Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's The Point Of Your Review?

Last night, a friend directed me to this article that appeared in Sinema.SG. Titled "The art of reviewing," it duly points out the dos and don'ts of reviewing. However, what prompted me to respond to the article in this blog entry are some points made by the writer that I think are way off mark.

The rising indies

I don't purport to know the exact situation in Singapore right now, in regards to its independent filmmakers. But we can well see that there is indeed a rising visibility of the community and their works, what with the premiere of the seven-in-one film, Lucky 7, a collaboration between seven Singaporean filmmakers, at Rotterdam.

But to say that the digital technology is "taking its toll on viewers' staying power" is, in a way, putting the cart before the horse. The real competition has always been between the indies and Hollywood, not between digital filmmakers. A look at the Malaysian independent scene will tell you, very few would pay a ticket to see a local independent film at GSC's International Screens. Hollywood blockbusters? No problem!

"Critic" and "reviewer"

The writer seems confused between the terms "critic" and "reviewer." Critics are those with first-hand experience or knowledge of film and its techniques, be they academicians or practitioners. While anyone can be a reviewer, be it a journalist, a hobbyist or heck, even a chef with a deep interest in films. But what both do, on different scales and levels, of course, is to provide an individual perspective on a film. When a film is put out there for an audience, it becomes text that is open to interpretations and multiple readings.

To regard that a critic's or reviewer's job is first and foremost to help readers make an informed choice at the cinema is to possess a high level of delusion. It has yet to be proven that a film's success or failure at the box-office is a direct result of a review or critique. No single reviewer or critic wields that much power.

So what's a critic or reviewer's ultimate goal then? It is to provide her or his own insight into, perspective on and reading of a film. The individual interpretation may provoke discussion, argument or debate, or just simply be an unique, informed opinion. Some will agree with your take, some will disagree, but there are also some who will regard your views as exceptionally yours.

The creator's mind

The writer goes on to list the essentials in a reviewer's toolbox. One of it, he says, is to get oneself into the creator's mind situation, "the given conditions of a precise place and time, enter the specific spirit and facts of life as well as an artist’s ambition, the pursued objective."

But why?

If so, do we then always need to seek clarification from the filmmaker herself or himself? Do we need to interview the filmmaker before seeing the film? So if I were to read Pulp Fiction's fragmented narrative and copycat inventions as symptomatic of contemporary Hollywood's broken rudder and desperation, or its ability to rejuvenate but not reinvent old ideas, I would be deemed completely wrong because clearly that wasn't Tarantino's intention in making the film?

Once you put a film out there, it's largely out of your hands. It doesn't mean the filmmaker wholly relinquishes the property. It is still a product of the filmmaker's artistry, but the result may not always be the desired. That's not a bad thing. In fact, talk to any director and she or he will tell you about many "happy accidents" that can result in surprising outcomes.

Ultimately, watching a film does not mean we are beholden to the director's wishes and intentions.

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