or, who the hell edits together all these found footage movies?
I don’t know if reviewing is an artform. I know it’s a really difficult thing to master. I know the only people who seem to care if it is an artform or not are those who do it professionally. It feels worthwhile to me – the excavation of art, to identify its themes and strengths and flaws. I’ve long felt that the only purpose of a review is to get you to want to see a film, even if it is a complete pan.
I know that nowadays, film criticism seems bogged down in a tedious identification of which movies are ‘safe’ or not. Is this film acceptable – does it conform to our views on feminism and Marxism and equality. I think these are worthy pursuits – I think they are useful prisms through which to view movies. I don’t think it’s ultimately that interesting though. Everyone would just be better off if we accepted the imperfections of others, and that includes our artists. When we condemn art, we reveal more about ourselves than we do the art. Indeed, some of the most interesting criticism comes from redemptive readings of neglected or castigated movies.
(It’s also of limited impact. Identifying which movies or television shows are progressive enough is useful, and it’s much better to have that conversation than not, but it’s not really having an impact. If these issues were as vital to the writers as they claim, there would be a lot less TV recapping on the internet, and a lot more social upset. Jessa Crispin has recently been pointing out the ineffectual nature of deciding whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer is feminist or not. The only people who seemed to get upset about it were… the TV recappers in my Twitter feed.)
More perniciously, those who do value the prism of queer, gendered or Marxist theory have found a new way to be disparaged. No longer can these be deeply held ethical considerations, now they are the actions of the ‘performatively woke’. Once again, the accusation seems insincere. It reveals more about the accuser (and their self-righteous vanity) than it does of the accused. I accept that the same could be said of this response.
So do we not consider these values? Do we stick to writing about the simple visual pleasure of movies? It seems that if we do, we will end up going down the cultural dead-end of vulgar auteurism.
Instead, we distract ourselves from writing anything of substance by sticking to career overviews. We apply a narrative (as humans are inclined to do so) onto a lifetime. If I’m writing about The Visit, I’m not going to actually write about The Visit, I’m going to write about the whole career of M. Night Shyamalan. How he always writes about children. I’ll identify which movies are good and which movies are bad. I’ll discuss about how this film is a ‘return-to-form’.
Because that’s what we expect. Promising artists lose their mojo, and eventually get it back. U2 and Woody Allen have had about half-a-dozen ‘return-to-forms’ by this stage of their careers. Quentin Tarantino seems intent on sabotaging his creativity in an attempt to avoid ever having one. But that’s what The Visit is. It’s a competent, if slightly unexciting, film after a couple of failures.
I started writing this series on Shyamalan in the hope of improving as a writer. I’m self-consciously ‘trying-to-be-clever-clever’ in my writing. It’s a symptom of my age and race and gender and sexuality. I’m deeply privileged in this regard, and am a product of environments where intelligence is prized. Which is not to say I’m any good at it. I think I’ll always try to read too much into things. But cinema is obsessive and I am obsessive. And I’m going to keep trying at it until I get it right. I’m not the writer I want to be yet. But this is a three year project, and I’m only one year in.
I’ve watched far too many Shyamalan films recently. I’d seen some before and some were brand-new. I can’t pretend that I’m not glad it’s over.
Wait… Split is coming out in a month or two…
The thrills are cheap and there’s plenty to hate (over-written dialogue, disruption of his found-footage rule in his attempts to wedge in his cinematic predilections for establishing shots), but The Visit is pretty good horror movie. As far as these things go…
- The Village
- The Sixth Sense
- The Happening
- The Visit
- Lady in the Water
- Wide Awake
- The Last Airbender
- After Earth