Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Last week, Samuel L. Jackson publicly called for New York Times film critic A.O. Scott's firing after he panned his new movie, "The Avengers." Do you think a filmmaker has the right to criticize a critic for their reviews of his or her work? And when a filmmaker does respond, how should a critic react?
The critics' answers:
"Of course a filmmaker has the right to criticize a critic. Just as the critic has a right to criticize work, others have the right to criticize the criticism of the critic and others have the right to criticize the criticism of the criticism of the critic. This is the maddening, golden-gleaming rabbit hole of our glorious Freedom of Speech. When a filmmaker does respond, the best reaction for the critic is usually flattery. What's that old saying about critics and dogs and fire hydrants?"
"Anyone who would critique another invites criticism of their own work. Hypothetically, a critic and filmmaker could have a mutually enriching dialogue about the film in question and the critic's perspective on same, and if such a thing were possible, I'd even say they should. But the problem is, filmmakers (or actors, in the unfortunate case of Samuel L.) rarely engage with critics on a critical level, instead all too frequently debasing criticism itself as institutionalized naysaying and critics themselves as barnacles. This unnecessarily makes the relationship between critic and filmmaker an adversarial one. The bitterness with which Joseph Kahn, for one example, blamed critics for his picture 'Detention' failing financially certainly won him no friends in the critical community. It's not that critics are sitting there grinding their axes waiting to brutalize filmmakers (obviously), but when (if) someone like that makes another picture, there's going to be an at least faint association of 'Oh, that guy… he thinks what I do is irrelevant.' And that's no good for anyone. Better to have a civil, rational conversation based on mutual respect, if that's not too insane an idea."
"I met two successful independent film directors last month at my local bar, and I inevitably spilled the details of a screenplay I'd been kicking around in my head. They tore it to shreds (rightfully so), and it was enlightening to momentarily stand in their shoes. It's easy to critique when you don't consider the flip side (this is also why — when done right — critiquing is incredibly difficult). If you'd asked me this question before that bar outing, I probably would've had a slightly different answer. But the simple fact is that critics often spend only a few hours with a film that others have spent years with. And I think there needs to be empathy from all parties when it comes to this — because there's room for everyone in this industry, but there also needs to be care and reverence and professionalism at play. As critics, we're used to catching heat from commenters — despite their wider reach and public status, I don't think celebrities or directors should any different in that regard. Is what Sam Jackson did childish? I'm inclined to say yes. Do I fully understand where the sentiment is coming from? Nope. The response to something like that, as a critic, would be either no response at all or simply stating "That's his/her opinion, and he/she is entitled to it." The minute you try to please everyone, you devalue your own product. And that's a hard and fast rule on both sides of the fence."
"Filmmakers always have a 'right' to respond to those critics who have maligned their work — it's not as if they're muzzled, unable to speak — but that doesn't mean the right should be exercised. Yes, some critics can be cruel and willfully obtuse, turning their reviews into personal attacks or intentionally misreading a film's content (Rex Reed's negative review of 'The Cabin in the Woods' got a number of plot points wrong, suggesting either a personal grudge or a general unwillingness to do homework). But it's the filmmaker's job to put everything they want to say onscreen. They've put themselves out there in an often incredibly vulnerable way, and dealing with poor or petty critics is, regrettably, part of the job. Firing back at negative critics makes the filmmaker seem insecure about the quality of his or her work. It puts them down in the mud, and it lowers the level of discourse. It's one thing to talk about the work in an interview; it's wholly another to call for the firing or flaming of a critic with whom you disagree. I understand Sam Jackson's defensiveness regarding A.O. Scott's review, but the film is garnering major acclaim and breaking box-office records left and right. Focusing on Scott make the film just an occasion for fighting. Let the movie speak for itself."
"Anybody putting their work in the public eye may rightfully be criticized by anyone else. A film critic would be a hypocrite not to allow for criticism of his or her own work. As for how to respond, that’s up to the discretion of the film critic, or anyone else being criticized. Usually the person being criticized — whether an actor or film critic or anyone else — is best to just ignore the critic and stand by their work."
"Of all the ways we wanted to see 'Samuel L. Jackson: human being,' maybe the last one was as the wealthy jerk who taps his diamond-tipped cane and shouts things like 'I have been injured by newspaper libel. Fire the critic!' As awesome as that still sounds, I'm confused by the fact that Jackson chose this film to get bent out of shape over a review. In the context of his career (full of good and bad films that have earned all manner of notices from the Times and elsewhere), his outburst is frankly weird, and I don't think it ranks very high on the professionalism meter (If I worked on the film, I'd be embarrassed for him and by him). As to the question: If I had some benchmark to determine whether a filmmaker or actor had the right to attack a critic, in public, for a less-than-ecstatic notice, I'd probably need the film in question to be more of a labor of love for the party claiming injury. Nothing is really at stake here except money changing hands, and we all know how that story ended. As for Mr. Scott, if I found myself in his shoes, I hope I would have the presence of mind (and stomach) to respond to Jackson's call for my termination with good humor."
"I think critics are fair game for actors and filmmakers, because when your job is to basically to criticize other's hard work, you need to have fairly thick skin. Suggesting Scott get fired may have been going too far on Jackson's part, but there is no way anyone at the Times with the ability to fire a critic would take it seriously. In fact, Jackson brought more publicity to Scott's review and to the Times, so if anything, this was a good thing for the Times. LIke I said, critics should have thick skin and they shouldn't need to react or justify their criticism. If they were clear about why they didn't like something (even if the filmmakers disagree), then the review should stand on its own. Regardless, I feel this whole thing with Sam Jackson and A.O. Scott is non-news and I'm shocked that with everything else going on in the world, so much time and 'ink' has been spent discussing it… including my statement here."
"Filmmakers have the right, sure, but I think it's much cooler when they lie and say 'I never read reviews.' They should be above caring, at least in public, even if privately reviews eat away at them (or inspire them to do new and exciting things). And if a critic finds her- or himself in the firing line, she or he should be flattered and resist the temptation to go into kaiju battle mode."
"Yes, of course the filmmaker has the right to criticize a critic for their reviews of his/her work — the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deems that to be so. But unless a filmmaker goes so far as to, say, defame a critic in public, I don't see much of a reason for a critic to feel obligated to respond to a filmmaker's criticisms at all (especially if said criticism is as inane as Samuel L. Jackson's slam at A.O. Scott). Hey filmmakers: sorry if you feel offended by a critic's review of your work, but those critics are just doing their jobs. It's nothing personal — or, at least, it ought not to be."
"A filmmaker certainly has the right to defend their work. My experience has been that most don't publicly address negative reviews at all, which is probably the best for everyone. If a filmmaker does come out swinging in response, it's usually directed as a personal attack against the critic — that they were too dumb to get it and that they should consider a new profession. A lot if it is button-pushing; easy insults spit out in rage to make the critic feel as bad as the filmmaker. In general, it's playground politics. It's more rare that a filmmaker defend a work by saying, 'This critic didn't understand, and here are the reasons why' or 'Let me explain what went wrong behind the scenes.' Critics, even under personal attack from a riled-up filmmaker, should always keep the concerns directly related to the film itself. You start to lose the validity of your criticism if you fire right back with 'Oh, yeah? Well, you're stupid!'"
"Filmmakers and actors obviously have a right to respond to criticism any way they'd like, but just as critics should be professional in their reviews and refrain from personally attacking talent, I believe that filmmakers and actors should present their opinions in a professional manner as well. A.O. Scott responded appropriately. As critics we must expect that our own work will be criticized, and we shouldn't dish it out if we can't take it; however, there's a civil way to do things and a not-so-civil way to do things, and Jackson unfortunately chose the latter."
"Filmmakers and critics should stay about 100 yards from each other at all times. Interviews should be conducted either by means of a megaphone or two soup cans connected by a string. A filmmaker can respond to a critic's critique but only if they don't mind seeming like cry babies. Whether or not they have a justifiable reason to respond, responding shakes up the dynamic, i.e. actor's with big salaries in Ivory Tower, critics paying for Starbucks with loose change. Taking criticism with good humor shows humility and should be the default mode for filmmakers/actors/producers/humanity-in-general. Critics should respond only if they have a good comeback, and I mean a real knee-slapper. In this case I would advise against it because Mr. L Jackson has a wide variety of great lines to draw from his quiver and could easily poke holes in anything Mr. Scott could respond with, e.g. an as-of-yet unthought of 'Snakes on a Plane' pun."
"As I've implied in a blog post of my own, I'm a pretty strict adherent to what I call Fussell's Rule, at least in the abstract. Put most reductively, it says that nobody asked you to be an artiste, and if you're going to court fame and glory in that arena, you ought to exhibit sufficient moral grace to take the bad with the good and shut up about it. Samuel L. Jackson's comment, while he'll insist was facetiously meant, was graceless in several respects. First, calling for someone's professional head on a plate is rarely 'cool,' particularly in these employment-parlous times. Second, social media is reputed to diminish or even wipe out certain hierarchies, but let's face facts: here's a famous movie actor worth some millions of dollars with almost a million followers ginning up social media outrage against a middle-class film critic with a hair over 15,000 followers. This is what is known in the parlance as a 'dick move,' and can only be interpreted as Jackson venting over his wounded vanity. It doesn't become him. Does he have the 'right?' Well, come on. We can't define rights and in this particular realm of endeavor people are going to do what they're going to do. But on the other hand, in this particular realm of endeavor the idea of accountability is flying out the window, fraternization and an attendant disinclination or refusal to divulge conflicts is rife, and so on. Artists who follow the reviews of their work are met not only with multiple inaccuracies, but a form of agenda-driven opinion-mongering (I won't honor it by calling it 'criticism') that I imagine has to be infuriating sometimes. This is an interesting can of worms that I would hope someone would have the guts to fully open up at some point in time."
"Filmmakers are entitled to say what they want. Whether or not they should is an issue of personal politics, but it should be noted that critics aren't consultants. They aren't meant to address filmmakers through the critical process. So while the two professions breathe some of the same air, they don't need to engage in conversation. That's not to say they can't attempt friendly party chatter. Of course, it's understandable that filmmakers may sometimes feel the pressure to lash out when their work is attacked. Critics should get that — let the venting happen and stick to their guns, but also allow their own work to largely speak for itself. This isn't a cold war between artists and haters. In theory, at least, we're all doing this because we care about good movies. That's the common ground where filmmakers and critics can hang."
"Critics end up criticizing each other all the time, so why not the people who actually know what was trying to be accomplished onscreen? I think it would be really fun if more filmmakers engaged with critics about their work (perhaps less on a is-it-good-versus-bad level and more about why they chose certain ideas/narrative strategies/technical details over others). Of course, Mr. Jackson clearly has no interest in that type of engagement, and isn't doing anyone any favors with his tweets. Mr. Scott handled it in the best way possible: apt humor. I fully expect Jaundice Maximus to be a villain in the Nick Fury movie."
"Of course a filmmaker has a right to respond to a negative review of their movie, just as a reviewer has a right to respond to a filmmaker responding to their negative review. But neither one of them should ever, ever do either."
"Sure, filmmakers have the right to respond. Anyone can say anything they want. But by putting their work out there, they're inviting criticism — that 's implicit in their contract with the viewer — and they can't be whiny and thin-skinned if they don't like everything they hear. And calling for someone's firing is just petty and small. As for whether a critic should respond to that response, I'm all for taking the high road. Don't get into a pissing match, don't give it any more energy, let it die down. Kill 'em with kindness."
"Any critic who has their reviews attached to a comments section at their website is no stranger to being told in no uncertain terms that they're bad at their job, but it's something different when it's a filmmaker or an actor levying those charges instead of Buttman69 or JoeBlow00, that's for sure. Still, I don't think it matters who's doing the critiquing, that person has their right. Granted, one hopes that it can be done with a bit more professionalism than Samuel L. Jackson did (or some commenters do), but those who give have to be prepared to take as well. As for a reaction, I think it's best just to acknowledge their issue, state your disagreement, and try and move on. There's no 'right' answer as to whether A.O. Scott or Jackson was correct about the quality of 'The Avengers,' so it's best to just keep it as friendly as possible and go from there. Scott certainly did that."
"I think a filmmaker has every right to defend his/her work. It's part of what art is all about. If a filmmaker believes a critic has misjudged it or missed the point altogether, it's totally fine to raise the issue. The problem is that this rarely happens. When criticism stings, they either stupidly call for the critic to be fired (as Jackson did with Scott, and as James Cameron once did with Kenneth Turan), or they turn into big crybabies who bash critics on Twitter and ban them from screenings (Hello, Kevin Smith!). In cases such as these, the critic is wise to ignore it and not fan the flames; engaging in a big to-do over a hissy fit doesn't enlighten anyone about the work. But if the filmmaker were to legitimately raise the issue in a mature, thoughtful way, the critic should absolutely engage in a healthy back-and-forth conversation. And let's face it, for many of us, that would be essential reading."
"I think what Jackson did makes him look ridiculous. 'The Avengers' was a box office lock in the U.S. before it even opened, and it had already had a great opening overseas. Why call for the job of one of the few people who was at all critical of what's been a huge hit among fans and professionals? Especially one as established as A.O. Scott? It's tasteless and obnoxious, and actually really shitty in light of today's economy and how hard it is for writers out there. I guess that's not something that would occur to someone who can command tons of money simply for asking Siri how to make gazpacho. It's not as if fans who would heap misogynistic insults on any female critic who'd dare to point out the movie's flaws need any more help in becoming the bullies instead of the bullied. It's really up to the critic on how they want to respond. It seems like it's better to take the high road and laugh it off in a situation like this. On the other hand, I think it's important for people to be more aware of the hostile, misogynistic responses that readers fire off at female critics. Male critics who review movies like 'The Expendables' or 'Safe' poorly aren't generally told to get back in the kitchen or compared to two-year-olds trying to review 'Mulholland Drive.' Katey Rich has suggested that someone start a Tumblr for hostile, sexist responses to reviews by female critics of typically male-targeted movies such as those leveled at Katey, Amy Nicholson, and Stephanie Zacharek. I don't think it's a case of inflaming the trolls but more like lifting a rug and exposing the critters writhing beneath."
"Artists in all mediums have a right to counter-criticize, but the decorum of that critique should at least equal that of the initial critique. A.O. Scott is an excellent and fair critic, and a fine writer. For Jackson to take to Twitter and call for Scott's job, accusing him of not being able to perform the tasks of that job is preposterous and nonconstructive. Tell Scott and your Twitter followers what you didn't agree with about the review. Prove Scott wrong. Challenge him, don't bully him with a petty and baseless decree. Scott handled this perfectly. As a critic he understands if you can't take what you're dishing out, you're a hypocrite. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, even opinions of opinions."
"Absolutely, a filmmaker has the right to respond to a critical review. Good thing filmmakers never read reviews of their work! But on the off-chance that an assistant reads a review aloud, and a filmmaker somehow overhears, they're totally in line to write a response. In a best case scenario, my review is the opening salvo in a conversation — mainly with the film's potential audience, but also with the filmmaker if they choose to converse. Maybe they can shed new light on a situation? Maybe they can come to realize that something they thought worked in their film actually doesn't? Anything's possible. But keep it off Twitter. It's hard not to sound like a vindictive tool when you only have 140 characters."
"Sam Jackson was absolutely within his rights, but he also took the risk of having it backfire, which it did. On the flip side, A.O. Scott could not have handled it with more class. If it had been me, I likely would have made a crack about Jackson's silly iPhone commercial, fanning the flames and making me look as silly as Jackson."
"Of course filmmakers have the right to respond to a critic; I just don't think it typically ends well. To me, the quintessential example was the 'feud' between Roger Ebert and Vincent Gallo. After seeing 'The Brown Bunny,' Ebert famously said it was the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Gallo responded by declaring Ebert a 'fat pig with the physique of a slave trader,' as well as wishing colon cancer on the critic. To which, Ebert quipped, 'Although I am fat, one day I will be thin, but Mr. Gallo will still have been the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'' Of course it's an extreme example, but I'm with Matt on thinking an opinion can't really be wrong. It just seems a fruitless endeavor to me to shout against someone's opinion of your work."
"Absolutely! If we have the right to go around proclaiming our opinions on everything, then filmmakers or actors or whoever in question have every right to fire back. It sucks when they do it, especially when you realize they're right, but that dialogue can be some of the most fascinating experiences you have as a critic. Samuel L. Jackson, in this case, is being kind of a dolt — his movie is obviously not suffering for the single bad review, and calling for A.O. Scott to get a new job as a result of it is over the line. What's that line about disagreeing with what you have to say but defending to the death your right to say it?"
"As far as I'm aware from personal experience, a filmmaker doesn't even need to be responding to a review; any comment you make about them, in any context, can prompt a 5-paragraph sent-from-Blackberry epistle. Most of the time, it would probably behoove filmmakers to shut up and take it. I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of a filmmaker 'responding' to a critic is, but I suppose it's better to keep it private than public. If you are going to make fun of a critic publicly, you should probably be prepared to be mocked as a crybaby, which is the case (most of the time). It's hard to respond to criticism graciously, unless you're the kind of person who can actually do that on a routine basis (for the record, I'm pretty sure 'LOL elitist' is not really a 'response' to anything)."
"Sure, a filmmaker certainly has the right to respond. Though, I wouldn't recommend it because he or she often comes off looking not so great while doing so. (Especially when his or her project is poised to make $200 million on its opening weekend. Christ.) And I think A.O. Scott, presenting his defense as self-depreciation, handled the situation about as well as anyone could after being bombarded with the Twitter nonsense of 'helping him find a new job' for hours upon hours. So, let's coin the term, 'The Scott Method.' So, in the future, if asked, 'When a filmmaker does respond, how should a critic react?' The answer is, 'The Scott Method.'"
"A filmmaker (or actor, or any other member of a film production) has every right to criticize a critic for a review with which they disagree. Whether that criticism requires a reaction on the critic's part — or whether it sparks a dialogue between the two — seems dependent on the nature and tone of both the critic's review and the filmmaker's response. In general, unjustified insults and nastiness are far less effective at starting a conversation than politeness and respectfulness."
"Filmmakers absolutely have the right to criticize a critic for a negative review. Their work is their baby, so no one should begrudge them for being protective of it. But there is a difference between criticizing a critic and publicly saying he should be fired. By giving his honest, well-reasoned opinion, A.O. Scott was being professional. Samuel L. Jackson was not. Generally, when a filmmaker criticizes a critic, the best response is polite defiance. When a filmmaker gets personal or resorts to name calling, as Vincent Gallo did with Roger Ebert over 'The Brown Bunny,' then the best response is a pithy one-liner. The best critics can unleash devastating insults, and shouldn't be afraid of taking the offensive when it's necessary."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on May 7, 2012: