Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Fight For Your Right to… Do What You Were Going to Do Anyway

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 30, 2012

By now, most of you have probably heard about the debate/boxing match between “mumblecore” filmmaker Joe Swanberg and Internet critic Devin Faraci at Fantastic Fest. For those who haven’t, the gist of it is that the two of them debated the merits of Swanberg’s films and the mumblecore movement in general, then they got in the ring and Swanberg quickly cleaned Faraci’s clock. The video is all over the internet, and is quite amusing to watch.

But the whole thing is pretty silly, don’t you think? Does it actually prove anything? Of course not. The merits of the actual debate are what they are, but the results of the fight only prove that Swanberg is a better fighter than Faraci. That doesn’t prove that Faraci is wrong about Swanberg’s films. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But did it really need to come to blows? Is this the future of film criticism? Will every debate be reduced to the MMA mentality from here on in? “I don’t like your films, let’s fight!” “I don’t like that you don’t like my films, I accept your challenge!” Joel Schumacher better watch his back.

Seriously though. Admittedly, I have never seen any of Swanberg’s films myself and I have no opinion on them whatsoever. They don’t sound like my cup of tea, but the fact that he gave Faraci a beating makes me strangely more interested in giving them a chance. My problem with Faraci is that he says astoundingly ignorant things like “mentally ill people should just get over it” and just shrugs it off as if it shouldn’t piss anybody off. If I said something like that, I wouldn’t expect anybody to read another word I ever wrote. Having said that, I do agree with his argument that filmmakers have a responsibility to the audience to make films that are interesting and/or entertaining to the viewer and keeps them engaged. That’s my opinion, and I’ve said that many times. On the other hand, I would never say that a filmmaker has no right to pick up a camera and make any film that they choose to make. Of course not. I may not be interested in watching said film, but they absolutely have the right to make it. No question about that. I would never deny anyone the right to make any film, no matter how boring, lousy or wrongheaded it may be. If it doesn’t appeal to me, I just don’t watch it. Problem solved.

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On the other side of the coin, I don’t really get why today’s filmmakers care so much what people think about their films. I don’t like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and I’m damn sure that Bay isn’t exactly broken up about it. I don’t watch them, and I doubt he would care if he was even aware of that, which I’m sure he isn’t. So why does Swanberg care what some dude on the internet thinks? As he himself put it, he’s out there getting it done. He’s getting his films made and released regardless what guys like Faraci think about them. So what does it matter if internet critics take shots? That comes with the territory of being an artist, doesn’t it? No matter what you do, some people are going to like it, and others not so much.

I call this the Kevin Smith Syndrome. I actually like Kevin Smith (and most of his movies), but the guy takes the internet way too seriously for his own good. You know what I would do if I was Kevin Smith? Well, I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t be doing – I wouldn’t be spending my time scouring the internet for every single negative mention of my name. No, I’d be banging my hot wife, writing comics, laughing all the way to the bank, and oh yeah, making movies. I certainly wouldn’t be giving a shit what every douchebag on the internet thought of me. It’s not even just critics, it’s guys on comment sections and message boards that he’s constantly arguing with. Why? Why does he care? Why does Swanberg care? Do you think Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford or Billy Wilder spent every waking moment obsessing about bad reviews? Of course not. I’m sure they gave them a few minutes of thought, but then they went right back to work. They didn’t let the critics run their careers or lives. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Look, I think film criticism at its best provides a valuable service. For the audience. It tells the reader what they should see, where they should spend their money and their valuable time. That’s the point. It’s a place for discussion about a subject that people still care about, and that’s worth something. I think that’s important. But when it becomes about the critic’s ego, then it’s just pointless chest-beating, and no one wants or needs that. I just think that filmmakers are supposed to do what they do, regardless of what the critics think. They should follow their personal muse, do their thing. I know, that’s easier said than done at times. Bad reviews usually equal fewer asses in seats. It’s hard not to take that personally. But think of it this way: if all of these guys actually liked what you were doing, you’d probably be doing something wrong.

I just think it’s silly for filmmakers and critics to actually punch each other in the face over their differences. Indie films are still going to get made (thankfully) and film criticism is still going to be written. Same as it ever was. Watching them fight might be a great spectacle, but it doesn’t change anything. It just makes each camp seem like a joke, and I think that’s the last thing they need right now. As we rapidly approach the Death of Film, can we at least try to have a little dignity left? I think that’s the least we can do.

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