Monday, December 12, 2011

The "Expert" Opinion

(DISCLAIMER: I've had one of those fantastically rejuvenating weekends, so I'm feeling pleasantly positive and generally patient with the human race. I wrote this rant, I suppose you'd call it, on Friday, after going through everyone's comments on Drive.)

You know what’s lovely about the still pre-law info-bill South Africa? The fact that we’re still allowed to have an opinion on ANYTHING. And Saffas love having an opinion.

What I love even more is the opinion on movies, music and books. Movies are art, in any form, because they’re unwaveringly subjective. It’s either your cup of tea, or it’s not. That’s why we talk about films with friends – to find out what other people thought; maybe give yourself a different perspective. Films are talking points. And that’s what makes their role in society so important.

(No, not every movie contributes so society, don’t get me wrong. A lot of them are made for pure entertainment value, and of course money.)

So why does the film critic, or even reviewer, still exist, when we’re so content to have our own opinion and stick with that?

It’s simply because we understand the things that separate one movie from the others. We know how a movie is made, we know how it’s constructed. We understand the cinematography, mise en scene, the deus ex machina – something employed very effectively in the movie I’ll talk about in a second, motifs. I could go on ad nauseam. But I don’t need to explain that pompous, theoretical crap to you – it’s obscure and tells you nothing you really WANT to know about the movie. But reviewers or critics in particular use the knowledge of those practices to judge how effectively a movie has been made. Or how much thought has gone into it. Because it’s the technicalities in certain movies that tell you more about it’s message; why it was made and what it’s trying to do.

I studied post-modernism, feminism, Greek theatre, Greek history and Greek mythology, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, modernism, existentialism – I’ll leave it at that – in order to understand the motivation for making movies. Even the skop-skiet-en-donners use The Heroes Journey and other solid Hollywood techniques that I studied. The point of this Nonhle-tendency self-serving CV, is that (to a degree) I know what I’m talking about.

Reviews from people who aren’t “film educated” are also great, because they’ll often just give you a point of view purely in entertainment value. I try write my reviews like that, because let’s face it, only a drama lecturer gives a shit about the theoretical application to film. The viewer reading a review before watching something couldn’t care less about the tones, acting techniques or references to older movies. That’s also why Channel 24 has reader reviews.

I’m going to use the recent experience with Drive as an example, because I urged viewers going to the Nu Metro screenings to tweet their opinions. Now, if you DID watch Drive, you’ll know it’s most definitely not everyone’s grain of oatmeal. So I expected the largely female audience to hate it. Specifically since I’m sure they were imagining Gosling in his Crazy, Stupid Love form. Firstly: no naked Ryan, and secondly: gory, bloody violent and moody. I was thoroughly enjoying everyone’s shock – because it’s exactly how I felt watching it. I was cringing and uncomfortable in my seat the whole time, not to mention gasping in horror every five minutes. And some people hated it. More people loved the surprise and novelty of a movie that effective. I reiterate – that is why movies are great: we all have different opinions.

What I don’t love, however, is people trying to substantiate their dislike by pseudo-critting it: by commenting on its crap cinematography and weak plot… These are of course the same people that think Instagram makes them a photographer, so I shouldn’t be paying them any attention. But, I’d hate to tell you, Drive has some of the best purpose-suited cinematography I’ve seen.

Cinematography isn’t always about tricky angles and new ways of filming – it’s about serving the story, serving the tone and mood. That’s the whole point of knowing what to look for – knowing why each and every thing it set out in its specific way. The score and soundtrack were part of that too, for those who didn’t ‘get it’. It’s because it’s an action movie that’s echoing the silent, stoic characters of older action movies. And it was awesome, so, with all my vocal might: SHURRUP. In addition to that, the plot was hardly weak. You may have noticed there was little dialogue. If you’re a smart movie watcher, you’ll have realized the plot was being told in every second of silence. It makes you interpret things; it makes you think about how you as the character would feel – THAT’S how the story is told. It’s pulp fiction in some senses.

Speaking of which, another ‘criticism’ by the pseudo-experts was the “unnecessary” gratuitous violence. When one is shot at close range with a shotgun, ‘tis not a thin stream of blood that emits from the temple. Your head fucking blows off, innit? And I’d be willing to guess that some of these critics are huge fans of cult classics, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill etc. So Tarantino’s cut off limbs spurting out more blood than the human body can hold, is somehow more acceptable? (Don’t misunderstand – I love those films.) The excessive is entertaining, but the realistic gore that made people so uncomfortable in Drive is kinda the whole point. You’re not supposed to ENJOY it the way you do in Tarantino movies.

I have no reason to be defending Drive, that’s not what my rant is about. It has its flaws, of course. Not a perfect film.

My point is, there is a difference between having an opinion and having an informed opinion. Or knowing and understanding why you dislike something. I thought it was a natural process to feel a certain way about something, and then assess why you feel that way. As a social human being, you then have the backing, should you need it, to explain your opinion. And you know what, screw everyone, if that’s how you feel, that IS the end of it.

But please, do yourself a favour. Don’t purport to know what you’re talking about, and make an arse of yourself. Leave that to the pros, huh? We enjoy looking like tools. 

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