Monday, April 18, 2005

Another reason to read the Indy rather than the Grauniad, I think....

The Independent Online Edition > Enjoyment

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

And here was I wondering if it was something like yesterdays front page, where they gave lots of big climate change numbers, and counted the references to the environment in the various manifestos.

I did something similar; summary:
- Conservatives couldn't care less,
- Labour puts it on the front page,
- Lib dems put it on every page.

Doing a similar search for a discussion on "peak oil" lead to a big zero for all the parties.

Kevin C

Colin S said...

And one reason not to, perhaps: HHG2TG film review.

"Huh? Is this really what my school friends were raving about all those years ago? Douglas Adams's much-loved Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, first heard on the radio in the 1970s and then turned into books and a TV show in the 1980s, would have remained a mystery to me still had not a few persevering souls kept faith with the idea of putting it on the big screen. Adams himself wrestled with the project for years, and finally wrote a draft of a screenplay for Disney. Sadly, he didn't live to see it come to fruition, having suffered a fatal heart attack four years ago, aged 49.

So judgement of the finished product must pass to others, and from the evidence of the national press show, the signs aren't good. Seldom have I sat through a high-profile comedy that has generated so little laughter - even nervous laughter. A heresy to its many fans, I know, but might this be because it's actually not funny? It's unfortunate that the picture was screened for its entire length out of sync, though this cannot wholly explain why the script feels so flat and disjointed. Perhaps this kind of apocalyptic whimsy, left to boil too long, loses its comic juices: even I remember the gag about the answer to the meaning of life being "42". Maybe you laughed then, but I fancy you won't laugh now...

The Anglo-American casting has the feel of hedged bets. Nothing wrong with Martin Freeman (Tim from The Office) as the hero Arthur Dent, outraged to find his house being demolished to make way for a new bypass, just as Earth itself is about to be wiped out for the sake of a "hyperspace expressway". Freeman wears his ratty bathrobe and expression of blokeish bemusement quite deftly, though he hardly seems to be in the same movie as Mos Def, playing Arthur's extraterrestrial guide Ford Prefect, or Sam Rockwell as the rockstar-ish galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox. As for Trillian, the darling astrophysicist who bewitches Arthur, Zooey Deschanel has charm to spare, but again, the role is so impersonal that any one of a dozen actors could sleepwalk through it. Alan Rickman, voicing the depressive robot Marvin, just compounds the impression of the film's identity as neither one thing nor the other. At no point did I feel the smallest curiosity as to how these characters would develop or where the plot was going.

Just occasionally one hears the unmistakably English tone of ironic bluffness in the way lofty matters of cosmology are shrunk to the level of the bureaucratic and humdrum. So Arthur wanders aboard a spaceship, having recently escaped the destruction of the planet, and makes it his immediate priority to have a cup of tea. Later, we learn that Zaphod mistakenly signed the order for the Earth's doom because "he thought somebody wanted his autograph".

But the to-ing and fro-ing of this intergalactic romp has the random clunk of pub pinball, and its squiggles of invention - a man with two faces, a fish that translates all languages - are mere juvenile surrealism. Indeed, the whole tenor of Hitchhiker feels like a Seventies throwback: the way fans were given to quoting favourite chunks from it smacks of nothing so much as a nerdy schoolkid's version of Monty Python. Some of those fans may flock to the movie, but it's hard to see who else is going to be tempted."

Oh well.
Colin.

Phil Masters said...

However, various people who do know their Hitchhiker have been saying that the film is a bit pants, too. So it's entirely possible that this is a perfectly good review from a fan's point of view - that the movie has lost the style that made the thing good, leaving merely a bad movie.

Unless, of course, you consider that a paper ought to employ only film critics who happen to be fans of a radio series you like.

--
Phil Masters

Dan Hemmens said...

True, but lines like "and its squiggles of invention - a man with two faces, a fish that translates all languages - are mere juvenile surrealism" are self serving, pretentious, and miss the point completely.

The Babel Fish isn't supposed to be surreal (it's amazing how many people make the fish=surrealism connection), it's supposed to be silly, it's a swipe at all the other, equally stupid, Universal Translators you get in SF.

Phil Masters said...

Maybe the reviewer is missing a point or two because the film isn't making its points very well?

--
Phil Masters

Colin S said...

"Unless, of course, you consider that a paper ought to employ only film critics who happen to be fans of a radio series you like."

Well no. However I do expect a review to be written by someone who has at least some appreciation/ knowledge of the background/subject/theme of the piece they are reviewing. For instance we can enjoy Andrew's pieces on Wagner's Ring because it is obvious that he loves Wagner and can base his observations on a reasonable knowledge of the subject. Would we get the same value/pleasure from reading a review of the Ring by someone who loves Verdi but hates Wagner? I think not.

What this review does do is infringe Goethe's rules for criticism which., Andrew once informed me are
1:What is it trying to do?
2:How well does it do it?
3:Was it worth doing?
This review seemed to start with rule and work backward, based on the premise that all sci-fi is rubbish and all sci-fi fans are spotty, speccy social inadequates. (I'm not personally a sci-fi fan but I am a 'railway enthusiast' and thus familiar with this type of prejudice)

That's what annoyed me.
Yours, Colin.

PS. The Independent's TV critic had a similar problem with the recent Dr Who episode where he appeared surprised that a Dalek could get up stairs.

Dan Hemmens said...

Maybe the reviewer is missing a point or two because the film isn't making its points very well?

Granted, but the reviewer clearly objects to SF. I also sincerely doubt that the movie mishandled the Babel Fish, because frankly it's a simple gag. If the reviewer somehow thought it was supposed to be an inventive piece of setting design, then he just got it wrong.

Phil Masters said...

Colin said...

I do expect a review to be written by someone who has at least some appreciation/ knowledge of the background/subject/theme of the piece they are reviewing.

If you always expect that from film or TV critics, then you are doomed to sore and perpetual disappointment.

Consider that, for example, the same day that the HHGttG movie was reviewed, the paper also covered Mean Creek (some kind of low-budget adolescent rites-of-passage thing), In Your Hands (a gritty prison drama with some kind of religious element), The Big Red One (a re-release of a classic WWII movie), A Dirty Shame (a camp bad taste exercise featuring Tracey Ullman as a nymphomaniac), and XXX2: The Next Level (a routine sort of action thriller starring Ice Cube), the chance of getting hold of one or two critics capable of informed buff-satisfying insider commentary on all of them is fairly close to zero. Moderately-informed film fans with moderately broad tastes and a half-decent prose style just have to be enough.

(Incidentally, http://archive.gamespy.com/comics/dorktower/images/comics/dorktower446.gif seems worth referencing here...)

For instance we can enjoy Andrew's pieces on Wagner's Ring because it is obvious that he loves Wagner and can base his observations on a reasonable knowledge of the subject. Would we get the same value/pleasure from reading a review of the Ring by someone who loves Verdi but hates Wagner? I think not.

Actually, some of the most and entertaining and interesting reviews I've ever read, in any field, have been written by intelligent "outsiders" who brought a fresh eye to the subject matter. Even the occasional bitch piece by a Verdi fan forced to endure four hours of Bloody Wagner has its place (and this review wasn't in that league).

What this review does do is infringe Goethe's rules for criticism which., Andrew once informed me are
1:What is it trying to do?
2:How well does it do it?
3:Was it worth doing?


They're a neat little formulation, and not a bad place for a reviewer to start, but they're a bit simplistic, really. Clever as Goethe was, and perhaps despite his own opinion of himself, he didn't come down off the Alps with tablets of stone; if you treat these things as commandments, you can easily end up with dull, mechanistic reviews that never say anything fresh.

PS. The Independent's TV critic had a similar problem with the recent Dr Who episode where he appeared surprised that a Dalek could get up stairs.

Given that Russell T Davies himself also appears to have forgotten the one single bleedin' episode, fifteen years ago, which addressed and dismissed this particular (rather boring) issue, I think that one should be able to forgive this ghastly lapse.

Dan Hemmens said...

Granted, but the reviewer clearly objects to SF.

Hardly. It's easy to find critics who are genuinely deeply ignorant of and biased against SF, and this guy ain't in that league. He's just someone who never picked up on one particular title.

Unfortunately, because there are a few twits out there who think that anything with a spaceship in it is dreadful (or that model railway enthusiasts all have spots, or whatever), some SF fans (or other hobbyists) become tiresomely paranoid about "mainstream" critics and commentators. Ansible, over at http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Ansible/ , is a good place to go for examples of the former - but month in, month out, it whinges about people who just make slightly generalised comments about some SF product being a bit naff, or who suggest that Hollywood SF mostly features guns, monsters, and explosions (which, of course, is totally untrue).

Committed fans aren't the only people who are entitled to be critical of or irritated by the genre; remember, Sturgeon's law was created because, well, all those annoying mainstream critics who were dismissive of SF were merely responding to the 90% of the genre that is crap.

--
Phil Masters

Dan Hemmens said...

I don't deny that most of his points are entirely justified, it's just the bits where he specifically gets at "the fans" that bother me.

I have no problem with him saying things like "Seldom have I sat through a high-profile comedy that has generated so little laughter - even nervous laughter." It's a fair comment. I object when he follows it up with: "A heresy to its many fans, I know, but might this be because it's actually not funny?" The only reason to include the second line is in order to lord it over the unenlightened mobs of fandom.

It's roughly equivalent of watching the Baz Luhrman production of Romeo and Juliet, and responding with comments like "Is this what my English teachers raved about at school," or "never have I seen a tragedy which provoked so few tears. Heresy as this may be to the self-styled literati, perhaps this is because it isn't very good".

I mean for pity's sake, he opens his review with "is this what my school friends were raving about all those years ago". He isn't reviewing the film, he's passing judgement on the entire franchise, and taking the odd swipe at fandom while he's at it. If his conclusion was "this isn't a very good film", then I wouldn't object, but it isn't. His conclusion is "this isn't a very good film, but the fans will go and watch it anyway, because that's what fans are like, isn't it, aren't they stupid. And by the way, if any of my old schoolmates are watching, not laughing now, are you."

Andrew Rilstone said...

Have I told you my theory that the "journalist sneering at fanboys" is simply displaced homophobia? Fans are strange, tragic people who can't help it, who sit by themselves in dark rooms and never meet girls. The fact that post RTD, the stereotyped Whofan is gay slightly confirms this theory. (One could also wonder if a lot of the sneering about Royal Wedding was simply displaced misogyny, where jokes that you would no longer get away with making about a Mother-in-law were directed at Mrs Bowls. How DARE a woman be old. How DARE an old person show an interest in love and romance. What right does a woman who is not pretty have to exist?)

Just a theory.

I haven't seen the Hitch Hiker movie yet.

Phil Masters said...

I object when he follows it up with: "A heresy to its many fans, I know, but might this be because it's actually not funny?" The only reason to include the second line is in order to lord it over the unenlightened mobs of fandom.

Personally, I read it as a throwaway remark, albeit one that acknowledged that the HHGttG franchise has a significant fan base.

Look, the guy doesn't happen to be acquainted with the story; he knows it has a large following; he found the film poor. At that point, all he can possibly do is find ways of dealing with the apparent discrepancy.

It's roughly equivalent of watching the Baz Luhrman production of Romeo and Juliet, and responding with comments like "Is this what my English teachers raved about at school," or "never have I seen a tragedy which provoked so few tears. Heresy as this may be to the self-styled literati, perhaps this is because it isn't very good".

"Baldrick, you're so stupid you think Shakespeare's comedies are funny."

Strikes me as a perfectly valid critical line on a Shakespeare production, actually. I might not agree with it, but there's a perfectly respectable case to be made for saying that Shakespeare is overrated (George Bernard Shaw would seem to have thought so, for example), and the mere fact that he has a huge fanbase doesn't invalidate the argument.

I mean for pity's sake, he opens his review with "is this what my school friends were raving about all those years ago". He isn't reviewing the film, he's passing judgement on the entire franchise, and taking the odd swipe at fandom while he's at it.

Frankly, fandoms deserve the odd swipe. I'm enough of a fan myself to be careful of the terms I use, but, for example, I have a pretty low opinion of the Star Wars franchise, and I think that a lot of its devotees are very bloody silly.

If this critic had talked about acne, or even anoraks, he'd have gone over the line into irrelevant sneering - but as it is, he's just saying "This thing has a lot of fans, but it looks to me on this evidence that they're misguided." I imagine that if I walked into a showing of The Phantom Menace or a bad production of Titus Andronicus, I'd feel much the same way. (I certainly had a similar response to both Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy in my teens.)

And no, Andrew, anti-fan prejudice is nothing to do with displaced homophobia. It's triggered by a whole bunch of things, including clannishness, the fact that a number people get into fandom as a way of dealing with their own below-average social skills (making them annoying people to casual acquaintances), and an aesthetic distaste for acne and anoraks (both of which are more common in many fan gatherings than elsewhere). Homophobia might be partly to do with clannishness, I suppose...

--
Phil Masters

Dan Hemmens said...

Look, the guy doesn't happen to be acquainted with the story; he knows it has a large following; he found the film poor. At that point, all he can possibly do is find ways of dealing with the apparent discrepancy.

What discrepancy? A bad film was made out of a franchise that happened to be popular. It would be neither the first nor the last time that such a thing had happened.

When you say "heresy as it may be", the tacit implication is "you're all a bunch of fools and I am very special and clever for having the courage and wit to disagree with you". Yes, it was a throwaway line. So is "not that I'd expect anything else from the likes of you", it's still essentially offensive, and utterly pointless.

Strikes me as a perfectly valid critical line on a Shakespeare production, actually. I might not agree with it, but there's a perfectly respectable case to be made for saying that Shakespeare is overrated

There is a perfectly good case to be made that Shakespeare is overrated. "I saw one of his plays once and didn't like it" is not that case.

There are perfectly good cases to be made for controlling immigration. It does not mean that "I'm sick of these bloody arabs coming over here scrounging off our benefits" is a sophisticated line of political reasoning, or indeed that it is anything but bigotry.

If this critic had talked about acne, or even anoraks, he'd have gone over the line into irrelevant sneering - but as it is, he's just saying "This thing has a lot of fans, but it looks to me on this evidence that they're misguided." I imagine that if I walked into a showing of The Phantom Menace or a bad production of Titus Andronicus, I'd feel much the same way.

Two points:

Firstly, the job of a film critic is to criticise a film, not to criticise the people who might choose to watch it. If I read a review of the Hitchikers movie, I want to know if it is a good film. I don't want to know the critic's opinions of the fanbase, or of himself in relation to them.

Secondly, do you honestly believe that seeing one bad production of Titus would give you reason to completely dismiss Shakespeare?

Andrew Rilstone said...

There is nothing wrong with commenting on a genre of which you are ignorant. "Andrew Rilstone, the well-known Beatles fan, goes to a Motorhead concert and tells you how it strikes him" could make a perfectly good piece of writing.

The "Late Review" is sometimes fun in that regard. I recall they had Peter Hitchens reviewing "Terminator III". While the movie buff on the panel hated it, Hitchens really liked it because he had, never seen an action movie before. (There was also Tom Paulin saying that "Attack of the Clones" was an allegory of the American Civil War.)

But on the whole, you assume that a person writing about poetry has read a lot of poems and knows a good one when he see it. If he says "This is a bad example of a piece of poetry" and it turns out that he means "I can't see any point in writing poetry to begin with" then he is very probably wasting your time.

(That's my problem with the rantingly negative reviews of the "Ring". The critics who disliked the piece seemed to be hostile to the whole idea of treating opera as musical theatre. So they weren't in a position to distinguish Musical Theatre done well and Musical Theatre done badly.)

There is nothing wrong with mocking fan-boys. Someone in Another Forum accused me of being the Simpsons Comic Book Shop Guy. I said that I found this rather flattering -- caricature by definition exaggerates features to comic effect.
What can irk one is the way in which lazy journalists present images of "the kind of people who like sci-fi" which can't possibly have any basis in observation.

I suppose, up to a point, journalism needs to use symbolic language to communicate, particularly if it is trying to raise a laugh. City bankers do not wear bowler hats and school teachers do not carry canes, but cartoonists still draw them in that way because it provides a convenient visual shorthand. So "anorak wearing sci-fi fan" may serve the same purpose as "farmer with floppy cap and hay in his beard" or "christian with jeans".

What I don't fully understand is the way in which journalists use this short hand to extrapolate conclusions which just aren't true. "The Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings" were highly successful movies. "Star Wars" is the most mainstream of all mainstream things. More people are watching "Doctor Who" than "Casualty." So why write as if you think that "Star Wars" is something obscure and impenetrable, understood only by a small fraternity of castrati?


I find it more annoying when journalists feel the need to rubbish an entire genre, often by referring to a sterotype that is at least 50 years out of date. They seem obliged to say "science fiction is mostly about creatures with tentacles menacing blonde women, but amazinly, people like Phillip K Dick wrote books which contained ideas" or "Holy Cheese-Grater, Batman! Some fiendish American has put out a comic book with some good writing in it!" I don't think, objectively, that it matters: it merely irritates me.

One could wish that it was possible to say that the new "Doctor Who" is rather good without telling fibs about the old "Doctor Who". The man in the "Times" who did an otherwise intelligent review of "Dalek" felt the need to say "The old programme didn't contain a single good line apart from Exterminate! Exterminte!". Which rather made me want to put a sink plunger against his head and recite: "To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power; to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice..."

I still haven't seen "The Hitch-hikers Guide To the Galaxy."

Phil Masters said...

Dan Hemmens said...

What discrepancy? A bad film was made out of a franchise that happened to be popular. It would be neither the first nor the last time that such a thing had happened.

So maybe he was guilty of assuming that the film was more representative of the franchise than is actually the case. Ah well - he's a film critic. He's paid to focus on films, not novels or radio plays. I just can't convince myself that this is a terrible crime.

When you say "heresy as it may be", the tacit implication is "you're all a bunch of fools and I am very special and clever for having the courage and wit to disagree with you".

Well, you think it is. I think it's just a throwaway line (and yes, a bit of cliche) with no great significance. All I can say is that I think you're reading too much into it, and maybe being a bit too touchy.

I've seen critics stereotyping SF or fantasy fans offensively, or making really stupid remarks about a genre of which they're ignorant. (Just say "Tom Paulin" to any Discworld fan if you want to hear a few synonyms for "pillock".) This guy just ain't on the same planet.

There is a perfectly good case to be made that Shakespeare is overrated. "I saw one of his plays once and didn't like it" is not that case.

No, but judgements have been made on less evidence. It's not always fair, but I've certainly lurched away from various books swearing not to go anywhere near that writer, ever again. Life's too short not to make (some) snap judgements.

There are perfectly good cases to be made for controlling immigration. It does not mean that "I'm sick of these bloody arabs coming over here scrounging off our benefits" is a sophisticated line of political reasoning, or indeed that it is anything but bigotry.

Kindly stop comparing me to racist bigots. Or if you're going to Godwinise this conversation, kindly come out with it.

... do you honestly believe that seeing one bad production of Titus would give you reason to completely dismiss Shakespeare?

Possibly, yes. Mostly, there's enough positive views of Shakespeare around that most sensible people would give him a second and a third chance - but if somebody had been put off by some really bad experiences, I'd sympathise, and be interested in their opinion as an alternative point of view.

Andrew Rilstone said...

What can irk one is the way in which lazy journalists present images of "the kind of people who like sci-fi" which can't possibly have any basis in observation.

I've very rarely seen that, actually. Those images may be offensive, over-generalised, and snobbish, but they usually involve things which I can see at any SF convention. Anoraks, weight problems, irrational obsessions, a pointless concern with trivial details, poor social skills, a predominance of males with an interest in computers - can you honestly say that they aren't present, if not dominant?

What I don't fully understand is the way in which journalists use this short hand to extrapolate conclusions which just aren't true. "The Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings" were highly successful movies. "Star Wars" is the most mainstream of all mainstream things. More people are watching "Doctor Who" than "Casualty." So why write as if you think that "Star Wars" is something obscure and impenetrable, understood only by a small fraternity of castrati?

That particular point of view seems to be increasingly rare these days, so far as I can see, precisely because SF and fantasy have become so mainstream. It mostly seems to be limited to cranky older writers and terminally lazy local-newspaper hacks.


I find it more annoying when journalists feel the need to rubbish an entire genre, often by referring to a sterotype that is at least 50 years out of date. They seem obliged to say "science fiction is mostly about creatures with tentacles menacing blonde women, but amazinly, people like Phillip K Dick wrote books which contained ideas"...

The trouble is, everything old becomes new again, sooner or later. Though it's not so much tentacled misogyny as spaceships and explosions.

I blame Hollywood. Or, more specifically, George Lucas and James Cameron. From, oh, about Things to Come to 2001, big-budget movie SF was a pretty intellectually solid genre, really. The '50s B-movies didn't help its image, and there was always some snobbery, but I don't think that many people would have said that 2001 or Solaris were stupid, or that they weren't "SF" because they were fairly smart.

Then we got that tragic intersection of Lucas recreating his childhood obsessions, Cameron casting Arnie, and the application of raw modern computer power to special effects. And now, the line "SF means spaceships, explosions, and simple plots" is simply true, to a first approximation, from a moviegoer's point of view.

It's annoying when people say that, for example, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind isn't SF - because it's SF according to the ad hoc definitions with which I grew up. But really, from a practical modern marketing point of view, it isn't, and it's not doing anyone many favours to say otherwise.

(Note also what happens to low-action, thoughtful SF stories like I, Robot or, well, most of Philip K Dick's work when they become movies. Or, for that matter, note that the HHGttG trailers are big on explosions and spaceships, but rather short on jokes.)

It's doubly annoying when this effect spills over to written SF, too - it's not the prose writers' fault what Hollywood has done with the genre. Maybe we just need a new label for SF that doesn't involve spaceships exploding or parts for Arnie. Or maybe us grognards just need to walk away.

Dan Hemmens said...

So maybe he was guilty of assuming that the film was more representative of the franchise than is actually the case. Ah well - he's a film critic. He's paid to focus on films, not novels or radio plays. I just can't convince myself that this is a terrible crime.

The point is that he is, as you correctly observe, paid to focus on films. He should do this instead of asserting his superiority over the unwashed masses of fandom.

Well, you think it is. I think it's just a throwaway line (and yes, a bit of cliche) with no great significance. All I can say is that I think you're reading too much into it, and maybe being a bit too touchy.

I would argue that the fact that something is a throwaway line does not make it less offensive.

I've seen critics stereotyping SF or fantasy fans offensively, or making really stupid remarks about a genre of which they're ignorant. (Just say "Tom Paulin" to any Discworld fan if you want to hear a few synonyms for "pillock".) This guy just ain't on the same planet.

So because some people make *worse* swipes at fandom, this man is not making a swipe at fandom. Is that the argument you are choosing to stick by.

No, but judgements have been made on less evidence.

I believe there is a saying to do with wrongs, rights, and the mathematical relationship between the two. Just because judgements have been made on less evidence, that does not mean that this is a sufficient quantity of evidence on which to make a judgement.

It's not always fair, but I've certainly lurched away from various books swearing not to go anywhere near that writer, ever again. Life's too short not to make (some) snap judgements.

Are you, however, a professional film critic? People make snap judgements, film critics are not supposed to.

Kindly stop comparing me to racist bigots. Or if you're going to Godwinise this conversation, kindly come out with it.

You know there are *so* many lines I could pursue from here. I'm torn between "it's obviously a throwaway comment" and "I have seen real examples of attempts to Godwinise a conversation".

Your argument, it seemed to me, boiled down to the suggestion that if there exists a rational argument for a position, then any argument that supports that position is reasonable. It can be argued that shakespeare is overrated, therefore it does not matter if I say "Shakespeare holds a position of near religious significance in this country, and such a status cannot simply be the result of especial merit", or "I saw this play once and it sucked".

You seemed to be saying that a knee-jerk reaction with no evidence behind it was equivalent to a reaonable argument, so long as the two reached the same conclusion. I simply provided a counter example.

Possibly, yes. Mostly, there's enough positive views of Shakespeare around that most sensible people would give him a second and a third chance - but if somebody had been put off by some really bad experiences, I'd sympathise, and be interested in their opinion as an alternative point of view.

Ah, this may be where we differ. I don't consider opinions to be worth much in and of themselves. Arguments, to my mind, have value, but not opinions. "I think X" (or worse, "I feel X") is, to me, an essentially meaningless statement. "I think X because Y" is not.

Phil Masters said...

I would argue that the fact that something is a throwaway line does not make it less offensive.

I'm saying that it was just a throwaway line, with no offensive content that I could identify. (I am a Hitchhiker's Guide fan, of sorts; I did not feel in any way offended by it.) I think that you're being over-sensitive, and maybe assuming too much from past bad experiences.

So because some people make *worse* swipes at fandom, this man is not making a swipe at fandom. Is that the argument you are choosing to stick by.

But I don't think that it was a "swipe" at all - just a casual, and actually relatively good-humored, remark about the devotees of a thing which does have some rather, umm, fannish devotees.

The worst he seems to be saying is that HH fans are a bit keen about something which, on available evidence, doesn't work for him. I just can't be bothered to find that offensive.

People make snap judgements, film critics are not supposed to.

They end up reviewing about 2-6 films a week, and have to deliver the copy within a couple of days. That copy also has to fit onto a couple of pages of the paper. I don't see that newspaper film reviews can be anything but snap judgements.

I also think that most film critics are probably people. Though there may be some exceptions.

Ah, this may be where we differ. I don't consider opinions to be worth much in and of themselves. Arguments, to my mind, have value, but not opinions. "I think X" (or worse, "I feel X") is, to me, an essentially meaningless statement. "I think X because Y" is not.

Whereas I think that all aesthetic judgements are, in the end, just opinions. Some are more complicated, better informed, or more interesting opinions than others (and some people have opinions which are frequently close to mine, and which I therefore find useful as guidelines for what to watch), but I don't really believe in objective aesthetic judgements.

Which means that I can read criticism for fun, without bothering too much about whether it's ideologically sound.

Colin S said...

This thread is a bugger to follow. Two-thirds of the way down and I'd totally lost track of who was quoting whom about what.
Must post movie criticism here more often :-)

Dan Hemmens said...

I'm saying that it was just a throwaway line, with no offensive content that I could identify. (I am a Hitchhiker's Guide fan, of sorts; I did not feel in any way offended by it.) I think that you're being over-sensitive, and maybe assuming too much from past bad experiences.

And I think that perhaps you are assuming too much about my past experiences.

I am not offended by the fact that this guy did not like the movie. I am irritated by the fact that this guy seems to think that not liking the movie makes him somehow special. His actual opinions about the film I have no objections to, it's his attitude that irks me. He talks like he's revealing the Emperor to be naked, when in fact lot of fans have made exactly the same observations as he has.

But I don't think that it was a "swipe" at all - just a casual, and actually relatively good-humored, remark about the devotees of a thing which does have some rather, umm, fannish devotees.

Again I note the use of the word "relatively". And since he's obviously unfamiliar with the Hitchikers franchise, it seems unlikely that he is actually remotely familiar with the devotees, fannish or otherwise. Indeed it seems his chief exposure was from his friends being into it at school.

The worst he seems to be saying is that HH fans are a bit keen about something which, on available evidence, doesn't work for him. I just can't be bothered to find that offensive.

What he's saying is that HH fans are unthinkingly devoted to something that is utterly worthless. Furthermore, statements should only be made "on available evidence" if said evidence is actually remotely substantial.

They end up reviewing about 2-6 films a week, and have to deliver the copy within a couple of days. That copy also has to fit onto a couple of pages of the paper. I don't see that newspaper film reviews can be anything but snap judgements.

Not all decisions reached quickly are snap judgements. If I see a film, hate the first scene, and decide from there that I hate the film, that is a snap judgement. If I watch a film and hate every minute of it, that is not a snap judgement.

Film critics should never make snap judgements. A snap judgement is, indeed, the very antithesis of good criticism. The reveiwer's original comments about the *film* did not represent a snap judgement, they represented an informed opinion about the film. His judgement about the Hitchikers Franchise as a whole, however, is a snap judgement, and one which is not relevant to the film.

I also think that most film critics are probably people. Though there may be some exceptions.

True, but people acting within their professional capacity don't have the same luxuries as people acting as private citizens.

[quote]Whereas I think that all aesthetic judgements are, in the end, just opinions. Some are more complicated, better informed, or more interesting opinions than others (and some people have opinions which are frequently close to mine, and which I therefore find useful as guidelines for what to watch), but I don't really believe in objective aesthetic judgements.[/quote]

Sensible as far as it goes, so long as you don't start using the intrinsic subjectivity of aesthetic judgement as justification for any old crap.

But this isn't my point. My point is that I don't consider opinions to be interesting in and of themselves. Any idiot can say "I think Tolkein is a better writer than Shakespeare", it doesn't do me any good unless backed up with an actual argument.

To my mind an opinion can only be interesting in and of its self if the idea that somebody could hold that opinion was genuinely novel, in and of its self. I have never found that to be the case.

Which means that I can read criticism for fun, without bothering too much about whether it's ideologically sound.

Ah, you see I don't read criticism for fun. I read criticism to find out about the subject of the criticism.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Hmm....we appear to have managed to go from "are critics mean to fan-boys?" to "what is the purpose and nature of criticism?" in about a week. To which the answers are "yes, but it doesn't matter" and "I don't know", respectively.

Questions of criticism and artistic merit are rather like questions about morality; indeed, like Socrates, I have never entirely worked out the difference between them.

(You could probably do quite well by abolishing morality and judging all actions on aesthetic grounds. You would no longer say that lying was wicked, you would merely say that it was ugly. I don't think that it would work in reverse, though: all good deeds are beautiful, but not all beautiful things are good.)

It is pretty obvious that there is no "objective" standard of "artistic merit" or of "morality"; and absolutely certain that there is no "scientific" way of deciding what is beautiful or what is good. If you are a Dalek, a logical positivist, or a writer of popular tracts about natural selection, you could conclude that aesthetics and morality are meaningless terms, and that "murder is wrong" and "Hamlet is a good play" have exactly the same status as "I prefer my steak rare" or "I take sugar in my coffee." If you took this view to an extreme, then discussions about politics and art would be literally meaningless, at the same level as saying "blah blah".

That of which we cannot speak, thereof we should shut the hell up.

Someone called I.A Richards proposed a theory that literary criticism could be "objective" if you thought of it as a branch of applied psychology, and asked "What kind of texts have which kinds of effects on the human mind" But everyone ignored him.

However it seems to me to be pretty obvious that when someone says "How did 'Attack of the Clone' compare with 'Star Wars'?" there are things that you can usefully say apart from "Bibble". All mortals, when discussing art or literature or morality, tacitly agree to judge it according to its conformity to a known set of standards. These standards are either "consensus" ("a 'good novel' is the kind of novel that the kinds of people who read novels have judged to be a 'good novel' over the last few centuries"); or else according to some specific code ("a moral act is one which conforms with the Ten Commandments", "A good play is one which conforms to the standards of Aristotle", "A good novel is either of those approved which F.R Leavis enjoyed".)

I generally -- like most of the human race when they are not trying to score debating points -- follow the position of consensus. If everyone tells me that "Don Quixote" is a great book, then I assume that it probably is, and try to understand why they think so.

It seems to me that the offending passage in the Indy was a bad and illogical piece of criticism. "So -- this was what my school friends were so obsessed with" begs the immediate answer "No it wasn't, because it hadn't been made then. What they were obsessed with was the radio series or the book."

Everyone tells me that Paul McCartney was one of the best writers of popular melodies of the last 100 years. I pick up a copy of "Venus and Mars" to see what all the shouting is about. It turns out to be rather poor. I can draw one of three conclusions:

1: The rest of the human race thinks that he is a great song-writer; but these songs seem to me to be pretty poor. Well, then, I must be a very poor judge of tunes, and there is no point in me making any comments on them ever again.

2: The rest of the human race thinks that these are good songs, and I don't: so the rest of the human race must be very poor judges of tunes and I must be a very good one. Conclusion as above.

3: I guess that his fame must rest on songs other than those on this album.

The best conclusion that the indycritic could have reached was that, since his friends thought HHGTG was very good, and since this film was very poor, presumably, this film had done a bad job translating HHGTG into a movie. But that wouldn't have given him and his readers the chance to feel superior to the members of an out-group, which is, after all, the main object of the exercise.

I have still not see the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie.

Dan Hemmens said...

Hmm....we appear to have managed to go from "are critics mean to fan-boys?" to "what is the purpose and nature of criticism?" in about a week.

Yup, and from here it's a sharp left into the nature of beauty and morality...

(You could probably do quite well by abolishing morality and judging all actions on aesthetic grounds. You would no longer say that lying was wicked, you would merely say that it was ugly. I don't think that it would work in reverse, though: all good deeds are beautiful, but not all beautiful things are good.)

I'm not certain that you can actually say that all good deeds are beautiful, unless you define "goodness" as beautiful in and of its self, which is a bit of a circular argument. Helping elderly people with pre senile dementia go to the toilet is a good deed, but it's far from beautiful.

Everyone tells me that Paul McCartney was one of the best writers of popular melodies of the last 100 years. I pick up a copy of "Venus and Mars" to see what all the shouting is about. It turns out to be rather poor. I can draw one of three conclusions:

I'd suggest that there's actually a fourth option:

I percieve these songs to be bad. I percieve the rest of the world to consider the rest of these songs to be wonderful. My perception of the opinions of the rest of the world is wrong.

I frequently (and sorry if I lose the non-roleplayers in the audience) look at White Wolf and think to myself "good lord, why do people think their games are so brilliant when all they are is a boringly generic system overlayed with a deeply uninspiring setting". Now of course the *correct* answer is that people actually *don't* think that their games are "so brilliant", they think that they're "quite good", and they enjoy playing them enough that they are willing to seek out other people who enjoy the same thing and talk to them about it. The fault does not lie in my estimation of the games, nor in their estimation of the games, but in my estimation of their estimation of the games.

Phil Masters said...

I'll merely note here that the review in question (which may not be the greatest or most perceptive review in the history of film, but which seems to me to raise some interesting points and probably to describe the content of the film quite adequately) begins:

Huh? Is this really what my school friends were raving about all those years ago?

Which is , admittedly, a rhetorical question with a tinge of sarcasm - but which still, being a question, admits the possibility of the answer "No it bloody isn't". And it ends:

Indeed, the whole tenor of Hitchhiker feels like a Seventies throwback: the way fans were given to quoting favourite chunks from it smacks of nothing so much as a nerdy schoolkid's version of Monty Python. ...

(Which may irritate the former nerdy schoolkids in the audience, but as a former nerdy schoolkid myself, I'd have to admit that it's pretty accurate. The only mistake is implying that Monty Python quotation wasn't the preserve of nerdy schoolkids. Though the kid I knew who could deliver the entire cheese shop sketch from memory, at whim, managed to lay a patina of cool over his nerdiness at the time. And by the way, I don't think "nerdy" is a very dangerous insult any more these days. Bill Gates has his uses.)

... Some of those fans may flock to the movie, but it's hard to see who else is going to be tempted.

Which strikes me as the simple truth. The guy may not know the ins and outs of Hitchhiker fandom terribly well, but he knows that it exists, and he knows that fans will flock to a movie with the right title even if it isn't much good. If mentioning this occasionally makes him a snob, well, where can I join the snob club, please?

And there, I think, I should shut up.

Dan Hemmens said...

Which is , admittedly, a rhetorical question with a tinge of sarcasm - but which still, being a question, admits the possibility of the answer "No it bloody isn't".

Except that's the point. It doesn't admit the possibility of the answer "No it bloody isn't", because it's a rhetorical question. That's what a rhetorical question is, one that does not in fact require an answer, but is instead used as rhetorical device - a means to convince somebody of your argument.

When the singer asks "is it a sin, is it a crime, loving you dear like I do?" he isn't admitting the answer "well, yes it is actually, so would you kindly stop," he's saying "it's completely alright for me to love you like I do." Similarly "is this what my friends were so obessesed about in school" doesn't really admit the answer "no, actually," because what he's really saying is "the thing my friends were so obsessed about in school was rubbish."

Incidentally, another answer to the "is this what my friends..." question is "actually your friends weren't 'obsessed' at all; they just quite liked it, so they talked about it, that's just the way people are."