‘I made the movie for real people who live in the real world. I made the movie for people who actually love movies and go and see movies”- David Ayer, 2016.
The backlash of Ayer’s Suicide Squad receiving a dismal 26% on Rotten Tomatoes was a remarkable attack on film critics everywhere. Not only from Ayer’s own remarks of fans wanting ‘the opportunity to see the movie and reign in on the movie and not be dictated about how they should feel about it’, but also through streams of people petitioning for a total shut down of Rotten Tomatoes claiming an agenda against DC films. Yet, even in the face of people who think a Warner Bros website should be shut down to defend Warner Bros, there’s a serious debate underneath; does the world need Superma – I mean, film critics?
Ayer’s comments of fans not wanting to be ‘dictated how they should feel…’ is an important point. Not because critics are the motion picture equivalent of Joseph Stalin, but because of his misjudged word choice of ‘dictated.’ It’s understandable to see why critics may have garnered such a reputation. As Anton Ego, Pixar’s fictional food critic in their 2007 hit Ratatouille ironically reviews, ‘we risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment’ but, ‘in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.’ As the great Roger Ebert sat on his throne like Commodus in the Colosseum, flicking his thumb up or down at the survival of a film to his whim, the painstaking years of production are overlooked in a casual consensus, and the emblem of green sludge instead of that prized fresh fruit. Who exactly gave the critic that right to adopt the throne?
Well, any critic claiming his word as gospel and demanding you write off a trip to cinema is quite simply, a bad critic. Film, as any work of art is, be it a painting, poem or work of prose, is entirely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s ‘shut down Rotten Tomatoes right now’; it’s easy to overlook that when the normal cinema-goer leaves the screen and expresses their opinion on what they’ve seen, they become a film critic. So, in light of this subjectivity, if even one line of a critic’s review stimulates some kind of interest in the film, whether for good or for bad, the review is immediately useful; that’s what critics are here to do. Do we need Ayer’s critical dictators? Absolutely not. Do we need film critics? Chances are, you already are one.
But if everyone is one, then why do we need professionals? Words carry a lot of weight. Anyone can go online these days, set up a half professional looking blog and potentially type something about a film that could be taken seriously by many. Criticism in our cyber-world can be a dangerous game. If someone who’s only ever watched two films in their life decides they didn’t like Heath Ledger in Casanova, then their online publication declaring the Dark Knight as awful, and it being noted by anyone on the web, is a criminal injustice to cinema.
Though the critic should be under no delusions of grandeur regarding thrones, the role in a professional sense does come with expertise. As anyone who has ever researched or been trained in a subject has a greater depth of knowledge than someone who hasn’t, chances are the film critic has a greater understanding of what, at least aesthetically, makes a film fresh or rotten. Without professional knowledge there are no regulations; Hollywood could run riot producing (even more) shockingly poor features and blindsiding its audience as it picks their pockets. Though the professional opinion is worth little more than the personal, knowing the difference between decoupage and denouement is not something that should be sniffed at in an ignorant ‘who cares what critics think?’ You might call an interior decorator for advice on where to put your mantelpiece; you might read a review for advice on how to perceive a film.
And do you think that decorator would be grafting a floor plan of your living room if they weren’t passionate about interior design? Ayer’s implications of critics not being ‘real people’ nor people who “love movies and go and see movies” is absurd. As someone trying to break into the film industry let me assure you that I’m not only a real, non-fictional human being, but I also adore movies. Critics are the biggest film fanatics around and Ayer’s forced dichotomy between the general film goer and us is a reckless disregard for not only alternative opinions to his own, but also of the relationship between critic and audience that might just save them a few coins, or make them well spent.
As fans, the critics care deeply about cinema. Ego also comments in his review that there is a time when the ‘critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.’ All the spotlight seems to have been shone on negative criticism as if the critic sits down with their overpriced popcorn and drink wanting to hate the next ninety minutes of their lives. What happens when a low budget gem isn’t carved out of the rocks of Hollywood by a glowing review? No one can see how bright it shines. The best films, like 2015’s the Lobster for example, are often overlooked by many but given the chance, would entertain endlessly. Critics turn the pickaxes to them, encouraging viewings, praising their efforts. Without critics, we’re digging for gold but mostly mining lead.
It’s true, critics can can often revel in scathing reviews; can often put their pride ahead of the subjectivity of cinema. But, to conclude by returning to Anton Ego’s words, ‘the world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.’ The critic is there, firmly supporting the new with one hand and welcoming the audience to the cinema with the other.
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