A Reviewer's Dilemma

October 23, 2008
Cine Cynic

While critics often garner our respect for their insightful analysis and interpretations of works of art, reviewers have their share of distress while reviewing. Unlike critics, reviewers do not have much liberty in choosing the books, movies, or albums. Reviewing something which they feel strongly about (especially negatively) is when reviewers may tend to get into trouble.

Jeevi of IdleBrain.com is the most popular Telugu movie reviewer on the Internet. He used to review almost every single movie, straight or dubbed, immediately after its release. A couple of years ago, he skipped reviewing a big-budget movie called Bangaram. The movie turned out to be the worst movie in hero Pawan Kalyan's career and the grapevine was ripe with speculation that Jeevi might not have written the review only because it would've sounded a death knell to the movie's meagre chances.

Earlier this year, Rediff's Raja Sen revealed the climax of Race in his review, and after some controversy and debate about whether a review can or can not reveal the ending of a movie, half-heartedly apologized to the film-makers while justifying his actions.

Around the same time, Maxim's David Peisner gave a 2.5/5 star review to the Black Crowes album Warpaint without actually listening to it. It blew into a high-voltage drama that ended with Maxim's president releasing an official apology.

These instances, and perhaps most others which have created controversies, originated from a reviewer's strong feelings, which he or she is entitled to have. The reviewer may find a movie god-awful and might feel dutiful to advise the readers against watching it. The trouble comes when the god-awfulness ebbs over the objectivity. And even Roger Ebert wasn't immune to it.

Last week, Ebert gave a 1 star review to an indie Tru Loved after watching only eight minutes of the 102-minute movie! He made a full disclosure in the review itself, though that might not usually be enough to avert a controversy, especially for a reviewer of Ebert's stature.

But there isn't much controversy over it. His actions in the aftermath have been truly exemplary. Being the honest and wise man he is, he poured out his thoughts into his widely-read journal. He listened to the reader's comments, pondered even more, admitted his guilt of affection for his prose, watched the whole movie this time, and reviewed it again. (The 1 star remains.) The man who perhaps has contributed more to film criticism than any other single individual showed the path, that more than a review or a movie or readers, it is the plain truth that deserves priority.

However, this doesn't end the debate nor the dilemma. Can a reviewer skip a review to help his friend-filmmaker? Can a reviewer reveal a climax? Can a reviewer walk out of a movie and still review it? If yes, can he review it watching just the promos? If no, where is the tipping point, the time after which it may be allowed?

It won't be futile for every reviewer to face these questions, and more importantly to answer it in his or her own manner.

Cine Cynic writes about movies, only on Desicritics because no one else will publish such criticism. The author also contributes to a few tech blogs, and in the remaining free time pens short stories.
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October 23, 2008
01:56 PM


with your chosen nick how could you miss the well known critic who was blatantly soliciting on the side forcing sonu nigham to write that letter?

October 23, 2008
02:36 PM

cine... there are set standards for these kinds of things. there is something called 'conflict of interest'... if a reviewer of any sort (be it film, literature, food, etc.) has some kind of connection to the item in question, usually they should renounce themselves from the review. so if I was a professional food critic and my 3rd cousin owned a restaurant, even if I did not know him/her very well I would have to recuse myself of the review because of the appearance of impropriety. that should be done by a film critic if the movie is brilliant or shitty... so not reviewing a bad movie should not be an issue.

reviewers are supposed to be impartial critics. period.

as for walking out... well, if the reviewer does that all the time, then the person is a bad reviewer. one needs to stick all the way through to see if the film is redeemable. but if a well known reviewer is so appalled by a film in 8 minutes and is not known for doing such things as walking out, that sends a strong statement. and no serious reviewer would do a review after simply watching a trailer.

revealing plotlines is a fairly common issue for reviewers. all professional lit and film critics learn how to artfully navigate this issue. at times it does become necessary to reveal the plotline and usually the warning WARNING: SPOILER is inserted before the revelation.

Cine Cynic
October 25, 2008
01:39 PM

Do you mean the spat between Subhash K Jha and Sonu Nigham, temp? God, that had been so amusing I couldn't remember much afterwards. I had to go back and see what it was all about, and it is not clear to me what it has to do with reviewing directly. But I must say that Mr. Jha has a flair for prose. :-)

I can't agree with you, SS. As a reviewer gets famous, his acquaintances in the reviewed group multiplies. Roger Ebert, I often suspect, rubs shoulders with most great contemporaneous directors, writers and actors. (It starts because reviewers are also often interviewers.) This is more the case today, with networking getting such importance in careers. While reviewers do need to be impartial and objective, it is far from trivial for any person.

Ebert's dilemma about walking out was that his editor had a point: When a reviewer walks out, even though such cases may be highly isolated, readers and even future reviewers tend to perceive it as a norm.

The WARNING:SPOILERS parts, IMHO, break the flow of the review. Ebert occasionally reveals endings without such headings and wonderfully gets away with that. Well, that is Ebert. Personally, I don't have a terrible problem with such reviews. After all, how many of us DON'T surreptitiously glance at the last page while reading a book?

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