A pause for thought; to take stock; to reiterate a point about why I write this blog, no matter how sporadically it might appear.
It isn’t to do with the fact that I’m getting dumber – I certainly hope that isn’t a fact. The Onslaught came about as a reaction to the default negative position that so many outlets take when it comes to movies. There’s an eagerness towards the overtly critical, the judgemental, a race to cast doubt.
These fill column inches which would otherwise be…what, bare?
Do the people who make their living from, or spend their free time indulging in, their personal passion actually have nothing positive to say about their chosen topic? If you’re a fan, why is it so unacceptably off-book to look forward to a sequel, an adaptation, a reboot or a new project, to maintain an open and unbiased mind? Why must every choice made by those who have actual intellectual ownership of something a fandom seems to assume emotional ownership of themselves, be bad, wrong, questionable?
Not all publicity is good publicity.
Bad publicity can kill a film at the box office before it has a chance. The proliferation of fake news and the jostling crowd of clickbait articles that swarm in the advertising space beneath, to the side of and between articles on otherwise reputable websites skew their bread and butter material to the sensationalist negative headline because that is what attracts eyeballs. We look for disaster and misery and negativity.
It gives us a position of elevation, above the subject matter – we can look down at an article about a high profile, big budget movie rumoured to be in trouble and say “ah, well, I’m not surprised that’s troubled,” and we can nod sagely and feel comforted that our own unsubstantiated opinion has been justified by someone else when they question the choice of director, the filming location, the colour of someone’s hair.
But you can’t entirely blame the clickbait notion of “misery sells,” despite the increasing number of outlets reporting on box office failures that wouldn’t otherwise have crossed their radar. That notion came from somewhere and has been fed by something.
There can be a duality to fandom, a darkness that drops down hard over the light, and it applies to a topic as broad as film. I remember from Film Studies that there a lot of film snobs who only regard cinema as art – Hollywood is a blight on the independent movement, a stain on the history of film. The masses enjoy Hollywood, so the film snobs definitely can’t stomach them; us and them.
The cinema is an experience, as I’ve said before. The cinema, films, the act of being an audience, is entertainment in its simplest form and art in its highest. Every single frame of a movie is composed with cinematography, art direction, focus, sound, numerous components – built like a picture, like a piece of art. But that frame is joined with others to create a narrative – to tell a story, to evoke an atmosphere, to prompt a feeling.]
And despite the intrinsic value of “art” not every film sets out to be a masterwork. You don’t go to Baywatch expecting to see The Usual Suspects; yet film criticism doesn’t distinguish between the two. One is awful, one is genius, judged on the same unspoken criteria. It’s a one-sided conversation where a personal bias — or an editorial bias — leaves no room for interpretation and yet balance has to be maintained if something plays better than that personal bias expects.
Something can never just be good; if it is good, you have to point out what was bad. If you don’t establish the bad, will anyone bother to read? If you don’t ensure criticism, no matter how wilfully you only indulge one possible reading of a film — not necessarily the intended one, but the one that substantiates your argument which, as anyone who has ever attempted a Queer reading of a mainstream film will know, is always remarkably easy to engineer — do you run the risk of not doing your job properly?
They make their point as gospel, clarifying what they see fit to clarify, wielding their convenient readings without ever having to have them questioned; they might be called to task in the comments, but they never have to respond to them.
I’ve written articles like that in the past; I’ve written reviews oozing sarcasm and not remaining mindful of the effort that goes into making any movie, no matter how bad. I’ve given things a mark out of five, but as time has moved on, as I’ve moved on, I don’t see the point. You can’t give a grading for any movie arbitrarily; you might have a personal structure to what constitutes a two, a three, a five, but how the hell can you apply it to every movie?
Those reviews aren’t really fair – when a film that is quite clearly intended as comic summer entertainment for adults trips along, there’s a snide avalanche of criticism rolled down on top of it, happily judging it on the same criteria they might judge Citizen Kane to guarantee a fail. I’ve seen the film and it does indeed have a somewhat uneven tone; it does indeed have a workmanlike script; it isn’t laugh out loud so much as it is beam happily and giggle.
But those articles desperately searching for eyeballs make far too much of its shortcomings – ridiculing its screenplay which is, in all honesty, bare bones paint by numbers screenwriting, but it works and gets the job done. Whilst it never rises above the pedestrian or predictable and its story beats are neatly laid out for all to see, that holds the film together. I’ve seen better reviewed films that hang together far worse and, more often than not, entirely come off the rails.
It is what I want to read. I want to celebrate movies and cinema – perhaps I’m in a sad little minority with this, but I go to a movie hoping just to be entertained. I don’t want to be put off or told what to believe about a film, before production, during or whilst its in theatres. I’ve not really been disappointed by any movie I’ve seen recently because I try to see what the film was intending to do, I’m a willing participant in being involved, in understanding the characters, in investing in what is on offer.
The Onslaught was intended to be positive about films and film writing and a large part of that is acknowledging the things that it is meant to be reacting to – that dark shadow which critics often flock towards when they smell blood in the box office.
Screw the critics. Screw the opinions of a journalist or a random person behind a computer screen who sets down a judgement on something simply because they’ve watched a lot of films. I realise I’m a random person behind a computer screen too, but I’m not trying to set down a judgement; I’ve watched a lot of films, yes, and I’ve studied them academically. That doesn’t make my opinion more valid — perhaps more informed in some ways, but not any more valid than a critic, a journalist…or you.
I find it so unbelievably frustrating when someone says they haven’t seen a film because they “heard” it wasn’t very good or because it “hasn’t had good reviews”. If you’re interested at all, go and see it yourself – the review you read has so many mitigating factors in its decision-making that it is almost irrelevant to your personal view of the film in question…which you’ll only discover by seeing it yourself.
To go back to Baywatch again as a prime example, I’ve seen it compared in several reviews to 21 Jump Street and saying it’s nowhere near as good as that movie—but I didn’t find that film good at all. I found its crude humour irritating and its less crude jokes lazy but the cast not engaging enough to forgive that; I found Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum charmless in their roles and didn’t feel their chemistry. Yet I realise that’s my subjective experience of 21 Jump Street as the box office takings and 22 Jump Street show a lot of people liked that movie .
I would argue that objectively it’s no better or worse than Baywatch. It has a similarly basic screenplay, a male-skewing buddy-centric core, genre-standard direction and a certain kind of humour that lands badly as often as it does well. But, for me, that humour landed more solidly from the far more likeable cast of Baywatch who smooth the edges off the rougher gags; Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron sparked off each other brilliantly; the trope-laden plot was bolstered better by the trappings of a nudge in the ribs nod to the source material which I personally was more invested in.
And I really enjoyed myself. That’s why I write The Onslaught the way I do – by finding something to say about the film in question, by finding something to write about that is more than a review or an assessment; something that speaks about the movie itself, its aims, its comparisons, its merits and its statements.
And my love of cinema, full stop. To celebrate the positive.
If you enjoy The Onslaught, there’s more to come! Follow the blog, leave a comment, say a thing, find me on Twitter – it’s all a conversation!