Back in February, inspired by a conversation held by the Tribeca Film Festival, we published a Criticwire Survey on the subject of critics and Twitter. The participants in that conversation — Deadspin’s Will Leitch and Slate’s Dana Stevens — were generally against the practice of film critics using Twitter, particularly at festivals, so I asked our survey participants whether they tweet after screenings and why. Now that conversation (and, to a lesser extent, the survey) have inspired an interesting piece on The Awl by Jane Hu entitled “Spoilers, Screenerbrags and Squabbles: How Film Critics Use Twitter.”
A lot of the article, which features new quotes from Stevens, Leitch, and The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, covers much the same ground as our earlier ones. But there’s one section of Hu’s analysis that strikes me as very trenchant and worth repeating. It’s the portion of the essay about Twitter as a place to share a first (but not final) opinion about a film. One of her examples comes from the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips, whose initial reaction to eventual Academy Award winner “The King’s Speech” when he saw it for the first time at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival was:
“Waves of love greeted the gala Toronto screening of ‘The King’s Speech’ (sterling perfs from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush). A treat.“
When Phillips reviewed “The King’s Speech” for the Tribune two months later, though, his opinion of the movie had seemingly cooled. As Hu notes:
“Whether due to distance or clarity, or both, Phillips had grown more measured and restrained in his response, even if still overall commendatory: ‘Some aspects of the film feel routine, or facile, or too heavily underlined. Certain performers (Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill most glaringly) fly straight past character into caricature.’ Was it the critical eye settling in, or the metaphorical fog that stays long after the literal one that accompanies us to our cars post-screening?”
So often critics (and by critics I mean “me”) use Twitter like the leaky faucet on their personal stream of consciousness, dripping out each tiny new idea as it comes into their heads. You tweet it and forget it — once it drips out, it’s down the drain and gone forever. Or so we think — those tweets may be buried beneath piles of thousands and millions of others, but they still exist somewhere, preserved for eternity. As Hu’s article proves, all it takes is for someone with the patience and wherewithal to find them.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Tastes change, and it can actually be quite valuable to be able to chart the evolution of a critic’s opinion. Sometimes a movie’s pure filmmaking brio fills you with so much excitement that all you can see when you walk out of the theater are the strengths and not the weaknesses. Later, as the adrenaline rush fades, the same film that left you giddy with excitement might not hold up under close scrutiny. But those two opinions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if a critic felt this way about something, I’d want to know it all — the passionate enthusiasm and the drier academic interpretation.
I find it useful to think of Twitter like a scratch notebook; you have a half-baked idea, you scribble it out and see how it looks on paper and whether it gets your creative juices flowing. But that scratch notebook is open for everyone to read, and things you write in an instant last there forever.