I recently refuted Ken Loach’s attack on film critics during the Cannes Film Festival. Here is the man himself to put the record straight...

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by Tim Almond

    on 20 Jun 2014 23:07

    If I'm reading this right, the problem with Ken Loach's argument is that he sees cinema in terms of political and social matters and because he feels that's the most important use of cinema, so should critics.

    Cinema can let the world in, but those can be about small, personal matters like marital troubles in A Separation. It can also be about fantastical worlds like The Dark Knight. And I don't want a critic leaning towards either of those or favouring one genre or story over another. I just want critics to tell me about the film and how they felt about it, and I as a viewer will decide if it sounds like something I want to see.

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by CudgelThyBrains

    on 17 Jun 2014 16:59

    Hmmm... Interesting stuff. I can't help but feel Mr Loach undermines his own argument, because:

    a) Critics aren't always authorities on the subject matter of a movie and therefore not necessarily qualified to comment on the socio-political/historical/whatever context. Nor is that what film critics are primarily required to do; they are not social commentators. They are expected to have knowledge of movies as a medium and use this to better inform the movie-going public as to the film’s achievement as a film, not as a social agenda. Primarily critiquing the subject matter makes no sense when contextualising the medium of film, so of course it can be necessary to use other film references – it’s the same medium!

    b) Surely the 'message' of a film is at least partly the filmmakers' responsibility. If you want me to come out thinking deeply on the Irish/English relationship, show me something provocative in that respect and I will. But if that's not something I'm interested in, chance is I'm not going to see the film anyway – unless I hear it’s a great movie (e.g. couldn’t care less about spying, loved TTSS). This is where the ‘critic’ comes in.

    If the critics leave without publicly dwelling on the 'real-world' ramifications (because they’re too busy indulging in their actual job of publicly dwelling on the film itself) so what? You’re not making films for ‘the critics’ and it doesn't mean the paying public won’t end up discussing film’s subject matter if it hasn’t already been highlighted for them by a critic – of course they will. If they don't, I'd argue that the film perhaps didn't convey the message as well as the filmmakers' had intended.

    Generally, critics are unlikely to dissuade someone already interested but likely to prompt someone to go if they’re not. There's no point in a critic attempting to effect the actual subject matter in which the public are interested - we'll decide that for ourselves thanks.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Rob Holloway

    on 17 Jun 2014 04:41

    Comment 18 - One hundred years - Bravo for your open minded ness - Rob

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Rob Holloway

    on 17 Jun 2014 04:40

    Oh how interesting this is. I think that Ken misses a key point though. Critics and serious film lovers tend to focus more on directors than actors. I know that I am guilty of paying closer attention and being more open to liking a film from Bergman or Carl Theodor Dreyer than someone I never heard of. There is bias everywhere. Positive and negative. We are human. Still waiting to hear you love a Michael Bay opus! Rob

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by One_Hundred_Years

    on 16 Jun 2014 17:34

    Actually, I take back some of my comments on the Film Review, Considering how short a time is available in which to broadcast film criticism, I think that the Film review does manage to be balanced, and does give exposure to excellent films that may otherwise go unnoticed. I think that sometimes I just become frustrated with the number of films reviewed such as Transformers and the endless superhero franchises... really, who cares?!... but some people do care, I guess. Not all film goers are grumpy forty-something men like me, so I need to learn to be more tolerate and appreciate that everyone's voice has a right to be heard.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by One_Hundred_Years

    on 16 Jun 2014 17:11

    I totally agree with Ken's comments as to the questions a critic or viewer should be asking of a film. I have great respect for you, Mark, but when I sit through yet another Film Review that highlights all the worthless dross being released at cinemas, I think of the endless choice of truly great film available on DVD that is almost completely ignored by critics and the public. Even just limiting this to contemporary releases, there are a huge number of excellent films - arthouse, foreign language, world cinema, documentary etc. I gave up going to the cinema years ago. I buy what I want to see on DVD, films that speak to me, that touch me, that have character and insight, films that mean something in this world of meaninglessness. I realise that the Film Review has to appeal to a broad audience (and that this is not your personal preference), but that is also the worst thing about it. If only people could see the subtle things I see.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by information1st

    on 15 Jun 2014 17:44

    Gah, "Mike" sp. above. Apologies.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by information1st

    on 15 Jun 2014 17:40

    @ #14. Mark -

    >"I have no quarrel with simple entertainment, of course, but I think that so many artists today are more interested in being DJs who cut together pieces of their favorite films and put them back together with a new coat of paint."

    Great way of putting it! Coming back to video-games we have the fortune of seeing this medium develop within our life-time. I know some who were before video-games, some growing up atst as video-games were developing their firsts in particular trail-blazing of genres and then subsequently a generation growing up after that but at the phase where technology improvements and growing money investment were expanding on those original concepts. So we have for some a living-memory of this process and we come to where now even in the games industry there is often talk of "all the genres have been found now" and most of the games are rehashes of old genres aka DJ cut and remix or new slop of paint.

    However films are generally more standard: Running time, story structure and price for a film.

    With games they are a wider spread: Different hours of gameplay, some that are story or not story at all (ie purely mechanics), highly variable pricing structures and hence even solo makers can churn them out using various software tools inexpensively and of course that's very different from a production cost of a movie again making it a very divergent business models, yet here you have a new game called Destiny by Bungie which reputedly cost 500m$ to make.

    So it seems a lot of what sets how a film or game is different is to do with the medium's requirements that then influence if original stuff is being done or not and to what frequency. Eg the digital camera has been mentioned a lot as disrupting old movie-making methods and expanding what can be done atst as others feeling it's not all strawberries and cream in the sunshine (Tarantino?). I guess if you're a critic the goal-posts can sometimes be shifting? It would be quite fun to come up with a critical formulae and apply it to films and then compare results to actual review "scores" ie mechanical marking schema that an English teacher might apply to an essay form of fiction/story eg spelling, grammar, language etc etc... ?

    Sometimes self-referential stuff can be fun or amusing. Raph Koster sort of mentions this with respect to "intention" being his primary starting position, the intention that a select crowd will "get it".

    >"but I've seen films where the what the filmmakers say the film is about and what I see in the film are different."

    "What's really going to bake your noodle later on is," if you can spot unintended intentions in the film?! But then and again some films are more or less wider open to interpretation than others.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by Mike

    on 14 Jun 2014 15:57

    OK, this is going to be long-winded and most people probably won't make it to the halfway point, and I'm going to tiptoe between the raindrops a bit on certain issues, so if you do, bear with me.

    Part of what Loach is talking about here reminds me of things THE WIRE creator David Simon has said. Political art has a different dimension than regular art. It has another purpose. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a fantastic action/exploitation film, but it isn't one with any kind of over political agenda. You can evaluate the film as entertainment value or in terms of craftsmanship, but it isn't likely you're going to see it and say "I disagree with this film's message." Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. Loach (and I have little familiarity with Loach, so I'm trying to tread very softly here) has a particular political agenda he wants to explore with his films, by his own admission here and elsewhere. By no means is this a bad thing. But it opens things up to a different dimension. I'm not for one second saying this about Loach, but how many Lifetime/TV movies have we all seen that arguable come from a worthwhile place but are poorly made from the point of view of filmmaking? Like said, I remember an interview with Simon where he talked frankly about saying that whatever impressions people have of his work, it was unlikely to have an impact on the issues it depicted, and I think that if you're trying to use art to kick-start a discussion, as romantic as the idea is of art being able to change the world, it'll only go so far.

    At what point does the political content and the engagement of the viewer intersect? I've been watching some Eisenstein lately, how many of his and other historically important films-BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, BIRTH OF A NATION, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL-are hugely politically problematic? Part of what Loach appears to be saying is that he's depicting a particular lifestyle and point of view, and the film critics who come from different socioeconomic strata are watching the film from the point of view of film critics, interested in the technical aspects or the storytelling as opposed to the films' messages. Now, I'm NOT saying that Loach is falling back on the whole "if you dislike this film, you're against political idea X which is attempts to explore." Loach is much too mature, intelligent, and level-headed to be saying anything so foolish.

    Now, onto another of his points which is "critics look at this from the point of view of Film X which I haven't seen." I think that within the culture as a whole now, this actually leads to a much broader problem. You can't learn everything there is to know about the world from film, or comics, television, or books, or music, or anything else. Nothing exists in a vacuum. All artists digest and absorb, or at least they used to. I have no quarrel with simple entertainment, of course, but I think that so many artists today are more interested in being DJs who cut together pieces of their favorite films and put them back together with a new coat of paint. That's fine, there's room for that. But I think that-and Mark, bless him, is as guilty of this as anyone, he does it constantly-says when reviewing a film "some where in the background of all of this is/this film owes a debt to...." I understand why he does that: to some extent, he has to, that's part of what film criticism is. But I also think that while you obviously can't always have read the novel the film is based on or research the topic it's about (And Mark not only has a full-time job doing this, but also a real life around it), I think that you should at least attempt to know something. What Loach is at least partially talking about is a film which depicts something unfamiliar to viewers-a social class, a subculture,etc. and how their reaction to it comes from their unfamiliarity with it.

    This brings us around to the end of this novel no one will read, which is the viewer's end. I can't know what the filmmaker's intentions were, how much work went into a film, etc. all the time. Sometimes I can, of course, but I've seen films where the what the filmmakers say the film is about and what I see in the film are different. Other can cite something important or deep about the film which I simply don't see in the movie. I've often wondered if I'd be able to say something to a filmmaker's face (and hey, maybe I'm a jealous bastard because they're living my dream ;)), but all I can evaluate is what I see. I'm sure the behind-the-scenes crew worked their asses off to make the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake. I'm sure that many talented craftsman built the props, supplied the lights to light the film, coordinated logistics, etc. That's nice for them, and if they take pride in their work, more power to them. But all I can evaluate is the film I see, and unfortunately, I think it's terrible.

    PS Loach may argue that critics throw a fit about being criticized whereas filmmakers take it on the chin, and he's somewhat correct, but it heavily depends. Some filmmakers are pretty outspoken, now more than ever in the Twitter age. Some just as easily tell critics to stick it where the sun doesn't shine (to which they're entitled) or respond directly. Plus, critics have a job on the line, whereas I don't know if bad reviews have ever cost someone a career ;).

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by WSV

    on 14 Jun 2014 11:35

    Now that was an interesting video. It seemed to be an agreement not to push differing points of view too hard for the sake of an uneasy compromise. Was it filmed on Good Friday? Even the concluding handshake appeared physically awkward.

    Anyway, I'm finally getting my chance to see 'Jimmy's Hall' on Monday and am looking forward to it.

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