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M. Leary

Creating Film Critic Circle?

New Film Critic Circle  

15 members have voted

  1. 1. Would you apply to join?

    • Yes
      10
    • No
      1
  2. 2. What metric for application would be appropriate?

    • 25 Reviews Published
      3
    • 50 Reviews Published
      4
    • 100 Reviews Published
      1
    • 8643 Reviews Published
      0
    • Other
      3
  3. 3. What awards would you like to see?

    • Best Film
      11
    • Best "Spiritually Significant" Film
      2
    • Best Director
      9
    • Best Cinematography
      5
    • Best Actor cetegories
      6
    • Best Animated Feature
      5
    • Best Documentary
      7
    • Best Family Feature
      0
    • Other?
      0


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Evan C   

I, too, liked the sound of Mike's proposal, but assumed I wasn't eligible (particularly once the thread got rolling with talk of Rebecca's proposal). That's why I haven't spoken up more.

I'm in this boat as well.  I would join if I were eligible, but I assumed I wouldn't be, so I was waiting to see what the requirements for application would be.

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M. Leary   

 

 

Mike, it doesn't sound cynical, but I am also not sure it answers the second part of my question (or even the first). What sort of backing would make its most basic goals possible? Does "backing" mean number of respondents (to the testing of the waters), quality of respondents, or some combination thereof? And are you saying you won't proceed until you see evidence of that backing or that you have determined that such backing is not there and have already moved on?

 

 

Oh, yes. Well... I was reading the tone of the thread and the general tenor seemed to be reservation. I wouldn't want to pester people if it the idea only had passing interest. 

 

To answer Question A above, let's say there were 12-15 people signaling interest either here or via email that met a very basic criterion like... 30 or 50 reviews published anywhere more substantial than a bar napkin, then I would think it worth doing something like the following:

 

1. Find a convenient venue for discussion

2. Agree upon a name and very brief mission statement

3. Vote on films in December

4. Release results 

5. Assess participant interests early the following year to talk about firming up membership criteria and establishing some venue for sharing the kind of practical guidance/mentorship you describe above.

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My hope has been to form a professional association for critics who have some sort of faith perspective on film. I'd like to have a defined group with professional entry criteria to counteract both the secular perspective that we're a bunch of hicks and the sometimes anti-art, anti-intellectual ghetto of the extremely conservative side.

Welcome Rebecca,

I think this is something worth hoping and striving for. But, I’d bet that, if this is how you sold the group, it would attract less interest than would a group that united over a set of common affirmations. At other points, you mention being “faith-based” as a uniting principle. I would encourage you, not so much to worry about whether “faith-based” would be the right label or not, as to set out some affirmative goals that your association would be interested in advancing - goals that other popular “faith-based” movie review websites or associations are not advancing.

'Spirituality' is still a controversial term in atheist circles, but many (and I would include myself here) see terms such as spirituality, spirit, and soul as the best words we've got for feelings and experiences that encompass altruism, wonder, awe, transcendence, interconnectedness, and joy (to name only a few). Where we differ from religious folk is in perceiving soul and spirit to be explainable through biological and neurochemical mechanisms. While religiously-loaded, we just see that no better words have come along yet. (We're still waiting for a great mind to coin popularly-accepted neologisms that could replace such terms, akin to Freud's id/ego/superego or Dawkins' meme.)

“Spirituality” is a controversial term in Christian circles too, given the tendency of more and more people who insist on calling themselves “spiritual but not religious.” There is nothing more tiresome than watching teachers in church insist (it sounds more like pleading) how Christianity is not really a religion, but instead it’s “a relationship” or a “way of life”, a life-style option or whatever other watered down attempt they make to rid the words they use of any meaning. That said, given your thoughts and views on art and films, and given the same views that I’ve read in thinkers like George Santayana, I don’t think a group labeling itself “faith-based” would necessarily exclude you. There are affirmations about life, truth and the transcendental that a Christian and an atheist can make together (for example, see Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross.)

“Literary criticism,” on the other hand, has a very long history spanning across thousands of years. What most intrigues me is how completely cut off the vast majority of today’s film criticism seems to be from the philosophies, standards and movements of literary criticism ... If I were to find a collection of other like-minded writers who were interested in raising the bar for the quality of film criticism, and therefore of film itself, then that is a circle that I would be interested in associating with and working in for the rest of my life.

J.A.A., I've felt the opposite. That film criticism can align with literary criticism and draw upon the same movements and conventions. (I've wondered if it does so more than with visual culture studies and how else it could have turned out.) In academia, where the border between literature departments and film or cinema studies can be so porous, you could probably find that fusion in descriptions of majors and courses and even syllabi. Definitely in the critical works published by university presses. And if you look to the font of film criticism, people like Bazin or Deleuze, I think you'd sense it at the level of theory.

I suppose I didn’t word that as clearly as I should have. Josie, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I think film criticism not only can, but ought to follow in the traditions of literary criticism. When I said that the vast majority of today’s film reviews seem to have cut themselves off from it, it is because most of the reviews that I read have. Any comprehensive perusal of the most popular/professional reviews of a given film (looking at the list at RottenTomatoes), and almost none of those reviews are actually really interested in ideas. Almost none of them discuss the questions and ideas that have been discussed in literary criticism for centuries. They discuss whether the reviewer liked or didn’t like the film personally. They make a few comparisons to other films. And then they all repeat the same comparisons. I always feel like I’m pulling teeth whenever I’m looking for a substantive discussion of a newly released film. (There are exceptions to this, and there are specific reviewers like Zoller Seitz or Sicinski whose reviews offer more than most. But they are rare, and the films they review are limited.)

I am curious if in your comments (as in the criteria for membership in the circle) film criticism is ever synonymous with film reviewing?

Yes. I could not understand any film reviewer attempting to claim that he or she engaging in “film reviewing” instead of “film criticism.” I also couldn’t imagine that distinction ever being made without “film reviewing” just being a synonym for “bad film criticism.”

Book reviews seem far less prolific and widely read and enmeshed in an industry. And far likelier to be written by academics and practitioners of the genre than film reviews are by professors and film makers. And I wonder if besides the youth of the medium and cultural shifts over time, you are seeing differences between journalism and scholarship, between a primary text that you may only view *once* in a theater and be uninspired by, and one that you choose and move through freely and annotate, and between a readership whose decision to see the film, or let their kids, or reconsider their first response can hinge on your review and a readership ...

There are more and more popular book reviews these days, but they appear at places like Amazon. There are no qualitative standards for them at all, even when it comes to basic English grammar. But I have read “academic” reviews and often they are just as bad. They are written in an academic jargon that is just more sophisticated at being thoughtless and at breaking rules of English grammar than the average illiterate Amazon.com review. I would agree that there is a difference between scholarship and journalism. I would not argue that all or even most film reviews ought to be scholarly. But I would argue that every film review should be literate (the number of “professional” but illiterate reviews written on films like Troy or Lincoln is mind-boggling). And that would mean that a good review (synonymous with a work of film criticism) should exist within the traditions of literary criticism.

Well, this conversation died out quickly enough to indicate that interest would not sustain such a project. I still like the simple Interfilm/SIGNIS approach we discussed, and perhaps we could take it up again in the future. I appreciate that seven people did that respond they would participate, but we would need a bit more critical mass to make something sustainable.

Don’t be discouraged, Mike. In fact, even if this doesn’t look like something that will work right now, I think it is something that would be greatly worth working and building towards. While there is a large and growing number of participants at A&F, only a small minority here actually publish reviews on a regular basis. And some of us, myself included, are only really just beginning to do so. That fact alone could, I think, explain the minority of responses that you have received so far.

While I haven't yet heard Mike's full articulation of his purpose--I can presume some based on mission statement that I believe he wrote for FFCC--I assume it would be somewhat different than Rebecca's stated purpose. ("..to counteract both the secular perspective that we're a bunch of hicks and the sometimes anti-art, anti-intellectual ghetto of the extremely conservative side.") ... There seems to be a whiff of the **we're not them** at the core of the identity statement. And whether *them* is defined more pointedly (Movieguide, Church of the Masses) or roundaboutedly (conservative, anti-art), there is something that seems...political...(in the broadest sense of the word) about defining oneself in the negative. It was the most troublesome aspect of the FFCC (for me), and I think it opens up such groups to charges of reverse-prejudice or snobbery. I've certainly seen it poison relationships and hurt (personally and professionally) sincere people on both sides of a Christian cultural divide.

I agree with most of this. Do you think that this is the sort of problem that could be remedied with some sort of well-written creed or set of objectives? Whether Mike’s and Rebecca’s ideas would ultimately lead to different associations, both could appear vague and even purposeless without some clearly stated positive affirmations.

Perhaps I am arrogant (or naive, or naively arrogant), but I think Christian journalism/film criticism could use such an association ... one that isn't so much about earning membership signalling that one has arrived (membership as the prize) but one where those who have made strides, however small, in their craft, can give back, help out, assume the mentoring and shepherding (or even just advisory) roles that used to be done by editors or senior staff in the days where everything wasn't subcontracted and freelance.

Does a single association like this even exist yet? I don’t think so. But it’s conversations like this that could end with beginning one. It would probably have to start small and it would probably only grow slowly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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While I haven't yet heard Mike's full articulation of his purpose--I can presume some based on mission statement that I believe he wrote for FFCC--I assume it would be somewhat different than Rebecca's stated purpose. ("..to counteract both the secular perspective that we're a bunch of hicks and the sometimes anti-art, anti-intellectual ghetto of the extremely conservative side.") ... There seems to be a whiff of the **we're not them** at the core of the identity statement. And whether *them* is defined more pointedly (Movieguide, Church of the Masses) or roundaboutedly (conservative, anti-art), there is something that seems...political...(in the broadest sense of the word) about defining oneself in the negative. It was the most troublesome aspect of the FFCC (for me), and I think it opens up such groups to charges of reverse-prejudice or snobbery. I've certainly seen it poison relationships and hurt (personally and professionally) sincere people on both sides of a Christian cultural divide.

I agree with most of this. Do you think that this is the sort of problem that could be remedied with some sort of well-written creed or set of objectives? Whether Mike’s and Rebecca’s ideas would ultimately lead to different associations, both could appear vague and even purposeless without some clearly stated positive affirmations.
 

 

Possibly, but I am less confident in the self-selection process than Rebecca appears to be. My own experience, academically and professionally, is that people will apply for membership (or jobs) if they feel it is in their best interest, even if they know they are not a good fit. And, realistically, organizations want to reserve the right to refuse membership. The trick is to have something tangible so that such rejections are not capricious without excluding people who would be assets but may not fit the conventional description of a member. 

A few years ago departments at my institution got a reminder from campus legal that we were not supposed to inquire into applicants' own religious affiliation. This seemed odd to many of us, given the institution's mission statement and the legitimate need to inquire whether new members (in this case employees) would be working towards the same goals. The general pattern that has developed is to define ourselves and then ask those who want to join how they would support the mission or why they would be a good fit. If someone could do that without referencing their own religion, fine. If they wanted to offer their own religious participation as one means of answering that question they were free to do so. But it wasn't a requirement. Applying that to a professional association, I could see someone like, say, Andrew, being able to make a case that even though he he does not call himself a Christian he could contribute, as an atheist, to a stated goal of fighting the secular perception that all Christian critics are ignorant, arch-conservative (politically and socially) and anti-art, by promoting (with his megaphone) those Christian critics whom he respects that don't fit the bill and modelling charitable interactions with them to show that is possible. Or by participating in forums (such as this one) where his insights help Christian critics develop more nuance by having to answer objections they might not be faced with when only talking in an echo chamber. And so on. Whether he would *want* to do so is another matter entirely (as is whether he would meet other eligibility requirements). But the point is that its easier to try to describe who you want to be as an association and then ask those who want to join how they fit into that than it is to describe who you want (or don't) as a member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I am arrogant (or naive, or naively arrogant), but I think Christian journalism/film criticism could use such an association ... one that isn't so much about earning membership signalling that one has arrived (membership as the prize) but one where those who have made strides, however small, in their craft, can give back, help out, assume the mentoring and shepherding (or even just advisory) roles that used to be done by editors or senior staff in the days where everything wasn't subcontracted and freelance.

Does a single association like this even exist yet? I don’t think so. But it’s conversations like this that could end with beginning one. It would probably have to start small and it would probably only grow slowly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

 

Not to my knowledge. I *little* --very little--of these functions are served by niche marketing groups--Grace Hill, Different Drum, Lovell-Fairchild--but that's mostly in the form of triage instruction for niche bloggers invited to junkets/set visits, etc. And they are naturally more interested in associations with outlets than individual, up-and-coming bloggers/writers. (That may be changing a tiny bit...since I do occasionally get screeners or junket invites directly from them for 1More Film Blog and not as assignments through CT, but I doubt this would have happened if not for freelancing at CT.) The closest thing, I'll be honest, may be this forum. (Stop the presses, Ken said something positive about A&F!), which, while not set up to serve that purpose, at least puts such people in contact with each other so that such interactions can occur via PM, e-mail, etc.

 

This didn't fit in neatly anywhere, but regarding the potential overlap of membership in described organizations, if you look at Alexa, it will say that MovieGuide has an international ranking of 162,339 and a US ranking of 41,383. Christianity Today is currently ranked at 16,692/4,401, though that comparison is deceptive b/c it ranks *all* of Christianity Today's blogs/columns and not just the movie column. (From what I know about the movie page's analytics, which is by no means inside info, I would be surprised if it got more traffic than MovieGuide, or if it did, not by much. I suspect most people here would agree that from an individually owned blog perspective, Steven is the most successful sole proprietor here, but Decentfilms has a rank of 709,502 (and doesn't score high enough to get a U.S. rank.) Before I moved 1More Film Blog to Patheos, the rank was, IIRC somewhere between 2-3 million (in *ranking* not page views). Patheos's rankings are 3484/788 respectively, though, again, that's an *aggregate* rank for every page on the site together, not for each individual blogger. 

 

To answer Question A above, let's say there were 12-15 people signaling interest either here or via email that met a very basic criterion like... 30 or 50 reviews published anywhere more substantial than a bar napkin, then I would think it worth doing something like the following:
 
1. Find a convenient venue for discussion
2. Agree upon a name and very brief mission statement
3. Vote on films in December
4. Release results 
5. Assess participant interests early the following year to talk about firming up membership criteria and establishing some venue for sharing the kind of practical guidance/mentorship you describe above.

 

 

I would be interested. For me #1 would actually be a plus, though I recognize it could be a thicky wicket. I've seen at least two discussion venues wither and die trying to find an alternative (or supplement) to A&F. Unless one wants to go chasing the it blog (is it still Girish, or has even he been supplanted by the Letterbox'd/Twitter 1-2 punch) or be in direct competition with this forum (which sort of makes drawing members from its participants a kind of impolite thing to do, no?) I suppose a bit would depend on what sort of "discussion" you are envisaging. if it's just a substitute for e-mail to discuss association business (like voting procedures) or would you envisage some sort of actual discussion as a preliminary to voting, along the lines of what is done here with Top 25 and all? That might make the voting results a little more diverse, speaking to Darren's concern. (BTW, on that score, it might be nice to have some sort of voting since CT did away with its end-of-year voting, instead asking individual critics to submit various lists.)

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Ken, I am grateful in moments like this for the way you think and your ability to communicate that in writing so clearly.

 

 

I never said thank you for this, by the way. So...thank you.

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Hello, everyone.

 

I've been talking with Mike via Twitter today about this Christian Critic Society idea. Our conversation was spurred by the article I posted this week on Reel Spirituality explaining our decision to both feature alternate reviews of films from our critics and to link to, well, all of your respective outlets at the end of our reviews when we cover the same film. Without having read through all the discussion that has gone on already, I wanted to add my "yay" to the mix. I think some sort of inter-outlet/agency (including true independents), publicly visible Christian critic society would be a very positive thing.

 

First, in the midst of the Noah hubbub, I had countless reporters ask me something like, "Why do Christians react so negatively to movies like this?" I would have loved to be able to point to a specific group like a Christian critic society and say, "Well, not all Christians do that. Look at this large group of people who respond to films like Noah very differently."

 

A Christian critics society would present a unified front that would stand for a certain way of interacting with cinema. Without even needing to name "the other guys," we'd be offering a critique of the kind of "criticism" being done by Christians that I think most of us believe is harming the world. It would demonstrate that we're not a fringe group on the edge of the edge of the world of film criticism. There are a lot of us.

 

A society of this kind, rightly organized, would also provide a way in for newer critics. Membership in these sorts of things often has an air of exclusivity. Instead, we could organize it so it that has rigorous yet clearly stated in-roads that aspiring critics can travel on their way to becoming more capable critics. Imagine the mentoring opportunities. I wish something like this existed when I first started. I wish something like existed now. I'm immensely grateful for the feedback I have gotten and continue to get. I'd love to get more, and I'd be thrilled to offer what I've learned to others who are just starting out. (This is a big reason we started the Brehm Practicing Critic Program at Fuller recently, so that new students at Fuller who want to get into this won't be on their own as they start.) 

 

Those of us who don't treat movies as enemies are a sizable group, and we're growing in number all the time. Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case, but through the tireless efforts of many of you here and many others, the world has changed and continues to change.

 

Skip this next paragraph if you don't want to read a minor SPOILER for season 6 of The West Wing.

 

I was watching

The West Wing the other night (like many a night), and I'm to the part in the series (again) when Josh and Toby are bickering because of Josh's decision to leave The White House to run Matt Santos' campaign. Leo takes Toby aside and reprimands him by saying, "You and Josh, you still think you're terriers nipping at the heels of the party. You are the party."

 

We are the party, and a critics' society of some sort would show that to the world and give newer critics who wanted to join the party a way in.

Thanks for letting me chime in here, everyone, and keep up the good work.

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Just a quick thought re: eligibility requirements, especially re: the number of reviews any given member should write.

 

Rebecca suggested 15 reviews, each written within a week of the movie's release. Mike suggested 30 to 50 reviews per year.

 

I must admit I find Mike's number kind of alarmingly high -- potentially almost one review per week. I don't know that I wrote that many reviews even when I *wasn't* a stay-at-home dad. (I might have. Maybe. But still.)

 

Rebecca's number, just a little over one per month, is a much easier hurdle to clear -- and since most of us *don't* have people paying us for each review we write, many of us couldn't justify writing much more than that anyway -- but I wonder about the "within a week of the movie's release" business. Limited releases, in particular, are released in different cities at different times, and sometimes they don't come to my own city *at all* until they come to home video. So there is, or arguably ought to be, some wriggle room at the theatrical end of things, and one could make an argument that a review timed to a film's home-video or digital-streaming release ought to be considered too. And then there are bloggers like me who enjoy reviewing older films every now and then (e.g. my off-and-on "Bible movie of the week" series). And would TV episode recaps (like my weekly posts on The Bible miniseries when it aired) qualify too? Perhaps not, if the purpose of the critics' group is to vote on the year's best *films*.

 

Mike also mentioned voting on films in December. That's a little dicey, as many worthy contenders aren't even screened for critics until December, and of course many people who *aren't* full-time critics have to wait until the films are actually released, which sometimes doesn't happen until mid-January (see, e.g., Her, Lone Survivor, etc.). Though I guess if we did start a critics' group and it got a high-enough profile, we might all qualify for award-season screeners (some, but not all, of which I currently get these days as a member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle).

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Just a quick thought re: eligibility requirements, especially re: the number of reviews any given member should write.

 

Rebecca suggested 15 reviews, each written within a week of the movie's release. Mike suggested 30 to 50 reviews per year.

 

 

I suspect that part of this discrepancy is the attempted distinction between professional outlet and independent blogging. Since, the analytics requirement for independent bloggers is pretty steep, I am assuming the only reviews that would count are those that were at the professional outlet. Peter, if you counted FilmChat, it would surprise me if you didn't have 30 posts on Noah, much less 30 over a year. 

 

The OFCS, which I think has the most liberal admissions criteria of any of the professional societies (they took me, anyway) of Tomatometer recognized critics society does allow (or used to allow anyway) critics to mix and match. I.e. they wanted you to write for an accredited outlet (like, in my case, CT), and they wanted you to produce regular content (used to be 100 reviews of over four hundred words over any two year period, or roughly one a week, but not all the reviews had to be at the accredited outlet. In general, there are two metrics for the "professional" designation--where you write and how frequently you write. I'm perfectly okay with saying that if someone has enough clout to get a gig at a national outlet, they don't need to produce as much as I do on my blog, but I would be concerned that, theoretically, someone would be eligible to vote on the best picture of the year who had only seen as little as fifteen films that year. (I screened 234 films in 2013, though not all were new.) I mean, heck A&F weights their votes for how many posts participants have made here (a major reason I don't/wouldn't participate), so there is some recognition that for one's opinions to have a certain threshold of credibility one ought to be able to demonstrate that one is active in the discipline, so to speak. 

As long as I've mentioned the OFCS, I suppose I'll just throw in a wrench that they have to deal with...what about podcasters? Radio/TV hosts? Does one thirty minute podcast equal one 400 word review? Is that measured by subscribers on Itunes or page visits, still? If there is subscriber content (like Christ and Pop Culture) what are the comparable subscriber metrics? The OFCS (and NCFCA) deals with these issues by setting the threshold for qualification low but still requiring those who meet those thresholds to apply, and the applications are reviewed by a subcommittee of members. That seems the most logical way to deal with it to me. Set the minimum qualifications low, but that doesn't mean that everyone who qualifies would be approved. 

 

P,S, Hi Elijah, nice to meet you.

Edited by kenmorefield

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kenmorefield wrote:
: Peter, if you counted FilmChat, it would surprise me if you didn't have 30 posts on Noah, much less 30 over a year.

 

Well, I wouldn't count multiple posts on a single film as more than one review, really. And I certainly don't think the majority of what I do is *reviewing*, per se. A lot of it is keeping tabs on news about films in genres that interest me (the Bible, Star Trek, ancient history and, um, mmaybe one or two other things), and some of it is arguing with other bloggers or writers. The sort of reviews that I could link to from Rotten Tomatoes aren't *that* big a chunk of my output there.

 

: The OFCS, which I think has the most liberal admissions criteria of any of the professional societies (they took me, anyway) of Tomatometer recognized critics society does allow (or used to allow anyway) critics to mix and match. I.e. they wanted you to write for an accredited outlet (like, in my case, CT) . . .

 

I don't think I ever formally applied for membership in the OFCS, but the one time I asked an OFCS member about it, I was under the impression that the admissions criteria were too strict for me, and that they *used* to be more liberal. And that was probably back when I was still writing for CT and BCCN. Now, my only regular gig is my blog at Patheos -- which, ironically, was the avenue through which I finally got access to my Rotten Tomatoes account (which had been set up and controlled by CT prior to that).

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M. Leary   

 

 

A society of this kind, rightly organized, would also provide a way in for newer critics. Membership in these sorts of things often has an air of exclusivity. Instead, we could organize it so it that has rigorous yet clearly stated in-roads that aspiring critics can travel on their way to becoming more capable critics. Imagine the mentoring opportunities. I wish something like this existed when I first started. I wish something like existed now. I'm immensely grateful for the feedback I have gotten and continue to get. I'd love to get more, and I'd be thrilled to offer what I've learned to others who are just starting out. (This is a big reason we started the Brehm Practicing Critic Program at Fuller recently, so that new students at Fuller who want to get into this won't be on their own as they start.) 

 

 

Thanks for chiming in! I like the direction you and Ken have suggested with this mentorship, entry point for newer critics angle. It could really help get good writers out there far more effectively, especially those who just want to write in decent outlets as the urge presents itself.

 

Just a quick thought re: eligibility requirements, especially re: the number of reviews any given member should write.

 

Rebecca suggested 15 reviews, each written within a week of the movie's release. Mike suggested 30 to 50 reviews per year.

 

I must admit I find Mike's number kind of alarmingly high -- potentially almost one review per week. I don't know that I wrote that many reviews even when I *wasn't* a stay-at-home dad. (I might have. Maybe. But still.)

 

 

Sorry, I meant 30 - 50 as a total figure. I believe OFCS is 200 total reviews of 400+ words or more published at date of application. I think this is a good approach, albeit with a smaller review count. I am not interested in timeliness factor either, given that we often write on things released 52 years ago - and should be encouraging that kind of absurd behavior.

Edited by M. Leary

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Andrew   

I appreciate Peter's comments about timeliness of reviews.  That's definitely a relative concept here in East Tennessee as well (for instance, I'd have to travel over 200 miles to see 'Boyhood' at present).  Now that I've set a personal goal of writing a review at least once a fortnight, I plan to be timely in my writing (i.e., review ready to post the weekend of local release), but it'll still be much later than the metro release dates for non-blockbusters.

 

As an atheist, I wouldn't feel comfortable in joining an overtly Christian critics' circle (truth in labeling, and all that).  But I would certainly be cheering you on from the sidelines and would add my voice to promoting it constructively.  OTOH, I would love to be part of a more eclectic group - I very much like the mentorship notion, both contributing and receiving.

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To be fair, I get the idea behind timeliness: Why have people vote on *this year's* best movies if they spend all their time writing on the 1940s or whatever? At the same time, I think it's good to encourage historical perspective, so if someone fell under the 15-movie threshold (or whatever) in terms of recent films, but also wrote enough reviews of older films to push his total over the limit...

 

Oh, and there's another thing: an award for best revival/rediscovery/reissue of an older film, perhaps?

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Josie   

 

 

“Literary criticism,” on the other hand, has a very long history spanning across thousands of years. What most intrigues me is how completely cut off the vast majority of today’s film criticism seems to be from the philosophies, standards and movements of literary criticism ... If I were to find a collection of other like-minded writers who were interested in raising the bar for the quality of film criticism, and therefore of film itself, then that is a circle that I would be interested in associating with and working in for the rest of my life.

J.A.A., I've felt the opposite. That film criticism can align with literary criticism and draw upon the same movements and conventions. (I've wondered if it does so more than with visual culture studies and how else it could have turned out.) In academia, where the border between literature departments and film or cinema studies can be so porous, you could probably find that fusion in descriptions of majors and courses and even syllabi. Definitely in the critical works published by university presses. And if you look to the font of film criticism, people like Bazin or Deleuze, I think you'd sense it at the level of theory.

 

I suppose I didn’t word that as clearly as I should have. Josie, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I think film criticism not only can, but ought to follow in the traditions of literary criticism. When I said that the vast majority of today’s film reviews seem to have cut themselves off from it, it is because most of the reviews that I read have. Any comprehensive perusal of the most popular/professional reviews of a given film (looking at the list at RottenTomatoes), and almost none of those reviews are actually really interested in ideas. Almost none of them discuss the questions and ideas that have been discussed in literary criticism for centuries. They discuss whether the reviewer liked or didn’t like the film personally. They make a few comparisons to other films. And then they all repeat the same comparisons. I always feel like I’m pulling teeth whenever I’m looking for a substantive discussion of a newly released film. (There are exceptions to this, and there are specific reviewers like Zoller Seitz or Sicinski whose reviews offer more than most. But they are rare, and the films they review are limited.)

 

 

 

Thank you, I don't know if I was more confused or confusing myself. But I did want you to clarify that by film criticism you mean film reviews. That's because in my mind or lexicon, literature often includes the genre of film. And beyond movie reviews, film criticism can comprise more academic and theoretical writing, much of it book length. That work tends to follow in the tradition and adhere to the conventions of contemporary literary criticism. In fact, many of its authors are primarily or jointly literary critics.

 

And I may have just been projecting my own weaknesses and impasses, but I think it must be so different to review by assignment - e.g. to need to be entertaining and clever about a movie that failed to even pique your interest.  I mean different than writing about art selectively, when the desire strikes you and you're all excited about ideas and aesthetics and urgently want to do them justice, only hobbled by time, space and energy constraints and your own incoherence. For reviews that are highly disciplined, ruminative and original, I was thinking that critics need a certain freedom and leisure as well as dedication and talent.

 

And then they all repeat the same comparisons

 

 

Or advance the same metaphor. I link that homogeneity to how reviews are produced (critics seeing and discussing and writing about movies in short order and almost in tandem) and how they're processed (pressed into a binary of yes/ no, fresh /rotten, thumbs up /down). When there's a specter of right and wrong answer, you probably second-guess yourself more and feel more anxious about the verdicts of your peers. If you focus harder yet more diffusely on ideas, you can still make a fool of yourself. You can still be at odds with the critical consensus. But it's a lot less obvious and quantifiable. 

There are more and more popular book reviews these days, but they appear at places like Amazon. There are no qualitative standards for them at all, even when it comes to basic English grammar. But I have read “academic” reviews and often they are just as bad. They are written in an academic jargon that is just more sophisticated at being thoughtless and at breaking rules of English grammar than the average illiterate Amazon.com review. I would agree that there is a difference between scholarship and journalism. I would not argue that all or even most film reviews ought to be scholarly. But I would argue that every film review should be literate (the number of “professional” but illiterate reviews written on films like Troy or Lincoln is mind-boggling). And that would mean that a good review (synonymous with a work of film criticism) should exist within the traditions of literary criticism.

 

 

 

Well, academic writing has its own conventions, in breaking the rules of basic English grammar as in other things. But to be honest, I think the state of academic writing is also pretty dismal: derivative, passionless and just poorly, ponderously written.  

I'm not sure if you're using 'literate' and 'illiterate' in the sense of cultured or of a rudimentary command of reading and writing. Either way, I don't find it defensible that every film review needs to be literate any more than that every film needs to be cinematically literate (or every utterance standard and grammatical). Insofar as art is necessary and elemental, I just want people to create and respond to it as best they can, and rejoice that they do keep wanting to. So I'm happy for there to be forums without virtual bouncers or gatekeepers, to host popular reviews. But you're a film reviewer yourself and you have a very different stake and perspective, as well as being far better-read in this swath of criticism than I am!

I would love for there to be more support and motivation for the flowering you imagine. I turn to film reviews myself to read about ideas and meaning and craft. Ideally, that's the 'why' reviews that say I liked or hated this film go on to explain or at least to touch upon.

 

And this sounds wonderful. I hope it can materialize: 

 All the stuff that I didn't have anyone willing to walk me through when I was getting started because they were too busy or because the Internet is so flat that too many critics fear losing whatever tenuous foothold they have.) Perhaps I am arrogant (or naive, or naively arrogant), but I think Christian journalism/film criticism could use such an association...one that isn't so much about earning membership signalling that one has arrived (membership as the prize) but one where those who have made strides, however small, in their craft, can give back, help out, assume the mentoring and shepherding (or even just advisory) roles that used to be done by editors or senior staff in the days where everything wasn't subcontracted and freelance.

 

 

 

 

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Just bumping this thread to say that I asked Alissa if she was going to re-institute the voting for Best Film and Most Redemptive at CT this year. (Last year she invited some critics to submit their own lists but did not have any kind of voting.) She said "no," but that if I wanted to collect votes from Christian critics/readers and report on them, she would probably deem it newsworthy and cover such a list. 

 

As a member of OFCS and leader in NCFCA I'm reluctant to start or be navigator for another group, but I have heard from some readers that they miss the old lists at CT (as problematic as they sometimes were) and I personally feel like I would like to see some alternative in terms of collective voice/praise for spiritually themed films or films that professing Christians (whether critics or educated laypeople) find spiritually valuable. 

 

The mechanism for doing such a survey is/would be pretty simple. One survey through Surveygizmo taking nominations and then another a week later soliciting votes among the top 10 or so nominations. The only real drawbacks I see are two:

1) What to call the second category. (I've never been a fan of "Most Redemptive.")

2) Should there be any restrictions other than self-professing Christian to vote/participate. (Remember, this is not for a society; it's quite possible that if any of these projects get off the ground they'll have their own membership criteria. I'm not asking anyone to "join" anything, just fill out a survey if they would like to do so.) I was thinking about having a threshold for how many movies one has seen in the year...but I don't know that I have a sense of what is normal or reasonable since I probably am somewhere in the 200s.

 

Any feedback is appreciated, even if it's "hey that's a stupid idea." I don't have to do this....I get to vote in two polls at year's end as it is. But I would like to see, at least once a year, a vote with some kind of faith distinctive. 

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Evan C   

If we do a year end list, I would be happy to participate, and I think it's a good idea to have a year end list from any group of critics who take the intersection of art and faith seriously.

 

Regarding the two drawbacks:

 

1) I've never liked "Most Redemptive" either; it suggests (to me, anyway) that our list of favorites is not redemptive and that we're evaluating the second list on how redemptive the films are.  Maybe "Favorite inspirational films?"

 

2) I think we should have some basic guidelines, but I'm fine with whatever others consider reasonable.  As to number of films seen per year, that's fine with me, but does that total mean number of 2014 releases or any films watched?  For 2014 releases, I'm at 50 something, for the year I'm in the upper 200's.

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Anders   

Count me in! (If eligible, of course).

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1) I've never liked "Most Redemptive" either; it suggests (to me, anyway) that our list of favorites is not redemptive and that we're evaluating the second list on how redemptive the films are.  Maybe "Favorite inspirational films?"

 

 

FWIW, I resisted this idea from the beginning at CT, and stopped voting in CT year-end lists because of it. In fact, the *problem* with the "Most Redemptive" idea became one of the core examples in my Through a Screen Darkly lectures of how evangelicals tend to perpetuate a false dichotomy in conversations about the arts.

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I second what Jeff said about the "Most Redemptive" category. The reason CT created it in the first place was because The Passion of the Christ did not make our top ten list for 2004, and the editor felt we had to include that film on *some* list or the CT readers would be upset. I say let the readers be upset.

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If eligible, I'd also be interested in this. If not eligible, I'd still be interested in the process and results.

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FWIW, I exchanged e-mails with Rebecca today and she told me that I should consider the group she was contemplating as "out of play" at least for the time being. 

Edited by kenmorefield

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Just an FYI for those who don't know, Rebecca Cusey is no longer managing the Patheos Entertainment channel. That position is now held by Nancy French. 

 

Here's some info about Nancy that was sent to the Patheos Entertainment bloggers:

 


Nancy French loves stories and has worked with some of the most prominent pundits, thought leaders, and personalities of our time, developing messages that resonate in the culture.  Nancy is a three time New York Times best selling author and has helped shape the messages of Sarah Palin, Chinese dissident Bob Fu, Mitt and Ann Romney, and many more. She regularly writes for National Review, and her writings have appeared in USA Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsmax, and the Philadelphia News.  She is also the editor of the SixSeeds Faith and Family Channel, so she knows her way around the Patheos world.

In addition to books, she has worked on different entertainment projects.  She writes television scripts for prominent leaders to use while on air.  For this summer’s Meryl Streep film “The Giver,” she and her husband David helped with the script and promotion of movie.  She and her husband are also credited in the Sundance hit “Mitt,” after working closely with the producer on the film and its financing.  She is also an integral part of an organization that is filming a documentary that explores how the lives of master artist Rembrandt and the great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen intersect around the painting of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”  Her efforts (along with her husband) have been documented in the New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, CNN, the Drudge Report, and other media outlets too numerous to mention.

She also excels at social media implementation.  She and her husband David handle social media for several high profile personalities, amounting to almost 3 Million Facebook fans.  She hopes to use this knowledge to widen the reach of the Entertainment Channel’s reach.

 

 

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Just bumping this thread to see if people's interest level has changed in the intervening 18 months or so...

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