I keep going back and forth on how I want to explain this site’s existence, I had originally planned this “about” page to be a Hinkie-resignation-letter-length treatise on the failure and uselessness of modern film criticism, but who honestly wants to read that? Just stop me on the street and I’ll rant and rave for hours if you really want that. I’ll try to boil it down to the main points of what brought me here to this decision to strike out on my own. Basically, I think the film critic community is doing a lousy job and aren’t doing right by audiences.
Here’s what I’m going to do as a solution to what’s wrong with film criticism. I don’t do any press screenings or screeners. I think that one of the biggest reasons critics have become less and less impactful for the audience is the simple fact that they don’t see films with audiences. They see the majority of their films via press screenings and screener links/discs. How are we supposed to expect ourselves to connect to an audience that we’re supposing we’re better than if we don’t spend any time with them? You might learn something about film if you do. For example, when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time, me and the stranger sitting next to me just looked at each other at one point and had a silent conversation that went something like “ISN’T THIS AMAZING???” “I KNOW HOLY SHIT.” You would never have something like that in a press screening. Films are meant to be seen by audiences, and if you’re not there with them as a film critic, how much are you really getting out of the film? Even though I call myself a film critic, it feels weird to feel superior to something without having done your part of paying to see it and give it a shot.
Even when I do Sundance each year and get the press pass, I do all my screenings in Salt Lake City with real audiences rather than the industry noise of Park City. I’d just rather watch films in a theater with actual people than a group of people only thinking of themselves and what they can sell you. Honestly, I think one of the best things that could happen to film criticism would be if studios stopped the handouts of press screenings and screeners. If that happened, you’d find out really quick who was still in film criticism because they loved film.
One awful trend that has arisen for film critics is Patreon, where you charge people for content. I will never ever resort to using Patreon to pay for this site or the artists or whatever other expenses arise. The idea of Patreon as a legitimate form of conducting business sickens me. At its worse it’s nothing more than a scam, even at it’s best it’s blatant greed. If you believe that you’re good enough to warrant payment for something anybody with internet access can do, you shouldn’t make your readers pay for it. It’s an awful way of conducting yourself as a writer that should be condemned.
Hot take culture and outrage culture has infested every form of criticism, but especially so in film writing. Critics aren’t concerned with discussing the work before them, but with having the loudest, most incendiary opinion, because guess what? It gets you clicks. Film criticism exists in a vacuum that’s driven by hate. You go onto any film site now, and half the writing is about how much they hate film. It’s all “Why this year has sucked for film” (Which somehow gets written every single year, it’s so lousy. If you honestly believe that any year has been bad for film, you’re just watching the wrong films.) or “Why you’re a piece of shit if you like this film”. It’s just gotten to the point where I just look around and wonder if any of these “critics” even like the medium they write about. What good is a sports writer who hates sports? We exist in a climate where sites like The Dissolve, Movie Mezzanine and even Grantland can’t stay afloat. What made those sites great was how they steered away from the hot takes and the clique hate in their film writing, but precisely because they had integrity they weren’t financially viable.
I’ve been a journeyman writer for a few years now. I’ve written and gotten paid for it, but it ultimately wasn’t worth it, because you inevitably end up having to subscribe to whatever editor’s limited vision of what writing can be. It’s like when an indie film director jumps to a blockbuster, they suddenly don’t have the control over their work that they did before. At a certain point, when the main reasons you’re writing about film is for profit or to feel superior, the whole fun of it gets lost. I just want to get back to writing about film because I love film and it’s fun. So, I’m not doing this to make money, but because I love film and I love to write about film. I first started writing about film as basically a hobby. About 4-5 years ago, I was dead set on filmmaking at the time, and so I looked at it with the thought process of “If I become better at identifying what works in a certain film and what doesn’t, that will in turn through some sort of osmosis help me create better films.” About six months into this hobby, I had a realization I never had with filmmaking, which was that I was getting good at this, and that I loved it more than I had ever loved filmmaking (which was a lot).
Another big contributor to the cesspool that is modern film criticism was the death of Roger Ebert. He left a void that can never be filled in multiple ways. There’s been a significant lack of empathy towards audiences and readers from critics since his death, because nobody has stepped up to fill the warmth he poured into his writing. One of the things that made Ebert so great was he never put himself above you. He’s one of the only critics that was just as interested in what you thought of the film as much as his own thoughts. I want to bring that back to film criticism, I don’t want to hate on things arbitrarily just to make myself sound smarter like so many other critics do.
So here’s the layout – I’m going to have reviews as I see the movies, every Friday I’ll have a column of some sort on some topic, and I may bring back older columns from other sites – We Failed This Film and Box Office Sabermetrics – that I wasn’t quite finished with yet. Down the road, I’d like to get into podcasting as well. I’m also going to have featured artwork by some very talented people with columns from time to time. Most importantly, I’m just going to write about stuff I like. I’m going to focus on positivity. If you want an endless drone of negativity, you can go anywhere else for that. I’m here to provide film writing that’s about why film is great.
I’d like to thank my close friends Huston Evans and Alek Sabin, they were the two first people I talked to about doing this, and the one thing I asked of them was to not let me not do this. They more than succeeded in that, providing constant encouragement and advice. I’d also like to thank Robin Noble for helping me construct the site and do plenty of things I’m too dumb to figure out and making this site look and function a whole lot better than it would if it was just me, and for her continuous support as well. I’d also like to thank Travis Wilker for designing the logo you see at the top, he made it more beautiful and badass than I even imagined, and for his constant support in me doing this.
Now, enough of me bitching and moaning about all the bitching and moaning in film criticism. I meant to keep this short, and this was still pretty long, thanks for hanging in there. I don’t want to sound too doom and gloom here. After all, there are more people writing about film than there ever has been, and that’s a great thing. There is a lot of talent out there. It’s the climate of film criticism that’s bad, because it doesn’t encourage thoughtful, fun and optimistic writing. I want to bring back the joy of film, of writing about film, of talking about film and watching film together. I hope you’ll join me.
Dylan Moses Griffin