rank, the general trend is disheartening.

Applying some data analysis skills, my conclusion is this: Most of the people voting are males between the ages of 15 and 20.

What makes me think so? The idea of Scarface, The Matrix, Fight Club, Se7en, Snatch, Sin City, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and V for Vendetta being among the 250 greatest films ever made makes a long-time film buff like myself a little uneasy. However, to disagree with the results of their never-ending poll means having to be cynical in one of two ways.

The first is one of cynicism toward the film industry itself. If these films are some of the best, the film industry worldwide, since its beginning, has done poorly in putting out quality motion pictures. The second way to look at it is to be cynical of those who are casting votes. I was actually being optimistic with my estimate of the voter’s ages. The unfortunate truth is that there are a lot of people my age and older who like movies and too many of them think they know everything about movies. This is my stance, and this is where reviewers and critics come in.

A common gripe I hear from “little people” (which is movie snob code for average movie-goers) is that they always disagree with what reviewers have to say about movies. They seem to snub all the movies most people enjoy and laud the films the common populace finds boring, or may not have access to. While there is some validity in this claim, the fact is that there is knowledge about films and filmmaking that is required to make a valid judgment of a movie.

Now this knowledge is nothing arcane or secret. There are countless books published about film theory and history. Some are about specific genres, countries, directors or actors. Many are catalogues of great films compiled by critics, not to be confused with reviewers who basically give star-ratings and summarize why a movie is good or not (like us here at all!) These people watch a lot of movies, some of them practically do it for a living. Many of them have gone to film school, and have even been involved in making films.

Now I’m not knocking average people or the movies they like. I enjoy all of the aforementioned films, except for Scarface. But I’ve seen too many other movies and read too many books on the subject to agree, with intellectual integrity, that these are as good as people say. I’m saying that (most) people who have their opinions and analyses of films published know what they are talking about.

Should you take them at their word? No!

But before you go posting a flippant response to a bad review of a film you liked, or a good review of one you hated, take a minute to think about what the person is saying. Maybe watch the film again. You might learn something. Even from a bad movie.

Contact all editor Allan Lamb at [email protected].