How do you convince someone to see a (good) movie when its something they don’t normally enjoy?
Or, how can we keep people interested in seeing films beyond what they normally enjoy? How do we get people to value good films, even if those films may not be really fun and entertaining?
OK, that’s more than one question, but all three touch on a similar issue. Here’s why I think the answers to these questions are so crucial for professional critics. If moviegoers only care about seeing films they enjoy—especially those that are the same as films they’ve enjoyed in the past—I don’t think there is much use for a critic with real knowledge, insight and the ability to communicate these things effectively. The internet has allowed people to get this information fairly well; they don’t need individuals who have good taste, knowledge and discernment. And if they don’t care about good films—if good films becomes the same things as films they find entertaining—then I can’t see a bright future for serious critics.
If you agree with my basic premise, what are some answers to these questions? If you don’t agree with the premise, why not?
Write a good review? Or at least one that will make you interested.
I believe most of the time it’s usually such factors as director or cast that would attract a person from general audience to watch something completely different from their usual selection.
I personally tend to sometimes pitch the idea of such film to my friends and see if they are interested. I usually start to tell them the story from the beginning and abruptly stop on quite interesting moment. My friends, if interested, would then ask what happened next and then I tell them they should go and watch the film. They always do so, unless they don’t ask the question when I tell the beginning.
It’s a very similar approach to what De Niro did in the Last Tycoon in the following scene:
(starting from 1:00)
But who reads these days? I kid…well, maybe partially. How many people would read a long, well-written and thoughtful review of a film? I’d guess the numbers would be fairly small. Why? Because I think a lot of people want to know instantly if they should see the film or not. That’s why the thumbs up/thumbs down rating is so dang effective (same with RT and other scores).
I think people have to care a lot more about quality films and filmmaking to spend the time to read a truly good review. They have to have a desire to really understand a movie. My sense is that those individuals are in a minority, maybe even a shrinking one.
Yeah, although I would say the Academy Awards have a bigger impact.
I personally tend to sometimes pitch the idea of such film to my friends and see if they are interested. I usually start to tell them the story from the beginning and abruptly stop on quite interesting moment. My friends, if interested, would then ask what happened next and then I tell them they should go and watch the film.
Can serious critics take on this role? And how would they go about doing this effectively? (It couldn’t take too much time or it would have to be done in a very engaging way.)
The Academy Awards or the Cannes. I would much prefer the latter than Oscars, whcih have become more rating-driven lately.
I actually meant it as my personal way of giving advice. I myself doubt that would fit critics. I honestly think the review format is fine if it is meant to be a fast read. WHat I think has to change is the criteria that critics apply in judging films and writing about in their reviews. The same space they use to re-tell the plot and discuss the film production (what took place outside the bounds of the film’s content) would be better utilized, if they instead focused on writing about themes, characters, the story’s design and architecture, the film’s execution and delivery. What, how and why was there something that would grab viewers’ attention and make them hold their breath.
I just think film reviews these days have become either too structured or barely worthy of read due to bashing. Instead of following the formula, one could utilize the same space for better content when writing a review.
This is my personal opinion.
Maybe the only critics that have real sway anymore are the geek critics—Devin Faraci, Harry Knowles, et. al. A LOT of people read their thoughts on films, mainstream and (sometimes) otherwise. Granted, most of the sway is on mainstream Hollywood films, but you asked so I answered. I don’t think it’s possible for any critic to convince a non-arthouse dude to see an arthouse flick.
Faraci, Knowles and others are probably the last ones whose reviews I will ever read again, to be honest.
“Critics” do have some sway I think, it is just a marginal thing where it might come down to choosing between two films one is more or less equally interested in or to very small groups having a particular rapport with a given critic. There are so many critics out there, and since so many viewers already have strong opinions limiting their receptivity to that which lies outside their normal “range” that the effect is going to be largely negligible unless there is either a broad base of agreement between most critics or some fierce disagreement. It’s mostly the latter which people might be more likely to read anything at length and only after seeing the movie. Which is really the point of a critic, to discuss, in depth and detail, a shared experience, not to plug movies. It’s unfortunate that the hack reviewer has become synonymous with “critic” since they share little in common. Critics aren’t going to be popular because they are asking for an investment of time and thought, reviewers are just trying to get page views.
What do you think about a different model for a critic to interact with a wide audience? Good film critics can write blogs, but if the blog is all film and all serious, then the readership will probably be pretty small and mostly people who are already serious about film.
But you’ve read Andrew Sullivan right? He has a huge readership and a few people to help him out. You cannot add comments to posts, but he puts up a lot of reader feedback. So what if somebody who was a solid writer on film wrote regularly for Sullivan? Sullivan and his crew could then select some good reader comments to post as part of a “continuing discussion” and there could be some back and forth that way. The original post would not be “a long, well-written and thoughtful review of a film”; it would be a short, well-written and thoughtful review with some more follow up later.
Sullivan has a loyal readership, so a platform like his could bring more challenging films to lot of people. If Sullivan was willing to engage with a film and the critic, so would many of his readers.
It’s really a matter of how you approach the topic.
“Hey, you HAVE to see this film, it’s so much better and more intelligent than the crap you watch.” — They will not see it and will label you a snob.
(After a discussion about films you both like) “Hey, have you seen this film? It’s kind of slow paced but it’s really cool, if you get a chance you should see it.” —They might see it sometime
Pique their interest without sounding like you’re criticizing them for not being interested.
“How do you convince someone to see a (good) movie when its something they don’t normally enjoy?”
Disagree that this is (or should be) a primary goal of criticism.
“critical judgment is a derelict appendage.”
“I think one of the problems with my early criticism is that it assumes you’re supposed to be able to follow everything and then get this meaning of a scene. I don’t see how or why anyone should be expected to get the meaning of an event in a movie or a painting. That’s a place where criticism goes wrong: it keeps trying for the complete solution. I think the point of criticism is to build up the mystery. And the point is to find movies which have a lot of puzzle in them, a lot of questions.”
Maybe the goal of criticism isn’t to convince someone to see a good movie when it’s something s/he wouldn’t like—but I think this is a question (or the others I asked) is an important one. Basically, I don’t think film criticism will be relevant or have a lot of value if the majority of moviegoers only want to find movies that entertain them.
I don’t see how or why anyone should be expected to get the meaning of an event in a movie or a painting. That’s a place where criticism goes wrong: it keeps trying for the complete solution. I think the point of criticism is to build up the mystery. And the point is to find movies which have a lot of puzzle in them, a lot of questions.
I like the quote, but I’m not sure I entirely agree. I don’t think criticism has to explain the meaning of every scene, and I like the idea of “building up” or preserving the mystery of films—depending on what we mean by “mystery.” For example, if by “mystery” Farber means “incoherence” or “confusion” (which I don’t think he means), then I would disagree with him. I think criticism should try to help viewers understand a film, especially those that aren’t easy to understand (e.g., Mullholland Drive, Beau Travail, etc.)
But I think this is another issue. If moviegoers aren’t interested in seeing films beyond what normally entertains them, film criticism won’t be so relevant. (i.e., be relevant for a small niche). Do you disagree with that?
I think we’re already there. I suspect film criticism really lost the last shreds of its relevance within the last 10 years.
I agree with Matt, that a critic shouldn’t necessarily exist to convince people to see a movie, and with the current trend of quantifying the quality of movies with as little thought as possible I think the written words of critics would be impotent to do so anyway.
I feel film criticism (mostly) is dead, and we need to move on to the next thing, which I think would be a healthy revival of true cinephilia. I think us lovers of cinema need to step up our game, and truly be involving and enlightening each other about the films of the world. I suspect there’s much more potential for growth within the world film community among the lovers of film than the millions of bloggers who call themselves critics simply repeating the same sentences as everyone else, but merely with a different word order.
“For example, if by “mystery” Farber means “incoherence” or “confusion” (which I don’t think he means) . . .”
Right, that’s not what he means. He means more a sense of a definite-ness about the film where everything can’t be pinned down and every question answered.
“If moviegoers aren’t interested in seeing films beyond what normally entertains them, film criticism won’t be so relevant.”
Tough question because, aside from basic film reviewing perhaps, film criticism is mostly irrelevant to most people anyway. Even people who are only interested in endless variations of the same experiences they’ve already had still will need a description of a film they haven’t seen to determine if it’s something like “normally entertains them.” You’re either going to get that description from someone who’s seen it, or you’re going to get it from advertising. Plenty of people are willing to just go with whatever is packaged for them most effectively, and some people are perfectly willing to rely on word-of-mouth from their social circles and such.
Easy- If i recommend a film to a person who declines to see it I do not mind and usually never recommend a film to that person again.
He means more a sense of a definite-ness about the film where everything can’t be pinned down and every question answered.
Well, I don’t think a critic needs to pin down everything. But I suspect Farber and I might disagree slightly on the “definite-ness” issue. I believe critics should get to the core of what a film is about and what it’s trying to do—especially for difficult to understand films (e.g., 2001, etc.). This is related to making a compelling case for why a film is good and worth seeing—or, the opposite, why a film isn’t any good and not worth seeing—both of which are important functions of a critic, imo. When a critic talks about what a film is about, in a way, this gets at the “definite-ness” of a film. But I think this is inevitable for a good critic. Moreover, I don’t think taking this stance signifies that there is one and only one reading of the film.
The professional critic may not convince moviegoers to see a movie, but it sounds like you’re saying cinephiles should now take on that role. In any event, I’m concerned if more and more moviegoers lose interest in seeing films beyond what normally entertains them. If this attitude exists in only a small number of people, I don’t think knowledgeable critics will serve a relevant function in the larger society.
@Jirin and Francisco
You guys are talking about things an individual can do to encouage others to see good films—which is good thing. But I’m more concerned about the general level of interest and attitude towards films. Are most moviegoers going to look for the same entertaining experience, OR will a significant number have some level of curiosity and interest in films that are well-done, but challenging and different? Will they also have some degree of interest in good art (which can include Hollywood movies)? If not, I think good critics will lose their relevance.
Basically you’re suggesting critics to piggyback on blogs that have a big readership, right? It’s an interesting idea and worth a try. I’m thinking of the issue in a broader way—namely can we get movigoers to care about and be interested in good movies, not the same entertainment they’re used to. When I think family members and friends, most of them mostly want to films that they will enjoy (which probably doesn’t stray too far from what they’ve seen before). On the other hand, many of these people place some importance on something like the Academy Awards, which is a sign of quality—something signifying good movies—and there is an interest in that, I think. So I think there’s hope.
But I think critics have to tap into and foster this, and I don’t the current parameters for film reviews allows for this.
“But I suspect Farber and I might disagree slightly on the “definite-ness” issue.”
Read you some Farber and see.
I have read some, mostly from the links and references you listed, I believe. I’m more of a Big Game guy so I think we see things slightly differently.
Btw, his stuff is not easy to get a hold of. (I’m pretty sure the Hawai’i public library system doesn’t carry any of his stuff.)
I agree with you. My point was that it’s something that has already happened. Knowledgeable critics already serve no relevant function in larger society. We have moved beyond it, and I think perhaps the whole field of film criticism (or at least a large portion of it) is entirely superfluous. Which is why we cinephiles need to fill that void, and push each other to see more and more great films even if out of our normal “niche.”
Honestly, I think it is simply a question of laziness. Many people are too lazy to think and thus need to be stimulated physically. Therefore, they appreciate movies that give strong feelings (whether melodramas, action, horror….etc), yet are too lazy when it comes to using their mind to think about more abstract films. It is just like visual arts: some people only like photo-realism because of its aesthetic qualities and don’t want to think about abstract art. Abstract film, abstract art, requires one to dedicate a part of himself to the work, because you are internalizing it and drawing your own conclusions, developing your own ideas in addition to those of the creator of the work, and you are learning and deducing things by yourself. Abstract art of all types serves a mirror function in addition to the communication of the ideas of the creator. Now, if you want people to go see these movies, the change, that is, overcoming the laziness, must be made by that person or else he will be “bored” because of the lack of physical stimulation, while his mind will continue to block and resist thought through his own laziness. Perhaps philosophy classes can help people overcome mental laziness. Or even just good discussion, reading and interpreting poetry too. The thing is that you must have the WILL. With the will, everything else will come along.
I hate to say it, but you could be right.
Which is why we cinephiles need to fill that void, and push each other to see more and more great films even if out of our normal “niche.”
Well, I think knowledgeable critics could help do the same thing, right?
Seeing and appreciating films that you’re not used to can be difficult and unpleasant. Are people lazy for not working through these difficulties? I guess you could say that. My feeling is that people in these situations need help—help that competant critics could provide. You talk about “will,” and I agree this is really important. Individuals have to have an interest in understanding films they’re unfamiliar with. But here’s the thing: I don’t think critics write in a way to make people feel the effort would be worth it. How often do you read a review that really turns on the lightbulb? We all know of great films that leave us utterly perplexed—not just in terms of why the film is considered great but also understanding the film. My feeling is that if critics offered clearly showed why these films are great as well as helped individuals understand the films, I think more people would be willing to do the work. What do you think?
To be honest, I only like reading critiques after I have seen a film just to see what someone else thought of it! I really don’t think it is the job of the critics to determine what is good about a film; a critic gives his own opinion, explaining why HE thought the film was good and offering his own insight. The critic’s opinion will ALWAYS be subjective. You can’t decide or try to make people see what is good in a film; the person has to be able to arrive to that conclusion by himself, through his own thought journey. Trying to make people agree with your subjective opinion is facism. For example: I do not like “Paris, Texas” or “Goodfellas.” I have viewed them, analysed them, interpreted them, perceived them, and I have come to the conclusion that they are bad films. Other people hail them as masterpieces, yet I hate these films. I am not wrong, I am not right. The “goodness or badness” of a film is a purely subjective matter. No one can make me change my subjective opinion. What is important is to be OPEN to the thought process, and likewise, open to all sorts of art.
_You can’t decide or try to make people see what is good in a film; the person has to be able to arrive to that conclusion by himself, through his own thought journey. _
But don’t you think you need help sometimes? I remember I read a review of Altman’s The Player. I was in my early twenties at the time, and the review pointed out all the references and movie-jokes—that I was completely oblivious to. It really opened my eyes to what was going on and I appreciated the movie a lot more because of that.
As for “rightness” or “wrongness” of an opinion, let me say a few things. If you don’t think a well-regarded film is great, that is your right. You shouldn’t be made to feel bad or stupid because you don’t think the film is great. On the other hand, I don’t think making a case for one’s judgmen—that a film is great or terrible—is fascist at all. It’s what makes for an interesting and meaningful discussion about films, imo. Finally, I do think some readings of films can be so off-base or inappropriate as to almost be “wrong.” There’s a good recent example involving my reading of Brave. Greg showed me an article that basically laid waste to my reading—to the point where I’m close to saying she was “right” and I was “wrong.”
I was thinking of more than just “piggyback on blogs that have a big readership”. I was thinking in particular of blogs where the host works had to cultivate a sense of community and the readers thus feel a personal connection. (I don’t read him often, but I think maybe Ta-Nehisi Coates has done something like with his book club.)
But an engaged blog host could be the bridge to get some of the readers to take on a film that is outside their usual fare. And the resulting discussion would help give them some context and perspective on what they saw so that they might be willing to try the next one too.
I helped someone once….they never forgave me.
I see what you’re saying. My main concern would be a “group-think” that can occur in communities like this, but maybe my concern isn’t warranted.
The process I developed for trying to steer people straight as a rental store clerk wouldn’t work as a critic.
Those people don’t read.
What that does open up, however, is the possibility of some sort of multi-level marketing (mlm) style criticism. One conversation I had a million times if I had it once, was:
“Is this movie good?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Well my friend said it was good. So I guess I’ll check it out.”
In the end, ‘my friend’ convinced more sales than I ever could.
Many marketers are trying to develop various methods of using social networking to do the same. Maybe critics need in the act in some manner.
If they can convince in 140 characters or less……………