The role of film criticism

Photo Credit: Guardian

Film criticism has been a part of the eco system of cinema for many decades, but the average person who wasn’t a film buff, film student or filmmaker likely only became familiar with film critics through the work of the late Roger Ebert who reviewed movies for 40 years. It was said of him that, “Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.”

That, is what Film Critics do, they watch and share not only their thoughts but also how to engage with the movie, sort of how a wine connoisseur gives casual drinkers an insight into wine appreciation. The connoisseur, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants. They specialize in all aspects of wine service, as well as wine and food pairing and provide informed insight.

Contrary to popular pontification, film critics don’t hate films, aren’t film snobs (ok, maybe some are), aren’t jealous or failed filmmakers; that’s the equivalent of accusing every sports commentator of being a failed athlete when they comment on poor performance.

A reason they have such different taste from the masses is, they see several dozen movies annually, so they’ll have a different perspective than the person who can only make it to the cinema once a month, every other month. What’s become cliché and stale to them may be what a regular movie-goer enjoys. It doesn’t make them wrong; it just means they have a different palette, just like a Nigerian and a White boy from Woolwich would have different perspectives on Tesco Jollof rice based on insight and experience.

Film Critics have been vital to the career of many filmmakers, especially the independent filmmakers whose films at festivals were seen and praised and celebrated; the marketing they could not afford after spending all their money to make an Indie film and pay their way to Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, they got it in syndicated and national newspapers from critics who loved their work, and let the public know they should see it.

But, if you present yourself as a Film Critic, you have a responsibility.

Matt Zoller Seitz, Editor in Chief of Roger Ebert.com and New Yorker Film Critic said, “We critics of film and TV have a duty to help viewers understand how form and content interact, and how content is expressed through form. The film or TV critic who refuses to write about form in any serious way abdicates that duty, and abets visual illiteracy. “

“Which one have you made”, “Go and make your own, let’s see”. “You’re just jealous”; are popular missiles launched at anybody who has anything short of praise towards a Nollywood film.’ It’s in the blog comment section, some said from trolls on the payroll, who monitor review sites to post praise, and attack anyone with a negative comment.

But does a film critic need to have made a film? Is having made a film the qualification for film criticism? We return to Zeist who has 30 years of insight on the matter

“It is not necessary for a critic of film or television to have created a work of film or television. But it’s never a bad idea to know a little bitty eensy teensy bit about how film and television are made.

I mean nuts and bolts: where the camera goes, and why it goes there. Why a scene included a lot of over-the-shoulder shots of a character speaking, even though the angle prevents you from seeing their lips moving. Why a particular scene was played entirely in close-up, or entirely in long shot. Basic stuff.”

Majority of what passes as film criticism offer nothing which shows an understating of the nuts and bolts of film storytelling, the language of cinema and why certain choice made by the filmmakers have to say to enhance or diminish the story which led a Nollywood screenwriter to remark, “We don’t have film critics, we have film criticizers”.

The irony! When filmmakers wade into film criticism or have something to say, outside of back patting, praise or congratulations, they ‘re told to pick a side in a faux dichotomy of, you are either a film critic or a filmmaker, you can’t do both ; they need to send that memo to Akira Kurosawa, Peter Bogdanovich, Goddard, Truffaut and Rivett

A film review should leave a reader more enlightened; even if they didn’t agree with the writer they should be able to say, I don’t agree with his/her points but their perspective is interesting.

Returning to Zeist, he has this advice for film critics.

“Write about form. A little bit. Not all the time. Just whenever you see an opening; whenever you think it might make sense, and call attention to the fact that we don’t just mysteriously, magically feel things while we’re watching movies and TV shows: that the filmmaking is what made us feel those things.”

So if you take the title of a film critic, show you know nut and bolts of film craft/grammar. Represent the title accurately or don’t claim it.

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