In more Filmmakers Versus Critics news: during a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with Vulture‘s Mary Kaye Schilling in support of his upcoming movie “Side Effects,” director Steven Soderbergh shared his low opinion of film criticism and why he never reads reviews of his work. “It’s what Dave Hickey said,” Soderbergh told Schilling, “it’s air guitar:”
“Was it helpful to read Pauline Kael’s work when I was growing up? Absolutely. For a teenager who was beginning to look at movies as something other than just entertainment, her reviews were really interesting. But at a certain point, it’s not useful anymore. I stopped reading reviews of my own films after ‘Traffic,’ and I find it hard to read any critics now because they are just so easily fooled. From a directorial standpoint, you can’t throw one by me. I know if you know what you’re doing, and, ‘Wow, critics’ — their reading of filmmaking is very superficial. Look, nothing excites me more than a good film. It makes me want to make something good. But I have certain standards, and I don’t grade on a curve. If you want to be a director, I’m going to treat you like I treat everybody. So it’s frustrating when critics praise things that I feel are not up to snuff.”
On the issue of whether criticism has deteriorated since the days of Kael, Soderbergh said no, and called her work “pretty superficial” as well. Kael’s unique skill, he claimed, was an ability to write particularly well about a film she loved:
“What set her apart from most critics — and especially a lot of critics today — was that she was at her absolute best when she loved something. And that was exciting to read. Nowadays, I find critics to be very facile when they don’t like a film, but when they do like something they get tongue-tied.”
So it’s not that criticism’s gotten bad: it’s always been kind of bad. I haven’t written my “Side Effects” review yet, but I have to tell you: I really enjoyed it. Now there’s a part of me that’s worried my reading might be too superficial. We’ll see how tongue-tied I get in a few days.