What is a Film Critic?: My Philosophy in Progress

Are Statler and Waldorf from THE MUPPET SHOW your idea of good critics?  

What is a film critic? 

Often, people ask this question, and it's something I have asked myself. In our changing world, anyone with internet access can write their opinion about a movie and press the publish button. But what is a true film critic. What should they do? Here are my current thoughts about the answer. It's possible my thoughts will change again, but here is where I land.  

Film critics should be historians. They should work to understand the history of film and be able to put a movie into context as part of an ongoing conversation with what has come before. No, you don't and can't watch every movie ever made, but it's your job to be aware of the way movies have developed over time. Doing this can be important as it allows you to recognize a film for being not just as a story unto itself but rather as a response to a story that was made long ago.

Film critics should be interpreters. Rather than just say, "This film is good and entertaining," they can recognize what a film is trying to do and what techniques are being used to bring the story to life. It's a way of recognizing the talent and skill that has gone into doing something. Even if a movie isn't fully successful, a film critic can recognize if certain aspects were done with skill.

Film critics should be coaches and encouragers to film makers. Going back to two, if you are going to disparage someone's work or say something doesn't work, you should be able to point out why so that if someone wants to improve they have direction after reading your review. Writing a review just to tear someone or their work apart and show off how much you know isn't film criticism -- it's smear journalism and takes zero effort. 

Film critics should be lovers of cinema. They should be in love with the format and believe in it. This is why I think #3 is important. There are film critics who don't really love movies, but they have learned people will read their stuff by and do it just to get clicks or notoriety for the work they really want to do. 

Film critics should be publicists and advocates. They should work to bring good stories worth watching to light. Sure I could spend all my time reviewing blockbusters, but plenty of people do that. I can use my voice to amplify the stories I think are worth knowing that might not be in the spotlight. 

Michael Venus' SLEEP elements of German folklore in plot.

Film critics should be researchers. When watching a movie, they should work to research who made it, why they made it, and who was in it to better understand the filmmaker's intent. I recently watched a movie at a film festival called Sleep. On the surface, it looked like a horror movie inspired by The Shining. But there were some words said and concepts introduced that I didn't recognize. It turned out that a lot of those elements were based on German folklore. As an American, I didn't have the knowledge to be able to appreciate that. But after reading up on the matter, I was able to understand and appreciate the picture on a deeper level.

This concludes my current philosophy of film criticism. Feel free to leave comments on how you see the matter. 

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