Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #508: A Critical Question!

Welcome to the show folks...

Reader Judy asks:
Furious D , I am going off topic here. You have been good about answering my questions and so I have another one for you,this time the topic is film critics on the internet. Re: Rotten Tomatoes and posted film ratings and who does the posting. What sort of credentials does a film critic have to have? These poster critics seem to vary from film to film, you know a different crowd each time.So what about the quality of criticism?I am not impressed with their analysis overall.
As for Rotten Tomatoes, I believe the Rotten Tomatoes staff goes through the hundreds, if not thousands of TV, newspaper, and internet film critics to put together their own coagulated ratings. Exactly how they do it probably involves hundreds of elves and a very fast internet service.

As for your main questions about film critics the answers are:

1. People don't need any sort of formal credentials to be a film critic. All they need is an opinion, and a newspaper, magazine, TV show, website, blog, or street-corner to shout it from.

2. The Simpsons were right: Leonard Maltin really is the best looking of the bunch.

3. The majority of critics found on movie posters either work for publications/shows/websites owned by the studios parent company, or they are culled from a rotating roster of local/syndicated TV and newspaper entertainment reporters in exchange for spots on those junkets where they get 5 minutes to interview Megan Fox about if she'll be doing any nude scenes soon.

4. And if those safe critics don't drop a nugget to put on a poster: there was once a case, so far, of a critic who was literally made up by the studio's publicity department. His name was David Manning, and he was made up by someone at the studio to drop quotes for their movies.

5. There is no way to measure the quality of critics, their criticism, or even if they have a background or knowledge of film, film theory, or film history, and it usually takes some investigation to see if they're a real person, and not just a made up name on an article... or blog.

Now I actually knew one of Canada's first full-time professional film critics when I was in film school. His name was Gerald Pratley, and when he came to Canada from England in the 1940s, he loved movies & started doing reviews and started getting paid for them. He once told me that the man who previously had the film critic job with CBC Radio was a sports reporter who did little reviews of what he saw that week for extra money. Mr. Pratley decided that he needed more than just an opinion, he needed knowledge, and educated himself on how films are made, their history, and the visual/audio language that makes films art instead of just pictures and sounds slapped together.

That education made him an excellent critic, and teacher, and a standard by which I tend to judge all film critics. Very few meet that standard.

But, like film criticism itself, my opinion is just that, an opinion, and, also like film criticism, extremely subjective.

I hope I answered your question.


  1. Furious D , You came through again! Your explanations are very lucid,no condescension. Unfortunately at Rotten Tomatoes the critical language often is overdone and the analysis skimpy.Also I can't say much of anything positive about the likes and dislikes of these ,"critics."I think the term ,"masterpiece" is overused.Most importantly ,who critiques the critiquers to keep them honest? Actually I rarely pay attention to them.But their collective opinions matter around Oscar time,mores the pity.Thanks again.

  2. I was hoping to be incoherent & patronizing, I guess I failed.

    Three reasons for the lack of serious insight/analysis in most film reviews:

    1. Time. Mostly critics only have enough time to see the movie once, then get the review ready in time for the public by the next morning. This means they have to take shortcuts. If they liked it, they drop terms like "masterpiece," if they don't they use other terms, depending on the level of censorship they have to deal with.

    2. Most critics don't have the background in film theory and history to do the sort of detailed analysis normally only found in scholarly texts.

    3. A lot just don't give a shit.

  3. I don't know D, I think some film critics can get a little too insular and forget that some people won't care that much.

    There should be room for critics based upon a variety of specializations. Like those that criticize the physics in movies ( to those that analyze the story and it's culture history and place (me or the movie preview critic).

    Let's face it, a critic heavily steeped in movie knowledge isn't going to write a review that's going to be helpful at all in making a decision to see a movie to say... my parents.