Films are a visual, interactive imitation of how we perceive our world & give us insight into who we really are. They make us aware of the things we have overlooked. They entertain us and take us to places we could never have imagined. Films have become an important part of our lives, it is the biggest of the mass arts, it is the most powerful medium to express ideas.
Political leaders have been using it as a tool for propaganda, it can inspire the way people react to real-life situations and at the same time, people are sensitized towards various socio-political issues by portraying real-life issues, films play such a big role in depicting everything that we are and we do but the question is ‘Why is film criticism so important for world cinema?’ and What responsibility do critics have towards cinema and the audience?
According to one of the greatest American film critic Roger Ebert, whose decades of hard work in film criticism defined the profession & also gave rise to the most universal expression of ‘two thumbs up’ said-
“Film criticism is important because films are important”. How else can we value what challenges film tackle head-on, what societal flaws they highlight or fears they expose? Is there another way for us to truly appreciate & understand this mass art? No. Without criticism, films are not valued enough and the cultural importance of films and documentaries diminishes.
1. The Role of a film critic
The nature of film criticism is to enlighten and enrich one’s experience with the art of film, not to interpret film for people. It is meant to put elements of specific films into cultural context & provide a backdrop to the decisions directors, actors, producers, and composers made in the making of the film. Film criticism is not only meant to shape how we watch films but also meant to help shape the film industry.
Critics help the directors, actors, musicians, cinematographers grow, by listening to those who can see past the theatre screen & into the inside work of a production house. I understand most people watch or read film reviews only to decide whether to watch that film or not but as a critic, it is their job to make that decision easier for the audience but then that’s just a part of the job. There’s a vast array of responsibilities a film critic has towards both the audience and the art of cinema itself. Unfortunately, since the democratization of the internet mediocre film criticism has become a norm.
A lot of film criticism today sound or read like personal opinion pieces of a cinema enthusiast instead of a thorough well reference dissection of a movie by an expert telling her audience why and how often a film does or doesn’t work, that expert part is important for the nonweekly review side of a critics job, a job that involves encouraging critical thinking and introducing new developments in cinema in terms of content, narrative style, and technology.
They must look beyond the weekly blockbusters and big-budget films and shed light on their smaller counterparts. They have to be as personally and aggressively involved in informing the audience about the local and global development in cinema as a tabloid writer obsessing over Kim Kardashian’s outfit on a red carpet.
2. Contribution of film critics to world cinema
Many times people complain that critics add no value to cinema except for hate to every film but a little glance at the history of cinema will reveal the contribution of critics to the cinema. The cinema that we consume today the kinetic cinematography, dynamic editing, enthralling montages, and creative sound design is in many ways an outcome of a film movement known as the ‘French New Wave’ which was started by critics like Francois Truffaut, Andre Bazin, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer.
Why is film criticism so important for new talent to prosper?
We all acknowledge that Alfred Hitchcock was among the greatest filmmakers of all time but during his time his reputation was only of a mild entertainer, those same film critics then analyzed his films and introduced the entire world the details and the depth he added in each of his work, elevating him from being the master of suspense to the master of cinema.
In the late ’60s and the early ’70s a rising film critic named Roger Ebert along with the seasoned critic Pauline Kael wrote extensively in support of a young American independent filmmaker, it brought him and his films in the eyes of a large audience, and the name of that filmmaker was Martin Scorsese. Critics like Ebert and Pauline continued to support small independent filmmakers until their death.
3. What does film criticism means to us?
As a normal audience, we hardly pay attention to lighting, directing styles, cinematography, music and other technicalities involved in movie making. Of course, a movie is a combination of all these factors which eventually decides the overall quality, look and feel of the movie but as a normal audience we don’t look beyond good acting, cinematography or music but there’s much more to a movie.
It’s the role of a critic to explain it to you why a movie has a certain type of editing style, how lighting affects the mood of a scene, how a particular musical note enhances the visual storytelling, why blocking and staging of actors in a scene is necessary, how framing a scene in a particular way affects how we perceive a scene & most importantly from where does a movie find it’s the inspiration from?
Criticism can be used as a tool to discover undisclosed areas, only stating the obvious facts is something that even a guy with a laptop and internet connection can do. As a critic, you need to tell your audience something that will help them appreciate the film better and shed light on stuff that usually goes unnoticed.
4. A modern perspective on film criticism
A modern perspective towards film criticism comes a bit harsh & cynical. At the other end of the table, some think that delving deep into every film will take the fun out of the movie, they believe that as an audience they can enjoy a film for what it is, but critics then dissect it and analyze it to the point that it becomes dull and mundane, and then they wonder why is film criticism so important in the first place and do we really need critics?
This is hardly the case, critics enjoy films like any other audience at the same time they can see more, they can see how the narrative is structured and complicated actions are choreographed to look paradoxically simple & beautiful, they can enjoy the beauty in small things like a precise cut that transcends space and time, they can even shed light on certain filmmaking decisions like why the film was shot on digital or film stock? Why were certain instruments used to produce background music? Does the use of colours have any cultural significance?
These questions then lead to some interesting observations like how the personal experience of a filmmaker can influence the looks & feel of the movie. Criticism doesn’t make the movie-going experience dull, in fact, it adds to the excitement, adds to the mystery and awe of this beautiful art form of cinema. After all, film critics are film lovers who have chosen this path because they believe in cinema as an art form
5. Why is film criticism so important?- The Bottom line
A lot of young reviewers are shy about expressing about how they fell about a movie. Their review is more or less is influenced by a popular belief prevalent in that point of time. Cinema is visual and an oral art form, if you don’t talk about how sound and image is used to convey ideas or emotions in the film then you are neither doing justice to the film nor the audience.
Let your audience know Why is film criticism so important? Why a film was shot entirely in close-ups or used a certain aspect-ratio? or Why the camera was handheld? or Why the sound design was minimalistic? because of all these things matter. I don’t mean to say that a film review should just contain technical stuff, no, but only a little information would do. Ultimately films are made by directors, by actors, films are made by editors, films are made by cinematographers, and music composers, and sound designers and production designers, films are made by filmmakers, so start talking about filmmaking.