A Gap in the Experience of Light and Sound

Not so very long ago I watched a film which I very much enjoyed. It hadn’t received the most positive reviews, but it was a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable experience. It made me want, in a sharing kind of way, to tell people about how much I had enjoyed it. I really shouldn’t have bothered.

“I’ve heard it’s not very good” was the response. Well that’s no good. I’m not saying that everyone should go and see every film which is suggested to them; nor am I saying that the views of others should not be taken in to consideration. What I am saying is simple: “Listen to me, for god’s sake!”

If someone tells me a film, an album, a book is brilliant, even though I’ve heard pretty awful reviews, I ask them why: I genuinely want to know. (n.b. I must point out that if someone tells me I “have to” see a particular film; I will likely avoid it on principle. Still not seen ‘Igby Goes Down’ for that reason.)

A person going against the grain of the prevailing consensus pricks my ears for some reason. Have they seen something here that everyone else has overlooked? Have they found deeper levels, or just been able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy something as pure entertainment for a change?

I’ve felt this for quite some time now: some films are immune to criticism. While some film fans are behaving like amateur film critics, others prefer to see films as entertainment. This leads to people going in their droves to see films which others, especially professional film reviewers, have panned. How else can we explain Pirates of the Caribbean? Why else is Bond still such a successful franchise?

Over the last decade I have started to see in myself a growing lack of faith in criticism. I still watch and read a lot of film reviews; I just have a degree of distrust in what the reviews contain. There have been many occasions when I have listened to a perfectly accurate dissection of a film, picking out each of its myriad negative aspects, but where I have really enjoyed watching the film itself.

Film reviewers are experts in the description and appraisal of cinema, but they seem to occasionally miss the point: sometimes we just need bright lights on a pale screen, in a darkened room; cinema as pure, unadulterated escape from the drudgery of existence. It’s as if reviewers have watched (and studied) too many films to be able to see them on this basic level anymore. It is a job after all.

At this point I would like to introduce some aspect of peril or crisis in to my discussion. “How do we square the circle of enjoyment versus craft?” “Does a film need to be well made to be enjoyable?” That kind of thing. I don’t want to do that. This is my crisis, not the crisis of cinema or criticism.

I find myself divided: I need to see some kind of effort, or I feel like I’m being taken for a ride. A bit of shaky scenery here and there isn’t going to bother me, as long as it doesn’t jar. For some people, a little jarring is too much to handle, and they take to their high horses in tiny numbers to whine.

It’s this whining, this whinging, this mealy-mouthed mewling that I find myself having a huge issue with. Sometimes the internet is simply an echo-chamber for negativity, and the negative views of a small minority set like opinionated concrete. A few disgruntled YouTubers will render a perfectly well-performing film a flop by reputation alone. See the recent Batman/Superman film for example.

Just because a film is poorly received by a minor sect of gobshites does not mean it has performed poorly, even though that is what will more than likely be reported. Once reported, it becomes truth.

There is no such thing as truth, at least not when it comes to taste. Taste is subjective, and cannot be nailed down as ‘that which is unequivocally good’. Hence, the inevitability of backlash when a film seems to be universally lauded: there will always be some people for whom it simply does not work.

I want to say that we should stop listening to professional film reviewers, that they are looking at films from a purely academic level, and ignoring the other, visceral, levels of sheer entertainment. But I can’t: I value their insight too much, and I spend too much time watching/reading their views.

I want to say that the whiny opinonates on the internet need to wind their necks in and stop spoiling films for the rest of us, with their absurdly high expectations, and their need to lead the zeitgeist of critical appraisal. But I can’t: what else would I watch on YouTube? Cat videos? Heaven forfend.

I want to be able to get simple, factual advice on the films out there. I want to know if I’m going to enjoy it, whether I should spend a fortune to be in a dark room with a bunch of loud strangers, who seem intent on spoiling my every viewing experience. But I can’t: there is no psychic reviewer.

Do we risk getting to the point where professional reviewers are no longer needed? I don’t think so. How else would we find films which challenge us? How else would we discover five hour long, black and white documentaries about lost civilisations in the rainforest? How else would we discover one-shot Russian time-travelling Counts, immersed in a world of art, dancing and historic upheaval?

For most people, such films will fall by the wayside: they’re simply not as enjoyable, as escapist, as entertaining as they expect from a viewing experience. We all look for different things, and there is not a single critic out there who can give everything to everyone: their reviews would be too bland for words. On the other hand, they would be quoted on every film poster and in every trailer.

Without advertising we would not know the existence of any products. Without exercising our own judgement we’d end up consuming everything at once or nothing at all. Without guidance we would not be able to make rational and informed choices. There is room for advice, but I for one need to remember that all advice is flawed. And insisting that I “have to” watch something is just nonsense.