Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To Review or Not Review

Many of you have pointed out the obvious lack of reviews floating about LiE these days, and have petitioned me to get back in the reviewing swing. I suppose my posts on reviewing lack that same cutting edge as flat out doing the reviewing myself. Either way, there's a rather simple reason as to why I don't do reviews these days, though the implications of it may reach farther than I'm likely to admit. That reason is confidence.

A while back when I went to compile a list of all the reviews I've written to date and spent a little bit of time drumming through them. It was a rather turbulent experience for me as time and time again I found myself let down by what I had written. "That's what I chose to write about that movie?" I kept asking myself, and much to my dismay that's indeed what I had wrote.

Movies I sang the praises of on alternative social media platforms had reviews which felt stagnant and dull. The words I chose to use were suspicious and likely byproducts of rushed thesaurus searches. The way I organized them fell flat and lacked transition pieces which would have given them flow, and character. I felt like I was reading the writing of my childhood self all over again. For those unaware I was a terrible childhood writer, and have the evidence to prove it (locked away in a vault in a dungeon miles underground).

This was compounded by the fact that my writing outside the blogosphere was suffering as well. Late last year I got in my head that I could write a book. After all I had an endless supply of ideas for stories, so I was certain that the words would flow freely from my hands into narrative art. Not so, and it took me near on 200 pages to realize I was stuck in the mud and tirelessly spinning my wheels.

Every time I turned around I just couldn't get the right words on the page. When I'd pace around the house I could visualize each word perfectly. The flow, the organization, the timing, and yet the second I sat down in front of the computer or whipped out my handy notebook, all the life of the words would be sucked out. "Shimmering beams of the night sky" mutated into "bright dots in dark upward place."

This same feeling I began tracing throughout my reviews. The redundancy in verbiage and adjectives pushed me to the edge of sanity. "Was that a good movie with mediocre characters or a mediocre movie with good characters?" I irritatingly asked myself with each passing click of a link. No matter how I spun it, I just couldn't find a review I was proud of. Even among those reviews that I would label my best, I find more flaws than positives. For someone who has written over 1000 posts and boasts a healthy dosage of reviews, that's a difficult emotion to process. Not to mention a bit melodramatic.

There are plenty of general posts I'm proud of, and I'll be the first to admit that in many cases these posts play host to only a couple of comments, if they have any at all. Most of the time, though, they are rants, ramblings, or articles on perception in film. Posts just like this one. Sure the redundancy is still there - I'm not a vocab wizard - but there's an added element in them that I find myself wanting in many of my reviews. Passion.

Not so much passion about the movies being reviewed, or the topics being ranted upon, but rather a passion for the style of writing required to do each. Conversational posts such as ranting gear themselves so much more towards the way my brain operates, and goes through the process of analyzing. Don't ask me why my reviews seem to stubbornly push against this tide, but they all too often do. Not until I started doing rants, raves, and ramblings did this become abundantly clear to me.

I've tried changing up the way I do reviews, throwing in new spins, moving things around, and dropping pieces that were getting in the way, but that feeling is still there. It's as if there's an invisible field around reviews where I opt to write in a stringent style not becoming my flow of thoughts. Where this came about is anyone's guess, but I aim to keep trying until I find a way out of it. After all, reviewing is one of the core foundations of critical analysis. And as a champion of that, I would be hard pressed to convince myself to perform otherwise.

9 better thoughts:

Bill D. Courtney said...

Some of the best posts to read are posts were the blogger/writer is divulging, best he can, why he is unable to write anything of merit recently. Good stuff in an anxious way.

Can always write about bad movies or movies you loathe. Seems to be fun to do that when I am stuck (which is quite often). I set up a second log just to do that, to have a more sarcastic and, I hope, comically bitter voice. Gets it all out of my system so to speak.

Hang in there, you're okay.


Ryan McNeil said...

Wow, does it ever seem to be a soul-searching week amongst the movie bloggers! (Guilty, Your Honour).

Looking back and finding the flaws is natural - I've run up against that in my photography, my art, and likewise my writing. It's not just that the flaws are there and we are our own worst critics...but also that with the passing of time we become more and more discerning.

You're probably reading more criticism than you were when you started, and reading more fellow blogs too I reckon. With that added reading comes a more critical take on what you have offered.

My suggestion? When you look backwards, do so to get a bearing on how you should move forward.

Mike Lippert said...

I've been where you are before but generally the reviews that I find the most boring or uninsightful are the movies I have felt the most middle of the road about. Most of my reviews come out in a flood of passion and are written in one sitting, sometimes when a movie is neither here nor there we are left with nothing better than to go through the motions ourselves.

That being said, I don't look back and think badly of anything I've written (sometimes the spelling or grammer need tweaking) but other than that I find I mostly enjoy my work.

Of course as we grow, watch more movies, perceptions change, new ideas come through and so on. It's normal. Doesn't mean anything you wrote then was bad or wrong, you're just not the same person who wrote it.

I've always thought that the best reviews were those who struck a perfect balance between those who know what they are talking about and those who know how to write well (which I think more or less means have found a recognizable voice that runs throughout all of their work). It's so very rare to find someone who has an even balance of both. Most movie bloggers have neither so you should feel good that you've been able to find that voice.

Colin Biggs said...

At least it's not just me. I've been sitting on a review for Take Shelter because I'm afraid it won't be worth reading or be profound enough.

The posts on here have been some of the best I've read. Of course I'm guilty of not commenting afterward because I didn't feel like I had anything to add. Writing is not easy, it comes and goes in ebbs and flows.

Colin said...

"...the reviews that I find the most boring or uninsightful are the movies I have felt the most middle of the road about."
Never a truer word written. I've had terrible doubts about the quality of my writing, or lack thereof, and it almost always boils down to the fact that I couldn't give a toss about the movie I'm writing about.

What you've got to ask, I suppose, is why you're writing. Are you writing for the attention or the accolades? Is a post a success because it has thirty comments? I think not. I've looked at some sites where the 'writer' can barely string two sentences together yet gets forty comments, primarily due to his ability to 'play the game' (i.e. leave loads of meaningless comments on other websites, expecting the favour to be returned). I got bored of that really quickly and so gave up. As a consequence, the comments on my site dipped dramatically. Do I care? Probably more than I ought to, but I won't change my belief that this tit-for-tat commenting is basically just one big reacharound.

So hopefully you write for yourself, and if others read it so much the better. If it's a sort of catharsis, that's OK too. If it gets to the stage where you're losing sleep, then perhaps it's time to move on - but keep the site going for your quizzes, please :-)

I read you on RSS, so don't often comment, but I read them all - I might actually be more interested in what you think than what you think about movies.

(PS. I think reviewer and critic are two separate entities. I'm not qualified to be the latter, but the former...well, anyone can do that, and then the audience can decide whether the reviewer can be trusted.)

Colin said...

Hmm, I typed a long answer that has now disappeared... hope you can find it, because I'm not sure I could remember it all!

Robert said...

It's natural to be unhappy with your writing.

But if you're doing just that - writing - I don't think it matters if you're focusing more on one type of post.

And sometimes you can just be too critical of your work. You might be unhappy with your past reviews today but you may love them tomorrow. Just keep it up!

Will said...

Great post. It's natural to have the passion for review writing go in and out, and looking backwards at past writing is generally a painful process. I can remember being so proud of a couple of reviews from the early days of my site, but now they seem so thin and amateurish. I'm sure the stuff I'm proud of now will equally fade with time.

It's a process that has to happen if you want to get better. And the fact that you're aware of it, and not just stupidly confident shows that you know more than you are giving yourself credit for. Your writing is always thought provoking and I am often impressed. Perhaps you just haven't seen the right films lately.

Castor said...

This is completely normal... I think. I feel the same way with my reviews and this contributes to the fact that I don't review movies as often these days.

It really helps to write only about movies you really want to talk about instead of going through the motion and maybe reviewing flicks that didn't really create any strong emotions.

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