I’m going to let you in on a film critic secret, but only if you promise not to tell anyone (except everyone on Facebook and Twitter. Well-kept secrets don’t bring in a lot of traffic). Are we agreed? Okay here it is:
Film critics haven’t seen every movie ever made.
Oh they’ve seen a lot of ’em. They’ve seen way more than any normal human being should, probably at least three or four hundred a year every year they’ve been reviewing professionally. But even at that sort of absurd, borderline insane level of viewership, movies still fall through the cracks.
It’s just not possible to see every new film released in a given year and try to track down all the great movies of the past you’ve already missed (unless you’re also ready to give up eating, drinking, talking to people, and the possibility of ever having sex again). Not to mention that some movies are impossible to see because they’re out-of-print or unavailable. In this business, oversights and omissions are inevitable.
That’s why no film critic is without their fair share of blindspots. But the fact that everyone has them doesn’t make them any less embarrassing. Knowledge is what gives critics their authority. When a film critic confesses to never having seen a classic title, they’re like Superman right when Lex Luthor pulls out a piece of Kryptonite. They’re still super, but they’re not quite as super as they were two minutes ago.
Maybe that’s the reason I admire Eric D. Snider‘s new project for Film.com: “The Shame List,” in which Snider confesses to 25 of his most egregious blindspots — including “Brazil,” “The French Connection,” and “Schindler’s List” — has readers rank their egregiousness, and then watches and writes about them. Facing your blindspots openly and honestly; that’s like Superman watching Lex Luthor pull out a piece of Kryptonite and powering through the pain to kick him in the balls.
(To recap for those keeping score at home: a film critic’s Kryptonite? Blindspots. Superman’s Kryptonite? Kryptonite. Lex Luthor’s Kryptonite? Kicks to the balls.)
Over email, Snider told me he started the project to replace another Film.com column, and that while he’s calling it The Shame List, he’s really not that ashamed to have never seen, say, “My Dinner With Andre.” “In fact,” he wrote, “part of what inspired the column was the realization that there was no need to be. Even if you’ve seen everything, there was a time in your life when you hadn’t. We all see everything for the first time at some point. All you can do is keep seeing stuff, keep filling in the gaps. Now, if you professed to be a film buff and had no INTEREST in seeing the ‘classics,’ or the ‘important’ movies, that would be something to be ashamed of.”
The idea of letting readers rank which omissions were the worst came from Snider’s conversations with people about this sensitive subject. He wrote, “A friend will say, ‘I can’t believe you’ve never seen MOVIE X!’ But it turns out that friend has never seen MOVIE Y! And this other friend has seen MOVIE X and MOVIE Y — but can you believe it, he’s never seen MOVIE Z!! Nobody has seen EVERY movie that a film buff is supposed to have seen.”
Snider also said — and I agree with him — that there is no one list of films you have to see before you can write a review (“It’s not like there’s a syllabus you have to finish,” he joked). Comprehensiveness is important, but in the meantime sincere effort will suffice. As for Snider’s efforts, there was one thing I had to know: did he have any blindspots too shameful to admit to by including them on the Shame List? “I’m pleased to say there are not,” he replied. “I decided to embrace my shortcomings and own my embarrassment.”
That’s all any critic can do. Well that and keep watching more movies. Speaking of which, does anyone have a copy of “Intolerance” I could borrow?
(NOTE: For more on cinematic blindspots, check out this week’s Criticwire Survey, where more than two dozen critics admit their darkest cinematic shame. And if you’re in the market for a good resource to help find your own blindspots, I recommend Jonathan Rosenbaum’s list of The 1000 Greatest Movies Ever Made.)