The State of Movie Reviews: Art or Fast food?

Guest Author Trevor Tillman is a filmmaker and screenwriter who studied film at Academy of Art University.

“I’m not sure I want to see that. I hear it got bad reviews.” How many times have you said or heard that when deciding what movie to see? When you go to review aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, you're not given much more than a consumer guide. Most movie reviewers, including the beloved ones like Roger Ebert, typically use the bulk of their reviews to summarize the movie, and then deem whether or not you should go and see it this weekend.

Most reviews includes a star-rating or a letter grade of some kind. If it’s a negative review, you can count on a tone of snark as well. Too often are people swayed by what a group of reviewers say about a movie. These reviewers are mostly American or at least write in English, and for the most part have never formally studied film, much less made one. There are of course exceptions.

I call them “reviewers” and not “critics.” That is because criticism, in the traditional sense, is supposed to offer more insight into the mind of the critic than on the film itself. The experience of art should not be reduced to competition, or a numerical rating. Criticism should strive to offer some interpretation of the movie as a work of graphic art, while looking into the filmmakers'--and not just the director’s--craft, technique, and form.

The idea that 97 out of 100 people can't be wrong is known as a bandwagon fallacy. This is perfectly appropriate if you're discussing something that needs an objective set of rules to work--like biology or geometry. It has no place in discussions on something as subjective as art.

What people tend to do when they disagree on the merits of a certain movie, and I’m definitely guilty of it too, is use a personal opinion to attempt to refute a different personal opinion. It’s a totally useless, exhaustive exercise.

If you think the film is bad (under whatever personal parameters you set yourself to define this opinion) then that’s fine. But it is also alright for anyone else to say that the film is good, great, a masterpiece, whatever, as defined by their own tastes and interests.

All art forms, which film is, contain only the qualities or lack thereof that people put into it. How many films did you once hate but years later really enjoyed? The fact that our opinions change proves that movies, books, paintings, etc. can only be defined by an individual.

“At the end of the day, art is art. Show a hundred people something and you’ll have one hundred different fucking reactions . . . Consensus don’t make it good. Consensus just makes it fast food, or crap.” Director Kevin Smith said that in his Q&A Special Burn in Hell Kevin Smith, and it gave me a newfound respect for him.

RottenTomatoes scores, IMDb ratings, Oscars--they’re all just popular opinion...

So on this blog, you will never see me trash a movie. I've had the very special privilege of witnessing the anxiety, the sleepless nights, and the heartbreak that goes into filmmaking. Good one's really are minor miracles. Great ones are rarer than that.

I hope to encourage a re-evaluation of auteurs, particularly the downtrodden ones, and their work. The specific ones I hope to highlight each week are the ones whose work is typically derided as schlock entertainment with little artistic or intellectual content, of which I disagree.

These days the most insightful criticism I see comes from bloggers who simply love movies--all kinds. I hope to faithfully deliver my own thoughts, insights, readings, etc. Maybe we can start a discussion or two.

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