Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Pro-Woody Allen tirade

This marks the end of me taking the advice, critiques or opinions of anyone on arts and entertainment.

'Why are you so adamant about this change?' you may ask. Well the answer is simple: You are all wrong most of the time. Nay, I might as well go full-out. You're pretty much always wrong.

I have a ton of respect for art reviewers. It is the profession I desire most, after all, so I hold those who have achieved what I covet on some pedestal. I look at them with one part admiration and another part envy.

Contrary to popular belief which would have it that those who make their life's earnings out of having an opinion, it is a difficult task to be a credible and interesting critic. Not only do you have to harbor strong proclivities for a particular art, but you also have to have a huge store of knowledge on the subject and its history. You have to be able to work on deadline with the same quality of writing that you'd have if you were given ages to work on the same project. You have to devote your time to experiencing things that you love and loathe, perhaps on a day to day basis. And you may never quite know what you're in for.

Critics deserve our respect simply by the number of responsibilities that weigh on them at once. People might assume they're just meddlesome fools who dogmatically profess their thoughts as if they're fact, but if your opinion is good then you can substantiate it in fact to the point that this argument becomes nugatory.

This is all I want out of life. It's what I want to prove I'm capable of. Other people try to fulfill themselves by achieving fame or fortune, even "making the world a better place." My goal is to wake up every day and know I'll be happy, entertained, striving for new knowledge.

Yet I can't get past this stereotype of stupidity in the career path of my choosing. And I think I've found the culprit behind the misconceptions.

Critiques are opinions, but opinions are not necessarily critiques.

There you have it. The reason why some people are great critics at newspapers and magazines around the world, and why other people are trolls posting on Rotten Tomatoes about the "raddest film ever" or the "most god awful thing" they've ever seen. There's an art to commenting on art. And above all it requires some level of objectivity and understanding.

Today I went to see To Rome with Love with my dad. We'd been putting off going to this film - the newest in Woody Allen's repertoire - because we'd heard from personal sources as well as recognized critics, that this was just not a shining beacon along Allen's glistening film career.

After watching the movie today, I was almost furious with all the bad comments I'd heard about this film.

Sure, it's not quirky intellectual Annie Hall material. It's not even up to the level of cheesy but endearing Purple Rose of Cairo. At times it looks like more of a travel video than a film set in Rome, dealing at times with people who might label themselves as "locals." But at its heart this is a great film - certainly up there when compared in quality to many of Allen's more recent films.

But so many people were poking at To Rome with Love, exclaiming that it lacked the charm and quality of Midnight in Paris. That as a follow-up, it paled in comparison.

Well to those I must say - it is time to step out of the dogmatic opinionated person's hat and into that of a critic. In other words, know what you're talking about.

A few years ago I started getting into Woody Allen films for myself. Until then it had been "my dad's thing." I didn't care to know more about his films than that which my dad forced me to see. So I'd basically seen Scoop, half of Annie Hall and then given up after that.

When I started watching Allen for myself, though, I realized what a vast quantity of films he had. And within that vast quantity were groups of largely separate and unique settings, actors, stories, etc. (albeit with some repeats, but only because they were of the utmost quality).

To Rome with Love is in some ways a repeat. It uses actors from Allen's other films (including PĂ©nelope Cruz, Alison Pill, Judy Davis and of course Woody Allen himself), it draws on the more romantic aspects of a European city known for its charm and beauty (other cities Allen has focused on include Paris, London, Barcelona and obviously New York) and the tone in general is very Allen-esque. Without the stuttering, stumbling and carefully chosen words, it wouldn't be a Woody film.

But it is also something unique. Try to compare it to Midnight in Paris and, though you may look like you're up on your 2012 Oscar bait, you risk sounding like you have no idea what you're talking about.

The thing about Midnight in Paris is that it was Woody Allen's first massive hit in a very long time. Not only did it win him critical acclaim (like many of his movies have), but it got him mass audience appeal, a fairly wide release and an Academy Award win for Best Writing for an Original Screenplay. This was a major feat for Allen whose hadn't won an Oscar since 1987 for Hannah and Her Sisters.

If a reviewer is only looking at the most acclaimed film in a massively famous director's repertoire as a point of comparison for a new film, especially if said film is the most recent release of that director, then there is something wrong with the reviewer.

Woody Allen has created so many wonderful films in his 50 years in the business. To say that To Rome with Love doesn't measure up to his last film (released just last year), is to ignore the fact that with a broader view the film actually is quite magnificent.

Once I got into Woody Allen films I never looked back. It's not as though all of them are 100 percent perfect. Some of them wouldn't even crack my Top 300 films, I'm sure. But the worst of Woody Allen is still Woody Allen, and therefore still worth the watch.

It disturbs me that with the distraction of a few not-so-knowledgeable voices tearing down To Rome with Love, I almost missed out on the opportunity to see this beautiful city and this adorable film on the big screen. It's a mistake I won't make again.

Woody Allen fans owe it to him to make their opinions themselves. After years of devoted film watching, it's our duty to ignore the public opinion so that we can form our own. Because as we know, his films may be seen from a slanted perspective - with successes that cause high expectations and shortsightedness. That doesn't mean a bad opinion should spoil our perception.

Maybe it's a bit strong to say that I no longer trust anyone's critical opinion on art because of this little mishap. But it's hard under the circumstances to trust anyone when so many will speak without knowing what they are talking about. If you are to formulate a proper critique, you need to know what it is you're talking about.

That's the goal, anyway.

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