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Sunday, November 12, 2006



I just went to the cinema, and when I came home, I read some reviews of the film I'd just seen. Naming no names, I'm once again in a bad mood about critics who get over-excited about metafiction.

Here's the thing. The film had a twisty plot, and also elements of performance that gave the critic the chance to talk about the artificiality of film as a medium. Guess which one he decided to go on about? That's right: film. He got so worked up about it that he pretty much neglected to wonder whether or not the twisty plot, which was what the performance parts of the story were there to drive forward, was actually well rendered. Which is to say that, as a reviewer, he stopped doing his job. Was the film worth seeing? Based on what he had to say, who knows? He got a sniff of metafictional abstraction, and, like an addled bloodhound, dashed away to track something totally off the point.

The closest he got to talking about it, and thing that really rang the bell, was the following remark: he said, in effect, that audiences want to feel neither patronised, nor outwitted by a superior intelligence.

But that's exactly what I do want. I don't want to be patronised, but I do want to be outwitted, especially when I'm watching a film or reading a book that depends on a twisty plot. I like plots that lead me astray and then startle me by being cleverer than I was. If the author can't stay ahead of me, then there's no point: why pay to be surprised by something that isn't surprising?

My critic friend, on the other hand, didn't seem to like the idea that anyone might be cleverer than him. His ideal seemed to be an erudite discourse between film-maker and audience as to the nature of the medium they were partaking of. If I wind up watching films like that, I want my money back.

Not all critics take this line. I hasten to point out that I'm not railing against critics en masse - there's a lot of intelligent people writing criticism and reviews, and I enjoy reading good ones - but it's a pretty reliable indicator that, if a reviewer gets worked up about the abstract implications as to art in a particular piece, they won't tell you anything helpful about whether it's actually good or not - or if they do, it'll be hard to judge whether their enthusiasm is proportional to the work reviewed, or to the ideas they had when starting to write about it. Possibly it's a good film, or possibly they just liked the opportunites it gave them to talk about film; it's hard to tell. And that's neglecting to do your job in favour of mulling about it, like an actor who comes on-stage and starts talking to you about the Method instead of delivering his lines. I like reviewers who actually review. Go to www.rottentomatoes.com and find the sensible-sounding ones, is my advice.


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