Film Critics & Me – By Josh Samford

Film critic. Has there ever been two words when compiled together eschewed so much bile and collected venom from the majority of the population? To answer that question, there is a resounding yes. The term President [fill in the blank with your least favorite presidential last name] usually riles up anger inside of a great many people, but film critics are reserved a very peculiar echelon of hatred. If you look online at any given film community where fans banter on back and forth, you will no doubt at some point see the hatred that many spew forth about these so called "know it all" critics who apparently bash movies simply to be different or to espouse their own pretentious learning. For this reason alone I have ran from the term the entire duration of my writing "career". I have hidden behind the term "reviewer", which is certainly not that estranged from "critic" but it is generally more friendly to readers who think of critics with a certain amount of disdain.

The question that one must ultimately ask is "why do critics get so much flak?", well the answer to that question is simple: they deserve it. Critics, especially those looking to gain readership, will rely on mean spirited attack-style authorship in order to get their most basic of points across. In this day and age of non-technical blogging, anyone can quite literally become a critic and so many of us fall into this category. No longer do we need any journalism courses nor degrees in order to share an opinion. You can reach a larger audience with your very own WordPress blog than your local newspaper could ever hope to achieve. This is a blessing and a curse for film journalism, coming with a tremendous set of pros and cons that make the movement a bit of a controversial topic. Print is all but dead at this moment, but the distinctions between talent and skill are still there for anyone to read for themselves. When your average blogger is placed on a stool next to a writer who contributes to an actual print medium, the differences in quality are going to be amazing. Such a comparison may seem unfair, as there are actually bloggers who are tremendously talented and would give any printed author a run for their money. Yet, for the one or two online critics who use their position in order to further the intelligent debate of cinema, there are three more who use their position in order to tear some b-movie apart with their bear hands.

Where in the past I felt that reviewers and critics were different from one another these days I am turning away from my old opinion. Let’s face it, the term “critic” is short for one who criticizes something. It doesn’t sound very subjective does it? It gives the impression of one who consistently finds fault. I have always held the contention that true film discussion comes not from witty prose or insulting characterizations that demean a film in order to gather a laugh, but from sincere accounts of just what areas a film succeeded in or where they may have missed the mark. If a writer is using the phrase “it sucks” in their review, they have forfeited any semblance of respect that they may have wielded in any context. Yet, there are writers who are perfectly adept at their job from a technical standpoint. Some are eloquent and dare I say beautiful in the way that they write, but at the same time use their position to do a much more artistic version of the same thing. To me, cruelty and a mean attitude simply demeans the entire point about writing on film. Some writers would prefer it the other way around (as it leads to more entertaining write ups), but I would much rather write about a film that moved me than I would something that is poorly made. This “job”, if there is a benefit, should come from turning others on to really great titles based solely on the sincerity words.

There are many problems that we critics have. Aside from those who do a disservice to the technical side of things and those who simply use the job to vent their anger, there are also those who fall in the line of what I like to refer to as cinematic cowards. These are the writer who walked out of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, the likes of Joel Siegel when he walked out of Clerks II and any of the fainting writers currently huddling in a corner due to A Serbian Film as it makes the rounds. I am a firm believer in being a well rounded viewer. For horror fans I consistently recommend that they check out arthouse cinema classics and for arthouse fans I consistently ask them to research cinematic violence as only horror cinema can provide. When you become well rounded enough, discerning cinema from reality becomes a part of your DNA. You can call it being desensitized, but as long as you can still feel the pain of a character on screen and be moved to tears – you are still feeling all of the emotions that make cinema the universal greatest art form there is.

I have written this article but I have to admit that I am not perfect nor the epitome of what a critic needs to be. My shortcomings could fill a book on what a writer should not be. Like the bloggers I’ve rambled about, of which I am one, I have no classical training to do what it is that I do. In the past I have been far too lavish with my praise. I waste words and am rarely concise in my descriptions. Anything written by me has to be combed for typos, no matter the amount of time I spend on it. Fragmented sentences are so common with me that it is a point of embarrassment. Literally, if I were to have critics myself then I fear they would quite literally tear me into a thousand pieces and they would most certainly be warranted in their doing so. It comes down to the same thing however, are we in this to be mean spirited or are our critiques there to be helpful? At my worst, most hypocritical moments, I feel that I am always trying to better myself and take that into account with the filmmakers that I am speaking to. I know that they too did their best in whatever project they worked on. In critics circles vinegar may actually catch more flies than sugar, but kindness will always trump that sulking feeling one feels when they hate everything that they watch.