Thursday, September 25, 2008

Critically speaking....

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends... Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

Anton Ego(giving voice to Brad Bird), Ratatouille

I have been a fan of Roger Ebert ever since I stumbled into his website a couple of years ago. People generally begin with a love for movies and then find critics who can guide them to the movies they will like, but for me it was the other way around. Ebert is not limited to being a critic, his reviews show a deep love for movies that is infectious. His reviews are opinion pieces to be sure ( according to Ebert himself, a critic's job is just to give his impression of the movie) but the opinions of a man who is both intellectually sound and emotional about the subject at hand, not to mention a wonderful communicator, is perhaps the best guide possible.

Recently Ebert's wrote an article on his blog (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/09/critic_is_a_fourletter_word.html) talking about the role of critics. He calls the above words by Anton Ego "Some of the wisest.." Of course, when the movie came out, many thought the monologue was Brad Bird's proverbial rude gesture to critics in general. After all, who hates a critic more than a filmmaker. To make something, to spend time and money on it, to emotionally invest in it and see it ripped to shreds by some all-knowing snit can be a painful experience. But here's the kicker. Brad Bird has never experienced that, at least in his professional career. A two time oscar winner, all of his movies have been critically applauded by the best of them. A quick visit to rottentomatoes reveals the ratings 95% for Ratatouille, 97% for The Incredibles and 97% for The Iron Giant. So why would this man take five minutes of his movie to slap the wrists of those very people who have been nothing but effusively complimentry of him. My belief is that, he doesn't. Going back to sometime before the climactic cook-out, there is a little eschange between Linguini, the "hero" and Ego, a food critic who is known for his scathing reviews

Linguini: "And you're thin for someone who likes food."
Ego: "I don't like food, I love it... if I don't love it I don't swallow. I will return tomorrow night with high expectations...pray you don't disappoint me."

A critic, any true critic is one whose love for his subject is overwhelming. He abhors mediocrity. Yes I know the "average piece of junk.." statement in Ego's monologue, but chalk it up to being overwhelmed by the best meal he's had, shall we ? Going back the first responsibility of a critic is not to praise, or savage, or even give out little star ratings. His job is to fall in love with art. Anton is a fine critic, as is Ebert. Now if only there was someone who could give us a review of the best critics there are. In the age of the internet, finding good critics has perhaps become harder that finding good movies.