Ben Wheatley, whose “High Rise” will open in the U.S. on May 13, caused a minor stir recently when he expressed some less-than-complimentary views about film critics. “It’s a job that I wouldn’t want or seek out,” he told Cassam Looch. “As a creative person I think you should be making stuff. That’s the challenge. Talking about other people’s stuff is weird. Why aren’t you making stuff? And if you aren’t, why should you really have a voice to complain about things until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes? There are a lot of critics that I like and I read a lot of stuff online, but just as a personal thing I don’t get that relationship with art where you can just talk about it but not create it.” (The sentence before that: “I’m not as judgmental now.”)
In a new interview with the Guardian’s Mark Kermode, Wheatley clarifies, sort of:
“Yeah, I read reviews,” he says. “I read Twitter, I read everything. And it’s dangerous. Because it can become a bigger part of the experience than the making of the work — it can take up a lot of headspace. But criticism has massively changed. In the past there would have been three newspapers, and that would have been it. Now there’s everything. It’s almost like you can hear the whole audience the whole time, and perhaps the critical voice gets drowned out by that. So for every film, you can find a review that says it’s great and a review that says it’s the worst film ever made, and then you’ve got every shade in between. So searching through them is kind of not helpful.”
But you do it anyway?
“Yeah, because I’m interested in what those reactions are. It’s tricky because it’s not like it can make you change what you do next, because by the time you do the next film you’re a different person. So you end up looking back at the film you made, and then you become part of that firmament of criticism.”
Of course, in that same interview, Kermode relates how when he interviewed Wheatley for his slasher comedy, “Sightseers,” Wheatley agreed to film a sequence in which the filmmaker murdered the critic with an axe.
Although “Creed’s” Ryan Coogler called critics and filmmakers “twin siblings,” they’re fraternal rather than identical twins, and a certain level of antagonism between them is not only inevitable but healthy: Filmmakers shouldn’t be expected to like having their work torn down, and critics shouldn’t expect to be liked. The old canard about how critics don’t create and therefore shouldn’t “have a voice” has been debunked ad nauseam, but while it’s a simple fact that no review will ever take as long to make as the film it’s about did to create, acquiring the skill and the acumen to write something truly worthwhile does.