Reviewers Vs. Critics – By Josh Samford

 With such a bland title for this article, that being Reviewers Vs. Critics, you’d think it might have been more valuable to have taken the time to think of something to name this whole thing a little more aptly. Something that would characterize the fact that this is all based simply upon my opinions and my own pretentious meandering. That’s right, I’ll get this out of the way first and foremost that my writing reflects solely my own opinion and does not reflect the ideas or established beliefs of Rogue Cinema. Now, gosh, if only I can follow up that advisory with something really taboo and worth hyping up. Instead, I’ll just go on and on about what it is to be a film journalist of sorts out here on the information superhighway. That’s the long term for "porn machine", which is generally what I call anything capable of producing an internet content. So, before I go off on a tangent about the differences I feel there are in terms of film reviewers and movie critics, I’ll just explain why the heck I’m actually writing this out. I’m sure most have heard the news by now. Joel Siegel, well, he did something stupid. You may know him as the resident critic for The Today Show or one of those bland morning programs that usually have a "critics corner" with a guy featuring a really bad moustache usually insulting really good flicks and hyping the latest Pixar release, usually something about some talking [insert animal or inanimate object that should not be speaking] that goes off and has the same wacky adventures we’ve come to expect in our star studded Disney pap. So, old Joel old pal was lucky enough to catch a screening for Clerks II, directed by Kevin Smith (interviewed in our previous issue no less!) and walked out of the theaters after forty minutes – spewing expletives and talking about how offended he was at what he had seen. Claiming he had never walked out of a film in his thirty years experience. Well good for you Joel, setting back those of us who write about something we love another great hurdle. Not that I would ever even consider what Siegel does and what I do even in the same ballpark or field, but when people out there talk about how much they hate critics – this is the reason; and like it or lump it, guys like us here at RC are usually thrown into the pile along with the worst examples of your average film journalists. I’m not saying that Siegel is absolutely horrible at his job, lord knows we need guys who cover the stuff that he does just as we need guys like us who cover what we do – and I’m not just attacking the guy because I’m a Clerks and Kevin Smith fan – I haven’t even seen the movie; it could be god awful and maybe it is – but I’ll hold out on judgement until I see it myself and so should Joel Siegel since the man hasn’t even seen the whole film himself.

What Siegel did was unforgivable for so many reasons. First and foremost, he walked out of a movie that he was watching FOR FREE. I mean really, when I’m blessed with something given for free – I owe it to my pocketbook to at least enjoy it in whatever way I can. I mean… it’s free people! That means no money. That’s like the best deal you can come across. Better than cheap, and my god man, how many things are better than cheap stuff? Secondly, Siegel made a mockery of the profession by A) ranting, raving and acting belligerent and not handling the situation in a composed manner (attention whore for one hundred, Alex) and B) walking out for being OFFENDED. Seriously man… how many movies have you seen? Did you burn your local copies of Birth Of A Nation and Triumph of the Wills when I know you were forced to watch them back in college? This is CINEMA people, without questionable content – without taboos being opened – without questions being raised about what is off-limits and what isn’t; then where exactly are we supposed to progress to? Even if I were to witness something unbelievably horrific, like "Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood Part II – Die Gorier" and I just absolutely had to walk out or else get sick – at the very least I’d realize that this isn’t something for me and the best I can do is let people know what I witnessed in a light that they could relate to; because if it’s too much for me, then I’m sure someone out there is going to at least be interested in it. Siegel however let his own personal opinions on what is acceptable cloud his vision, and I no doubt believe he’ll probably write a scathing review for it (despite not finishing it) if he’s still capable of being accepted as anything other than a looney. So, what can you derive from the incident aside from the fact that the man, and men like him, take their opinion far too seriously.

 All of that rambling aside, the question is still up in the air: what seperates a "reviewer" from a "critic". You could go out and say I’m just doing my best to be different, to separate myself from the crowd like a goth teenager making swiss cheese out of his face and filling it with assorted metals. Granted, I don’t want what I do to even be remotely similar to what something like what Gene Shalit does – but the fact is, we’re all film journalists; but I think we do what we do for different reasons. I’ve never received payment for my writing, aside from some screeners and free DVDs (which is as good enough of a perk for me as I could ever ask), and I think the same can likely be said for the majority of the writers here at RC – we do this because we love film. We love cinema, we’re grateful for the entertainment it provides and we want to show that gratitude and respect in the only way we know to do: with words. I’m not so pretentious to think that people like Roger Ebert don’t feel that same passion, and my ego isn’t so huge as to think that we are in some way better than your average mainstream film reviewer. Most of these guys went to film school, were trained to pick apart these films and are probably doing what they are doing because it’s a paycheck in a field that they love. Obviously many find fame and fortune, but they are the exception. Us guys here, and the same for genre film reviewers all over the net, we got into this whole thing because either the films we loved weren’t being represented in the way we liked or we simply had too much to say to be put on the backburner. We are the alternative. Some would argue the alternative to good taste, but what does my mom know about cinema. So there are these guys out there making bank at simply just watching feature films, and they must judge all of these films with the same standards. Roger Ebert is constantly jumping back and forth between highly overdone children films or regular Hollywood pap – and extremely boring melodramatic indy films. Yet, there’s a constant range within his reviews and it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around. I swear that man will give any non-genre flick that has some decent T&A a positive review. Just something I’ve picked up on. I could be wrong, but I think that guy gave a more positive review to Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life than to Fight Club. Yeah, go figure. Violence = Bad, Boobies = Good.

Moving on, a "critic" I believe, is a bit handicapped when it comes to opinion – because honestly, wouldn’t you have to be? These guys are usually even more ego-obsessed than us low internet writers. Could you imagine having to constantly write reviews that essentially just consist of the two words "it sucked"? That’s all I could see myself doing if I were to land the gig of writing about every film that hit theaters. Us "reviewers" out here, we’re not limited to the latest crazes, we’re not limited to what is playing at a theater near us – we write about what we want and we write about the things that fuel our passion. It can sometimes feel like a job, there’s no getting past it, but I am thinking that is the number one thing that separates us from all those "critics" we all hate – we don’t treat it like it’s a job. So, tearing into films that people love usually aren’t what we are all about. Just imagine having to sit through Kangaroo Jack – unless the flick following that is Gone With the Wind; I could totally understand a "critic" and his frustrations. Doesn’t mean I’d give him leeway to go running and screaming in the theaters, but I think I’m understanding the difference between us more these days. I’m also hoping that all of this writing doesn’t come off as me venting frustrations, or me ranting about being better than the corporate masses – because that isn’t what I am about and I like to think RC isn’t about that either, this isn’t alternative press per se; more like niche press. I hope that Siegel and people like him will grow up and realize that for cinema to grow; once in a while people are going to be offended. As long as we’re not being deceived or being called out by the people who entertain us; let’s all just agree not to flip out and curse everyone out in the theaters. That has rarely worked well for me. Anyway, I hope all of this helps some people out there understand a bit more where writers like myself are coming from. No, we don’t believe our opinion is more valued than yours, I never even took a college course for all of this – you may be even more qualified. It’s just like my mom always said, opinions are like buttholes: everybody has one.