Many argue that film criticism is outdated because we don’t need people to recommend films anymore. If you want any kind of detail about a film, it’s easily accessible on the internet. With spoilers, without, content criticism, ratings, all of that is instantly available. Despite this, I think we need film criticism more than ever. And allow me to play my hand right away, I’m a member of the WFCC and a long time critic. So naturally, I’m biased.
As a society, we will always need consistent analysis of what we are producing as a culture, to create accountability, awareness, to take the creative pulse of modern filmmakers, to investigate commercialism and to make sure that there is at least some effort to represent the voices of women and minorities in all forms of art. If we aren’t working as a culture (worldwide and stateside) to do so, we’re only going to be allowing misinformation without opposition at best, and promoting stereotypes and bigotry (to younger audiences especially) at worst.
Film is one of the most effective and influential art forms today. And believe me, I absolutely love the blockbusters and comic book movies. I was raised on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Star Trek movies. What surprises people most often about film critics (specifically of the feminist point of view..) is that contrary to popular belief, we love movies. What also surprises most people is that films can be awarded for their positive portrayal of women and minorities in every genre. (One of the WFCC’s awards this year went to Despicable Me.) It doesn’t have to be a tear-jerking drama to be forward-thinking.
To top that off, film is a much more wide-spread medium today than it was even a decade ago. Film used to be something that took buckets of money to create. Creating a movie, of any genre, was a long process that went through multiple checks and balances during the financing phase. Even editing was a long physical process that called for a lot of introspection and careful construction from filmmakers. I’m not saying that this always meant the resulting films were good, or even fair, I’m just saying more thought was put into them.
Now the indie scene has exploded with the digital revolution, meaning almost anyone can make a film. While I’m severely anti-censorship and I find this to be a mostly positive result, it also means that there’s a lot more trash out there. More racism, sexism, and bigotry appears in films than ever before just because of the sheer volume of movies produced annually. (Low budget gore and horror is usually the worst-offending genre in my book.) I don’t think that this is because we’re going backwards intellectually as a society. The statistics in this case don’t stack up. But going to your local rental store can be discouraging because of it. Often lowest common denominator movies make a lot of money, that’s why they are continually produced. Whereas powerful and progressive films sometimes don’t get past the festival circuit. So another reason to pay attention to critics is that they can tell you about the films you don’t hear about. (So can websites like www.fivesprockets.com, which gives a weekly release report that focuses on small or under-advertised film releases. There are a surprising amount of films released each week that go unnoticed due to studio politics or a small budget.)
We’ve almost entered a new age of propaganda, where anything can be produced with little to no budget. I would never wish that away, again, I’m obsessed with free speech. But it just means that we need even more critical voices than before in the world of arts and entertainment to discuss these films and provide alternative views. Or at least alert some sections of the public to the fact that an alternative view exists.
The Women Film Critics Circle is an example of a collection of voices calling attention specifically to the roles of women in film, in front of and behind the camera. Each year, the Circle gives out awards to films that it thinks represented women in a unique, provocative, or stylish way. A snippet from their website describes who they are…
” The Women Film Critics Circle is an association of 55 women film critics and scholars from around the country and internationally, who are involved in print, radio, online and TV broadcast media. We came together in 2004 to form the first women critics organization in the United States, in the belief that women’s perspectives and voices in film criticism need to be recognized fully.”
I’m proud to be a member of the WFCC. This year, what excites me is that a lot of my votes were shared by fellow members. (That comes across as snobby, but what I mean by it is that I think it’s cool that some of the nominated films did their jobs so well that a group of people from all different backgrounds and locations felt compelled to vote similarly.) Many of the films and actresses I voted for won, though all of the nominations were worthy.
I think it was a great year for women in film and I’m happy that as I age, I’m starting to see more varied portrayals of female characters in all forms of media. (The diversification of the action/adventure/comic book genre is also in progress, though progress is a bit slower than indie films, dramas, and documentaries. In all fairness, the genre is newer than drama, so the timeline is to be expected but not accepted. But hey, that’s why I write Best Action Heroines .)
What do you think of film criticism? How about the state of female characters in modern films? What movies were awarded by the WFCC that you didn’t even know existed?
To view the 2010 WFCC Awards, visit their website at wfcc.wordpress.com.