Bright Lights Film Journal

Overcoming Review Rage

I’ve been disturbed by the amount of anger and hostility I’ve encountered on film message boards and in blogs and film reviews in the last few months, to the point where I feel I should write about it. Maybe it’s because the internet allows everyone a voice, and so many socially maladjusted people love cinema, and because the USA is going to hell in a big oil-slicked handbasket people are just getting angry and resentful… a lot of it may have to do with the knee-jerk response capability of the web, and that communicating on the web makes us testy in and of itself, perhaps due to lack of sunshine, human conctact and the ease with which the “tone” of a text can be misinterpreted.

To all the angry young film writers out there, I offer this message of love and positive vibrations. Here are three guidelines (used by most professional critics) to bear in mind to enhance your cinema experience and make your writing less vindictive:

Rule One: Leave your hang-ups at the door.

A love of cinema should not be soured by one’s emotional turbulence, especially not when you are assuming the role of the film critic. You shouldn’t blame the movie if it struck a chord you didn’t want struck. Should the fish blame the bait that hooks it? No, and neither should you blame Britney if she’s dangled before you like a shiny lure and you just have to snap.

Remember that movies, TV, commercials, etc. cost a lot of $$ and the brains behind them know their psychology. Think of it in Wizard of Oz terms. When you pay a shrink to heal you, they are using psychology to help you overcome your repressed fears and desires– they are the good witch. The bad witch works for the corporations. She exploits your repressed fears and desires, mires you ever deeper in them. Fear and desire get your heart beating faster – and that makes you buy products you don’t need, whether your response is positive or negative doesn’t matter so much to them, provided it’s STRONG.

Rule Two: Remember to thank the foley artist.

It may have felt like you were robbed of time and cash when you find yourself stuck at a truly lousy movie, but you should be nice in thinking how hard a lot of people worked to get this thing done. Maybe the lead actor annoyed you and the direction was lackluster, but what about the costumes? the cinematography? The set design? Was a moody atonal jazz soundtrack almost successful in turning this incoherent mystery into some sort of avant garde crime poem? Say so… singling out worthy contributors is a karma-enhancing maneuver. “Remember the foley artist” is a good phrase to keep in mind, because it helps you stay aware that everything you see and hear was worked on, there’s a lot to appreciate outside the narrative… plus if you mention the foley artist, they will probably clip out or print your review, underline the sentence you mention them in, and then put the quote on their press release. One day they will meet you at a party and be so grateful and enamoured, you just may marry them and live happily ever after.

Rule Three. Be a fan to a Fan

People who read your review generally want to see the movie you are writing about and are reading your review to see if it is, in fact, as good as they hope it is. You aren’t helping anyone if you write from the point of view of a hater of that type of film. A good critic can make him or herself love all genres of film and can make that love contagious.

By way of example, one of my least favorite actors is Richard Gere… but if I get sent to review the latest Richard Gere project, well I’m able to abandon my preset judgements, even for a pretentiously smug actor like Gere, for the length of the film and the time it takes to write the review. When I see a Hillary Duff movie, I access my inner teenager; when I see a Winnie the Pooh movie, I access my inner 5 year old… ew, is that ever a mess. But you see my point. Don’t review the remake of Halloween from the point of view that all these recent horror film remakes are ruining the genre. First of all, Rob Zombie is directing it, and he is a tough hombre. He did DEVIL’S REJECTS, so I wouldn’t mess with him; he’ll skin you. Second, Zombie’s film might be good in its own right, but how will you know unless you make an effort to drop your predisposition to hate it?

That’s all I wanted to say. And also to ask if anyone knows any good cinema message forums where the members aren’t a bunch of shut-ins whose overexposure to cathode rays has made them perenially testy. Oops. Now whose angry!? I am! I’ve watched perfectly good online friends become bitter old codgers over the years over at other boards which shall be nameless. It breaks my heart that now to disagree with them on the qualities of a movie is not to open up a scintillating dialogue but to be derided and insulted for having ‘the wrong opinion.’ This same egoic need to be right all the time turns democracies fascist, wives to nags, and sweet natured poets into abusive alcoholics. Together how about let’s save our nation’s cinema writing from such a vile fate?

Erich