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.
- Filmmaker Joe Swanberg and Critic Devin Faraci Clash at Fantastic Fest -- IndieWire
- Joe Swanberg -- Website
- Badass Digest -- Devin Faraci
[via Filmmaker Magazine]