Thursday, March 3, 2011

Temet Nosce - 'Know Thyself'

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time watching, and engaging in, film criticism and discussion, I find one of the most unique aspects of the process lies in the method one chooses to present their opinions. Some are authoritative. A "this is not my opinion, it is THE opinion" approach that tends to gravitate readers on the power of sheer self-confidence. Another approach some adopt is the objective intellectual. They don't so much as state what they like or dislike, but analyze the film from a moral or scientific standpoint, applying positives and negatives to its ability to appropriately convey the material. Whatever the method one adopts, I can safely say that few do it inexorably.

You see, I've noticed a growing trend in film criticism of the preventative review. "Well, I know lots of people liked the film, but I didn't" - or vice versa - becomes the foundation of the review itself. In essence, the reviewer is attempting to deflect potential criticism of their review with a preposition that acknowledged they are in the minority. I can't help but feel as if this is a method intended to downplay the review's own importance in the grand scheme of reviews while at the same time defending the integrity of that review. Not a double standard, but a befuddling standard all the same.

This is a very defensive position on one's own opinion. "People might not agree with me, therefore I must make it known that I don't really matter so they don't get mad." That's not reviewing, it's cowering. But it's not a unique case. Throughout the internet people feel the need to deflect and protect their opinion as if it was under constant bombardment from other people's opinions. "I didn't like X" gets met with "WELL I DID AND I DON'T CARE!!!" Who says that even if you did care, it should matter at all? Let alone, why does my not liking a film evoke such a strong need by you to declare that you did? I'm glad my opinion doesn't sway you, but simply informing me that you enjoyed the movie that I didn't more than covers our conversational needs. From there we can traverse our likes and dislikes and come to amiable, even if differing, conclusion.

However, I don't feel as if this is something that just appeared out of nowhere. Inherent in a defensive mindset is the prospect, or actuality, of an attack of some sort. And, well, you don't have to go far on the internet to find that. We love to attack anything and indeed everything. "You don't like your apples dipped in honey on the third tuesday of every sixth month? What the hell is wrong with you!?" OK that might be an extreme example, but that's just my way.

My belief is that because movies are well balanced with respect to personal and social associations, we struggle in deciphering how that should impact our opinion, especially with respect to those of others. If I enjoy bananas, I eat them and go on about my day. I don't talk to everyone about how much I love them, start a blog about my bananas, join some communities, and share a variety of banana tips. And I honestly don't know anyone who does (though I don't doubt someone does). Yet that's the difference with films. When you watch a movie, you seek out the opinions of others and begin a filtering process of what you agree and disagree with. The more extreme you find yourself from, or with, the prevailing opinions of those around you the greater the desire to speak up in offense or defense rises. It's a very natural reaction, but one I feel that's become overblown.

There are certain things I believe are perfectly arguable opinions. Politics or philosophy where there may not be a clear 'right' answer, but a logical or logistical solution may be derived through well placed criticism may be the perfect venue for an offensive/defensive approach. But I would say not films. Too often these days we've chopped at the thin line between stating one's opinion and defending it. If I say I like a movie and proceed to explain why, it's quite a different take from having to constantly defend that stance because people are unwilling, or unable, to accept it. But that's where we are. Despite our large collection of varying opinions, people still struggle (myself included) to accept certain opinions from others.

Perhaps it is because we greatly desire others to see things our way. Perhaps it's because we fear social exile should we fail to correlate strongly. Who knows. All I can say is this - please, remember, your opinion is just as valid as any other, even if they are polar opposites. With film, subjectivity has always been a crucial component, and will continue to be so. Except with me of course, because we all know I'm always right. :)

5 better thoughts:

Castor said...

I know a lot of people won't agree with what I'm about to say but that's fine because I know the truth. Arguably, it doesn't make sense that you should but indeed you should not. Nonetheless, if you may do that, then you shouldn't have to. Obviously, this would make sense but sometimes, it simply doesn't so I don't hold it against you if you disagree. Now, you may have a point but again, I don't really care that you agree with me.

Castor said...

But in all seriousness, I hopefully very rarely come off as defensive in my reviews. I certainly try to be as level-headed as possible ;)

Jack L said...

Very interesting.
I tend to agree with other film buffs most of the time so don't really feel the need to be defensive, but if I don't agree I will say so.
But amongst other people (ie. non film buffs) I find it harder, for example if we all watch a film that is quite frankly terrible, and this happens a lot, I will say that it is a bad film and when I ask them what they liked about it they will say it was cool, had good special effects, lots of action... and won't understand the more constructive criticism I may bring for they are not film buffs and do not notice such things as bad editing, plot holes, bad acting or other such aspects.
At the end of the day, I think it's far easier to state your opinion in normal terms while discussing a film with other film buffs, they will almost always understand your points even if they don't agree, such isn't the case with those who know little about film...

Sorry about the rant, but this was a very interesting and well written post!

Anonymous said...

That's a suitable photo for this topic, Uni and what a coincidence, I just rewatched The Matrix.

Hmmm, sometimes I refer to how critics or the general public feel about a given movie in my review, but it's not meant to defend my view in any way. I mean, it's impossible to agree/disagree with everyone on something as subjective as a movie. I guess I just put it out there just to give it perspective. I also encourage people to let me know their honest view about a movie, and I never expect everyone to agree with my views. There is no right or wrong opinions after all, it's all just YOUR opinion.

Sorry if my argument is not as well-written as yours, I hope you get my meaning.

Univarn said...

@Castor I do believe that in the construct of believing you have posted a comment which, therein of having done so has bestowed upon us, such an array of words that captivates through the concepts which do so in doing. :P

@Jack Well, the thing is - film buffs tend to be an oddity in this. In many instances, I've known film buffs to state a popular opinion and be very defensive about it. As if they just naturally expect to be attacked.

@Flix No need to be an apologetic writer either :). But I agree with you 100%.

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