Battle Royale

Aaron Gerow gerow
Thu Jan 11 20:57:44 EST 2001

Mark wrote,

>I do too, but I try, not always successfully, to avoid giving a director a
>critical "pass" simply because I liked his work in the past. That's what I
>mean by "evaluating each film on its own merits." 

I did not mean to say that Mark (or others) were ignoring other films 
when doing their criticism.  And certainly there is a tendency in 
auterist criticism to valorize even the bad films of a master director 
(Andy Sarris, or someone like that, insisted bad films by great directors 
WERE more interesting than good films by mediocre directors).  But my 
point was that knowledge of other films changes how one understands and 
appreciates a work.  This does not mean that you "pass" a film, but 
rather that you can appreciate it more--in fact feel it is a better 
film--if you know how it is building on previous themes, taking a new 
approach to the same problem, or maybe even criticizing a previous 
stance.  Frankly, those relations to other texts are part of a film's 
artistry and considering those relations is part of critical evaluation.  

Note that considering these relations can also be to the director's 
disfavor.  For instance, while I like Sabu and mostly enjoyed Monday, I 
did not give it the best review nor put it in my best ten. Because I 
think, on the one hand, Sabu in some aspects was falling into a pattern, 
and, on the other, where he was trying to do something new (pursuing the 
problem of responsibility, for instance), he did not do it in an 
interesting way.  Looking at his work as a whole, then, he seemed to me 
to be getting in a rut, or at least a less imaginative groove.

>I agree, but I think a film critic also has to write from a moral and
>emotional core. To do otherwise is to cheat the reader, particularly the
>reader of a mass circulation newspaper or magazine, who does not want to be
>educated so much as get a trustworthy opinion on whether or not to invest
>two hours and Y1,800 on a film. And the reader can only trust me if I tell
>the truth without, as the Japan Times puts it so well, "fear or favor."

Agreed, but there are always limits on how much criticism deals with 
"truth."  While most filmgoers do like to have their opinions on what's 
good and bad--"That movie sucked!"--I do think most are also aware that 
much of this is subjective and that critics are less relating the truth 
of a film than giving their opinion.  That's in part what was fun about 
Siskel and Ebert's At the Movies: less seeing thim socratically discourse 
on the truth of the film, than seeing two guys with different opinions 
battle it out.  If they agreed, that was great, but I think many 
moviegoers who read criticism, especially after seeing a few films 
recommended by a critic, tend to develop a sense that "this critic shares 
my opinion" or that "this critic sees things differently than me."  
That's one reason, as Mark says, critics should have a critical core--a 
consistent stance--because readers want a consistent perspective to which 
they can then say: "I agree with this guy."  True, there are still 
feelings demanding us to "tell it like it is,"  but those are always 
mixed with a recognition that "like it is" is subjective.  Trust is an 
issue: many TV critics in the US who seem to like anything can lose 
trust. But I think that is less because they don't tell the truth, than 
because their relations with the industry have made their stance towards 
film inconsistent.

In the end, I feel the best I can do as a critic is to be consistent, 
make my stance clear, and perhaps offer readers the reasons (the 
knowledge) to justify my stance.

Aaron Gerow
Associate Professor
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
79-1 Tokiwadai
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at
Phone: 81-45-339-3170
Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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