Matt's Blog

What Is The Point Of Being A Critic?


This week’s blog has turned out to be bigger than my Olympic Games tribute last year so let’s get to it…

 

The Crucible

 

I’m mentioning this as it leads into my discussion for the week.

 

The Crucible is the current production from the Queensland Theatre Company.  It opened a week and a half ago and a review from opening night was posted on the website of the Brisbane Times by Katherine Feeney (otherwise known as CityKat).  Her review was scathing.  Feeney said “powerful moments of fragile vulnerability are drowned out by yawning dullness”, “moments of high drama seem contrived and uncomfortable” and “the audience is left with awkward embarrassment”.  You can read her full review here.

 

I first picked up on the review through Brett Debritz’s website.  You can see his own thoughts on the matter at: http://www.debritz.net/node/2039.

 

What’s interesting though are the comments from the public which have been posted on the Brisbane Times website in response to Feeney’s article.  Here’s a sample…

 

The review reminds me of something an academic who couldnt otherwise get a job in the real world would write. You know, the sort of people that want everyone to think they are smart because of their oh so laa-dee-dah intellectual prose. There is this phenomenon called "Plain English" now luvvy, suggest you try it some day because these days, everyone just thinks youre a, well, wanker ;)

 

I am quite familiar with the play, and was thrilled with the freshness, modernity and texture of the production. So it seemed for much of the opening night crowd. I don't know where your "awkward embarrassment" was.  You wield a big stick KF. I think that whooshing sound might be you missing your mark.

 

I was there on opening night and what I saw was a brilliant, heart-breaking and refreshing production of what is one of my favourite plays of all time.  What Brisbane needs is better critics who review the show they watched. Not the one they wanted to.

 

Oh nonsense! At best this scrap of pretentious reviewing is at best naive, and at worst just plain ignorant.  Sorry, get an experienced reviewer or one that can present a balanced view if you want to be taken seriously by those who know their theatre.

 

After the savage attack back on Feeney, a few then came to her defence…

 

“I can't help but agree with the reviewer. I saw this production early into its run and was extremely disappointed

 

I thank this reviewer for their bravery to not hop on the bandwagon and to tell it how she saw it.”

 

“It really troubles me City Kat, for the very crime of disagreeing with the overall (and rather self-congratulatory) consensus that this production was "a triumph", and (eek!) not being a 'legitimate' theatre reviewer is being pillorised online - on this discussion thread as well as others.  My god. I reckon that back in Salem it is these people who'd be screaming 'witch witch'. Is going against the majority still enough to get you hanged in this day and age?”

 

I’d been keen to see the play but the controversy tipped me over the edge and ensured that I would.  I struggled to round up my usual posse of friends so I saw it on my own at the Saturday matinee in a packed theatre.

 

I really liked it.  I’m no theatre critic (although it would be cool) and I’ve only seen two other productions this year, but I am familiar with the story.  I saw a cinematic version of The Crucible in 1997.  It starred Daniel Day Lewis, Joan Allen and Winona Ryder and earned an A grading.

 

Arthur Miller’s story is timeless if you ask me and I enjoyed the way it was presented on stage by the QTC.  There were some very intense scenes and a few light hearted moments to mix things up.  I loved the set and lighting also.

 

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, The Crucible is still on until November 14 at the Playhouse (a very nice theatre I might add).  You can find out more at http://www.qldtheatreco.com.au/.

 

I’m also excited about next year’s QTC program – including The Little Dog Laughed, Fat Pig and The Clean House.  My conversion from the big screen to the live stage will continue…

 

 

A Critic’s Role?

 

This debate regarding The Crucible has left me thinking – what is the role of a critic?  I think it’s easy to articulate to summing it up in four simple points…

 

Point 1:  Promotion

 

I’ve never seen a film which was unanimously liked or disliked.  We’re all different people and we’re all going to take something different away from a film.  Even if two moviegoers are similar, they may still see a film differently based on the mood they’re in at the time.  For example, it’s tough to get excited about a film if you’re tired or have had a long day at work.

 

So I do see my role as important in terms of “promotion”.  Through my website and though the ABC, I try to get people interested in going to the movies.  It’s that simple.  There are some awesome ways for the people of Brisbane to experience an art form (movies, plays, musicals, concerts) but they often don’t know they’re on.

 

Point 2:  Expanding Horizons

 

Everyone always knows when a big blockbuster is showing.  The stars appear on television talk shows and magazine covers.  Posters adorn bus stations and the insides of movie theatres.  Trailers and other advertisements dominate the smaller screen.  I speak of films like Transformers, Star Trek and the upcoming New Moon.

 

I’ve said this numerous times before but my review of these films is meaningless.  I could give New Moon an F-grading (please note I haven’t seen it yet – I’ve got a preview next week) but I don’t think it would stop a single person from seeing it.  In this regard, there’s not a lot I can do as a critic.  My promotion of the film serves little purpose since everyone knows its out anyway.

 

I prefer telling people about a smaller film that’s currently in movie theatres which has received little-to-no advertising.  I like to promote low-budget Australian films which blossoming stars.  I like to get people to film festivals as a way of opening their eyes – so many movies are made and yet we find ourselves drawn to the big action blockbusters through the manipulation of the media and Hollywood studios.

 

I hope that my positive reviews of some smaller, unheralded films have served a purpose and expanded people’s movie-going horizons.

 

Point 3:  Offer Insight

 

I sometimes slip up on this point (especially for films I don’t like) but a good review should offer insight.  Given that a critic sees so many films, they should be able to pick up on details which others may not.  When I watch Margaret and David on At The Movies (two incredibly experienced critics), they often say something which leaves me thinking “you know, they’re right, I can’t believe I didn’t realise that.”

 

It’s like anything in life – we learn through experience.  If I spoke to a leading theatre critic following The Crucible, then I’m sure I would have listened intently.  This is a person who has seen countless performances and would likely have good taste.

 

In my own movie reviews, I try to include titbits of information and quotes from actors/directors which readers might find interesting.  This can be particularly so after someone has seen a movie.  You can then read back on a review and think – “ah, I didn’t know that’s what the direction was trying to achieve.”

 

Point 4:  Generate Discussion!

 

The above three points all lead into what I think is the most important – generating discussion.  Disagreeing about a movie can be really fun.  I’ve had plenty of chats this year regarding Transformers.  It was a film I didn’t like for reasons which can you read in my own review.  But I’ve spent a lot of time debating its merits with other people – some who liked it and others who didn’t.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  It’s great to talk about, to interact with people.

 

After I saw Capitalism: A Love Story, I had lunch with two friends and we debated it for a solid hour.  I have another friend who loves the movie Swordfish (I hated it) and we stir each other up about it whenever we get the chance.  When I saw 25 Down (the theatrical show covered in another of my blogs), I went to dinner with friends afterwards and we broke it down in great detail.

 

Discussing our favourite movies, songs, books, plays, musicals, artists… it’s part of the richness of life.  It explains who we are and what we stand for.  I love it.

 

Having gone through all of that, perhaps I should be grateful to CityKat.  I disliked her opinion but it inspired me to go see The Crucible even more.  There you go.

 

 

Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Musicals & Action/Adventure

 

My fingers are sore so let’s quickly get to part 4 of my best of the decade series.  This week, I’m looking at musicals and action/adventure films – two very different genres.

 

We’ll start with musicals and whilst there aren’t a lot of them to choose from, there were two clear standouts…

 

Moulin Rouge (released in 2001) – full review is here.

 

Chicago (released in 2003) - full review is here.

 

I do love a good musical and these two were exceptional.  The great thing too with a musical is you can watch it again and again and again.  The songs are forever imprinted in your brain.  Honourable mentions in this category go to Mamma Mia, Hairspray and High School Musical 3.

 

Action/adventure films are my least favourite genre (well, aside from romantic comedies).  I find so many of them formulaic and predictable.  The plot is often underdeveloped.  The best of the bunch though were:

 

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (released in 2001) – full review is here.

 

Batman Begins (released in 2005) – full review is here.

 

I loved all of the Rings films but it’s the first one I consider the best.  Batman Begins was an iconic movie as far as I’m concerned – director Christopher Nolan proved that you can take a dead franchise and reinvigorate it.  The same thing happened this year with Star Trek.  My honourable mentions are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gladiator, Spider Man, Snakes Of A Plane, Death Proof, King Kong, Master & Commander and Apocalypto.

 

Next week, we’ll look at the documentaries.

 

Over and out.