The Joy of Criticism
September 28, 2021
Here’s a (fairly insufferable) scenario. It’s Sunday evening. Dinner is eaten. My partner and I realize we have enough time left in the night for a movie. She suggests a forgettable 80s blockbuster – let’s say the action-y Baryshnikov vehicle, White Nights. I quickly look up the Rotten Tomatoes score and see it’s a 46%. Is this how I want to spend 2 free hours – on a film with 46%? After about half an hour of arguing we realize it’s now too late to watch a movie. We sigh and put on an episode of Deep Space 9.
For years this was my reality. I was petrified by (possibly) bad media. Every opportunity to see something became a torrent of indecision. I knew it was unhealthy, but I saw some sanity in it too. We say we “spend” time because each hour is a finite resource. Do we want to use the little bit of minutes we have on the phone-it-in Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard?
But that was before I started using Letterboxd, a simple website for logging, rating, and reviewing movies. Outwardly, this sort of website doesn’t seem like it would change anyone’s viewing habits, let alone be a needed source of decisiveness. It seems to have time traveled from the mid 2000s, when websites were topic-focused, less crowded, and devoid of RSI-inducing algorithmic feeds. But by encouraging me to review the films I watch, each viewing invites a small act of creation. This creative act, in turn, implies time well spent, regardless of how awful or mediocre the movie may have been. My aversion to White Nights becomes a curious question of what I’ll think and say about it afterward.
I often roll the general idea of “media at scale” around. Modern entertainment, through the force of capitalism, is a passive activity. TV is beamed into our houses by a small number of people that we deem “professional”, and we’re told to put down our own instruments and watch. This sucks because creativity is joyful, and it’s a joy that most adults rarely experience, all the time wondering what’s missing.
But criticism is a creative act, and it’s easy. Sure there are professionals that write much more insightful reviews than me, but having my say makes watching a film more of a dialog, which I’d argue is what entertainment should be. I’d encourage everyone to try this, even if Letterboxd isn’t the chosen avenue. We all love talking about movies. Why not write about them?
If you’re interested in seeing my reviews, you can check out my Letterboxd profile.