September 25, 2012

When is Harsh Criticism Appropriate? Mumblecore's Joe Swanberg Boxing His Toughest Critic, Literally

Whatever your opinion of Joe Swanberg, and his contributions to the "mumblecore" indie movement, the guy is prolific, having directed over a dozen feature films in less than 10 years, and a total of six in 2011 alone. While he's got his defenders, there are many detractors, and he got the chance to fight it out in a boxing ring at this year's Fantastic Fest with one of his strongest critics, Devin Faraci, who is the "Badass-In-Chief" at Badass Digest. Swanberg's argument against the harsh criticism is certainly food for thought, but first, check out him pummeling Faraci.

Here's a little bit more from a transcript of their argument from Matt Singer at Indiewire:

Joe Swanberg: ...And I think that, unfortunately, when you use your voice to try to squash people who are young, who are just coming up, who are still figuring out the kind of filmmaker they want to be, the kinds of films they want to make, all you're doing is discouraging creative people from becoming who they are. I think the next time you see a movie that you really hate, you might want to reflect on it for more than 25 minutes before you write a review, first of all...
Devin Faraci...I think that young filmmakers out there working hard should be supported...It doesn't mean that every thought they've ever had has to become a 65 minute motion picture. Here's the thing though: at the end of the day, I think making movies isn't just about getting your friends together and turning a camera on. It's about creating something that speaks to people, something that has a soul, something that has narrative. I think you need to have one of these things: amazing craft, amazing script, amazing actors.

Supposedly the match was supposed to be a bit of fun, but naturally if you get someone in a ring who has derided the very thing you put your heart and soul into, it's hard to hold back, and clearly Swanberg was out for blood. If given the choice, I think this is what most filmmakers would like to do to harsh critics, especially when they get as personal as Faraci does. Either way, they both bring up really interesting points, and there are bits and pieces where I agree with both of them. On the one hand people need to be given a chance to fail -- no one is perfect, especially their first few films. Every filmmaker who we consider a success started from a place of quality that is far below what they are doing now. It's just a fact of the craft -- it's hard work, and it takes a lot of time and energy to get right.

Those who understand the craft and what separates a good film from a bad film have a responsibility to allow young filmmakers a chance to get it wrong. Criticism can take on many forms, but true criticism considers the work in a greater context, not just what they felt immediately after the screening. On the other hand, Faraci has some points about the narcissistic tendencies of the "mumblecore" movement. Many of these improvised films focus on somewhat trivial details, and forego a true narrative -- but those who champion them would argue that is the appeal, that they hit closer to home because they are created in this way. Regardless, the simple fact is that Swanberg and friends are out there doing it, which is more than most people can say. Many don't get the opportunity to show those first films to an audience like Swanberg has, and that's probably the reason why the criticism has been so harsh -- since many don't feel like he has "earned" praise.

But now I'd like to open up the discussion to NFS readers. What is your opinion -- depending on age -- of letting young filmmakers have a chance to fail and respecting that there is a steep learning curve to filmmaking? Many complain about the cliche "movies" on Vimeo, which often lack narrative -- or even any story for that matter -- but is it fair to be overly critical when many of these are made by young filmmakers trying to find their own voices and their own vision?

You can see the whole transcript as well as the work of the respective boxers at the links below.

Links:

[via Filmmaker Magazine]

Your Comment

55 Comments

Theodore Roosevelt said it best:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Therefore, I think harsh criticism is only appropriate when it is clear that the artist put forth no effort, did not have a true vision, or has BS'ed his/her way through.

September 25, 2012 at 11:02AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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I'd have to agree.

I find it does bleed into an "art" vs "craft" argument a little.
Its sometimes difficult for critics (and more experienced film makers) to give credit
to beginners, when it seems their inexperienced attempts were given easy breaks.

The craft takes years to develop, the art can happen accidentally;
ie a lucky shot, or randomly captured moment, or even stumbling into a fashionable style.

September 25, 2012 at 11:27AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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ruben huizenga

I fail to see how that quote has any meaning to filmmaking.
I have admiration for anyone who makes a compassionate effort to prevent me from wasting my valuable time watching Swanbergs self indulgent vomit.
Critique is necessary to show both strengths and weakness. It also helps show that maybe you should pick a different career that you might actually be good at.
In art and design education early critiques/charettes are meant to bring you back down to earth and let you know that you ain't anything special kid, and that you must work with rigor on your craft. Nowadays anyone can make films but very few are good at it. I have the new iphone, tons of music and bands to see, a list of good classic movies to watch that I haven't seen, still haven't beaten skyrim so I have little time to waste on crap. Talented people will always rise past the media wall but nowadays were living in a depression but are still acting like its the 1920s with crap like mumblecore and girls.
Swanbergs are lucases and Scorsese's of our generation. Are you happy with that.

It won sundance so it must be good I think I'll check it out. Big mistake.
That's what Indy/low budget filmmaking is. So now I don't waste my time watching low budget cinema unless it is well vetted by the community.

So you kids with actual talent and meaningful stories to tell can thank them for helping drown your voice.

Time to play the focus pull drinking game.

September 25, 2012 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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JEF

I'll bet you yell at athletes on the TV too, JEF?

There's a difference between critiquing someone's work and being straight out harsh and not add anything constructive. Yours of Swanberg's work falls into the latter because you said nothing about what was wrong with his work, or how you feel he could improve it.

Art is such an interesting medium because it's so subjective as opposed to other areas. I wouldn't expect a businessman to tell a chemist how to do things better, but with art, it is open to the world, ready to be praised and picked apart.

The issue, though, is that art is so damn personal; it connects with people in ways that you'll never be able to in any friendship or intimate relationship. To tear down a song or film that someone loves or really invested themselves in making is, in effect, attacking their core being.

Critiques of art, therefore, are really just our way of saying how we wish this or that would have connected with us better. You can't do that by just saying, "That sucked."

September 25, 2012 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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I do yell at athletes on TV. Its good bet that everyone who watcches sports most likely does. They get paid big bucks and when they fail i yell at the tv ,coaches yell at them ,ansylyst tear them apart etcetera. The thing about athletes on tv is they are good enough to be on tv cause otherwise the wouldn't make the cut.

Like you said art is subjective. It's not a sport or fight in the arena.
I'm not here to be a critic but to me the dudes films suck. And the reviews on BAD were to me spot on I just wished I read it prior to wasting my time. Everyone is making films and I need to sonehow sort through the bullcrap I don't have the time or money Swanberg has but I put a high premium on it. So you are correct and I concede your point. But if you think criticism is only about connection we are two opposite ends of the spectrum. You ever go to a design critique and the dude presenting pulls out the Fibonacci sequence on his project, you basically sit there and hope the professors rip him apart mercilessly for wasting everyone's time with his laziness and lack of rigor. Sometimes they will, or sometimes they are coddled and we are subjected to more of the same. When you watch a mumblecore film do you see rigor or do you get another vibe.

Either way your right in your arguments and i am wrong since it ultimately is subjective and most people nowadays agree with you and we will most certainly be seeing more mumblecore films on an even grander scale. And it will be a critic who will save my time.

September 25, 2012 at 1:21PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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JEF

I think Girls is the most interesting and fun show on TV right now so, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

September 25, 2012 at 10:59PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Stu Mannion

+1 internet for my favorite Lebowski reference.

September 26, 2012 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

This quote was just in the front page of a home furnishings catalog.

September 27, 2012 at 4:15PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Whoa wait a sec. Have you ever seen a Swanberg film? I actually LIKE mumblecore -- and his films are HORRIBLE.

September 25, 2012 at 11:25AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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d

This reminds me of (and this was probably based on) the boxing match that Uwe Bolle set up where he challenged a lot of his critics and beat the hell out of them.

I'm not a fan of critics, especially today with people like Devin Farraci who go on personal attacks of the creators rather than actually bringing anything constructive to the table. For those who criticize with good points about a film or work of art, I think it can be a good thing to hear and can help the creator learn and better themselves. Unfortunately most critics don't do that.

September 25, 2012 at 12:07PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Anton

I'm with you. It's the form of criticism that matters. I like when critics take into account the bigger picture and bring up interesting points. If they dislike the film the say why and how they felt it could have been better. There is a condescending attitude with critics today. Notice how they all try to come up with a "witty" slam on either the movie or the director. Here is an example of what they do. Let's say they're reviewing The Hunger Games and hated it, they'll come up with something like "Seems like the director was only hungry for one thing...failure". Some crap like that. It's really annoying to us because it's not like they're out there trying to create something.

However, it's not just known critics. It's people in our own filmmaking community too. Just look at youtube and vimeo comments. People focus heavy on the negative and ad hominem attacks. It seems people forget that it's all subjective and something may not work for you but may work for someone else. I'm all for pointing out why it didn't work for you and give suggestions on how you feel it could be better.

Now it's all negativity and no encouragement. It needs to be a nice balance for it to be good criticism in my opinion. It's easy to criticize but hard to put yourself out there and do something. Criticism when done right is a great tool for creators to learn.

September 25, 2012 at 12:22PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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In my opinion the beating is uncalled for. It's supposed to be a funny corollary of the discussion and not a chance to beat the shit out of someone. That doesn't tell nice things about Swanberg.

September 25, 2012 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Álex Montoya

To say that only those who are 'good' should get the chance to make movies, less we all get swallowed up in the swill that amateurs create is to say that only stories that are reflective of what we have become accustomed to deserve a show in the market.

I'm not sure what Joe Swanberg did besides make a dozen movies. He made them for very little money and got, largely, little help distributing them. They are not without narrative - if they were, no one would have made it to the end of any of them. They are not without talented performers - if the actors had no talent at conveying a story through character - however closely aligned with their own personality - no one would have watched ten minutes of any of them.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, 12 movies is all he gets to start a career? What other craft is so limited? And limited by critics, no less? It's a terrible argument to give validity to, I think. The only way to become a craftsman is to practice. Without these 12 efforts, what hope would he have a getting good at what he does?

To throw his efforts to the wolves, to agree with his critics, is to say that there is room for only a few voices, and they should be recognizable.

September 25, 2012 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Wesley Dumont

That video was just silly. Probably showed both of them at their worst. That was not constructive criticism. What do you guys think of someone like David Bordwell? Insightful? Too academic?
By the way, when the 5DII and 7D first came out, there were all sorts of ecstatic predictions that it would be like the French nouvelle vague all over again. How are we doing with that?

September 25, 2012 at 12:22PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Taylor

If by French Nouvelle, you mean, mediocre wedding videos and shitty nature timelapses, then yes.

September 25, 2012 at 12:40PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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john jeffreys

David Bordwell is a marvelous critic. He is only academic in the way that he states his terms and explains very thoroughly exactly what he means; he shows his working and gives examples. As far as I'm concerned there can't be enough careful, well researched film criticism. I've learnt more about cinema from reading his books and following his blog than I have from virtually any filmmaker, good or bad. I think this is because he speaks from a position of genuine expertise; expertise in film (and art) history and has spent decades as a teacher. This really shines through in his work.
So much film criticism today is written by people who have made not effort to understand the history of cinema or the production methods and barriers that filmmakers face when making their movies. Their idea of film criticism is just blurting out a synopsis of the plot and giving an insipid opinion of the acting in the movie. The same revolution in technology that has given anyone the opportunity to be a filmmaker has also given anyone the opportunity to be a "film critic". There are as many dreadful film reviews on the internet as there are dreadful test films, nature timelapses etc...
The term critic has become woefully devalued. Critics used to be people that possessed a rare expertise about the subject they commented on and had a responsibility as tastemakers and guides to people who didn't have the time or the inclination to devote years of their lives to trying to understand what was happening in a given medium. Today most people write film reviews that are designed to be as insulting and cruel as possible because they generate the most hits and therefore click-throughs.
Of course there is some glorious criticism happening on the internet. Here are some of the sites that have really expanded the way I think about cinema:
http://cinema-scope.com/
http://sensesofcinema.com/
http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/
http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?cat=5
http://www.rouge.com.au/index.html
http://www.dvdbeaver.com/

September 25, 2012 at 2:39PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Mak

Couldn't agree more.

September 25, 2012 at 2:45PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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August Anderson

senses is a badass site.

September 25, 2012 at 4:02PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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john jeffreys

Great post.

September 26, 2012 at 7:24AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Lliam Worthington

the links are phenomenal. mak you're the man.

September 26, 2012 at 1:25PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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+1. Thanks for that.

September 29, 2012 at 4:34AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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taylor

Didn't the Soskas get up there too? If so... someone post something from that.

September 25, 2012 at 2:00PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Brian

Unfortunately, this is a heated discussion for the sophomoric.

Filmmakers confident in their work don't need this discussion because they've realized: there is no answer. Professional critics supply NOTHING to the artist that their audience isn't already giving them.

So when are critics helpful? Critics are there to help the public parse through content. And there's a lot of content these days.

So then what about harsh criticism, like in this video? Being harsh is normally a tactic used to A) rile someone up, or B) wake someone up who has gone too deep into something. So in film, where the critic doesn't provide anything to the filmmaker (in terms of intentional artistic evolution), harsh criticism is warranted in ONE situation: when the critic needs to draw attention to her own opinion for marketing herself.

Because the internet has become a megaphone for critics, criticism has become a screaming match for attention. They need to be outrageous to gain attention for their unique opinion. The unique opinion that, ironically, ONLY matters as part of the parsed, aggregated cacophony. What I mean by that is that these days, unless you're an academic of film, most folks are just looking at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. MAYBE they're glancing over the highlights of the reviews. But these critics/reviewers need to SELL ADVERTISING. So they're going to scream and scream and scream until you look at them, and subsequently look at the giant virtual billboard behind them.

Career critics matter. They do. They matter for audience consumption. They don't matter for the artist. Filmmakers will learn what works and what doesn't by just seeing people react to their films. They don't need critics with megaphones blaring aimless negativity into the air in hopes that their criticism is louder than the blog next to them.

September 25, 2012 at 2:09PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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August Anderson

Count me as one of the filmmakers that believes critique serves the art; sometimes for worse, sometimes for better. Sure, cut some slack to the young bucks making their debuts. Taking a steamer on the chest of a young artist serves nothing, but at the same time you can't ask for a free pass if you want to get reviewed. I was fortunate with my first film getting decent to great reviews - it was a solid pat on the back from the industry and illuminated my shortcomings. I have mates on the other side of that coin and - though their reviews weren't exactly positive - their critics were tactful, honest and helpful ( painful as it was at times.)

The only time I think a critical lashing is called for is when an artist is established enough to ask for it. If you want to be a provacateur, ala. Von Trier, then expect the backlash. If you want to challenge the medium it will accept and fight back.

Critical analysis should serve the art for the better, but lets not dull criticism to the point where 'everyone's a winner!' Sometimes your shit stinks - sometimes it's roses. Often it's neither. And, if it counts any, I side with the critic on this particular battle.

September 25, 2012 at 2:47PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Braden

Want proper critics? Go to the theater, website or wherever you movie is being shown and after it's over listen to the general public, that's it. Those are the critics that matter, not some fat "Critics" that only criticise out of spite those who do for a living what they wished for themselfs but failed. You want real critics, you listen to those you made the movie for, not to 1% of the audience that happen to be "Critics" and ignore the rest.

September 25, 2012 at 3:11PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Raphael

I can't agree with this.

More often than not, audience critics give fluff "reviews" once a film has closed within the theater. ESPECIALLY if a Producer or Director of the film is present during the Q&A. It's usually after they leave that the "real" review from their lips comes forth.

September 25, 2012 at 5:17PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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KahL

My experience so far leads me to disagree but I guess it can happen.

September 25, 2012 at 6:10PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Raphael

I can see your point in saying 'the everyday-man is what matters'... but to disregard a critic and dismiss them as a bloated and jaded snob looking to kill dreams? Errm........ I disagree. Here's why I don't take an every-day-man's opinion too seriously and why I take a good critic's opinion very seriously:

Everyday people typically know flippity-do about diddly-f*ck.when it comes to giving any sort of criticism - let alone constructive. They go to films because they want to be entertained. Sure, some like to be challenged and there are many literate film goers that can appreciate, discuss and even critically approach a film... but they're far and few between in comparison. Do I give a shit what two 14yr old Matrix fanboys think about The Master? Do I care what some heavy duty mechanic feels about "Drive" and its lack of explosions? Not at all and neither should the filmmakers who made them. If the 'normal audience' actually mattered in regards to criticizing a film for its merit Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer would sweep the Oscar's every year. That's why an Oscar has prestige (sure, you can argue it's political and all the rest, but it sure as hell ain't a throw away... unlike the *cough cough* grammy's)

(real) Critics matter because they're versed in the medium and - at their best - appreciate, understand and contribute to bettering the craft. Here's a fact for you: many 'ordinary' critics you read in NYT, Village Voice, Variety, etc. knows MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more about film than you or I know. Hard pill to swallow for some of the self described cinephiles, but it's true. Don't let their brevity fool you, folks like John Anderson and even Mr. Thumbs up (gawd, I hate that schtick) are extremely well versed and want to champion films. not berate them. I never truly appreciated the scope and knowledge of a 'true critic' until I met them in person. It's humbling and downright intimidating - not because of their influence and taste making clout - but because of their passion, dedication and commitment to watching EVERY. DAMN. MOVIE. THEY. CAN. FIND...... and giving an honest and intelligent criticism for each one.

Don't kid yourself, these guys LOVE their job and they know well enough to leave filmmakers to do their job just as filmmakers should leave them to do theirs.

(Admitingly, blogs and the interweb gives voice to any clown and his dog to chime in with a jackass opinion, so again, I refer to 'true critics' - there is such a thing.)

September 26, 2012 at 1:47AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Braden

Braden,

Here's the issue I take with you on disregarding the everyday audience. The main thing is that a filmmaker is a normal human being with the ability to parse information. They don't just hear a pile of people and take it all at face value. In my experience, in talking to folks you can quickly get an idea of where they're coming from. And if you realize they're not "your audience," then just disregard it (or take the opinion with where they're coming from in mind).

These sort of things don't have to be giant black-and-white situations. You're allowed to pick and choose the audience.

And critics are a strange thing to begin with. Ebert is a good example. He's a brilliant person (and I'm perfectly for the schtick he does. Thumbs up/thumbs down for the people who don't want to read, star rating for a bit more of a honed opinion, and a longer, intelligent article for those that want something to really take in). But I also know his reviews well enough to know that his opinions differ drastically to mine in some cases, so that 0 or 1 star review might be something I love.

The issue is that they need to chill on the negativity, because the crazy negativity is strictly for their own attention (ad sales… whatever).

September 27, 2012 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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August Anderson

I can't stand mumblecore - they're lazy, lacking in craft and usually pretentious melodrama posing as "art". That said, I'm kind of old fashioned when it comes to story - I like my characters to arc and for there to be a point to all when the lights come up.

That said, there's room in this world for all kinds of media, be it videos of cats singing the theme from "Game of Thrones" to yes, even mumblecore!

Critiques are useful as a filtering tool. There are certain critics who, over time, I have come to respect their opinions because more often than not their tastes parallel mine. On the flipside, there are also critics who will never say anything I can agree with. Devin is one of these guys. He's an angry geek who gets way too much attention and this latest "bout" isn't going to help.

September 25, 2012 at 4:03PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Neil

Non-arcing characters and pointless stories are not representative of all mumblecore.

September 25, 2012 at 4:11PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Jeff

Fair enough. Not ALL but I would say the majority - its a natural side effect of the quest for "naturalism", low budget and often improvisational techniques used in their making. A cohesive, well-written script is often regarded by the Mumblecorps filmmakers as being anathema to the creative process with the exception of Andrew Bujalski who employs a lot of heavy scripting and even professional rather than amateur actors to bring them to life. Kind of ironic that the most "structured" mumblecore filmmaker is the guy credited as creating the genre.

If you ask me, Mumblecore is just an Americanized version of Dogme '95 and yes, equally as unappealing.

September 25, 2012 at 5:29PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Neil

Hmm, yes that is an interesting comparison; between Dogme '95 and Mumblecore, I agree with that. The only Dogme I really enjoyed, out of the ones I viewed, was The Celebration. As far as Mumblecore, I like the Duplass Brothers quite a bit, specifically, Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Enjoyed Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture also. Cool stuff, but not my all around favorite "genre".

September 25, 2012 at 8:48PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Jeff

I may not be interested in Mumblecore or any of Swanberg's films, but I respect him as a man for going toe-to-toe with his most aggressive and unreasonable critics.

September 25, 2012 at 6:43PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Marc B

??? Yeah sure, what a man. As a "boxer" he's a heavyweight fighting an overweight light weight.
It was a totally classless, pathetic exercise. But I would never trust any critic dumb enough to get involved
in an exercise like this. The debate on here however has been FAR more enjoyable.

September 26, 2012 at 9:10AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Lliam Worthington

He is whining about a critic. Really? that is their job. They are paid to have an opinion. Does it suck if some random guy that you don't know thinks your film is awful. Yea, it does but If you can't handle it then stop making films. Not everyone is going to love your films, your art, or anything you create. Just realize that. If a critic gives you a shitty review. guess what, it time to step it up on your next project.

I love low budget films. Most of the time low budget films have stories you wouldn't see in hollywood. But you can't make quality films if you make 6 features films in one year. I mean come man. Not even Woody Allen makes that many films in a year. and that guys makes at least one film every damn year.

September 25, 2012 at 6:45PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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jack

I'm with Mr. Jack here.

I've only made one feature film, so I'm a far way behind Swanberg. I got some very positive reviews and some extremely negative reviews.

I agreed with the positive ones more than the negative, as you might expect, but I don't take the negative one's personally. They didn't like my movie - it's not like they ran over my dog or burned my house down.

If you're going to make out and put it out there, surely you're hoping to inspire emotional reactions from people. And if you're going to get off on the buzz from the acclaim, you have to take the beratement in equally good humor.

A critic is not a bad person because they didn't like your movie.

September 25, 2012 at 8:50PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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I think critics of mumblecore should do the French New Wave thing and make films of their own and oust the mumblecore flicks that they feel blow so much. Not the biggest fan of the genre, but I will say that the Duplass Bros. rock & Aaron Katz's Cold Weather's freakin awesome( although not necessarily within the mumblecore genre), but I definitely am a fan of the ambition which is quite literally, just go out there and make a film. Mumblecore inspired Lena Dunham to make Tiny Furniture( phenomenal pic) just as Slacker inspired Kevin Smith to go out and make Clerks. There's more than mixed opinions about Slacker( I personally think it's genius, others think it's shit), but I think most would agree that Linklater's one of the best doing it today.

September 25, 2012 at 8:09PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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francis

Cold Weather is a wonderful film - and that's really where I'm coming from with beginning this conversation. Katz's earlier work was mumblecore, no question, but look what he was able to achieve after a couple movies - a really well-done, not-very-mumblecore and mature film. If he had received unbelievably harsh criticism for no reason with his earlier work, would we have gotten Cold Weather?

Regarding the Duplass Brothers, I think what certainly helped a movie like The Puffy Chair is the fact that it had a pretty clear narrative, and it also had talented professional actors - which are the very things people can't stand about mumblecore in general. Same situation though - without the earlier work - we probably wouldn't have gotten Cyrus, which I thought took a very original take on a common story.

September 25, 2012 at 8:20PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

It's funny you say that though because I find The Duplass Bros.' earlier stuff to be far more compelling, especially Baghead. Not, that I'm saying the Duplass Bros have gone onto make crappy films cause God knows they're still kicking, but I feel as if the more "structured" narrative hinders their films. Idk, I could be wrong. Again, it's all subject to criticism right?

September 25, 2012 at 10:06PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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francis

Well, no one is really wrong, but certainly we both can appreciate what they are doing regardless. You also should consider, and I know they've mentioned this before, that with more money and more resources comes more pressure and more people breathing down their necks, so they can't be quite as experimental.

September 25, 2012 at 10:14PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

You make a valid point, agreed.

On another note, it's odd to find so much bashing amongst users on NFS, which is essentially geared towards content creators. You think people would just admire that others with limited means got their films seen on one platform or anything and aspire to do the same, maybe not in the sense of aesthetic or content, but the fact that guys like Swanberg( whether you like his films or not) have produced flicks that have acquired distribution deals should bring about a sense of optimism rather than negative criticism-especially if you think his films are bad( not to say that they are, I myself haven't seen any of his films).

September 26, 2012 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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francis

I can't say I understand it, but perhaps it's just the more vocal population who actually comment tend to lean negative? Maybe it's jealously, again, it's a little baffling to me, since I was under the impression that we're all in this together - trying to improve and make better work so that hopefully the community can survive and prosper.

September 26, 2012 at 8:53PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

I wish every critic had to back up their words in the boxing ring.

September 26, 2012 at 2:12AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Joe_O

Not me, I hate bad boxing.

September 26, 2012 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Lliam Worthington

The boxing each other was retarded. It makes me think Swanberge also beats up on his father.
I enjoyed the debate more than the sad fight.

September 26, 2012 at 11:04AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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VINCEGORTHO

This is something they do at Fantastic Fest, probably should have mentioned that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EUiCfBBX2k

September 26, 2012 at 11:33AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

I think Mr. Swanberg (and some folks here) have greatly misunderstood the point of critics. A critic's job is not to be "constructive." Their job is to inform the audience about whether a film is good or bad, how good or bad it is, and why it is good or bad. Their job is not to spare your feelings or offer constructive suggestions about how to improve your film.

Now, obviously this criticism should be based on the reviewer's expert opinion on the film and not the result of some personal vendetta. I have no idea what's going on here so I can't comment on that. However, if a critic actually feels a film is terrible, it is their job to convey that to their readership as clearly as possible. It's brutal for the filmmaker to read, true, but reviews are not written for the filmmakers, they are written for the audience.

September 26, 2012 at 11:42AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Okay, so here's a question. How does a negative review that badmouths individual scenes, actors, acts, etc help the audience make an informed decision than, say, just 1 star vs 5 stars?

Short answer: It doesn't.

If the common critic's job is NOT to offer constructive criticism and strictly help audiences choose their movies (which I agree is true), then it's pretty fair to say that anything beyond a hard percentage on the films perceived quality is done just to be outrageous and gain attention. What does it matter if Jane Doe is worse than a regional theatre actress? Who cares if nothing in the 3rd act ties back to Act 1? Just say "It wasn't good. Don't see it. 1 popcorn kernel." But then who will take them seriously if they're not wielding piles of movie knowledge, witty comments, and shock-jock-esque negativity?

September 27, 2012 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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August Anderson

Actually, it does. Star ratings are meaningless, unless you know what's behind them.

My favourite critic is Ken Hanke. I can read a review he's written and get a pretty good sense of whether or not I will like the film in question. I would not get the same sense just by looking at the star ratings.

Ken might give a film a 2 star rating, but if I don't know why - how will I know if it's worth my time? He might find a romantic comedy too predictable, which doesn't necessarily bother me, so I'll go and see it. The two stars doesn't tell me if he's criticizing it for being indifferently directed (which would bother me less in some films that it would him). He might give it 4 stars, but without the whole review, I don't know if it seems too self-consciously quirky (which he has a higher tolerance for than I do) or is amazingly stylish on a visual level but has a weak narrative (which I find less interesting than him often times), etc.

If he gives something half a star, I'm probably going to hate it, but other than that, the star rating tells me very little.

September 28, 2012 at 12:52AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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All do respect, I think you're missing the point. A 'standard review' is almost always A. Summary of the plot, coupled with, B. Critical analysis relevant to the audience in regards to the film itself (audience being what the particular magazine/blog/trade/etc. is specific towards).

You can argue film criticism is for the audience only - of course it is - but a well critiqued/reviewed film offers a ton of value to the filmmakers as well because their business is their audience. See what I'm getting at.

I've never read a review that said, "Hey Mr. Director, decent film but your editor should cut scene XX so it picks up your 3rd act, etc." BUT, I have read a review saying, "Though the film captivates the viewer, a languish pace may challenge less patient viewers."

So sure, the critic serves the audience, but in my personal opinion, a filmmaker is a fool if he shuts his eyes and ears to what the community is communicating about him/her. How much you let that effect you is your own discretion. (I, in all honesty, read EVERY review I get and give it all critical thought in regards to my practice. Some are matters of taste while others I agree with. So as a filmmaker, critic's also serve me.)

September 29, 2012 at 6:31PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Braden

The problem with critics is not every movie is made for one person. How you're feeling day to day greatly impacts how you feel about a story.
Breaking up with your girlfriend, being passed up for promotion can render a pro critic bitter about subject matter.
it would be great if there were no critic prescreenings anymore, letting audience rely on gut instincts and personal taste.

September 26, 2012 at 2:02PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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vinceGortho

I think if you make a living as a critic, then this discussion holds merit. I have no input on it however.

As a filmmaker or even art in general, I think the artist does best when largely ignoring most criticism, unless seeking it. Take praise, take criticism you think would help you, and keep moving on making new things and let other people argue about your work.

Of course, I guess this article is mainly about the critic end, not so much the artist's viewpoint. Nice write up either way Joe, excellent as always

September 27, 2012 at 8:38AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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It is easier to critique than to create, but I have always wondered how big is the gap between those two words.

September 28, 2012 at 1:45PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Alejandro D'Aragon

Though mumblecore isn't always for me (to put it lightly), I gotta' ask,

"Why the hell is a critic with such disdain over a particular genre reviewing it?"

That's like Mitt Romney reviewing a Carcass album.

And re: the boxing match - I want more of this. Lets get Gene Shalit in their with M. Night!

September 29, 2012 at 6:38PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Braden

This was very silly. It did make me giggle though I must admit.

David Faraci talks a lot of crap by suggesting that Joe Swanbergs films aren't narrative. I mean it's hardly like Phil Solomon, or Stan Brakhage or something is it?
I wonder what David would make of the sci-fi movie 2001. He just seems like he wants to find any excuse to slate Joe Swanbergs movies and is perhaps using him as a punchbag to vent his own frustrations at the state of cinema these days.

I actually think a lot of the so called mumblecore movies work far better than many low budget movies that are out there and it seems like David expects a lot for something made on tiny limited budgets.

I'm also going to throw in some love for Aaron Katz here. I actually really liked Quiet City. So shoot me.

I seem to remember watching some good stuff by Joe Swanberg and some not so good stuff but I like the way he strives to do better in his filmmaking with each film.

There are filmmakers out there who are much lauded who deserve far more criticism than Joe Swanberg but I guess the mumblecore folks are seen as easy targets. I like the fact they are trying to do so much with little resources personally.

Good luck to them all I say! :)

March 28, 2017 at 10:40AM

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