Ebert is a four letter word !

This post is in response to Roger Ebert's piece on movie critics and movie criticism. The article can be read here.

Roger Ebert is considered one of the most prolific movie critics of all time and in my opinion, that statement stands as the biggest oxymoron I have come across in my life. I occasionally read his reviews, especially to get his opinion on certain movies that I found delightful, and have found myself at times sharing the same opinion and sometimes contradicting his view completely. With this premise I venture into response to Ebert's piece on movie criticism and the clear undertones of high-handedness in his writing, a quintessential quality of a critic that conditions him/her to behave the way they do. 

Ebert cleverly chooses to play the devils advocate of his profession and starts off by stating all the typical invective thrown at critics and their job. He even makes a gracious mention of a quote that I have come to appreciate from the movie Ratatouille. It goes : "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends... Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

Without divulging or digressing into the situations that preceded this quote in the movie, I wish to have the readers attention on the importance of the quote! "in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." While Ebert nonchalantly rubbishes this by claiming that junk movies are only successful in conditioning the audience's mind to watch more junk movies, he conveniently fails to focus on the grand scheme of things. Movie criticism is a high paying job for Mr Ebert and he makes his living from a cinema hall. The grand scheme of things could well mean defending his reviews and criticism but to many others, it values differently.



My friend Nikhil watches movies for their sheer entertainment value while another friend watches films to adore her screen actor every time he appears on the screen.  Their understanding of cinema might not match up to a critic of Mr Ebert's standards but they certainly can value and rate what they see. A good or bad movie doesn't necessarily warrant a critic's stamp to make it so. After all, we tend to forget that critics are also normal spectators who experience a variety of emotions while watching a movie and can always be biased depending on how they reacted to a movie at a particular time in their lives. Again, the grand scheme of things is a little too important a phrase to be ignored.

Another complaint of mine is the pedantic behavior that is shamelessly professed by critics to fellow audiences. They want us to understand that they possess a universal process (I do not how one arrives at such a theoretical process); that by divination, they are expected to lead the entire world through it. I need to make myself clear when I reiterate this: critics do not hold any universal process of explaining or understanding movies and instead, they perform the same dirty role of junk movie directors that they condemn, which is to condition the mind to enjoy only the so called "Good" movies. In the grand scheme of things, we are what we do!

From the article: "you must know why you like a film, and be able to explain why, so that others can learn from an opinion not their own. It is not important to be "right" or "wrong." It is important to know why you hold an opinion, understand how it emerged from the universe of all your opinions, and help others to form their own opinions. There is no correct answer. There is simply the correct process. "An unexamined life is not worth living."

The above words are nothing less than prophetic! There is a correct process or so it seems that is created and disseminated by critics all over the world. The process will let the viewer explain the movie better and in the process elevate his opinion of the movie. No, I am not talking of a new world order to appreciate films but am merely remarking on the audacity of the critic to assume he/she knows the correct process. If one had to argue that such a process did exist, then lets dare to look at the essentials of one. I would like to think that the process would demand of its follower to look at the technical aspects of a movie (like camera shots, graphics) the story line, acting, cinematography and a few more. These simply have to be part of the essentials besides the overarching idea of what impact the movie did or was supposed to create. Now, one look at the above and we are given to understand that we have to condition our minds to appreciate a movie according to a formula. Set the equation and if 'X' doesn't match 'Y', then thrash the movie. Ebert snobbishly divides the audiences into those who are looking for "just a good time" and those apparently looking to transform themselves. Such a division is only characteristic of a critic and demeans the majority of cinema goers, thereby neglecting the grand scheme of things. 

Imagine a world where every movie goer has undergone this imaginary process and has transformed into a good appreciator of cinema. Wouldn't you think then, that the world could be filled with zombies walking around aimlessly while trying to understand the inexplicable and varying opinions they share on things? Opinions are good and to have an opinion on anything is quite an empowering feeling. But to turn the opinion into a formula to be thrust down people's throats in the name of eclecticism is a downright dirty job. The grand scheme of things will not permit us to do so.

Anton Ego, the character from Ratatouille who made the above statement was a man with many years behind him. He finally realized the grand scheme of things that are in constant operation in our lives; that are in constant motion with or without our knowledge and in all humility accepted that he can be no better than an ordinary rat. I hope with all respect that one day, Ebert will realize!

PS: I do not consider myself a critic but a lover of Cinema. And when I am in love with someone, I accept them for what they are and move beyond judgment.

Pps: I have no hatred towards Roger Ebert but mere pity on all those who claim to know how the world should run. 



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10 comments:

Niva said...

A good or bad movie doesn't necessarily warrant a critic's stamp to make it so

pedantic behavior that is shamelessly professed by critics to fellow audiences.They want us understand that they possess a universal process (I do not how one arrives at such a theoretical process); that by divination, they are expected to lead the entire world through it.

Set the equation and if 'X' doesn't match 'Y', then thrash the movie

Ebert snobbishly divides the audiences into those who are looking for "just a good time" and those apparently looking to transform themselves

But to turn the opinion into a formula to be thrust down people's throats in the name of eclecticism is a downright dirty job

Pps: I have no hatred towards Roger Ebert but mere pity on all those who claim to know how the world should run.


All of the above statements from your blog sound so unfounded from what I read at Ebert's blog. Perhaps, am missing something. Perhaps, you totally missed out what was said on Ebert's blog.

As much as you wud love to say, u have no hatred towards Eberts, something pungent sure comes through your words...
why do i feel "They use foreign words to show off." - - this resonating all through ur blog..

chaitanya kumar said...

Hello there, it would be rather helpful if you can think over what it is that you missed. You have simply pasted what I had written and called it thrash.

Foreign words? What does that even mean?

Thanks

Vemana said...

Whatever else he is, however one might receive is opinions, Roger Ebert is a great man. He made film criticism an art.

Films are subjective experiences. No two people watch and interpret them in the exact same way. it not only depends on where you come from, what you do, how you were brought, how you think, what you expect and also what else have you seen before. When there are so many factors involved how can be anyone exactly right. Film buffs and enthusiasts should know this before everybody else and not rub it into others that whoever doesnt agree with them is wrong.

Why did u like a film, for the correct reason makes a lot of sense here.

Films serve various purposes. they are just like paintings, some are works of art deliberately made to speak to a few , some are large hoardings, made to entertain everyone and some other are plain text messages to inform. There is an audience to everything. But do art connoisseurs really bother with mundane hoardings. they dont unless that hoarding is revolutionary and setting trends for other hoardings to come.

Anton Ego was a single character, serving a specific purpose in the film and what he said might fit in other situations sometimes but please, that is no gold standard for criticism.

As Ebert says and I agree, critics are those who rate and pass judgement to help people pick from among the huge collection of movies available there. Whatever the negative connotation that word has got, i am not ashamed to say i am a critic, doesnt matter i am paid to be or not, because I watch hundreds of movies and tv shows every year and curate the content and tell people whats good and whats not. In this modern age people like me or my friends Mihir or Hemanth are very necessary to help the larger audiences pick. And I say they arent just enough people doing it.

People need to be told what is to be good by the few who spend more time and effort than the average man out of desire to learn and passion. People need to be directed towards a better brand of cinema and dont you doubt for a second they will not like it. But it should just be a better brand of cinema as per their tastes.

I know one industry which suffers from precisely lack of this. Cos ppl know no better and dont have a voice either. Those who voice are usually dissed on the lack of so called 'experience' and 'knowledge'

Curation of the Abundance and Democratization of opinion is what criticism is

chaitanya kumar said...

Achha, so here's the thing. One cannot assume an authoritative stance on what cinema is and what it means to an average movie lover. There is no denying that some have seen more movies than others but that still does not give them any right to decide whats good or bad for somebody else.

You are asking me not to take a golden standard on judging movies but surely you are doing the same. You seem to assume that your understanding of a movie is superior to others and thereby your judgment will guide those who cannot judge themselves. Isn't that hypocrisy.

Right through your response you have stated over and over again that cinema is subjective and depends on the a variety of experiences you have undergone in the past. Say, with how much certainty can you claim that a movie you loved today will appeal to you the same way after 20 years (assuming you are experiencing various things in those years). See, I am only suggesting the evolution of thought and the evolution of appreciation. Anton Ego reached a state of realization where he seemed to have found a grander scheme of things operating around him and this is no fantasy but there is indeed a greater force behind this "art" that mere judgment fares poorly.

ps: ill get back with a more clear piece. in a hurry.

Vemana said...

This is total lol. How do we get to decide what is bad or good for others? We dont get to control what they see. We just suggest.
People ask because they want to know as they rather not waste their time. Suggestion itself is a huge art, you need to understand the taste of the seeker and give something which makes sense to him. You cant just suggest an exorcist to a four weddings and a funeral kinda person.

I never asked you not to set a golden standard. By all means please do. The whole judgement point is just baloney. It is my opinion which others can subscribe to or not. They can criticize it and commend it. In whichever way there is an exchange of ideas. The superiority of my understanding of movies means nothing to me. It is the reader who decides I am worthy or not.

20 years later the past is different from the current so an evolution is natural. An art which is not judged ends up being forgotten. Propagation of ideas happens through perspectives. Even the artist himself has a judgement. Why shouldnt I when I am investing time on his?

chaitanya kumar said...

If people just suggest, Ebert wouldn't be the idol you(or many others out there) idolize him to be. Right? So clearly he can condition the readers mind!

ElmerFudd said...

Boy oh boy... you newbies ought to get over it... now let me unbiasedly, unabashedly critique this piece since it celebrates criticism.

As good as your intentions were, you came across as amateurish and whiny while trying to justify yourself. If the quote from Ratatouille itself was not overused, you went ahead and hinted that Ebert never mentions anything about 'the technical aspects of a movie'. You clearly have not read enough of Ebert's reviews. Nor do you understand Ebert. You must understand that Ebert is not a critic who *matters* anymore, and he knows that. Nowadays nobody watches a movie influenced by Ebert's review - its not even a job for him anymore, he does it to keep his grey cells running and blood pumping, and to entertain people. He doesn't bother getting too much into details for the same reason. Though his text is still beautiful, the man is old and sick, and is not Harry Knowles or Taran Adarsh - no one waits for 'Ebert's review', even producers don't, because their films' BO collection does not the least bit depend on his writeup.

You don't seem to understand the mind of a movie critic either, let alone his purpose, the market, and the idea behind journalism and its many layers of politics. Its obvious that you've developed a *taste* in movies over the past 3-4 years and have a good time standing out in the crowd, gloating over your new found *refined* choice of films. That's all very well, but that's just half the effort. Film honchos argue that critics trash a movie without learning the craft of filmmaking, and filmmakers are lousy journalists - the circle will remain - its what keeps movies alive.

For your article I give you Two Thumbs Down, from Siskel with love.

Girija said...
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chaitanya kumar said...
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