Reviewing the Review: The frustrating rise of pointless and unhelpful film criticism.

August 8, 2019

 

So, I don't really tend to pay much attention to reviews or criticisms these days. I learned the hard way that I'm not great at taking it on the chin, and it can be heartbreaking reading or hearing something negative about something you've worked hard on, and put a lot of yourself into. Obviously, it's impossible to avoid it altogether, but I don't go through to effort of seeking it out.

 

To be clear, it isn't a "screw critics" mindset. Critics are an important part of art, and indeed I write my own reviews of films when I get a chance. But, there seems to be a lot of people who, whether through disinterest, stubbornness, or a genuine misunderstanding of what film criticism actually is, don't actually know how to review things. And, while I'm sure these people have always been there, the advent of the internet seems to have made them more vocal, and more obvious to spot.

 

Film criticism, or a film review, is about personal preference, sure, but it's also about analysing the work, going into detail about what aspects you enjoyed and what aspects you didn't, explaining why something did or didn't do it for you, referencing previous work as a point of reference, discussing the craft as well as the end product... saying "it was shit" isn't film criticism. It's nothing.

 

This has become something of a pet-peeve of mine in more recent years. When I write I review I try to relate it back to myself and my own experiences with that film. This is review is my personal opinion on the film and I'm going to explain why I've drawn this conclusion. Of course, everyone is as entitled as anyone else to dislike something, but if you're going to put your dislike out there, let us know why.

 

This kind of half-arsed, not-actually-a-review review is something that bothers me when it's about a film at the cinema or online or whatever, but it really, really grates on me when it's about my work.

 

That's not because I wish everyone liked my stuff (I mean, I do, but that's not the point). In fact, I'd much rather people either love it or hate it, because I'm not sure I could imagine anything worse than a slew of 3 star something reviews... "Well done, your film is suitably average". That would be awful. At least with a one star or a five star you know you've provoked some kind of a reaction.

 

No, the reason is more to do with the fact that I can't learn anything from this single note, says-absolutely-nothing-as-a-review reviews. "It was boring" tells me precisely nothing, other than that the person saying it got bored. Why they got bored, what the film did to bore them, whether or not they enjoy other similar films or is it just not to their tastes to begin with, and so on are key pieces of information that have been left out.

 

I can't do anything with the information that so-and-so from somewhere thought my film was rubbish because... well, I don't know anything other than that they thought it was rubbish! And what's more, it doesn't actually help anyone.

 

Without any explanation (or, y'know, an actual review) or context as to who this person is and whether or not I share their tastes or not, even as a potential viewer it's just plain unhelpful. Nothing about the film has been said, only about your reaction to it... and since I don't know you, nor why you reacted that way to the film, it's meaningless.

 

As someone who seeks out all kinds of movies and desperately wants to watch the good and the bad, discuss and dissect and analyse, I find this whole trend of useless reviews incredibly frustrating, since I want to read and hear about differing views on films anyway. As a filmmaker I find it unhelpful in any sense, not only did you not like my film but you also haven't even helped me understand why so I can improve. And, as a viewer, it doesn't help me know whether or not I might enjoy it, so it fails as a piece of film criticism and as a review.

 

This is partly why I've begun avoiding them. They're just no good. Without a decent analysis or explanation I just can't get anything from it, and I can't use it in any meaningful or constructive way. All it's good for is making me feel a slight sadness that someone didn't like something I made, and what use is that to me? So, please, if you're going to review something, actually review it, otherwise you're ultimately wasting everyone's time, including your own.

 

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© Alex Secker 2018