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A Note on the Notes

Since the dawn of cinema there have been critics around to berate the filmmakers, extract some contrived meaning and cast harsh judgement on those who disagree with the critics opinion. It’s strange how it works, but many people take film personally. We almost get defensive when someone doesn’t like a film that we like. “you don’t like High Fidelity or Beautiful Girls? I will punch you in the trachea.” Sorry. While it is not a personal attack to disagree over the merits of a movie, our experience with a movie is personal. At times, very personal.

When we walk into a movie theater we do not walk in as blank slates completely ready to accept anything that is projected on the screen.  We enter a theater with misinformation (or even accurate information which could be worse for a filmmaker like Michael Moore). We walk in with assumptions, expectations, attitudes influenced by the drive to the theater, the parking, the lines, the inflated prices, the horrible movie you saw two weeks ago and that God-awful smell wafting your way from the Hippie behind you in a rotting hemp poncho and vegan open-toed sandals.  So if we are going to make a determination on whether a film is good or bad we need to assess it from different angles.  A film may be “good” because it speaks to us on a personal level, but when approached with a critical mind influenced by Truffaut or Kael or by our lifetime spent escaping into the land of celluloid then it may tend toward a “bad” film.  Or vice-versa.

Roger Ebert has published anthologies of his “less than two star reviews” in books I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks. He has scathing reviews of films like Pootie Tang and Catwoman. He even famously addressed Rob Schnieder personally in a review saying, “Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”  These reviews operate under the assumption that you can definitively state whether a movie is good or bad.  We find ourselves in a bit of a logical misstep here. Can we construct a particular criteria to establish whether a movie is unequivocally good or bad?  Do we live in a world of absolutes? I have several friends that say Citizen Kane “sucks.”  But again, they didn’t like Citizen Kane because of what they brought to the viewing, which was most likely in a class in high school or undergrad film studies.

I do not believe we can have a set criteria for a good movie (although I give it a good effort in my AntiChrist review).  By what do we judge? There are as many critical approaches to film as there are films.  The famed critics of Cahiers du Cinema couldn’t even all agree on one critical approach.  Bazin and Truffaut stood at odds on their criticism of auteur filmmakers and top American critics are always emphatic in their disagreement (just take a look at Rotten Tomatoes).

We can’t ignore the various critical approaches to certain films, like The White Ribbon for example. That is a brilliant film when considered art, but fails when considering it entertainment. It’s the belief here on the Fringe that a good movie can be artistically relevant, holding true to the individual “signature” of the director while captivating a larger audience.  We just ask when a film is promoted and released as pure entertainment it not sacrifice all intelligence (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay).  The best we can do as we evaluate, critique and ramble on about film is be honest about our personal influences, give the filmmaker the benefit of doubt and respond viscerally before we respond academically (because isn’t the primary intention of art and cinema to elicit an emotional response?)  This is the main focus, not the exclusive focus, of these Notes from the Cinematic Fringe.

And when a film fails to achieve any success, at any level, we will take great pleasure in writing a scathing review, because let’s be honest, scathing reviews are as much fun to write as they are to read – see Capone’s review of The Last Airbender here.

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