Writing About Film
The new issue of Cineaste features an interesting symposium of international film critics. Among them is the Australian Adrian Martin. The symposium pieces are not on-line, but here is an excerpt from his:
The idealistic part of me believes that writing film criticism is all about (a) encouraging people to see (or seek out) films they might not normally see, to help incite that desire; and (b) encouraging people to think a little differently about whatever films they see. Film criticism is all about 'finding an angle,' suggesting a context, and illuminating the film in a way that is not the most immediately apparent way.
For me, any film review (whether a short piece in a newspaper or a long essay for a journal) should be a kind of story fashioned from ideas, bits of description of the film at hand, indices of social and historical context, and whatever else can be jammed in there. I do not feel that either extremely positive or extremely negative criticism 'brings out the best' in a critic. It all depends — sometimes a strong passion for film can bring lucidity, and sometimes just murky assertion; sometimes the 'kick 'em till they bleed' mentality can offer a powerful polemic, and other times it merely demonstrates the critic's own narrow-mindedness. I do not ask for a spurious 'balance' of positive and negative in a review or essay; but I do ask for logic, argumentation, and back-up — not just 'gut reaction'.
Reading this today prompted some self-reflection: As time passes, it’s becoming harder for me to write straight “film reviews” (whatever they are). Looking back at reviews I wrote five years ago, I notice how hard I tried to scrub them clean of “personal” traces (personal experience, subjectivity, any visible “signs” of myself). I was striving for a neutral, third-person “invisible objectivity”, not realizing that (1) such a thing doesn’t exist, and (2) I didn’t feel comfortable writing in that mode anyway.
Not unlike a film, a piece of writing about a film has embedded and embodied in it the writer’s choices of form and style that are fused inseparably with its content. I’m becoming more conscious of this with time. Martin’s ideas above may not be all new, but I like his succinctness and clarity. And “jamming into” a review anything and everything from life that seems to productively inform one’s experience of art: personally, that makes good sense to me.