question of the day: How come so many people don’t understand the purpose of film criticism?
Here’s something else we can blame Michael Bay for: making film critics the most hated people in America, at least for the moment. This is not at all ironic, because Bay’s movie panders (as all his movies do) to the most unthinking, uncritical, unself-aware reflexes of lowest-common-denominator audiences. I am not saying that everyone who likes Bay’s movies is stupid, or even that Bay is stupid — in fact, whether it’s conscious or not, there’s a kind of genius to Bay, in how he can tap into the zeitgeist with such laser precision that audiences seem irresistibly drawn to his movies.
Fact: His Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is raking in dough like Lehman Brothers on a subprime mortgage binge. Fact: Most critics have excoriated the movie — it’s currently at 20 percent Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. The sheer number of people who appear to think that these two facts have anything to do with each other is astonishing. And it’s perfectly encapsulated by a truly bizarre post by Robin Lawlor, the “Virginia Beach Movie Examiner,” which begins like this:
Transformers 2 money making performance is surprising critics
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen began showing in movie theaters on June 24, 2009. Fans were excited about the sequel, but critics were not pleased with what they saw. The movie didn’t quite meet their standards. They made their own predictions, which pretty much called it a flop.
Transformers 2 has currently grossed over $200 million…not a complete flop!
Are movie critics always right about films?
I don’t think any film critic anywhere is surprised in the least by the box-office performance of Transformers: ROTF. I would be astonished to discover that any critic predicted the movie would be a flop. It’s far more likely that most critics threw up their hands and acknowledged — either privately or in their reviews — that the film was certain to make a bazillion dollars.
Are movie critics always right? About what? The badness of Transformers: ROTF? The prediction that the movie would be a huge hit despite its badness?
Surely even the most casual, most uncritical moviegoer can appreciate that quality and popularity do not always go hand in hand. Or am I expecting too much?
Dan Zak at the Washington Post notes — in an article with a subhead of “As Blockbuster, ‘Transformers’ Spotlights Chasm Between Rabid Audience and Savage Reviewers” — something that Michael Bay told the Los Angeles Times:
I think they reviewed the wrong movie. [Critics] just don’t understand the movie and its audience. It’s silly fun. I am convinced that they are born with the anti-fun gene.
I’m convinced Michael Bay knows precisely what kind of bullshit he’s talking here. I’m convinced Michael Bay knows that the “problem” isn’t that critics don’t understand the movie and its audience — the “problem” is that we do, and that we dare to find it appalling that, say, Bay and his most devoted fans find fetishizing military hardware to be “silly fun,” or objectifying women to be “silly fun.” Hell, as a fan of good action movies, I’ve offended that Bay and his fans find incoherent action to be “silly fun.”
Is it “anti-fun” to put a movie into a larger context? Is it “anti-fun” to point out the puppet strings holding up a movie, or the puppet strings of its audience that movie is trying to pull? I think that’s pretty fun. That’s been the entire point of my work as a critic! It doesn’t come into play in every review I write, but my overall thesis has always been: What do the movies we make popular say about us as a culture? There’s no better movie to ask that question of than this one.
Other critics may have other overarching theses, or none at all. But the job of a critic is not to give an approving pat on the back to any movie that is bound to be popular, or to justify that popularity. (Though no one was complaining last year that critics were embracing The Dark Knight!)
It seems like a no-brainer that if you want to read film criticism, then you need to find a critic who thinks like you do. And that if a critic doesn’t think like you do, then you shouldn’t read him or her, but that that doesn’t mean film critics are useless.
I shouldn’t be surprised by this, especially in this case, because Bay’s movies always seem designed to engage smallmindedness rather than openmindedness. But still…
How come so many people don’t understand the purpose of film criticism?
(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)
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