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Ken Loach Thinks We Should Fire Critics and Replace Them With “Ordinary Punters”

Ken Loach Thinks We Should Fire Critics and Replace Them With "Ordinary Punters"

By and large, Ken Loach has had a good run with movie critics: Not one of his films has an average lower than 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and three — 1969’s “Kes,” 1993’s “Raining Stones” and 2003’s “The Navigators” have a perfect 100. But with his latest movie, “Jimmy’s Hall,” opening in the U.K., Loach has made it clear the feeling isn’t mutual. In a video interview with the Guardian, he suggested doing away with them altogether: “Sack the critics and get ordinary punters in,” he said. “People experienced, who know life.”

By and large, critics are people who live in darkened rooms. They don’t meet the people who are running campaigns to save hospitals or save community centers or are engaging to in that political struggle in the real world…. If they did, they’d meet people who from their own experience can articulate their own ideas, can articulate a strategy for a political campaign or whatever. And they’d find people have a richness of language and a use of language that is very vivid. It’s like it’s a fantasy for them. 

The odd thing is that “Jimmy’s Hall” got fairly good reviews across the board. Perhaps he’s talking about Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, who called it “an odd, only fitfully engaging hybrid of ‘The Quiet Man’ and ‘Footloose,’ which neither packs much of a punch nor is particularly nimble on its feet,” or the Playlist’s Jessica Kiang, who said “The complexity of the political landscape in Depression-era rural Ireland… is not so much shown as told, often in awkwardly polemic speeches poorly disguised as casual conversations between acquaintances.” Maybe it’s Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, who called it “less a portrait of the Irish communist leader Jimmy Gralton than a big, dopey kiss blown at him.” Or Robbie Collin, who writes in the Telegraph

This is exasperatingly thin stuff from Loach and Laverty, who have in the past
built far more textured narratives, peopled by far richer characters, even
while maintaining a fierce, politicised charge. This story, though, is so
dramatically facile – working classes good, ruling classes bad – that it all
but evaporates on contact with air. Which makes you wonder: why tell it? And
why now? Loach and Laverty have both suggested that Jimmy, a threat to the
status quo and a man whom the authorities want to do away with at all costs,
might be viewed as a surrogate Julian Assange-figure (the director is a
prominent supporter of the WikiLeaks co-founder, and helped to raise his
£200,000 bail), but Jimmy’s character is so flatly and uninterestingly noble
that the parallel feels half-formed, even naive.  

But in Variety, Scott Foundas praised the film’s ” talky but stimulating ideological tennis matches.” Alan Coor at RTE called it a “lovely and lyrical folk history.” At Indiewire, Eric Kohn said it “captures more than simply the early stirrings of a cultural revolution. It situates them in the tense, claustrophobic world where any secular form of expression was an automatic taboo.” In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote:

The movie is at its best when it simply expounds an idealism, with its own distinctive frankness. There is a wonderful sequence in which people just sit in a circle in Jimmy’s hall for a sort of practical criticism session: they discuss WB Yeats’s poem “The Song of the Wandering Aengus,” and talk about what it means to them. I could watch simple, thoughtful scenes like this for hours on end.

You understand why someone like, say, Seth MacFarlane might rail against critics. But Ken Loach? Despite his proletarian sympathies, his forty-plus year career offers little evidence that his movies are of much interest to “ordinary punters,” who’ve give them far less attention than critics have. Don’t be a hater, Ken Loach.

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Donald L. Vasicek

What is one of the first you or the person or persons you are with say about a film, after you've watched a it together? I'd be willing to bet that each person has a different opinion about the film, although some might parallel each other. My point is what kind of expertise gives individuals the right to be critics? Some critics can ruin a filmmaker's hard work they put into a film they made. That is usually never mentioned by critics, you know, the hard work it takes to make a film. And it isn't mentioned by critics because most critics haven't been down in the filmmaking trenches. Critics are like parasites. They feed off of what someone else does, and as a filmmaker, I believe that I want as little as possible to do with critics feeding off of my blood, sweat and tears.

Jack Lawrence

Go onto Netflix or any other film streaming service and look at the user reviews section. There is your answer as to why this is a bad idea. "Ordinary punters" don't understand how to objectively or fairly critique a movie.

Michael Denvir

Criticism is certainly imperfect, moreso than actual art because by its nature it pretends to a objective perspective that art does not. I come from a background in music, and over the years I've arrived to the point where I find music criticism nearly worthless to me. It just gets in the way of my experiencing and appreciating something I can (and will) appreciate on my own terms without the mediation of someone who did not make the music. So I'm very sympathetic to the idea of ignoring the critics, but I do find myself reading movie reviews often, maybe because I know much less about film, or maybe it's the nature of the medium — films require to be watched end to end to be viewed fairly while I can figure something out about a song in the the first few minutes… The movie reviews are a good preview. Anyway, I appreciate these articles in Indiewire because they make me think about these things.

Sean Juan

Why so defensive? Are you so surprised that an artist might not like or respect critics? Surely Ken Loach isn't the first one to make such a comment. I actually think his words were tempered.

Nathan Duke

Bill, I was just ribbing you a little about the name.

I can appreciate what you're saying. It's just that most of the critics I know prefer to remain that way. Put it this way, I took a shot at working "in film" for several years and I didn't finally give it up because it didn't seem I was going to make it, but rather because it was a little soul deadening.

On the other hand, watching films and writing about them (which is not what I do full time, but rather on my time) is – for me – a much more gratifying experience than working on movies.

And given the choice – and I know plenty others who feel the same way – between "making it" as a filmmaker/screenwriter, etc. or a critic, I'd choose the latter without having to give it any thought. Plus, I'd hope you agree that good criticism is an art form itself.

Nathan Duke

Dave – or Bill – first off, which is it?

Here's an interesting tidbit: A majority of the critics with whom I've come into contact are more interested in being critics, not filmmakers. So, the whole "get off your bum and make a movie" to gain "respect" doesn't fly. Would you tell a reporter covering politics to run for office instead? Or a crime reporter to get a job as a beat cop?

I personally like Ken Loach's films, but this isn't the first time he's made comments I found to be a bit strange – remember, he was among those who believed "Zero Dark Thirty" condoned torture when, I'd be willing to bet, that was an example of a male filmmaker getting bent out of shape that a woman made a better political/war movie better than any other man at that time was doing.

Dave (or Bill)

"WHY DON'T YOU LIKE ME?" Is that really what you're saying here?

Ken speaks the truth: in these days of social activity, fast word-of-mouth and facebook/twitter/instagram/google/whatever else, why do we need a "professional critic"? As time goes on, those two words are going to become increasingly oxymoronic. Ken's right, leave criticism to the "people".

It IS possible Ken is saying, "I was making movies the day most of you were born. You don't have the integrity or capacity to critique me."

Sammy-Boy, why is it so confusing to you that you "critics" can bestow heaps of praise upon Ken and he still doesn't like you? Pro-tip: that strategy doesn't work with the ladies , either.

Critics, get off your bum and make a movie. Then we'll respect your criticism (and then you'll realize how pointless it all is.) I don't believe it's Ken who is the hater.

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