Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dark Night of Film Criticism

unedited rant ahead... my apologies

There's been a lot of talk this year about the end of film criticism (what with lots of prominent people losing positions and papers cutting out space, etcetera...) and I haven't really chimed in. So for what it's worth...

I'm more convinced than ever that film criticism is dead. There are so many reasons. It's tough to pinpoint why but the causes are legion. It's not just because corporations who pay critics have been pushing for their employees to act like ad copy writers rather than critics for a long time now (*cough* Rolling Stone). It's not just because of the news that Ben Lyons [gag ~ even worse than his father!] is getting his own TV show. It's not just because the public doesn't understand the point (at all) of criticism and even if they did they wouldn't be interested. It's not just due to the lack of critical thinking skills out there (so useful in life and rarely taught anywhere. If we don't have these skills we're so easily controlled by marketing, politics, religion, whatever). It's not just because Siskel (RIP) & Ebert (get well soon), for all their enthusiasms and intelligence, accidentally encouraged the "consumer reports" philosophy of criticism (thumbs = reductive and antithetical to discussions about movies. I don't know about you but I want to see an interesting failure just as much as a beloved success). It's not just because in the age of the internet everyone thinks they're qualified (I realize this includes me, pot/kettle *oops). It's not just because some life-long employed critics at major outlets were so lazy about their jobs (plot description + good or bad? = DONE!). It's not just because of the rapid disposability of movies in the NOW culture (so many film writers are wilfully ignorant/callow about how little they've seen from before they were adolescents. It's OK to have gaps in knowledge. Everyone does... it's a 100 year old artform but to think this doesn't effect your discernment? Yikes)

It's not just because of any of these things and others, too. It's the combination of all of them that made a perfect storm of film criticism being over. Now it's just truly "opinions" flying around... just like all the people who claimed to hate film critics always accused it of being.

Sigh and Blah and Boo-Hoo.

Anyway. I was just thinking complaining aloud. It's all of these depressing "unqualified masterpiece" pieces for The Dark Knight that really got to me. It's a good film. Surely it is. But the way people are so eager and adamant about forgiving it its many flaws and then still calling it an "unqualified masterpiece". It's made me crazy. Demented one might say. I feel like rubbing kohl all over my eyes, cutting myself a new smile and making up new stories each time I ask someone if they want to know how I lost my sanity.

Blurb Whore Meets Bat Man

I've started wondering if the whole entire world has forgotten what a truly great action sequence looks like (maybe they have. I mean, it has been awhile since James Cameron was making movies), or what complicated plots that don't flop around at all feel like to get lost in. I've started to wonder if people have just never seen Maggie Gyllenhaal act before if they think this qualifies as fine work.

The response to the movie has been messing with my head so much that I started forgetting the things I actually liked about it... and liked about it a lot. Which isn't fair to the movie or to you reading because it puts me in stupid reactionary mode. So I must keep focusing on the magnificence of Heath Ledger's unnerving work. That part is easy to love and get on board with. I hope to return to the movie soon. But first I have to figure out a way to push all the marketing, box office hoopla, and masterpiece nonsense out of my head and just view it on its own terms.

Anyway... Bat Links

Reverse Shot a Dark Knight post worthy of The Onion.
Dear Jesus "Batman Their Way" amusing speculation about what other auteurs might do with the caped crusader
Cinephilia Arden doesn't blog much anymore but I love her style & sensibility. This is a really fun personal review of what works and what doesn't for her within the celebrated movie.
Glenn Gaslin "that new Batman movie totally sucked --except all the parts that were awesome"
Las Vegas Weekly my favorite review of The Dark Knight thus far (by Mike D'Angelo). He's a huge fan of Christopher Nolan but he's smart enough to understand Nolan's limitations too. He's been one of the most insightful critics for a long time.


Anonymous said...

The most interesting Dark Knight reviews, I think, will come a few years down the road, when superhero movies will hopefully have gotten over this adolescent phase in which they all kind of look alike, and Dark Knight won't seem like such a breath of fresh air. That seems like our only chance to judge it on its own merits, rather than what's come before it. Also the hype just has to die down. Just ask David Edelstein how hard it is to say a cross word about this movie.

As for film criticism being dead... hmm. As a budding film critic, I resemble that remark, but I have to hold out hope that it'll stay alive. Maybe movie critics will be as rare as opera critics, but they'll be somewhere, waiting for the cultural tide to turn again.

Anonymous said...

Maybe YOU just didn't like it as much as others. Have you ever thought of that. God I hate film snobs. I hated Bladerunner, but do I care that some critics proclaimed that it was a masterpiece. Surely any piece of art work is flawed depending on who's looking at it. Just give YOUR review and call it a day.

Art is Subjective when will people ever learn that.

Robert said...

^^^and there you have it.

sorry I was planning to say more, but really there it is. Total relativism of art.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Nathaniel.

Especially that part about critical thinking skills. Nobody wants to think anymore. Thinking, discussing, and figuring out what's really going on require too much effort for the human race, it seems. This is why bad things happen. This is why such fantastic art goes unnoticed, and why people don't see the value in what art can do and say. It makes me more sad than most things.

Where's Pauline Kael when you need her?

Cinesnatch said...

the whole "rubbing kohl on eyes" made me think of a possible Batman villain. Nathaniel is an editorialist at the Gotham Daily (or whatever it's called). He's so outraged by all the positive press that Batman is getting (this what have to take place obviously after Batman redeems himself from TDK) that he goes to visit an accupuncturist to calm himself down. Except that doesn't work. One night late at the office, he goes crazy and he starts stabbing himself with pencils. He looks like pinhead from Hellraiser and draws up a hit list, going on rampage, offing "journalists" one by one. One of his methods is shoving magazine and newspaper articles down people's throats, taping their mouths and noses shut, suffocating them to death. Another would be tying up the writer to a bomb associated with a special software program that whenever someone leaves a positive comment on one of their online articles, it blow them to smithereens.

I can't think non-de-plume except something stupid like Death Copy.

adam k. said...

I think the "Art is Subjective" line is a bit of a copout; if it were truly, purely subjective and no one's (informed or uninformed) opinions were any more valid than any others, then there'd really be no point to film criticism, discussion or study at all. We might as well all just say "this is my opinion" and be done with it. What, then, is the higher truth and understanding we're all trying to get to? What is the purpose of the dialogue?

Artistic quality and merit, particularly in the film world, where reception is a whole business, is a nuanced, complicated, layered issue that takes into account history, theory, technique, pop culture, groupthink, marketing, etc. as well as people's opinions. I think that's what makes it so fun.

But at the same time, I think it's a bit self-aggrandizing for one to assume that when he is unimpressed with something everyone else loves, he is right and everyone else is wrong. It doesn't usually work that way. But he certainly has the right to state his case and start a give and take. Dissenting opinions are necessary for proper perspective. I think so, anyway.

(I still haven't seen The Dark Knight)

Anonymous said...

Of course art is subjective, but that's exactly it.
The problem I have with film criticism in particular is exactly what Nathaniel pointed out: the "thumbs up, thumbs down, or bust" theory, as if there can't possibly be anything in between.

The Dark Knight was great but not flawless (no film is). To recognize that is not being a film snob. If anything, the *more* you like the art of film, the more discerning you become.

I finally saw the film last night. See, the "finally" pretty much shows a lot right there. It was only five days later and it felt like I was late for the bus, so to speak.

I usually try not to follow the crowd feverishly, and I justify that I really wanted to see this film because I liked "Batman Begins" so much. But I can't pretend that the hype train didn't seem alluring. It's just an added bit of human nature in our society. It's how the market and trends progress.

adam k. said...

And YES about the critical thinking skills.

And if you think that's wreaked havoc on art, don't get me started on what it's let politicians get away with. Critical thinking REALLY needs to come back in style.

Cinesnatch said...

... or Dead Line ...

what do you think?


katey --agreed and agreed. it's cyclical but until people start caring more about film as an artform (like other artforms) rather than in terms of money or thumbs up/thumbs down... it's going to be a tough road.

anon --yes, art is subjective but there are still certain rules that should apply. Like, you shouldn't ignore flaws just because you want to love something.

take for example MOULIN ROUGE! I absolutely 100% love the movie. Love it love it love it. If people want to point out flaws in it (it's too long... it starts dragging a bit at the 2/3rd section... it's too manic... it's too concerned with the big moments and doesn't give you any breathing room... nicole's not as good at the comedy as at the drama .... it's all climax and no build) i'm totally willing to see where they're coming from and to some extent I totally get that it's not for everyone and that some of those are indeed flaws.

I'm still able to love the movie with all my heart. Do i think it's perfect? No.

but the way people talk about this movie is I-N-S-A-N-E. People shouldn't be twisting themselves into pretzels and changing the basic rules of storytelling and artistic criteria to determine it brilliant in every possible way. It's totally OK for a movie to be your favorite of the year without have to justify its every foible to proclaim it better than everything else ever made.

Honestly i was just talking aloud. I'm just unnerved by the response to this movie. You'd think Jesus had risen or that cinema had just been invented and people were watching images move for the first time.

and call me a film snob if you will... but i've never understood why people get angry about people who are passionate about their favorite artform. It's like those weird attacks on critics for using too many big words. I'm like "look up the damn word if you don't know what it means!" I run into words all the time that I'm not that familiar with. I never once think "this writer is disrespecting me!" I just look up the word and move on.

I really don't get why people are so fearful of being challenged in any way.

Robert said...

I think that the death of the film critic somewhat exaggerated. In this sense. Newspapers and magazines in general are dying to online publications. As they begin their slow death it's no surprise that they see criticism of all sort as the first place to chop heads.

So as the internet takes up the mantle of source of news, entertainment, criticism and everything else, there is a new challange. This of course is what you're talking about. The democritization of opinion.

Those who refuse to believe in the concept of the "informed opinion" Those whose base the validity of an opinion on how close it agrees to theirs as opposed to the knowledge of the opiner have never cared of or read serious film critics. Those who have enjoyed the work and importance of critics will continue to do so. In that sense, not much will change.

But, thanks to the internet, the first group now has more of a voice. It's one thing for everyone to have an opinion, and it's quite another for everyone to be an expert. This is the frustration. I have no call with someone calling The Dark Knight the "best movie I've ever seen", but where anyone gets off saying "the best movie ever made." is unknown to me.

These people have always been there. Demographically things have not changed. It's just that now they're louder.

Anonymous said...

Great post; and indeed the post itself lends us hope. Fundamentally I don't believe the function of the GOOD critic is dead, just as I don't believe debate and academic review of cinema as a medium is dead. In our own quiet way, we're engaging in the act of sustaining it right here and now.

With reference to The Dark Knight, are we really witnessing a great movie, or are the masses going nuts because - amidst a sea of 'blow shit up' blockbusters that have relentlessly lowered our quality expectations through market saturation of inferior, mindless works - we've finally been given a "solid" example of the genre and it's sort of shocking?


Anonymous said...

But who's to say it IS a flaw maybe to you it is? But to others maybe not?

Cinesnatch said...

Right now, TDK ranks #1 on the imdb. Once upon a time, the LOTR trilogy dominated the top 3. Now, they're at 14/20/31 (and dropping, I'm sure). Time will sort it all out. It always does.

Anonymous said...

Now you know how I felt when "There Will Be Blood" came out.



adam wrote "But at the same time, I think it's a bit self-aggrandizing for one to assume that when he is unimpressed with something everyone else loves, he is right and everyone else is wrong. It doesn't usually work that way."

Nathaniel: That's true. But here's the thing. I was impressed to a degree. This is the thumbs up/thumbs down problem again. I am not AGAINST this movie. I do not think everyone is "wrong" ... I LIKE THIS MOVIE.

i just think the climate in which it debuted led to feverish overpronouncements. Like the people who claim that the action setpieces were superbly directed.

I mean I think we're reinventing the whole criteria of the cinematic artform if THIS is the pinnacle of great action filmmaking. Did everyone forget what Peter Jackson, James Cameron, and whoever directed Die Hard (i'm not looking it up) can do behind the camera? Did everyone forget the action sequences in the first Matrix?

And if what Christian Bale is doing is a great performance than what the hell was AMERICAN PSYCHO. You'd have to invent new adjectives for that because that's MILES above what he does in The Dark Knight. I mean jesus.

context context context

The hyperbole has got to stop somewhere. That's all i'm trying to say. Perhaps it was unwise to pair the rant about criticism with my feelings about the response to the movie but i hadn't chimed in and every other blog on the planet has said something about all the firings of film critics.

Anonymous said...

I think the "Art is Subjective" line is a bit of a copout; if it were truly, purely subjective and no one's (informed or uninformed) opinions were any more valid than any others, then there'd really be no point to film criticism, discussion or study at all. We might as well all just say "this is my opinion" and be done with it. What, then, is the higher truth and understanding we're all trying to get to? What is the purpose of the dialogue?

The problem is that it IS subjective, there is no right or wrong in it. There is nothing wrong with discussion, but it becomes a problem when you are upset at others for their criticisms, whether you agree or disagree. Don't give me that BULLSHIT about oh well you've never read a serious critical analysis of a film before (I've read plenty). THEY ARE ALL JUST OPINIONS NO RIGHT OR WRONG EITHERWAY.BTW I didn't think the film was perfect either, but I don't think that the "not so serious" critics opinions are unworthy.There is nothing wrong with being passionate about something, but you should be able to understand that somethings
(even the things you are so passionate about) aren't concrete and never will be.


Anonymous said...

I agree with this post. I saw The Dark Knight and I really liked it, there were great parts about it, it might be one of the better movies of the year. That does not mean it deserves to be called the best superhero movie ever made, and be number one on the IMDB. There are great films being made in this decade like Far From Heaven, Mulholland Dr., In the Mood for Love, but those real artistic films I feel are long gone. I fear there will never be another La Dolce Vita, Blow Up, Bonnie and Clyde, Breathless, Silkwood, Nashville, etc. And of course those films stand alone, but there were time periods where truely great films were being made one after the other. Now, it's about one or two a year.

Beau said...

And THIS, is why I read your work. While I admired a film a great deal (yeah, I'll say it, LOVED) I also appreciate opinions like your own fending off against the mass hysteria that comes with every superhero film/graphic novel adaptation released with an 80+ rating on Metacritic (Prepare yourself for Watchmen fanatics in March). And you LIKED the film! Quite a bit, as you said. But any other reaction towards the feature other than unadulterated fanaticism or orgasmic prayer, you get slaughtered. (I feel the same way, albeit I liked the film MUCH LESS than you did this one, with 'Iron Man' - I still believe 'Speed Racer' to be a higher quality film overall. Shoot me.)
What I'm saying, is that I love the fact that I can come on here, read your perfectly articulated thoughts and opinions on matters such as this one with equal amounts sarcasm and sincerity. It's a major joy. :)

In Re: Anon -

I don't think the entry was written in response to The Dark Knight's quality but rather the sanctimonious treatment it's receiving from critics and audiences alike. It's something I've almost never seen before; the last film I remember the country getting this much in a stir over was 'Fellowship', I think. Might've even been 'Titanic'.

I think the frustration (and this is just how I'm viewing it, Nat - not trying to speak for you) comes from whenever a film passes by that recieves the grand treatment - showers of awards, critical praise, money, a substantial fan base, etc - and yet you feel you've seen an entirely different product. I've felt like that recently with 'Iron Man', 'Flags of Our Fathers', Michael Moore's films, 'Capote' and 'Babel' to name a few (reactions ranging from apathy to outright loathing).

And conversely, when a film YOU felt was better than the critical/commerical ass-ramming it got in the multiplexes (again, for me, 'Margot at the Wedding' was one of the best pictures of last year, and yet it was inexplicably ignored by the public and the critic's groups, who apparently felt that Ruby Dee's five minute showboat perf was of a higher caliber than Jennifer Jason Leigh's high-wire act in 'Margot') it's deeply frustrating.

Criticism can never be a purely objective endeavor; there will always be some subjectivity in your response to a particular actor/role/character/scenario/genre/director/etc. To be a fair critic and to write a fair review will take years to master, and some people will achieve that. There will always be some hurdle they can't overcome, some pothole in the road that they fall into every time despite their best efforts. We all have our own tiny little keyholes through which we view the world. It's in our attempts to shape them a little differently, to widen and expand them that our successes and our failures lay.

Anonymous said...

In reponse to your comment about people being afraid to be challenged, I think it's more of a fear of looking stupid or just plain failing. People are challenged so often in their regular lives - and sometimes, unfortunately, don't defeat those chanllenges - that they become defensive when something they love is attacked (It sound pretentious, I know, but it's just a theory).

Beau said...

...and I feel like I've missed the brunt of this debate. FIFTEEN REACTIONS SINCE I STARTED TYPING. Damn.

...and out of curiousity, who said that Bale gave a great perf in this? I mean, he was strong, don't get me wrong... the entire freaking cast was strong, but other than Ledger and Eckhart (arguably Oldman) I didn't feel like any other character had enough of an arc or enough screentime to merit the label.

Beau said...

Last comment for now, I swear...

RE; Armour: Doesn't sound pretentious at all. I actually like the theory quite a bit. :)

Anonymous said...

I also think the problem with film criticism now is that it is all based on enjoyment level. Sometimes, more should be taken into account. For example, I don't want to watch Citizen Kane all the time, but I know it is one of the greatest films of all time. Did I enjoy it, not really. But it was so skillfully made and it says so much about American culture. I think critics need to take more into account. There is more to it than liking it or not liking it. It is also important to interpret and analyze, something many critics do not do anymore. However, that is also because many films that are made have nothing left to interpret, they show it all. Film criticism to me used to be not about whether a film is good or bad, but what it was about. Most critics could agree that a film like Blue Velvet (to name one) was a great film. The disagreement was in the interpretations and the meaning of the film.

Anonymous said...

I am completely on-board with your observation that critical thinking skills have nearly gone extinct. I am a teacher -- you know, one of those people responsible for jump-starting those skills in the first place -- and I have to say it's the hardest part of the job, convincing kids to focus analytically on details. I have similar troubles with principals and other teachers, most of whom care less about tact and imagination and elegance than about quickly-digested statistics.

All this ties into the larger phenomenon of 21st-Century "throwaway culture", in which goods are produced quickly, consumed quickly, and then forgotten quickly. So many kids these days grow up on manic 20-minute television shows that are spread with equally-manic commercials into 30-minute segments. Most episodes of those shows are self-contained, too, so there's not even a point in remembering events or characters from one day to the next, let alone analyzing them as they unfold.

There have been excellent movies unveiled this century, movies that will, I think, stand the test of time and eventually be numbered in the ranks of Nashville and Bonnie & Clyde. But those films -- Far From Heaven, Children of Men, Nolan's own Memento -- do seem to be less and less common. I hear people classify easily-consumed populist work like Crash and even The Happening as "movies for people who want to think," and that ... well, that gets me worried.

Maybe there's a reason why I've read more books (31) this year than I've seen movies (~12).

On a side note, thanks, Nathaniel, for the link to the D'Angelo review.

Cinesnatch said...

those faux ad quotes ar hilarious


thx Vinci, i try.

Anonymous said...

I thought you'd be interested in this article about the relevancy of film critics and how they actually do represent mainstream appeal, despite popular belief. I don't exactly know if it matters, but it's definitely pertinent - at least from a statistical standpoint.

Cinesnatch said...

Though my villain idea was EXTREMELY rough around the edges, I think there is some untapped potential there.

elgringo said...

Dear Jesus' "Batman Their Way" is fantastic!

Cinesnatch said...

I think the poster who mentioned the standards for high quality having the bar lowered so far down had an excellent point.

But, you know, the collective blind embrace is nauseating regardless of the film. If every person WAS saying "this is a really great film, but it wasn't perfect," it would be so much easier to digest.

goshdurnit said...

Great discussion. In the "good ol days," we had a tiny cadre of critics working for major publications who essentially used flowery, entertaining language (A Lane) and strong opinions (P Kael) to substitute for critical thinking. Now, you have millions of people around the world debating the finer points of almost every movie ever made. Yes, most of them devolve into flame wars, but if you're willing to look past that, I think you'll find lots of intelligent discussion over what makes a film good or popular.

The direction I'd like to see online film criticism take involves discussion of discrete elements of a film - whether or not they "worked" for that particular viewer. In the case of the Dark Knight, I thought there were too many reversals in character motivation, too many emotional climaxes (no sense of building tension), and Batman's voice came off as a little silly. What worked for me was the fact that characters faced consequences of their actions that hue much more closely to real life than most films. The dialog was snappy, the identity play at the beginning was a terrific way to engage a jaded audience, and the writers had the balls to kill of a major character, making subsequent moments genuinely suspenseful.

As for the hype, its an inevitable part of people's perception of a film. I remember seeing Titanic opening night and thinking it was quite good, but in the wake of its records and Oscars, I have a hard time seeing it in a good light.

Anonymous said...

We get it. You don't think The Dark Knight is perfect. (Neither did I.) You'll act victimized about it/smarter than everyone else the rest of the year because of that.


anon --thanks for your valuable contribution to the topic at hand.

goshdurnit --i think you may have a point there. With the web and the easy access to stills and screenshots and youtube and whatnot it's a lot easier and might be more productive to really dissect individual elements. We'll see how things develop.

adam k. said...

I will never understand why people like Anon 7:06 up there bother anonymously reading and commenting on blogs like this when they don't seem to like them at all. What a waste of their time. Plus the putting words in Nat's mouth. Ugh.

I just want Nat to know that I was not patronizing him or even directly referring to him (note how I said "one"); I was just pointing out what I thought to be a bit of a fallacy, and trying to balance out my previous comment about art being subjective (which I stand by).

Whatever, Nat knows I love him. Sometimes I actually have to go out of my way to make sure I'm not marching in lockstep with his opinions, which I guess is what I was trying to do here.

Really, though. "Art is Subjective" (capitalized, even) is one of those things people say to instantly justify any point they may think they have in any argument about art. I just think it's kind of a BS empty slogan used to justify anything. Like "War on Terror." Or "it's a free country." Or "fair and balanced" (meaning we must give validity to lies and hateful bigotry as well as enlightened, rational thought that appeals to our better natures). It just rubs me the wrong way, that phrase. Yes, it's true in a sense, of course, but that doesn't make it a be-all, end-all.

Anyway. Clearly I have politics on the brain. But art is political.

And heated discussions are good!

Anonymous said...

"I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition".

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, I love your blog but I must admit: I don't have any idea what your credentials are for being a movie critic. I just enjoy (a) the fact that there's something new posted every day; (b) all the colorful, eye-catching pictures of movie stars; (c) Your engaging prose, as well as that of your guest bloggers; and (d) the interesting comments that your readers post. Yeah, I definitely love this blog.

Barry said...

Maybe I'm missing what everyone else is saying, but what's wrong with calling a film a masterpiece if you think it's one? Don't get angry at other critics who think The Dark Knight is one of or the best movie(s) ever made. The critics who gave TDK those reviews and hype are all allowed to do that. If they think it's a masterpiece, who cares? Don't go and try to prove them wrong by getting all huffy about everyone who likes the film, and trying to point out the "many" flaws the film has to try and prove to the many critics and people that you're right and they're wrong. No one's right and no one's wrong.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen The Dark Knight. I enjoyed the first movie enough to want to see it hype or no hype, but I won't deny that the overwhelming reviews and the box office and the constant presence of this film everywhere has sorta put me off. So I can't speak to the greater experience of the film as a whole, but I think Nathaniel makes some salient points. A couple thoughts.

1. We don't view art in a vacuum. So yes, the culture that produced the film/response is a part of the individual's review to the film (this strikes me as similar to MaryAnn Johnson/The Flick Filosopher getting raked over the coals about her review to Knocked Up.) We all have our personal biases that we bring with us. Pretending they don't exist is dishonest. For me, seeing Crash celebrated as an honest look at racism pissed me off as much as the film itself. M. Night Shyamalan's self aggrandization puts me off, especially since... you know, he's made four really crappy films and one solid one. For Nathaniel, his biases are (in ascending order): the canonization of Clint Eastwood, the omnipresence of Cate Blanchett and (the big one) the priveliging of masculine art over feminine art. Your mileage on these may vary (my own: it doesn't bug me much, I disagree entirely, and I want more debate).

2. The thing that bugs me about the "art is subjective" line is twofold.
a) It's designed to end debate, not encourage it.

b) It ignores a pretty fundamental truth about art/science/life. ALL OPINIONS ARE NOT EQUAL. I don't mean that perjoratively.

I'll give you an example. Person A and Person B. Both are given Don DeLillo's Underworld to read (if you don't know it, go read it now. It's basically one of the best American books of the past twenty five years, a pretty brilliance summation of American life). Each gives you an honest opinion.

Are both opinions valid? Absolutely. All an opinion needs to be valid is honesty (which is why I'm gonna argue that reviewers who pretend to exclude personal bias suck, and why Armond White is a really bad critic, because he calibrates his opinions not for honesty, but so he stands out).

Knowing nothing about Person A and Person B, these two opinions are equal.

Now, lets describe them for you.

Person A is a semi-retired history professor who focused on the Cold War. He's an avid reader, who tries to read a novel or two a week (and often succeeds), was born and raised in the USA (choose your own city).

Person B is a nineteen year old Latvian immigrant newly arrived to America. He struggles with English, but is working hard to improve himself (hence, why he read Underworld).

Now, does anyone consider both opinions equal, or more specifically, would you give both opinions equal weight?

This is a pretty obvious example, of course, but I think the comparison still stands.

Barry said...

Oh, and maybe the people who like the film, and are not eager or adamant at pointing out the flaws you think it has, do not think that it has as many flaws as you have stated.


barry --oh totally. You're totally right. I wasn't arguing that the people who love it don't love it.

and i wouldn't be "huffy" if the response hadn't been so overzealous and hateful of dissenting opinions.i'm just talking about how strange this whole week has been.

arkaan --thanks for the example. it is a good point.

Hayden said...

It kills me that Michelle might go down in history as a "lesser villain" because of this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, I couldn't agree more. Say it like it is. You'd think they just saw Malick for the first time, haha.

Anonymous said...

nathaniel, please do submit your batman review when you have feel the internal smoke has cleared.

Anonymous said...

Arkaan said:

2. The thing that bugs me about the "art is subjective" line is twofold.
a) It's designed to end debate, not encourage it.

b) It ignores a pretty fundamental truth about art/science/life. ALL OPINIONS ARE NOT EQUAL. I don't mean that perjoratively.


A).I disagree, it isn't design to end debate, it is design to acknowledge that no one is right or wrong. You can clearly still debate about it, while respecting others. When you learn to realize that your opinion isn't fact, then you can be able to understand other viewpoints. Acknowledging the subjectivity of art can only lead to a much healthier debate. Of course that is just my opinion. As you can see people are still debating about the topic.

I won't get into B because that is in FACT AN OPINION :-) Just Kidding, I disagree with this also. Do I value the Opinion of someone moreso than others? Of course everyone does, but little children can be more insightful than adults. So it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't whole equal weight, I just don't give them equal weight. Someone else may. I would actually love to know what person B thinks of it moreso than the History Professor, but that's just me.

There is nothing objective about film, unless you go into how many awards it won, the length of it or how many skinny people are in it.

Of course this doesn't mean that you can't criticize or find flaws in them or debate about them. That would just take the fun out of it.

I agree, Armond White sucks donkeys balls.


My assessment on criticism, I don't like when critics get into the personal lives of actors or criticize a film by comparing it to another. Or just follow the bandwagon. Sure I think some critics are eggheads. What do I do? Read the critics that I like, sometimes I agree with them sometimes I don't. I also hate when people formulate an opinion about of film just because it has a 95% fresh on rottentomatoes. Which is why I love to go into a film fresh, without reading any reviews and formulate my own opinion first (I know that's hard to do nowadays). Since most of the "Respectable Critics" are White men, I would also love to see more diversity in the criticism of film and not just a eurocentric/masculine view of them.

As for the Dark Knight, I felt that most of the reviews said it wasn't perfect. I thought it was a great comic book film, a good movie overall. Both Heath and Gary did a fantastic job.

"The baddest mammajama on the Internet"

verninino said...

Omigod Nathaniel, did you post this while we were watching the goddess? Blasphemer-skank, give me back my Moreau!

The 'death of criticism' is going the way of the 'death of irony', or 'winning the war on terror.' Until we are smote by Armageddon (the phenomena, not the film) it ain't going nowhere.

But I think a lot of folks here are confusing razzle dazzle reviews with deliberate criticism.

For my popular tastes, in print, Edelstein is routinely deft, enlightening a film review with a dash of history within a socio-philosophical context, as is A. O. Scott. On the internets you can always furrow your brow (into a headache) at Senses of Cinema.

All the internet hyping just means you've got to plow through a lot more detritus to find the fresh stuff, unless you know precisely where to look.

Anonymous said...

And the burning pitchforks descend...

Anyway, I think the worst thing about all this hoop-lah about The Dark Knight is that after all the hype goes down, I think It'll become one of those movies that everyone sees as extremely overrated, which is a shame because the film is actually very good.

The Dark Knight was released in Australia about 2 days before the US, so when I saw it on the first day it came out, and then posted my thoughts on IMDb, i said "it wasnt THAT good" and gave it a solid 8/10. From these comments I got the crap abused out of me, recieving abusive private messages saying "How dare [I] Have the NERVE" and telling me I was just trying to go against the crowd. I couldn't believe it, they hadnt even seen it yet!

Its that kind of thing that rally grinds my gears.

So, yes, Art is subjective, even if only to a certain extent (If anyone says The Covenant was a mastperiece in their opinion, I think you can safely say they are WRONG), but if this kind of bandwagon hopping continues, (that perhaps Heath Ledgers death, the fils great advertsing and hype has been a catalyst to), then unrealistic, and unture observations can be made to meet the expectations of the general consenus, and by doing that just reinforcing the general concensus that scoffs on those in disgreement.

Have I made sense? Probably not.

P.S. Agreed on Moulin Rouge!

Unknown said...

Thank you very much, Nat. Sure, it was great as a superhero movie (my second favourite one after X2) but it is not the best movie of all time. Are you kidding me? It's not even in my 2008/09 Season Top 10 and the real movies haven't even come out yet. It's depressing how dumb people can be... it is not a masterpiece. it has plotholes and unnecessary moments. Christian Bale as Batman was quite bad (and I normally love him...American Psycho).

On the other hand, Heath Ledger left me speechless.

adam k. said...

In fairness, I don't think I've heard anyone refer to Bale's performance as "great." Usually they just mention how he was blown off the screen by Heath Ledger.

Anonymous said...

Verninino Said:

But I think a lot of folks here are confusing razzle dazzle reviews with deliberate criticism.
I agree with this, because most of the reviews I read said it wasn't perfect. So at first I didn't get what Nathaniel was talking about? I think a lot of summer blockbusters are overhyped, but that's the usual. "Transformers" was deemed great by the internet hype, but if you actually look at the reviews from the respectable critics you'll get a different conclusion.

"The Baddest mammajama on the internet"

Anonymous said...

People who don't like when people say that art is subjective are usually those people who can't handle that their opinion isn't fact. They just want to be so much smarter than everyone else, but in reality they look like a bunch of snobbish arses.

Brian Darr said...

The part I can't figure out is why so many people out there seem to care so deeply that this film be loved unanimously. And to try to discredit anyone in a position of authority, who has something not-entirely-gushing to say about it. I can't think of another example of a film that was such a lightning rod for people who decidedly do NOT agree to disagree- they have to be RIGHT! (even if they hadn't seen the film yet)

Is it just because the film is in theatres right now that this frenzy is happening? Or is this going to last into Oscar season? Seeing the film ahead of the Godfather seems to have unleashed a flurry of speculation that Nolan's film has a shot at a Best Picture nomination. I suppose next we'll hear about his upcoming Nobel prize, and what the heck, maybe the Dark Knight will win the Presidential election in November too!

lylee said...

So. Much. Word.

I'm swamped at work, or I'd write more.

Yih said...

What a great post! You captured the battle that one should never have when watching such an enjoyable flick as TDK: loving and praising it for what it is, while trying to push the hype train a little bit backwards.

Wise words on film criticism -- let's hope katey's words are right -- that a cultural tide will turn again.

Glenn said...

Totally agreed, but everyone has already said what I would say so I'm just gonna leave it.

Robert said...

I'm sorry I have to reply to this:

"People who don't like when people say that art is subjective are usually those people who can't handle that their opinion isn't fact. They just want to be so much smarter than everyone else, but in reality they look like a bunch of snobbish arses."

But I've found that people who don't believe that art is subjective are suggesting that it is possible to have a wrong opinion and are often open to changing their opinion (or being persuaded). But those who believe art is subjective believe they can never be wrong since all opinions are equal.

Anonymous said...

And I have to reply to this

But I've found that people who don't believe that art is subjective are suggesting that it is possible to have a wrong opinion and are often open to changing their opinion (or being persuaded). But those who believe art is subjective believe they can never be wrong since all opinions are equal.

8:55 AM

You actually left out the big picture, they also believe that they can never be RIGHT. Why can't you get it through your thick skulls no one is saying that you can't debate or change each other opinions, but art IS subjective just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The people who think that there IS a right OPINION have clear issues, Do we always agree with opinions? no are opinions sometimes dangerous? yes, but that doesn't mean you can't change them or persuade. WHO EVEN SAID THAT OR ARE YOU JUST PUTTING WORDS IN PEOPLES MOUTH? I"VE BEEN READING THE COMMENTS AND NO ONE EVBN SAID THAT.SO YOU CAN LOOK LIKE YOU'RE RIGHT?AND WHAT PEOPLE EXACTLY? I would love to know who you are referring to, because people have said different things throughout. If you weren't refering to me than I apologize, but this is getting kind of silly.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nate!

Thanks for the shout out!

Anonymous said...

"but the way people talk about this movie is I-N-S-A-N-E."

The only ones talking like that are the fanboys and given that's what they are, what were you expecting otherwise? Everyone else seems to be saying that it was a good to excellent (depending where they fall) but flawed film. So I really don't get why you are acting like you have a burden to carry in your reaction to the film.

And where are all these people saying that Maggie and Christian were excellent in their roles? I think you're being contrary in order to have something to complain about, to be honest.

NTXLandscapeAuthority said...

I completely agree with the author. I just saw the film last night and besides all of the absurdly annoying idiots in the theater, I was also a little unhappy with the extreme length of the film. The twists and turns became burdensome. It is not what I would consider a masterpiece because it is simply cinematography eye-candy. The dialogue could have been written by a crew of community college creative writing students. The plot was unnecessarily intricate, like the director forced it to be epic. But I digress, if you want mindless entertainment its top-notch, if you want work of art to think critically about, well...

Andrew Bemis said...

Since your post either coincidentally or passive aggressively references my review of The Dark Knight several times, I feel compelled to respond.

I didn't write about the film's flaws because I truly think it is a masterpiece. I'm not wrong and neither of you, not because opinions are subjective but because we both care about movies and have our own standards for what defines excellence. For instance, I gave Atonement the same B grade you gave The Dark Knight. I thought there were ten or fifteen better movies that weren't nominated for Best Picture, but I wouldn't dream of attributing your excitement about it to your blindly riding the Oscar hype machine. So why swipe at people who dig The Dark Knight just because there's a consensus? And why haven't I read a single negative or mixed write-up of the movie that doesn't feel the need to sulk about its popularity?


I did read your review, yes. But it's not an attack on you. Your far from the only person to call it a masterpiece but the "unqualified" part of all the raves are what's throwing me.

The way you and others have responded is not equivalent to me liking Atonement. I can totally 100% understand why some peopel think Atonement sucks. It's not perfect. I totally get the arguments against it. Trust me when I say I don't love it like you love The Dark Knight

Though people may attack me for saying so, I personally think it's silly for anyone to claim they aren't affected by their feverish excitement for the movie.

I AM TOTALLY WILLING TO ADMIT THAT I AM AFFECTED BY HYPE. I've made mistakes before based on that. For example: my initial enthusiasm for "Little Children" for example was entirely caught up in the fact
a) the trailer was one of the best I had ever seen...
b) i wanted the film to be great
c) and I met Kate Winslet as it was coming out.

The movie had a LOT of issues. Many of which I brushed off because I wanted to love it and I was so excited about Kate & everything.

I just get aggravated that nobody who loves this particular movie seems willing to step back for a second and say 'wait a second. maybe this isn't the best american film since Godfather II' (and yes thats directly referencing another review)

I mean... moderation in all things. I guess that's what I'm reacting so strongly to.

I'm also perturbed that another violent movie that feels a little rightwing in its morality (here's a frightening 'George W Bush is god' piece that details how great Dark Knight is) is thrilling everyone again.

but i did try to get across here in this piece i'm a little unhinged on this topic. That's my fault, no one elses. I'm not sure why I'm so freaked out.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Bemis said...

(still me. wrong account.)

I totally get the arguments against The Dark Knight as well. They're just coming from a different place, and don't exactly reflect what I want from a movie. I've had many an extended argument with people who disagree with my priorities on what makes a great (or bad) movie, so I'm not claiming total authority on this. But I can only be responsible for writing about movies the way I see them, regardless of whether I'm in the minority or too much in the majority. I don't mean to harp on this point too much, because I'm interested in dissenting views, but it just seems a little condescending to me. I mean, I did say I was going to be hyperbolic.

What do you love as much as I love The Dark Knight? Are those movies perfect because you love them, or do you love them because they're perfect? When is it okay to really love a movie?

As for the movie's alleged right-wing politics - yeah, maybe, but I'm not voting for Batman in the fall, and if I only supported movies with politics that lined up with my own, I'd be just like those schmoes who were offended by Wall-E for being pro-gardening.

Anonymous said...

Queenie Said

I disagree, it isn't design to end debate, it is design to acknowledge that no one is right or wrong. You can clearly still debate about it, while respecting others. When you learn to realize that your opinion isn't fact, then you can be able to understand other viewpoints. Acknowledging the subjectivity of art can only lead to a much healthier debate. Of course that is just my opinion. As you can see people are still debating about the topic.

Okay, my bad. It's not designed to curtail debate. But people do use to end debate, I find. Of course, art is subjective and recognizing different viewpoints is essential for a healthy debate, but (as a rule), I assume that both sides debating already know that and are advancing from there.

Queenie Said..

I would actually love to know what person B thinks of it moreso than the History Professor, but that's just me.

Lol, okay. Obviously, I disagree. I would be interested in what person B said, but I wouldn't place as much weight in his opinions as I would the history professor.

Anonymous @ 2:18 said

People who don't like when people say that art is subjective are usually those people who can't handle that their opinion isn't fact. They just want to be so much smarter than everyone else, but in reality they look like a bunch of snobbish arses.

Guilty as charged. I do want to be smarter than everyone else. I would hope that everyone would want to be smarter than they currently are.

Anonymous said...

One of the comments to David Edelstein's review read something like this:

"How you dare? I haven't seen this movie but I know it's gonna be perfect, the best movie ever and I will love it!!!!"

and then Edelstein had the last laugh.

Anonymous said...

Arkaan Said:

Lol, okay. Obviously, I disagree. I would be interested in what person B said, but I wouldn't place as much weight in his opinions as I would the history professor.

I know this is totally off topic, but I would and here's why, he's a history professor in the world of Academia. I would love to hear the opinion of someone who is removed from that and may not initially view it as a classic or know of its status, plus person B is from a different country, so he may offer a new perspective. So I would hold the weight of both equally.

Most older classics were deemed classics by Old White Guys, no offense. Would these so-called classics "The Great Gatsby" etc be deemed so great if the reviewers/critics were a mixed bunch from all different walks of life? Maybe, maybe not. So bring someone in, who doesn't know anything about the book or its stature and see what they think. I think It's easier to formulate your own opinion about something when you don't know what other people think of it. Which brings us back to the Dark Knight. Nathaniel, Just wait til next month to post your review.But like someone else said I wouldn't give a shit about the fanboys. I also liked Atonement ;-)


"The baddest mammajama on the internet"

Anonymous said...

Oh, I get that Queenie. My choice is based on a couple things.

Language: I took pains to mention that Person B wouldn't be in a great position to easily understand the book due to his difficulties with the language (and yes, I feel cinema is a language).

I agree with your depiction of the canon (created by and for Old White Guys, which I don't fit the description, being neither old nor white. I'll cop to being a guy), I think knowing the context of history helps immeasurably in understanding a work.

While removing something from context might make it easier to formulate an opinion, it doesn't necessarily make that opinion more informed. For me, anyway.

I'm enjoying this discussion with the baddest mammajamma on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Oh I get what your saying Arkaan, You said History Professor and I didn't like

I wasn't trying to assume that you were an old White guy, I just didn't know if anybody was. lol

I enjoyed talking to you too.


"The baddest Mammajama on the internet"

Anonymous said...

I think film criticism is dead or dying because of people who do not understand or appreciate the economy of language enough not to waste my time.
You used hundreds of words to say film criticism is dead, you hate hype, and you'll write more later.
What a tease! You've not tackled one idea from the movie.
If you werent' generating your own hype, you would've waited to post until you had something to say.

Anonymous said...

I read the Las Vegas Weekly review that you linked. He says it's pretty much all intellect, no humor or feeling. I totally disagree. I laughed a LOT. And I was moved deeply, particularly the second time. I appreciated Maggie's last scene a lot more. Really her perf overall I liked more. The boat scene and the end hit me in places that rarely get hit. That's just the way it is. That's why it's just ahead of WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda and In Bruges as the best of the year so far. I'm looking forward to how people feel about this film by Oscar time. I don't think overall opinion will go down very far, once the mass hysteria has passed.


Anonymous said...

Nate... I love you but shut the F#$% up! The film was so good I left that my childhood comic books just came to life in the movie theater.

Anonymous said...

Great piece. I agree with much of what you said. I though The Dark Knight was really good, but also flawed (as most films are). Personally, I got tired of reading what amounted to the same reviews (although I suspect I may have written one myself). I did, however, try to put a different spin on something I wrote about The Dark Knight. Check it out here: