For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism with Gerald Peary at the Dryden

Ali and I headed to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) for the discussion with Gerald Peary. It turned out he was screening a documentary he directed: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. The documentary was okay — it touched on the major "eras" of public film criticism, primarily in America. Motion picture making itself is barely 100 years old, and critical analysis necessarily followed. As documentaries of a history go, it was an imperfect, but generally pretty good essay on the topic.

As we stayed through the question-and-answer afterward, I kept revisiting a negative opinion: that the whole evening was packed with ignorance. It wasn't until later that I pinned it down: critics that made an impact were good writers who happened to critique motion pictures, but critics seem to co-opt the respect of being a good critic while ignoring the necessity of being a good writer first. This resonated with me strongest in the last segment that covered the Internet age. It seems that paid critics disliked the presence of Internet critics because they felt that the fact they were paid automatically made them superior. Rather, I think that the best critics — Internet or otherwise — are able to examine a film from a unique perspective that gives insight into that film.

Peary also insisted that a critic's role is to analyze a film within the context of film-as-art, not to identify whether you, as a reader, should see it. I think this is misguided. First, I agree that there is a majority of people who just want a movie review that tells them "good" or "bad" — they literally want to be told they will like a film (and further, I think their opinion is heavily swayed by what critics tell them). However, there is another group of people who read film criticism beforehand for its context in film-as-art so they can determine whether they want to see it. In some cases, it is to explain, "how can I enjoy this film?", or "why is this film important?" I've written in the past about how I use film criticism and synopses, noting that a review should bracket my experience and help me understand what to expect. For instance, I don't think a film like Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir) could be considered a movie that "people would like", but I'm glad I saw it and I think it was a great film. It was because I knew something of the film that I decided to see it — partly trailers, and partly through critical review. But I used those tools specifically to determine whether I should see it.

Bands at the Bug Jar

After the movie, Ali and I went to The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) and met up with our friend Stacie to see the bands playing that night.

I got in to see a few songs from Tiger Cried BeefMySpace link and they always impress me. They're like gourmet vanilla: at first, you're like, "oh, I've seen this before," but then you get into the subtleties and think, "oh, yeah, but this can be really good." I also noticed that good ideas sprout from my spot leaning against the right-side speaker [with earplugs, by the way, which happen to serve two purposes: not blowing out my eardrums, and drowning out the distracting chatter.] It's not with every band or every time, but I find that poetry makes me think of stuff — you know, new things to do or work on.

Anyway, next up was The White DevilsMySpace link. This is Frank De Blase's band and for anybody who knows me, I have a mix of feelings about the guy. It usually comes out looking like disdain, but it's really more complicated than that.

See he's one of the main music writers for The City Newspaper so there's a certain amount of empathetic envy (or envious empathy) since I kind of do the same thing sometimes — the dichotomy comes from the fact that he gets paid for it, but I can see myself getting annoyed that it's often a shit job. I mean, sure you get paid to write about bands, but you also have to write fluffy pieces about bands you don't really care about, and you get slammed for being a critic by — in his case — your fellow musicians.

Now I've also met him a few times. A couple years ago, I remember having a nice chat about writing about music at California Rollin' at Village Gate Square (274 N. Goodman St.). He seemed like a nice guy, but either forgot who I was or didn't want to talk to me the next time I saw him. And again, I'm mixed on his response. On the one hand you can't be friends with everyone you meet, and not everybody can do that "such a nice guy front" (and I know I can't do it consistently). On the other, I think if you have a pleasant conversation with someone and you see them again, I kind of expect that there would be an inkling of recognition. But then I also know that it's hard to remember everyone. And then I hear from his friends that he's really a nice guy. And then I hear from his detractors that he's not a nice guy.

Worst of all is that I bother expending all this effort trying to accurately express how I feel about him when I don't really want to be friends with him [no offense, Frank, if you're reading this]. His band does a bluesy rock that I'm not a fan of. If I read him right, he's into pin-up culture and busty women; biker bars and greaser-chic. I'm just not into that stuff — none of it. It's just that we both happen to write about what's going on in town.

I guess the thing is that he's writing for City. And I assume there are lots of readers and most of them agree with Frank's assessment and preferences [logically I know this is a flawed assumption but I can't seem to convince my heart]. But I wish that this quantity of N readers (where N is really fucking large) would actually like the kind of stuff that I connect with. But then I think, "why? who cares?" I get unlimited latitude in what I feel like writing about and what I feel like putting on the events list. I'm not out to win any popularity contest because I'm unwilling to make that devil's deal trading "self" for "popular". I just figure there's got to be a way …

But anyway, his band is good, even if it's not the kind of music I'm into.

Closing things out that night was The Sadies who always put on a great show. It's all about the music although they look good doing it. And I really like them even though they play the country-cousin of bluesy-rock: rockabilly. Well, rockabilly with generous helpings of surf-rock thrown in. I feel bad because I don't have a lot of things to say about bands I like — I guess I figure it doesn't do much to try and explain in words what you hear-that-becomes-feel. Just sound and motion and an emotional connection, I guess. Oh, and fun. Lots of fun.