Criticwire Survey: Off-Camera Info

Criticwire Survey: Off-Camera Info

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Leave your own response in the comments, and send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: The very public feud between actress Lea Seydoux and her Blue Is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche has become as well-known as the film itself. Should critics ignore off-screen information in reviewing a film, or do they have an obligation to deal with it?

Robert Greene, Sight & Sound, Hammer to Nail

The main problem is that people tend to (probably conveniently) forget that the cinema is an art form often based on and exploitative of some of our most difficult, kinky, reactionary impulses. Many times, the best films embrace the lurid and unseemly: voyeurism, the desire for revenge, fear of the other, the wish to control via the gaze, etc. These qualities are not just apparent in horror movies or porn, but in many films. That tension that sometimes sparkles and moves you to tears in a great romantic comedy is not innocent. The art is often in the excavation of burrowed, unhealthy desires; it’s the most manipulative medium. So when controversies arise over the means of a particular film’s production, I tend to be (perhaps overly) dismissive of their importance. The question about whether a critic should consider these issues is complicated because my standards for what makes a life worth living and a movie worth watching are vastly different. No one should be abused, but great art sometimes comes from disturbing places. I think it’s probably best to separate the analysis from the reporting and stop pretending this a pretty — or even remotely humane — business. Movies aren’t nice things, but people should be. 

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Tor.com

The most important thing, no matter what hijinks filmmakers get up to when they unlock Maverick Genius Mode, is whether the movie itself is any good. No one would have really cared how much John Carter cost if it didn’t have those wonky introductory and concluding acts, just as the degree to which people care about the Blue Is the Warmest Color kerfuffle is inversely proportionate to their ability to lose themselves in the movie. It’s incumbent on the critic to determine how much explicitly textual effect all the background stuff they know about has on the movie. Like, with BITWC, for one example, “Is this a straight male director filming his lesbian porno fantasies or is this a storyteller exploring intimacy through the characters’ sexual expression?” It’s not possible to unlearn things (if it is, let me know; I need help to stop using the word “ultimately” at the end of reviews and articles), but ultimately the challenge is to establish relevance with a given work. While a civilian might not be able to compartmentalize the knowledge of some awful thing the director or star of a film did, critics need to get past such things as much as they’re able, unless there’s a direct textual connection.

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

This is a tricky question, and I don’t have a blanket answer. On the one hand, not addressing some new controversy feels like you risk looking completely clueless, and your reader might presume you just aren’t paying attention — and in fact, you might not be. Offscreen factors can also shed new light on what we’re seeing onscreen, making us see things in a new way. Plus, posterity might appreciate it. On the other hand, a movie is a movie (and a show is a show), and many if not most people outside the critic bubble — aka audiences — probably won’t bump into these controversies. Is it worth the potential distraction from the work itself (especially if the work is good)? I’m not sure. I suppose I’d lean toward the latter, but I’d also have to think about it on a case by case basis. 

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, Linoleum Knife podcast

In a perfect world, I would go into every movie knowing nothing about it. I try not to watch trailers, I don’t read Entertainment Weekly cover stories about movies until I’ve written my review — heck, I don’t even read other movie reviews until I’ve written my own — and I do my best to tune out the white noise so that I can look at a film on its own merits. Unless you’re talking about the possibility of an actual crime being committed — like when early viewers of Cannibal Holocaust thought they were seeing a snuff film — all that should matter is the work itself, not the budget nor the leading man’s divorce nor the feud between the director and the stars nor the craft service food poisoning incident. The internet makes it increasingly difficult to ignore all the secondary stuff, but I think it’s the responsibility of critics to try. (Writers who double as both critics and entertainment reporters/bloggers get a pass on this, of course, but they should still try to park that stuff in the lobby when they finally get to see the movie.)

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

As a journalist, a critic has to know what the story is, and the story often isn’t just what appears on screen. You’re not fooling anyone if you pretend that widely-publicized re-shoots, or connections between an actor and some off-screen scandal, aren’t going to be part of the way viewers approach the movie. But we bring any number of expectations to a movie — the director’s previous work, or familiarity with the source material, or whether it’s a sequel or remake — and it’s up to a thoughtful critic to help a viewer process those expectations as part of the review. Any work of art exists in the world, with plenty of strings attached; we can and should point out those strings, while not making the mistake of presenting the strings as though they *are* the work.

Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club

I do my best to learn as little as possible about the people making this
stuff, even though it’s impossible to do that. I guess it’s just not
that hard for me to consider the art separate from whatever I might find
distasteful about the artist. Like when Dan Harmon called a
Community fan up onstage to talk at her about something she’d said on
Twitter, no matter how magnanimous he thought he was being, it made me
cringe and reminded me why I don’t listen to Harmontown regularly, even
though I generally enjoy it. I would almost always rather celebrate the
art, though I understand that will inevitably spill over into
celebration of the artist.

Richard Brody, The New Yorker

One of the most poisonous inflictions of academic trends on the practice of criticism is the old idea of “New Criticism” — of studying works of art without regard to anything deemed external to them, whether historical or personal. Criticism is really just life on the page — viewers bring everything they know to the viewing of a movie and should bring everything they know to the attempt to write about it. Everything is fair game but nothing is relevant or irrelevant until someone writes cogently that it is so. We decide what is germane; we get to include or exclude reports about the production, historical or political significance, intertextual allusions, and the life stories of the filmmakers and of the cast and crew, depending on whether it enriches our experience of the movie. There are no rules. You didn’t say Roman Polanski, did you? He just announced his plan to make a movie about the Dreyfus affair, saying: “There’s an aspect that is extremely interesting for me — it’s the insistence with which the media, like the army, don’t want to admit a mistake.” Supreme chutzpah, perhaps; but the fact that he brought the subject up himself won’t necessarily make it more (or less) significant to the experience of watching the film, when it’s done. But the mark of good directors is their own ability to imbue and deepen their movies with everything that they themselves know and have experienced (“one must put everything into a film”). Only bad films are flattened out by references to personal motives or social correlates; one of the things that makes good movies good is precisely their infusion with — and reflections on — lives and times. 

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

My general philosophy is that you address it if it’s affecting the film that the audience is seeing. For instance, the behind-the-scenes drama about BITWC is important, because when you see the film and notice how the sex scenes are overlit and edited in a way that seems stylistically and narratively at odds with the rest of the film, you have to address the controversy over the filming of those scenes (and original creator/writer Julie Maroh’s comments about them as well). I would even go further and say that Kechiche’s cavalier evasion of a question at the NYFF press conference about the film (regarding queer cinema and whether or not he viewed BITWC as part of that continuum) is also important to evaluating the film. I’d also add in aspects of his previous film Black Venus, and in the review I would say he seems to have an issue with putting his actresses on display in awkward detail. 

But it’s also important with something like, say, Alien3. Even before the film’s theatrical release, there was awareness of its troubled production and behind-the-scenes drama. The theatrical version of that film is a quilt, so it’s certainly worth mentioning in any evaluation that a film is a compromised one. If a film is the product of a tumultuous shoot but there’s no anomalies that draw attention to seams, then it’s not quite as important. But you almost have to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

Glenn Kenny, Some Came Running, RogerEbert.com

It’s (too) easy to give the trite answer about how nowadays it’s impossible to shut the chatter out but it wasn’t particularly easy to do so back in the day, either; a working critic is/was by definition a media person, and information disseminated via media is gonna get to him or her somehow. The question is what you do with it, and in that respect the new media landscape IS pretty pertinent, because in film journalism as it’s currently constituted almost no critic is JUST a critic. A lot of us are more like aesthetic market players, and our Twitter feeds are our stock tickers. So what we learn and what we trade therein is likely to find its way into our critical work somehow. 

That said, we should take care. The critical view has to be primarily concerned with what’s going on in the frame, coming through the speakers. By the same token, we can’t pretend that the work we’re undertaking to understand does not function in the world outside of it. There’s a balance to be maintained. The best critics do it, and they can do it in part because they are honest. My mentor Robert Christgau’s evolving distaste for certain members of The Rolling Stones as people is reflected in his criticism, but that dislike, which sometimes stems from the lazy and indifferent things they’ve put on record, is something he can be seen wrestling with through his attempts to get at the gist of a particular album or CD; he never allows his observations to be guided by spite, but at the same time he’s entirely upfront about his prejudices. This not only makes for entertaining writing, but deeper and richer criticism. So there’s that. 

As for Kechiche, I like his movie and I’ll certainly go see the next one he makes. I wouldn’t want to get stuck behind him on a line at a coffeehouse or anything, though. Yeesh.

Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal

I’d like to say it doesn’t matter and works of art deserve to be treated as entities unto themselves removed form hyperbole and gossip but Twitter makes that more impossible to attempt than ever. If you count yourself a journalist as well as a critic then you really do have to at least nod towards such matters. To what degree is a matter of judgment. I mean, one of the most fun chats I had in the past couple of years was quizzing D.A. Pennebaker (or, rather, rolling tape while Donn unspooled one of his always colorful anecdotes) about the infamous “hammer” scene in Norman Mailer’s Maidstone, in which The Great American Novelist was mercilessly kabonged on his stubborn noggin by Rip Torn in the climactic, and obviously unscripted, scene. I mean, that’s the whole enchilada. How do you not talk about that in all its gory, brawling minutiae? On the other hand, the 24/7/365 collective gusting gasbag that is social media doesn’t discriminate between a genuine Cultural Moment and celebrity stuntwork. That’s up to us. Overall, I think the extracurricular fuss over Blue has probably brought some extra zest to a healthy conversation about the film’s themes and its representation of women, as well as the physical and psychological risks of onscreen realism. At least, there was no blunt head trauma.

Michael Sicinski, Cinema Scope, Nashville Scene

I think that one has to tread lightly with such matters. I’m a formalist at heart, and I try to commit myself very doggedly to the object onscreen before me. But I also think other matters cannot simply be bracketed out. For instance, if the filmmaker is someone of note, I tend to place the film in question within the context of his or her overall career, to see where it fits in or if notable stylistic and/or thematic changes have occurred. As for production controversies, actor-related tittle-tattle and the like, I try to avoid it. However, I also realize that no film exists in a vacuum, and all those matters may well influence how the film is received. That is, the film-object becomes part of an expanded hyper-text (of which its reviews are still another part). So if certain extra-textual matters are inevitably on people’s minds (e.g., Mel Gibson’s bad behavior, the Kechiche kerfuffle), there’s no sense pretending there’s no elephant in the room. Better to contextualize the elephant as best we can, and move back to the film, which presumably matters enough to prompt our writing in the first place.

Carrie Rickey, various outlets

The critic should fcus on what’s on the screen, not the making-of gossip or how the audience reacts. This said, When I remember what Maria Schneider said about how Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando manipulated and exploited her on Last Tango in Paris, I retrospectively like the film less.

Bilge Eibri, Vulture

This is one of the toughest things for me to deal with, as a
critic. Many critics like to pretend that there’s some kind of objective
standard — that outside knowledge of things like how a director
treated his actors or what terrible things he did in his spare time, or
even on set — should not matter. But I’m not sure I buy into that mentality. Everything we do is ultimately
subjective, and based on human interaction and communication. So if you
happen to know something about the means of production, and it affects
your view of the film, I think it’s your honest duty to address it.
(Presumably, it will be something that’s actually  relevant to the film
itself, and not just some random detail like the fact that the director
has a fondness for wearing women’s shoes in his spare time or whatever.)
And
it should be up to the reader to ignore it, or compensate for it, or to
accept it.
That
said, sometimes outside knowledge can color one’s response to a film in
ways that aren’t exactly clear, or direct. For example, the fact that
Victor Salva was a convicted child molester really wound up affecting my
view of Jeepers Creepers, which is a very scary film made even more
disturbing and hard to watch by that knowledge, and definitely not in a
good way. Is that, however, ultimately unfair to the film, and to the
dozens of other people who worked on that film? Perhaps. But to try and reduce it to an either-or, “either it matters
or it doesn’t” choice is, I think, at odds with the basic idea of why
any of us write in the first place. Otherwise, why even bother with the
messy and very personal act of writing? Just give your “objective”
rating and be done with it.
That
said, do I think we should actually seek such knowledge out? Not
really. In other words: I’m perfectly happy not knowing that John Ford
was a sadistic asshole. 

Scott Nye, BattleshipPretension.com, CriterionCast.com

Offscreen factors can deepen and inform what we come to understand from a film, but it’s not the whole story. It is helpful to know what Francis Ford Coppola went through in making Apocalypse Now, or Herzog with nearly anything (seeing the behind-the-scenes look at that boat going up the hill in Fitzcarraldo really is quite striking), as their journeys were reflected in the films they created. Even Jean-Luc Godard’s relationship with Anna Karina, which informed so many of his early films, is worth discussing in the same breath. By the same token, however, it should not become the dominant appreciable attribute, as when critics and audiences are just so amazed that some actor lost a ton of weight or learned a new language or whatever. Nor should a filmmaker or actor being reportedly “difficult” or “irresponsible” on set make one scrutinize the film for shortcomings, which almost inevitably happens whenever a production goes vastly over budget or schedule — I don’t know what drives so many critics to be so concerned about the finances of large corporations, yet it’s a new issue every year or two.

In my own work, I try to see what I see in the film, and if some offscreen factor plays into what I already have to say about it, I may mention it, but never as a way to highlight the negative aspects of a film. It’s too cheap, too exploitative, too speculative. Every negative thing that has happened on a film set and ruined one film has benefitted another. It is not the sole way to explore a film’s attributes, and saying that it is comes across as terribly gossipy and as a desire to appear “in the know.” They’re interesting pieces of trivia, but they are not criticism — use them as launching points, not as concluding evidence.

Kevin B Lee, Fandor

Shortly after the release of my video essay “The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots,” I came upon a blog post that pointed out a major flaw in the video: that in mapping out the progression of Anderson’s artistic use of cinematography, it failed to get into the details of how director of photography Robert Elswit as well as camera operators and technicians contributed to that vision. Only a hardcore auteurist would decry the legitimacy of this argument. This had an unsettling effect on my approach to evaluating films. I realized that critics, in publicly performing the function of how one should think about a film, are routinely guilty of neglecting the invisible, below-the-line labor that goes into movies. This neglect sheds light on how films operate as systems of control: industrial, cultural, social – that extend into how people see themselves and the value of their own work (this is especially true of today’s film critics, who unknowingly exploit themselves more than they ever have in the history of the medium). Unfortunately, as most coverage of the Dan Harmon and Blue Is the Warmest Color production problems demonstrates, these issues are more commonly discussed on the level of TMZ than Theodor Adorno. This has the unfortunate effect of turning issues of labor into more disposable entertainment fodder, rather than as a starting point for rethinking how all of this shit should matter to our lives in the first place.

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

For a review, I think the work should exist on its own as much as possible. As critics, we review the film, not the director’s personal life or whatever went on during the production. I keep trying to come up with exceptions to this rule, and while there are all sorts of possible violations that could occur in the filmmaking process (really, just let your imagination run wild into the wide world of human and animal rights offenses), unless these factors directly affect the content or quality of the film, I don’t think they’re relevant to the review. Now, if you want to write an essay after the review…

Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online

Frankly, my first instinct, in responding to this question, was to flat-out say, in no uncertain terms, that no, a critic shouldn’t deal with offscreen factors in a review, because it’s what’s onscreen that’s ultimately of paramount importance, and that is what a critic should be focusing on at all times. But of course, that’s the ideal, at least for me, and reality rarely, if ever, conforms to such high ideals. We’re all human beings after all, and even the best of us, as hard as we may try, can’t help but be influenced, in ways small or large, by offscreen factors, especially if they’re as highly publicized as those of Blue Is the Warmest Color have been. (The problem is perhaps even more pronounced with Hollywood blockbusters and the multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns that usually precede them.) I would hope, though, that critics are at least smart and/or self-aware enough to be able to separate those offscreen factors from the results they may or may not have wrought onscreen — and if knowledge of offscreen factors does contribute to one’s response, one ought to be forthright enough to admit that to his/her readers.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I think, and this is only how I personally deal with it while writing a review, the off camera info should inform you as much as feels right. For example, I didn’t feel the need to address anything involving the sniping between everyone in regard to Blue is the Warmest Color when I wrote that review…I felt what was on the screen spoke fully for itself. On the other hand, with World War Z I did address how it had all the makings of a boondoggle and epic disaster, mainly so I could then praise it for turning out to be a competent and entertaining flick. It’s situation specific for me, but I do think that one should never focus in on it too much. There’s a sweet spot to be found.

Scott Weinberg, FEARnet

I was taught (yep, I studied film criticism!) that nothing should exist in a review except the film and the reviewer. No hype, no other critics, no marketing, no hype, no expectations, etc. I really try to honor that when I review a film, but sometimes (like with World War Z) the behind-the-scenes information is actually pertinent. In many cases I’d just ignore a film’s “troubled” production stories, but given how widespread the information on WWZ was, combined with my assertion that the film actually turned out to be pretty solid despite all of its problems, I thought my readers would get some interesting perspective if I included it. 98% of the time, however, the film’s the thing. Shakespeare said that, I think.

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

My general rule is that what’s up on the screen is all that matters. Budget overruns, troubled productions, and cast/crew fighting mean little because, in the end, our job is to review what we can see playing in front of us. The only time I ever make reference to off-screen matters is if they somehow directly impact the movie itself. For example, this summer, I felt that World War Z (which I generally liked) had a pretty significant flaw, that being a major tonal shift in the third act. This shift was a direct result of the filmmakers rewriting and reshooting the final 40 minutes after discovering that the original ending didn’t work to their satisfaction. Those cases are rare, though. By and large, even if I know a film’s behind-the-scenes drama, I ignore it. Besides, some of the greatest movies in history had difficult makings.

Josh Spiegel, Mousterpiece Cinema, Sound on Sight

Ideally, I’d say that a critic should attempt to shut out any kind of production-related controversy, but what’s ideal versus what’s practical is rarely the same thing. I’ll be seeing Blue is the Warmest Color in a few days, and even seeing the headlines of what Abdellatif Kechiche is saying about his lead actresses or the open letter he wrote or whatever makes it difficult to not wonder how much the final product was inspired by such an allegedly contentious filming process. Again, ideally, I’d want to avoid such arguments, because what happened between Kechiche and his leads, in this case, shouldn’t have an impact on the final film or my reaction to it one way or the other. But realistically, I’d attempt to ignore a similar controversy while watching any film, even if that’s increasingly difficult to do these days.

Tony Dayoub, RogerEbert.com, Press Play, Cinema Viewfinder

Your question is its own answer. I generally believe a film should stand on its own, as it ultimately shall in the future when it shall be divorced from the ins and outs of the processes it took to make it. That’s why I try not to get caught up in reading about bloated budgets, like in the case of The Lone Ranger and John Carter, two movies I otherwise found enjoyable and ambitious despite their flaws. But the more a movie’s behind-the-scenes are essential to understanding its significance, the greater the chance I’ll discuss it. To truly understand why Avatar is essential viewing, one must understand what a game changer it was in the arena of special effects, for instance.

Marc V. Ciafardini, GoSeeTalk

Movies by their very nature don’t exist in a vacuum. If the off-camera shenanigans, drama, and antics that inevitably occur for every single film released in theaters don’t matter in any strict sense, they can still inform the way that we view an individual movie or at the very least shine some light on the filmmaking process. That’s a long-winded way of saying that what happens outside of the frame shouldn’t be ignored wholesale; rely on that information on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, off-camera goings-on can just amount to nothing more than gossip fodder, but sometimes they actually matter. There’s a reason that the malfunctioning mechanical sharks in Jaws actually mean a damn to us as cinephiles.

John DeCarli, FilmCapsule.com

My response to external information about a film is largely one-sided because: offscreen factors can sometimes make a project more interesting, but will rarely sabotage one for me. For example, knowing about Werner Herzog’s tactics to go so far as to hypnotize his actors in Heart of Glass gives you some insight into his thinking about the themes and style of the project, and may even tell you a bit about Herzog as a filmmaker that could be helpful in analyzing his work. In general, though, I think it’s both possible and preferable to separate the artist and the work. While it does sound like Abdellatif Kechiche went to some extreme measures making Blue is the Warmest Color, I will only consider whether the results work artistically when I get a chance to see the film.

John Keefer, 51deep.com

This is a question of reader expectation: if a reader sees a hundred reviews all mentioning, dancing around, or directly engaging with off-film antics then they will expect you to address the issue as well. If you don’t you may stand out in the reader’s mind as a reviewer committed to the business of reviewing the film in question and you will have gained a loyal follower. Once you have amassed a large number of these loyal followers you can incite them to riot in your name, taking over city after city until you have most of the East Coast under your control. The still free West Coast will then rise against you setting the stage for Civil War II: East vs. West. When you are finally betrayed by those closest to you and your kingdom lies in ruin reviewers will return to the practice of addressing all issues raised by the film’s content and cultural impact.

Christopher Campbell, Nonfics, Movies.com

The fact that I don’t know anything about any controversy with Blue is the Warmest Color makes me think I don’t care about that sort of thing. At least not with the behind the scenes production information on fiction films. With documentaries, though, I like to know about some of the circumstances of filming certain scenes, such as when we see a teen house party with lots of underage drunkenness in the upcoming Medora or why all indication of evangelical Christian motives are hidden from Sundance winner Blood Brother. I’ll raise questions about filmmaking ethics in a doc review that I wouldn’t be concerned with when writing on a drama. Except maybe a drama directed by someone like Herzog or von Trier where that might actually be relevant to what’s on screen.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, Periodical

I’m a big fat hypocrite when it comes to this subject. I’ve often said that Polanski’s misdemeanors ought not be taken into account when looking at his work, but am equally guilty of doing that very thing with other filmmakers. Be it Xavier Dolan’s age as a positive contextual element, or the divorce of Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina as an important shadow bearing over Pierrot Le Fou, a filmmaker’s personal circumstances often play an essential part of understanding how their work functions.

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

I think a critic assigned to review a film is responsible first to what is on screen, and second to the story behind the story. That’s not to say one can’t influence or discuss the other, or that critics should not write about anecdotes surrounding a hot film, but it’s one thing for a filmmaker to talk about something that influenced his work, and another for something to happen in the media that overshadows the film altogether. Lars von Trier gained more attention for his Cannes rant while publicizing Melancholia than he did for the film itself. Likewise, when Paul Schrader’s The Canyons received ink about the filmmaker stripping naked on set, it was much discussed, but really just a fun fact or footnote. Neither of these examples contribute to the character studies on screen — or do they? I am all for addressing the behavior of filmmakers and/or actors on set and off, but I think when reviewing a film, the responsibility should be to the filmmaker’s art not his antics.

Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

I already hate that I’m even the slightest bit aware of the controversy and will continue to tune it out until after I have seen the movie. If after seeing it I feel that the controversy informs my take on the movie in an interesting way, I’ll reckon with it during our discussion on the show.

Calum Marsh, The Village Voice, Film.com

There are of course exceptions, but in general I think context only matters if it is evident in the text. Certainly an awareness of off-camera information helps inform your reading, but no more or less than, say, a familiarity with American history informs your reading of Lincoln. But when it comes to controversy, in particular, my thinking is this: I care less that a filmmaker is (say) racist or misogynistic than if a film is racist or misogynistic.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Ideally, those off-camera factors should not be germane, but if the final product somehow reflects them, it can be hard to avoid. A good case in point is Victor Salva, who did time for lewd conduct with an underage boy, then makes movies about a pants-sniffing ancient demon who wants to eat male teenagers – when his camera lingers on urination scenes or male crotches, it’s tough not to think of the director’s proclivities. Certainly nobody can watch something like The Passion of the Christ or Battlefield Earth without thinking about the beliefs of the big names attached, but I think it went way too far with After Earth this year – Will Smith donated money to a Scientology school once, and therefore the entire movie (and no other one he’s ever made) is religious propaganda? Methinks not.

Last year, there was talk that a werewolf subplot was excised from The Lone Ranger; given that hints remain in the final cut that that might have been true, speculating aloud isn’t off-base. But rumors of troubles, budgets, reshoots and affairs bore me; in the end, I don’t think any reviews of Titanic, for example, really lingered on those, because the movie spoke for itself, as it should.

Q: What is the best movie currently in the theaters?

A: 12 Years a Slave

Other films receiving multiple votes: All Is Lost, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Gravity

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Comments

Albert Sanchez Moreno

I don't think what happens behind the scenes during filming should affect a critic's review of a motion picture. Sometimes, when a stage play is filmed and things go wrong during a filming, the critics use that as an excuse to trash the film. That's not fair. A bad film adaptation of a play or musical should be considered bad on its own merits, not on whether it would have been better if there hadn't been behind-the-scenes bickering or dismissals.

Brian W.

This was a really good question and an important one to address, but I think it goes beyond just controversy, and most of the critics seemed to reflect that in their answers, and they mostly likewise share my view on this.

As a journalist, I don't think a critic should write about anything in a vacuum. Including narrative details and historical background about a film, a director, an actor or any or all of their influences into a review is what tends to make modern criticism great.

And yet what happens quite often is the media narrative begins to color the perception of the work. It's not to say that the critic does not have strong, compelling points about a film, but they construct their review in such a way to make a tangential connection between the offscreen drama and the onscreen work. It can for one be a forced metaphor, but it can also seem as though these reviews are written before the critic sat down to watch it.

I see this happen a lot in music criticism more so than film, especially at Pitchfork (maybe the Dissolve too for that matter), where I respect the hell out of the writers there. You get three massive paragraphs that go into the entire history of the band and all their trials and tribulations on stage and off before finally getting to the nuts and bolts of the current album. Does that serve a purpose when every other writer is making the same comparison? What if you had listened to that album without any preconceived notions? It's not to say you're oblivious, but how would you write your piece differently if you didn't know what you already knew or were convinced ahead of time was an important detail?

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