Apologies for the lack of new material on The Outland Institute this week. We’ve been having the asbestos in the east wing of the Institute replaced – it was getting a bit worn out. Do you know how hard it is to find asbestos these days? Meanwhile – in between interviewing puppet squirrels – I’ve also had other work commitments, including my new regular gig on the tv-themed-podcast Boxcutters and I’ve been doing some Fringe reviewing for AussieTheatre.com.
Speaking of reviewing, Syms Covington has been having some fun at the expense of The Tender Hook recently – it’s an Australian film, so you won’t have heard of it. It was released on the 9th of October and set new box-office records, taking $4.55 and half-a-biscuit in its first week, before it was mercifully taken out the back of the cinema and shot repeatedly in the head. Which reminds me, it stars Rose Byrne. (Actually, to be fair, I’ve discovered I only hate Rose Byrne in Australian films, I think she’s pretty good in non-Australian films, and she is genuinely lovely in real-life).
Syms’ less-than-flattering comments about The Tender Hook led to this comment, from a person named “Anonymous”:
“Syms, I feel very sorry for you. It seems that you find enjoyment in belittling films you would never have the skill or imagination to make. Maybe if The Tender Hook was about a bitter, cynical nerd with a blog, you’d have liked it. Maybe if it spelt out every detail ad-naueseum you may have liked it. When was the last time you got laid Syms? I’m guessing its been a while. Seriously though, it’s your loss that you weren’t able to enjoy The Tender Hook.
It’s people like YOU that are the problem with Australian film industry… Get a life you miserable tiny little man.”
So people like Syms are the problem with the Australian film industry? And there I was, thinking it was the films…
Meanwhile, over at Stale Popcorn a (positive) review of Lady Gaga’s album had this response:
“this is by far the lamest review i have read about an record in a long time…who is the reviewer…for all we know your at home listening to yanni…please stop doing album reviews…this is totally an opinion review…exactly not what writers are supposed to do…get a real job…”
Now, there are several things we can learn from this. The first is that punctuation can be your friend, and you should never feel too frightened to used capital letters. Next is the slightly bewildering phrase “this is totally an opinion review”. As opposed to what? Reviews that tell you the album is 12 tracks long, has a duration of 48 minutes and 12 seconds, and its data is stored in sectors of 2352 bytes each, read at 75 sectors per second, in accordance with Red Book Audio Specifications?
The thing that links both these comments is the suggestion that the reviewer is not experienced enough to review, that they have no right to review. I’ve run into this in the past – a local playwright once wrote to Melbourne Star Observer to complain about my mostly-positive review (he was angry that I said the play was better than his previous ones, as they were obviously brilliant too). And he did his best William Shatner impersonation by demanding to know “What… gives you… the right?”
The answer? I saw it. Here’s my point – anyone who has seen/heard/touched or tasted the work has a right to review. (Well, as long as they’ve used the appropriate sense – licking a film does not give you the right to review it, no matter how tasty it was. Same goes for listening to books, or smelling anything, with the possible exception of perfume. Does anyone review perfume? But if you have combined the right combination of senses and formats, you have the right to express your opinion).
You might argue that a semi-literate 12-year-old on IMDB has less of a right than – say – David Stratton to review a film, but that’s simply not true. David Stratton’s review will undoubtedly be better-informed and cogently-argued, but the 12-year-old’s comment that The Wages Of Fear is boring and foreign is totally justified. Not just because The Wages Of Fear is both boring and foreign, (unless you’re French, in which case it’s just boring) but because The Wages Of Fear is boring to that 12-year-old. For many 12-year-old cineastes that pithy review will be of far more use than David Stratton telling them that Armand Thirand’s cinematography is luminous, or that it made a star out of Yves Mortand.
All reviewing comes down to a relationship between the reviewer and the reader - do I like their taste? Do I agree with their track record? I know from experience that I tend to side with Margaret more than David, that the Onion A.V. Club tends to be right on the money, and that Adrian Martin is completely insane and should never be trusted (I’m choosing to overlook that time David and Margaret’s drinks were spiked with LSD and they both gave In The Cut five stars, even though it’s a complete pile of pants. Overlooking, but not forgetting. Or forgiving).
“Ah, democracy. Thanks for your comments, Anon, although I do have an alarming revelation for you: in my experience anyone who watches a movie tends to have an opinion on it, regardless of whether they are a filmmaker or not, and thanks to the rights of modern society they are entitled to express it. Perhaps you can direct me to your blog, or are you also criticising something that YOU don’t have the skill or imagination to do? Welcome to the interwebs, friend, I think you’ll find there is room for everyone.”