Do Film Critics Need Filmmaking Experience? John Cleese Thinks So...

Let's not beat a dead parrot over this one...

Breaking into Hollywood is so very hard. I think these past pandemic months have really brought a reckoning down on this industry and the people trying to actively be a part of it. Unless you're connected or independently wealthy, the only way to get ahead is to consistently write great screenplays or make great movies, and from there...get lucky. 

Man, it's so damn hard to do this kind of work. 

It's the kind of life that breaks most people. Most very talented people do not get lucky. Maybe they sell one thing... maybe nothing. Maybe it's all over in a few years. 

Hollywood is not a meritocracy. 

That's why I find it kind of asinine to suggest that the only valuable critics are the people who have made things. 

Comedy legend and Monty Python co-founder John Cleese has been actively stating this opinion on social media, where he has started a debate over the necessary qualifications for film critics. Cleese wrote, “It’s odd that, given [film critics’] inabilities [in acting, directing, or screenwriting], they are then put in judgment over people who can write, direct and act.”

He doubled down with this next tweet: 

Cleese's main argument is that commentary on professional sports is always better from former athletes, and asked his followers, “Could the same principle now be applied to the arts?”

So we ask you...

Do Film Critics Need Filmmaking Experience?

Film criticism is one of the most important film-related jobs out there. Not only do you have to have knowledge of history, mechanisms, and executions, but you have to make an effort to see and analyze everything. 

You need to be fluent in art motifs and try to check your biases at the door. 

Obviously, some people are better at different aspects of all of that stuff, but a critic strives to get better and better. 

I started this article talking about how hard it is to break into Hollywood because many statistics have shown its equally as hard to break into the NFL or MLB. Now, the people who comment on those games are retired players. People who have come into the league, done what they could, and retired. 

If you were going to limit film criticism to people who had retired from filmmaking...well people don't really retire, do they? They work and work until they can't work anymore because nothing is guaranteed. 

No one wants to stop, life just stops. And while that also happens for professional athletes...it's usually because their bodies can't hold up. For filmmakers, it's because they can't get budgets or fade away. 

Yes, those people would be great critics! 

But you know who else are already great critics? 

Lots of people who do not go that route. 

See, art is not about function. In football, you need to run plays to score touchdowns. If you've played football, you understand how the functions work. But art is about emotion. Art can make anyone anywhere feel a certain way. 

Art is subjective, sports are objective. You want to win. 

The best art makes you feel. 

And because we have, like, 9 billion people on this planet, movies and TV shows make everyone feel lots of complex things. Sure, there will be some overlap, but art actually affects the individuals. 

So, it is actually ludicrous to say you have to participate in making filmmaking to judge films. You're not just judging how they're made, but how they make you feel. If you can feel emotions...you should be a film critic. 

Apologies to the psychopaths who feel nothing; you might not be suited for the job. 

Now, critics need to uphold their end of the bargain. They need to be educated, watch a vast array of things, and know enough about film history to judge things based on time, concept, and intention. 

I've read my fair share of criticism of my own work. It's always hard to hear. But you can learn a lot about the kinds of emotions you want from people and the way they react. 

Requiring critics to have made things or put themselves through Hollywood seems misguided. What we want them to do is to have big hearts, to understand the empathy machine, and to be able to articulate emotions and beliefs the way many in the masses cannot. 

Sound off and let us know what you think in the comments.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

I don't agree with Cleese. It's like saying that fine art curators need to be professional artists too (most of them would do some art, but not in a pro level).

To me, a critic is the one who truly understands the zeitgeist. Not just the current market, but the pulse of the society itself. If they can see through society's wants/needs, and find that in a film or an art piece, then they'll be able to convey that relation.

Of course, you can be a critic of the technical aspects of a film (e.g. pacing), but that's something most common IMDb reviewers are able to identify too. The real value of a critic/curator is to map the piece of art into society's anxieties or joys.

August 7, 2020 at 3:56PM, Edited August 7, 3:58PM

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Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist
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Makes about as much sense as saying you need to be a gourmet chef to know wether or not food tastes like crap.

August 7, 2020 at 7:24PM, Edited August 7, 7:24PM

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Batutta
692

It depends on what aspect of the film you're criticizing.

Emotion, entertainment value, parallels with other films, the work as a whole; you can do that with out any filmmaking experience.

But if you're judging how the film was made, the acting, writing, directing you need to be in the arena. You need to know what a person in one of those roles could actually influence in the final film.

One of the other comments here says anyone can tell you if food tastes good and that's true. But you better have more cooking experience than watching the Food Network if you start talking about knife technique and oven temperatures.

August 7, 2020 at 10:13PM

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great post!

August 10, 2020 at 12:25AM

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Fiona Gill
Manager
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I guess we can all think of films (and music and books, etc.) that were critical flops and financial successes. We can also think of things that critics loved but didn't get much traction with the public. I think Cleese, whose work will surely be more long-lived and loved more than will the work of any critics, might be overstating the case when he writes that critics are "put in judgement over people," as though critics' judgements matter much. Fact is, taste is taste; people, including critics, like what they like. Unfortunately, some people believe that critics are smarter than audiences, and take critics' words as being worth more than they actually are. I also think it's important to note that there is a whole range of criticism, from people posting their opinions on Rotten Tomatoes to serious academic film historians. Some critics just don't matter. Others are worth considering. None has the final word.

August 8, 2020 at 4:32PM, Edited August 8, 4:32PM

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John Cleese is 1000% correct. All a review or critique can tell you, no matter if it's a so called professional critic, film buff or casual film is (1) what kind of film that person would like to see made and (2) what there knowledge of filmmaking is e.g. does a bad performance come from acting, casting, writing, directing and/or editing (something many critics frequently get wrong).

I don't consider a professional critic's opinion of any film of any more value than a casual film goer. I am interesting in what a filmmaker I admire and respect thinks about other films e.g. Kubrick's opinion of Lynch's Eraserhead.

History is littered with films released to poor reviews that have been historic landmarks of cinema as well as critically praised films that have vanished from importance.

But what a filmmaker, aspiring of accomplished, thinks of a film is more than an opinion. That likely will influence there future work and thus their reaction to a film could create major new works of film.

I'm not aware of any filmmaker that made huge contributions to film based on what some critic wrote positive or negative. But just about any filmmaker of note has powerful influences that shape them and that's what is interesting.

I would argue not only that all critics should be filmmakers but they a should be a deep, diverse mix of filmmakers that would shed light on all aspects.

Finally, there is solid science to back this up. If you've not watch Brene Brown's excellent talk about critics, you must https://youtu.be/8-JXOnFOXQk

August 10, 2020 at 12:47PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
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