We recently had the pleasure of catching up with a Zooppa UK partner, FilmDebate. Adam and Katie dove into the unique experience they have while viewing content. Read on for an interesting perspective from a film critic and creative.
The world of film criticism is a peculiar one. A film critic is somewhat cursed when watching a film in that, on different levels, both consciously and subconsciously, they are forced to deconstruct and review what they are consuming. My love for film began from a young age. I remember watching ‘The Battle of Helms Deep’ from ‘Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers’ and being in complete cinematic awe…before jumping off the couch and joining the battle myself, waving my plastic sword around and slaughtering a somewhat innocent couch cushion!
At this time, as indeed it remains for that vast majority of the population now, film was purely an entertainment medium for my younger self. It was only when I began to study the field, that the ‘critics curse’ became apparent – I found myself taking notes in the cinema; my ratings on writing, performance, direction and cinematography, not to mention getting very irritated when I missed the new trailers – something which the majority choose to avoid! I found that I could not simply ‘watch’ a film anymore and instead viewed each as a piece of work or an art form, containing many elements to be individually deconstructed and appreciated.
On a personal level, of course, I did not see this as a curse…quite the contrary. Studying and deconstructing film gave me a whole new perspective – it enabled me to enjoy and consider the field I loved as more than just an entertainment medium. Film intends to be thought provoking – the many works I viewed often altered my perspective on life and offered insights into other ways of living/being. I found the discussions I had with others as a result of my studies opened up and changed their views as well.
It is also important to understand that each film critic views a film differently too. Personally, I believe the most important aspect of a film is its writing. I am of the opinion that a film needs a solid foundation to build on. I love excellent dialogue, which is why my favourite Hollywood directors remain Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. If you are a beginner to cinema, dialogue and film criticism, simply watch the works of these filmic legends. Start with ‘Pulp Fiction’, and consciously note how Tarantino’s lengthy scenes of extended dialogue flow effortlessly, to the point where you don’t notice the time is passing. Or how he expertly builds suspense; using dialogue, gradually drawing you into the narrative, before climaxing the scene in a huge cinematic crescendo (usually, it has to be said, with quite a lot of violence and gore).
It has to be said, however, that other critics may take alternative views in relation to what they consider to be the most important aspect to any film. A critic with a keen passion for photography, might see shot construction and cinematography as the most important element. Alternatively, a critic with an acting background might see performance as the vital aspect – whatever it might be, one fact remains – no film is complete without all its elements being considered. To exemplify this imagine the horror genre – such films have to contain visual images that frighten, but what would they be without the music as well? Think of Jaws, The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby – Horror films that blend the use of visuals and music to complete perfection.
Another vital component that a critic must consider is the audience of a film. All films are made to cater for a different audience dynamic, and this of course will change the construction of the film. The reason behind the success of Pixar is quite a simple one – they realised children are always accompanied adults, thus they cleverly include jokes and references that only an adult would understand, hence keeping both their immediate and secondary audiences entertained and captivated. Toy Story might be a film intended for children, but in terms of cinematic rating, it is up there with the best!
Generic consideration is equally as important. Personally, I think visual and special effects are often overused – I dislike films that sacrifice substance for style – such as Avatar, The Transformers, and dare I say it; Mad Max: Fury Road. However, within the Sci-Fi genre, special effects are key to the films realism. This highlights my point about generic consideration – there are simple fundamentals that films in specific genres have to achieve: A horror film has to scare, A comedy has to make you laugh, an action has to excite and a drama has to make you think and feel.
It would be understandable to assume that, for a critic, some of the enjoyment and wonder of cinema is removed because it is necessary to persistently review and deconstruct everything you watch – But there is no doubt, that when you watch something you truly enjoy, even with your keen critics eye, that pleasure of cinema is twice as strong. Yes a film critic is somewhat cursed, but it is the love of the industry as a whole that remains, and simply nothing can change that…we are all in ourselves, our own critics, by looking at the things we consume from our own personal angles. No human being is the same, or ordinary, or strange, so how an earth can we ever consume things in the same way?
Criticism. It’s a weird one, isn’t it? What sort of a person takes it upon themselves to judge the efforts of another for a living? Well, we all do it habitually to a greater or lesser extent. You only have to spend about three seconds on Twitter to know that everyone has an opinion on pretty much everything, and they are not shy about airing those thoughts on social media. Often they are purely emotional and completely subjective – which is absolutely fine. Any film worth its salt should evoke a visceral reaction from its audience. We go to the movies to feel things. I guess it’s the job of a critic or reviewer to step back, to apply what they understand about the conventions and craft of cinema, and to present a rounded and informative piece about the film or work in question.
Like most people, my interest in film stems from childhood. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in a darkened auditorium with my mother or father, and my brother. Our local cinema used to have a long queue outside every showing, people snaking all the way around the building and down the street to make sure they got a seat when the doors opened. Films were magic to me, plain and simple. I spent a good deal of my time reliving scenes and imagining I was the characters I loved. I was Princess Lily from Legend, Columbia from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Sarah from Labyrinth. I was Tinkerbell, Jessica Rabbit, and Dorothy. I know the term ‘escapism’ is a tad clichéd, but that’s exactly what movies are. As children we are transported to new worlds, and we can experience a range of emotions and life lessons without having to leave the comfort of our theatre seat.
As I started further education, my love of movies and the wider media meant I gravitated towards film studies, literature, music, and drama. I think many people find analysing texts ad nauseum at school sucks all the joy out of them. I suppose there was an element of that for me too. My teenage self didn’t really appreciate being forced to examine westerns, or Carry On films, because they weren’t genres I’d have chosen to watch for pleasure. But over the years, I came to realise that an understanding of critical theory, narrative parameters, and generic conventions can deepen and enrich your experience of just about any form of entertainment, and it certainly comes in handy now I work for a major studio as my day job.
As a ‘fangirl’ with a slightly obsessive streak, I believe art is created to be deconstructed, to be pulled apart, and the bones picked over. It should spark debate and stir the senses. It should inspire, uplift, provoke, and scare us. As a critic, I’ve learnt to balance my gut response with objectivity. What worked and what didn’t? What was it about this film I loved? Why didn’t that weepy make me cry? Why do I care about this character in particular? I will always try and find an angle, something I deem to be interesting or successful in a piece. I’m not about tearing down filmmakers and performers. As a writer of fiction, I know how soul-destroying a spiteful review can be, and I write opinion pieces because I’m passionate about cinema. I want people to go and see movies and to support the people who make them. I want creators to see their labours of love succeed. I want audiences to step outside of their comfort zones, to challenge their preconceptions and check out things they wouldn’t normally consider watching.
Whenever I view a film with a mind to writing about it, I try to avoid spoilers or reading other reviews which might prejudice me in some way. As I watch, I make a mental note of key themes and anything else that jumps out at me, something which will form the core of my piece. Perhaps the cinematography is particularly beautiful, or the soundtrack. Maybe there is a stand-out performance, or the writing is superb. I often find certain influences or similarities to other works come to mind, and that can be fun to explore. I love to be surprised, so if a film can wrong-foot me with a twisty plot, or break with generic convention in a way that makes it fresh and original, I get very excited. I appreciate not everyone feels this way, but I don’t mind a little ambiguity or a loose end here and there. My pet peeves are things like gaping plot holes, clunky dialogue, and stories which are resolved too easily. The dreaded Deus ex Machina device. If I’m disappointed by certain aspects of a film, I will try and balance the minus points with positives. It’s very rare that a movie has nothing to commend it. I will watch pretty much anything, although I have a slightly squeamish disposition, and have been known to faint in my seat during brutal scenes – I’m looking at you Pan’s Labyrinth!
Mostly, I just want to be made to feel and to think. I want to become engrossed. To laugh, cry, grip my arm rests, and hold my breath. I want to fall in love, and for time to stand still for a while. And then I want to puzzle out how the magic trick was done.