Friday, August 17, 2012
I don't often do this, but today I felt the need to respond to another post on the internet—a post, in fact, that I don't even necessarily disagree with. This week, Kyle Ryan at the AV Club responded to a critique of one of his critiques of a podcast. Although Ryan did not specify which podcast he was referring to, it seems that its creators had a beef with him for being unnecessarily harsh toward their product. They reasoned that, they don't get paid for it, therefore it is unfair to treat their podcast the same way one would a movie. Kyle countered that all art should be treated equally, regardless of whether the artist profits or not.
Now, I know I'm horribly simplifying Kyle's well-formed argument on the subject, but that is essentially the gist of it. And again, I don't even necessarily disagree with him. Still, it did get me thinking about the nature of criticism, and whether it's right to lob stones at David, when he's already struggling against Goliath.
And on this point, one of the reasons I love the AV Club's Podmass, is that it seems to take this into account. As Kyle mentioned in his piece, the AV Club approaches podcasts differently from film. Bit-sized chunks, these write-ups give readers a heads-up on the best and not-so-best podcasts every week. So, I'm wondering why these particular podcasters became so upset. I would really like to know the nature of the podmass piece: Was this a regularly reviewed podcast that had a few weeks of bad reviews, or was this a podcast that was only mentioned once, just to be badmouthed? Because, really, this makes all the difference.
Case in point: back when I started blogging I received numerous invites to press screenings and the like. Once, I was also contacted by an independent director, asking me to review his recent self-released feature. I happily agreed; I told him I'd love to write about it on my blog. But then I got the movie. And then I watched the movie. And
Holy shit. To say the picture was unwatchable would be a massive understatement. The movie was so ill-conceived I nearly had a rage-stroke while trying to watch it. Yeah, I could write off the shoddy filmmaking as the inevitable consequence of a minuscule budget, but poor writing has no excuse.
How was I going to review this? I couldn't praise it, because that would be dishonest (hell, it was so bad, I couldn't even give it a "there are promising signs of potential growth with this filmmaker" review). But I didn't see a point in shitting on the movie either. "Hey, folks, you know that movie you've never seen nor heard of—it sucks." It just seemed dickish. You could say I took the cowardly indecisive way out: I just ignored it. Never (until now) did I mention this movie on my blog.
But, you see, I have a luxury here at the ol' KL5-FILM (yes, I just linked to my own goddamn blog), I don't work for anyone. I don't have assignments; I don't have to watch and review a certain number of movies each week. Indeed, my blogging/podcasting is nothing more than a glorified hobby. So this gives me the luxury of choosing what I want to review. And it has allowed me to create rules for my choices. Most importantly, I only approach movies for whose genres and/or filmmakers I already have an affinity.
On my podcast, for instance, frequent guest Roger and I generally stick to trash movies. Yes, many of these are little-known, ill-regarded movies; and the way we talk about them could be seen as derogatory, but it all comes from a place of love. We have an affinity for these pictures, so we understand what makes them good—in our eyes, at least. If a particular trash movie doesn't happen to work for us, we can be honest (but fair) in our critique because our record with these movies shows that we don't approach them from a mean-spirited place. We don't seek out movies we know we will hate just for the opportunity of shitting on them—especially if the movies in question are "David" movies that few people have ever even heard of. I think it would only fuel a misconception folks have about criticism: namely, that it's just an excuse for misanthropic assholes to piss on the glee of consumers and creators. And, as I've said numerous times already, what would be the point of shitting on an unprofitable, unknown movie?
Which brings me back to Ryan's piece. While I agree that it is right to approach every piece of art with the same objective view-point, something will always make me feel uneasy about attacking the small stuff. Should the fact that certain pieces of art bring little-to-no profit or recognition for their creators affect the way we approach them? No; but I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect my approach.