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."