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I’ve loved movies since I was seven, and my Mum was a private care nurse for a very nice lady who lived about a quarter of a mile away. Some days, after she picked me up from school, she’d take me there and finish her shift. The lady in question was really sweet and let me watch a Betamax (Yes) tape of Star Wars she had.
I was hooked, I watched that thing into the ground and that notion, the idea that a movie can transport you away from yourself stayed with me. I know pictures are better on the radio or in books, but for me, a movie screen is a doorway into somewhere else, somewhere I can go which isn’t my head for a couple of hour. Like all of us, there have been times in my life when I’ve desperately needed that and each time, there’s been a movie for me to escape into, or at the very least, watch. With that sort of experience in my childhood, becoming a movie critic was inevitable, and since I was 18, I’ve been paid (Or not) to talk about films. I love it, a lot of my happiest memories are tied up in movies, or talking about them, or seeing them with friends.
The thing is, film criticism is one of the largest choirs on the internet. It’s incredibly easy to write a completely average review of a film:
Throw in the odd bit of snark and one or two comparisons and you’ve got a lot of lazy, half assed modern film criticism. And make no mistake, there is a lot of lazy, half-assed modern film criticism. Not all by any means, there’s a whole flotilla of print magazines that turn in great work month and month out, whilst online, critics like Afrofilmviewer are consistently smart, perceptive and enthusiastic. Likewise, Massawyrm, before he stepped across to writing them himself, was the sole ray of eloquence in the never ending hyperbole sea that Aint It Cool News long ago became and Brendon Connelly at Bleeding Cool does astounding work not only pulling apart trailers and scenes at the microscopic level to show how they work but also constantly finding new, interesting angles on what most other sites fritter away as minor news bites. All three of them are united by one idea, or ideal, that so many critics lost years ago;
My favorite piece of writing online, anywhere, so far this year is Afrofilmviewer’s breakdown of his top ten movies of 2012, not just because he’s got some really interesting choices but because of everything else he talks about in there, from different, legal ways of online viewing and how that’s rapidly changing to the movies he wanted to see this year but didn’t. It’s inspiring, as is Brendon’s willingness to pull a trailer apart scene by scene to dissect why it’s been built that way, or Michael Moran, also on Bleeding Cool, and his ability to accept a film’s weak points without overlooking its positives. All four of these critics’ work continually pushes, teaches and inspires me. I’m a better writer for reading their work.
Incidentally, I’m aware there are no female film critics on that list. I’ve tried the late Pauline Kael but never, once, got on with her work. If you have any suggestions, please let me know at @AlasdairStuart on Twitter, I’d love to add some to my reading list
But even these critics are still, from where I stand, in the minority. There’s a never ending list of ‘Tell you that the film is good and why’ critics and why, I’ve been and am one of them and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also never ending legions of people wanting to beat you to death with their brain rather than talk about the movie, critics trapped behind their agendas and prejudices and a lot who are plain, flat out, bad. If you want a perfect example of that, wait for any major genre movie release and look at any broadsheet’s film reviews that week. The sense of disgust at having to write something perceptive about a ‘nerd’ movie is palpable. And, again, if I’m wrong, please point me at examples.
But I want to be more than that.
So here’s the plan; Last year I wrote a short essay on every single movie I saw in 2012. With each one, I’ve tried to do something different, take a critical approach which works from inside the movie instead of keeping it at a distance so instead of an isolated, intellectual object, the movie becomes part of the essay. I’m still on the good bit/bad bit axis for a lot of these, but at the very least it’s wearing different clothes. Some of them are, essentially, bits of fiction using the movie as a starting point (‘Just when I thought I was out…’) and some of them, a lot of them, use the connective tissue between different stories as a starting point. For example, in the Skyfall essay, which will go up on Friday, spy fiction fans will spot a lot of people who may look very familiar. Bond exists in the same fictional space as these people, and there’s nothing that says they can’t co-exist, so in these pieces, they do. That’s a very heady idea for me, and one I’ll be playing with in more detail later in the year, but for now, suffice to say most of these pieces are crammed full of easter eggs.
I am probably going to fall flat on my face with these, more than once. But that’s okay. They’re something different, and that’s all I want them to be. Plus the title of the Battleship essay is ACE.
So, please join me every Friday for the Friday movie. First up, Skyfall- Dinner at the Club. See you there, the doorman will take your coat.