Friday, December 01, 2006

The Critic On Your Corner

I really wanted to contribute something of substance to Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-thon. I didn't think it would be that hard because, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a "cinemaniac." I love movies. I love watching them, I love thinking about them and I love talking about them. How hard could it to be to find something eloquent and thought-provoking to say about film criticism?

As it turns out, I found I had tremendous difficulty coming up with something that completely satisfied me. Part of the problem was that I don't often think that much about "film criticism" itself so much as I think about films. This is not to suggest that I don't think film criticism is unimportant because I think it is incredibly important, just as I think films are incredibly important, but I could talk forever about films (I have often wondered why I don't just "bite the bullet" and change my blog to a "film blog"). Yet, talking about how I talk about films is a little trickier. Slowly I began to realize that my entry was, as usual, going to have to be highly personal and coming from a completely subjective perspective (lately I find most of my blogs are like that).

Looking at some of the other contributions in this Blog-a-thon I coudn't help but feel that I was a little out of my league. Unlike a lot of other people in the film criticism blogosphere, I do not write for any sort of publication, I do not attend film festivals (for time and financial reasons) and I have never met anybody famous (except for that one bizarre night when Ben Stein walked through the door). I'm just an ordinary guy who loves movies and who works in a local video store: a small, independently-owned video store that's trying to survive in a world filled with Blockbusters and Hollywoods. And yet, despite my lack of qualifications, I do consider myself a "film critic" and there are two reasons.

First off, I have been working in the video business for over 13 years. I grew up in the video business. My father was one of the first people in the video business. I am not saying all this to brag. I'm simply trying to make a point about how much time I've had to think about what it means to work in a video store and one of the things I have learned is that it automatically makes you, in the eyes of the customer, a film critic. This is a phenomenon that I have observed quite a bit and it has caused me some dismay because there is an assumption behind it that I find more than a little frightening: namely, that because you work somewhere, you must be an expert in whatever subject your work is. This, of course, could not be more untrue. Being behind the counter in a video store doesn't necessarily mean I know anything about movies and it certainly doesn't make me an expert. In fact, it doesn't give me any authority wnatsoever. A person doesn't even have to like movies very much (or even watch movies really) to end up working in a video store. It would certainly be preferrable, but it is not always the case. It is especially not the case in a corporate video store where the hiring practices leave much to be desired.

As I began to realize that a lot of people were looking to me for advice in which movies to watch, it ocurred to me that this was an enormous amount of power to have. I wasn't just the merchant, I was the guide. I didn't just point people to where the movies were, most of the time I was pointing them toward which movies to get. Sometimes I wonder if people listen more to the guy at their local video store than they do to Rex Reed or Richard Roeper. Anyway, I realized that it was a great responsibility and I resolved to take it very seriously. I still do.

The second reason I consider myself a film critic (and I know this is not going to be a terribly original, deep or surprising revelation) is because I really consider everybody a film critic. Granted, there are an awful lot of disciplines involved in being a good film critic, or at least a professional film critic, but I would argue that, ultimately, anyone who watches a movie and has an opinion on it is a film critic. This means, I think, that everyone has to take on some degree of responsibility in learning what they can about movies... and not just "what they like," but about their language, aesthetics and history. Not everyone has to become Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert, but trying to deny the fact you're, in some way, a film critic would be like trying to deny that you're a philosopher. The truth is that everyone is a philosopher because everyone has their own philosophy on life. As a wise man once said "You're either a philosopher or you're drug addict," meaning that either you think about life or you just move from one distraction to the next. Well, I would like to offer my own amended version of that quote:

"You're either a film critic..... or you're dead."

12 comments:

Gareth said...

The first serious job I ever had was in a video store, at the age of seventeen, and I was always amazed by the number of people who explicitly solicited my advice, asking for "more films like that one", or "something to watch with my boyfriend", or a "a really GOOD horror movie". Almost every suggestion I made (on the basis of these requests) was accepted, which, as you say, places a remarkable amount of power in the hands of the front-line staff.

In my case, too, it sparked a desire to read about and see as many films as I could from the shop's pretty decent (if very mainstream) selection, although until I read your post it never occurred to me that I was, in some way, occupying a position not dissimilar to that of a critic, filtering products for the customers.

Great post: it brought 1991-1993 back in a flash!

Damian said...

Thanks, Gareth. I'm glad it brought back some memories for you. Hopefully they were pleasant ones. Incidentally, I enjoyed your contribution to the blog-a-thon as well. :)

Burbanked said...

One of my first jobs was delivering pizza, which I guess makes me an expert in the ages-old "sausage vs. pepperoni" debate.

Excellent post and a delightful perspective on the concept of the "everyman critic" who truly is on the front lines of what the video store population choose to make popular - or don't. It'd make for an interesting marketing study if anyone was ever inclined to do so.

Damian said...

I agree, Burbanked. It would make an interesting study. Thanks for the kind words.

andyhorbal said...

Damian, thanks for particpating in the 'thon and thanks for your wonderful post! I'm thrilled that someone choose to examine the idea of "Everybody's a critic," while in the process addressing the popular sentiment that to be a critic you must actually be a critic. To clarify: I think many people do treat their local video store proprietor and the clerks there as critics, without giving them due credit for their knowledge and helpfulness!

Cheers to this tribute to video store clerk, the great unsung hero of the movies!

Damian said...

Thanks, Andy. I enjoyed being able to contrubute something to your Blog-a-Thon and I really enjoyed reading the other entries. Thank you once again for having one. :)

Incidentally, I've decided to seek out the other book on cinema that you mentioned: Film Art by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson.

Tucker said...

Great post Damian.

As you know, I worked for some time at a video store and had much the same experiences as you. In fact, it was quite good for me because I was studying film in grad school and the video store kept my feet on the ground a bit. It is easy to become a film snob - there are so many great and obscure films that one doesn't have to go far to become someone who likes films that the ordinary Joe hasn't even heard of - and then taking it to the level of self-importance. And being in grad school "schooled" me many of the theoretical concepts of film aesthetics, etc. Working at the video store helped me to see ordinary films - and even great films - through the eyes of the so-called "unschooled." This helped me to see myself as really being just like anyone else. I like certain films, even "art" films for often the same reason as others like the films they like.

And, of course, I agree with you that everyone is, in some way, a film critic. Just saying that you like or don't like a film, and especially being able to say something about why you like or don't like the film, is the foundation of film criticism.

Film Art is a great book too!

Damian said...

Somehow, Tuck, I knew that you would be familiar with this book that Andy had mentioned. I also knew that you had worked in a video store at one time, because I remember we used to joke about ideas we each had for a movie being set in a video store. I'm still working on that BTW.

Incidentally, I did get around to reading that book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster by William Buckland and I thought it was quite good. He does some nice analysis of Spielberg's work. Since his goal was to place Spielberg's blockbuster movies on the same level as his more "serious" films, he didn't go into Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan or Munich nearly as much as much as I wanted, but I understand that because it just wasn't part of intent. Still, I would've at least liked to have seen him devote more to E.T. (one of Spielberg's most popular and most personal projects). He kinds of glosses over it rather quickly in a chapter which he also uses to discuss Poltergeist (which was done around the same time). Nonetheless, I can recommend the book.

雪花 said...

福~
「朵
語‧,最一件事,就。好,你西...............................................................................................................................-...相互
,以讓>它使...................

Adi said...

Oes Tsetnoc one of the ways in which we can learn seo besides Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa. By participating in the Oes Tsetnoc or Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa we can improve our seo skills. To find more information about Oest Tsetnoc please visit my Oes Tsetnoc pages. And to find more information about Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa please visit my Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa pages. Thank you So much.
Oes Tsetnoc | Semangat Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa

dfadf said...

Microsoft Office
Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Office 2010 key
Office 2010 download
Office 2010 Professional
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010

dfadf said...

Microsoft Office
Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Office 2010 key
Office 2010 download
Office 2010 Professional
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010