Friday, July 11, 2008


Words to
live by
from Ron-
ald Bergan
for the

[I]f objective film criticism, like democracy, is never attain-
able, it should not discourage critics from trying to achieve it. Anything that minimises the complex personality of the critic standing between the film—that obscure object of desire—and the prospective viewer, must surely be encouraged.

There is no need for the writer to use the first person singu-
lar, which is superogatory. At least it should be used spar-
ingly. A review is not about the critic but the film.

"Slow". This is often employed without even the adverbs "too" or "so". When a critic calls a film "slow", it is immediately taken as pejorative. Would one criticise a piece of music by saying it is slow? The word itself carries no negative connotation. It is as neutral as "fast", "shot on video" or "in black and white", although these terms, even unqualified, can also carry with them some prejudice. Slow usually implies that the critic has found the film boring, another meaningless subjective term. If someone announces that they find opera or Shakespeare boring, it says nothing about opera or Shakespeare, but about the speaker.

"Too Long". Time is ex-
tremely subjective. The
criticism doesn't really
have anything to do with
the running time of the film,
but with how the critic exper-
iences that time. One could sit
through 3-4 hour films which
don't feel long, while a bad
15-minute short seems in-
terminable. A critic who thinks a film is "too long", is again revealing that they have become bored with the style or content and not the length.

"Pretentious" or "obscure"...generally
means the critic has not understood the film.

Click here for Evan Derrick's take on the same topic

My favorite rule from Derrick's post:
2. Respect the Medium You Are Criticizing:
To put it plainly, when reviewing films, don’t be a prick.

Despite my support for Bergan's words, I've committed some of the very crimes he rails against, but I'm working on it. In fact, I'm committing one right now by using the first person (hard to avoid in a blog context). Elim-
ination, however, may not be advisable with the kind of writ-
ing I do, i.e. short reviews aimed at a general audience.

To my surprise, most commenters disagree with Bergan. As
one notes, "Impartial artistic critique is by definition impossible,
or if it were possible it would be lacking in true emotional con-
tent and would hence be worthless." Point taken. If his aren't
necessarily "words to live by," they're certainly "words to think
about," and I've been thinking about them for several days now.

Endnote: Thanks to GreenCine Daily for drawing my at-
tention to these pieces. Earlier today I was compiling a list
of the 10 most essential Spanish-language films, so I had to
find a place for Luis Buñuel. 1977's That Obscure Object
of Desire, however, doesn't count, because it's French, des-
pite the participation of fellow Spaniards Fernando Rey and
Ángela Molina, and Los Olvidados isn't available on DVD,
so I opted for Viridiana...even though I've never seen it.

Images from Flickhead, i.e. Molina and Carole Bouquet (click the
link for more info about Allan Tannenbaum's photograph), Sag-e-Laila (I love Bouquet's smirk; very Buñuel-esque), and The New York Times (Rey as Mathieu and Bouquet as the elusive Conchita).

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