A brief outlay of what goes into perceiving film criticism as one of the most misunderstood and least credited forms of entertainment journalism
Entertainment journalism is probably the least taken seriously category of journalism in most mainstream discourses on the same. People diss it off in terms of it being something that works primarily on exercising unsolicited opinions. Film critics specifically are called people whose failure at being professionals of cinema led to them choosing lives as critics who find it inherently impossible to break upon the scene as real artists. To warrant a ‘positive’ review the film itself needs to emerge from a certain generic space – preferably indie – whereas those belonging to genres more mainstream will always remain sidelined in terms of the adulaton they receive from critics (clearly people don’t read reviews coming out of film festivals).
In a post-paparazzi world, the act of recording itself has been essentially reduced to its barest levels whereby entire film reviews are just sent out through character limited tweets are limited to a string of adjectives which are incoherently strung together to create what could only be possibly labelled as a mood piece gone horribly wrong. There is much less consideration of film criticism as an evolved form of journalism that requires an in-depth understanding of the material at hand – not only on a narrative level but also in terms of technicalities such as editing, cinematography and sound – to name a few. The dilution of entertainment criticism is also largely owing to the social media boom where every person not only has an opinion but also a space to offer that opinion at; and hence opinions – mostly under-researched and unfounded, start masquerading as ‘reviews’ with no credibility.
Over the years a variety of outstanding critics (sadly mostly Western) have made their mark in the field by developing styles unique to themselves such as the balanced, seemingly objective outlook of someone like Roger Ebert, displaying a child-like joy and enjoyment of the medium as opposed to someone like Pauline Kael who took a much personal, feisty and passionate look at every film she reviewed turning her reviews of the films into as deeply personal experiences as the film itself.
Another massive negating point of film criticism is the lack of appreciating subjective standpoints. While on grounds of technicality one can take an objective stance and comment on badly edited sequences of out-of-sync sound sequences – the final response to film as a piece of art is something that is deeply individual and subjective. 2001: A Space Odyssey termed by Ebert as one of the greatest films ever made is undoubtedly two hours of technical brilliance but I am allowed to espouse my opinion with regard to how deeply boring I found the film.
Which brings us to the question of rating films. It is very easy to end an opinion piece on any film we see with a string of stars lying at the end like a discarded appendage without an universal metric system to ensure that star ratings are uniform. While people reduce the reviews to their final star ratings to have an essential understanding of the critic’s viewpoint they fail to realise that the existence of the star rating is perhaps the most subjective derivative of the act of film criticism. As Shah Rukh Khan had famously said in the first edition of the FCCA, why must our film experiences be akin to five star hotels? Can’t we do better than this?