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So, You Wanna Be a Critic?

Some Practical Advice for Would-Be Movie Parlor Pundits

By Jeremy A. Dauber

Have any of the following ever happened to you?

1) You spent an unreasonable amount of money on an unreasonable bad movie; and

2) You then see the reviews for that movie; with the result that

3) You are moved to wonder if the critics saw the same movie that you did or if they had ingested certain proscribed hallucinogens before doing so; and therefore

4) You are so disgusted by the stomach-churning pap that passes for "film criticism" these days that you are tempted to grab the nearest assault rifle (well, not as near with the passage of the new Brady Bill), go out, and engage in the wanton massacre of Janet Maslin, Vincent Canby and Stanley Kauffman. Especially Stanley Kauffman, who seems to have an unerring talent of giving thumbs up to the worst movies in the business. (If you don't believe me, consider the fact that he really liked "The Muppet Christmas Carol." I went to see "The Muppet Christmas Carol" With a little cousin, and three year olds were walking out of the theater.)

At any rate, I'm certain that the following thought has crossed your mind: "(Insert name of annoying film critic here) doesn't know the first thing about movies. I could do that job much better than (annoying critic)," Absolutely.

In fact, every film critic around today began by saying the exact same thing! But, there are a number of tips that any fledgling film commentator needs to know--which I will now provide to you free of charge. Who knows may be if you use them properly enough, you'll be able to replace Stanley Kauffman.

First decide whether you are going to be pretentious or populist. Here's a quick way to tell: if you talk about "visual spectacle " and "narrative continuity," you're pretentious. If you tend to say things like, "a must-see! Fun for the family!" then you're a populist. Not that there is a right side or a wrong side to be on, of course. But you have to pick a side and stick to it. Imagine Stanley Kaufmanns describing any given movie as a "lollapalooza of a film," or Gene "I loved it!" Shalit speaking of the auteur's role in the cinematographic aspects of the production, and you'll see what I mean.

Second, remember what you're there for. Some random people who you have never heard of are going to plan their Saturday evenings entirely based on what you have to say. You could be responsible, in large part, for the success or failure of an incredibly large number of first dates. You have a tremendous amount of power. So feel smug.

As a result, though, it probably behooves you to go out and see the movie before writing the review. Don't (at least, at first) say things like, "How good can any movie with Pia Zadora be?" or "Well, since when has Steven Spielberg come up with anything popular?" You never know when some freakish twist of cinematic nature might prove you wrong.

Third, take it slow. Don't get carried away by you own power. Remember that words like "drivel" and "putrescent" should be used sparingly, unless the movie is the second or greater sequel or stars Drew Barry more. In those cases, all bets are off.

Fourth, remember the "one critical insight" rule. People read their movie criticism for two reasons--not only to find out what to se, but also so that they can impress their friends or their dates by the acute analytic perceptions that they have "come up with" While they've been watching the film. Make sure to put at least one of these ideas in every column. These ideas can come in two forms: the comparative and the subtextual.

The comparative is where you compare any element of the film to any other element of any earlier film. If you are a pretentious critic, your references should be as obscure or as foreign as possible. For example: "The moody tone of the film was evocative of the German Expressionist style of the 1920s, best expressed in 'The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari." If you are a populist critic tie it in to the season's big hit: "This was another "Jurassic Park," Only without the dinosaurs!"

The subtextual , on the other hand, is where you point out that the movie is not actually about what everyone thought it was about but is rather about something that no one would have guessed in a million years. For example, the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is not about pod people, but is really about Communist expansionism.

The more far out you claim the subject of the movie is, the dumber people will feel for not having "gotten it"--and the smarter they think that you, the film critic, are. Sort of like the emperor's new film.

Finally, the last thing that you need to do before you embark on your life of fame and fortune as the new Stanley Kauffman is to find a meal ticket. By "meal ticket," I mean the journal, paper, T.V. show etc., etc., that will a) pay you, and b) print your stuff. If you don't have a meal ticket, You're merely an opinionated loudmouth. If you do, though you're a pundit, a light unto the unwashed masses begging for cinematic guidance.

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