The following was commissioned by Flickering Myth
Henry Bevan on why we need contrarians…
Sometimes falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with a partner who isn’t right for you. At first, your love blinds you to the flaws. Then, when you break up, you say the meanest things. When things cool down you’ll find the truth: was it good or bad?
Right now, La La Land is in the second stage. Since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in October, people have only spoken about it in positive hyperbole. Now, as it becomes 2016’s biggest-grossing live-action original movie and possible Oscar glory, it is fascist and a disaster for Hollywood. This shift from love to hate is all down to popularity. Sometimes, critics fall out of love with a film because it is popular. Critics are hipsters — there is a race to love and recommend a film no one else has seen.
Upon La La Land‘s wide release in January, it was so well-regarded the people dismissed the naysayers. People gave you puzzled looks if you disagreed with the consensus that it was a future classic. People weren’t interested in the film’s race problems or its emptiness or how its retro aesthetic could be damaging. People focused on the positives: the music; the performances; the directing.
La La Land is a very good, but flawed, film. The fact people whispered their criticisms out of fear of being laughed at is the reason it is now the subject of many negative thought pieces. As its popularity and critical love reach its apex, the resistance is emerging. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.
The lack of contrarian opinions at the beginning has hurt the film in the long run because no one wanted to discuss the film negatively. Culture needs conflict. If everyone visibly loves the same film nothing will change or improve. The best criticism needs friction, and if everyone is so in love they won’t listen to any, they are not serving their purpose.
Snippets of this happened in the last week on film twitter (yes, it is a real thing). Wannabe provocateur Camilla Long, critic for the Times, attacked Moonlight, calling it a film for a “non-black, non-gay, non-working class, chin stroking, self-regarding, turbo smug audience”. In other words, Long believes the film has been so critically successful because it panders to the white middle classes. Now, she is wrong, Her review is terrible. It is slightly sociopathic and racist. As a critic, Long is more concerned with fancy phrasing than substance. Whilst her review deserves the vitriol, it’s funny fellow critics criticised her because she disagreed with the majority.
Criticism is subjective and people hounded Long for being contrarian. Instead of opening a discussion and demanding answers, she was hit with unfocused righteousness. It was a bad night for critics on the right and the left, as neither fostered discussion. They both took steadfast positions of right and wrong. Everyone failed at their jobs.
Critics like Long are often dismissed as quacks. Armond White’s reviews are met with condescending snickering just because he liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The man may argue against many popular films, but he isn’t doing this for a laugh. If you read his reviews, it’s clear he loves cinema and has a certain criterion he wants movies to fit. Instead of laughing at someone for having a different view, we need to discuss why they have this view. Only then will people improve and culture can have an impact.