Why I Don’t Write Reviews

I have a thing against book and film reviews as they are written by most folks these days. I checked a brief review of a movie in The Boston Herald, looking for the writer’s evaluation–did he like it, not like it, what? I scanned the piece, and found the writer’s conclusion in three sentences at the very end.

I glanced back over the article and skimmed it.

90% of the review was a recap of the movie’s plot.

If I decided to watch that movie, much of the story was not going to be a surprise to me. The writer got paid for a quick evaluation–this actor was good, the cinematography was murky, and the director decided (how do you know what he decided, maybe it was in the script) and there ya go, where’s my check?

I don’t get the adoration of some critics like Roger Ebert. He was very knowledgeable, but his taste was relentlessly plain. He rarely liked anything you couldn’t show your mom. His insights never grabbed me, he never showed me something I didn’t already know. But he remains the standard for film criticism. Bottom-lining art just strikes me as stupid–thumb up, it’s something to see, thumb down, avoid. That tells me nothing, or even less than nothing–it’s the critic telling a generic Other Person if they should see the movie.

One of the most popular literary critics in the mainstream press is Michael Dirda of the Washington Post. His taste in literature is wide-ranging, from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Russian classics and obscure American “middle class angst” writers. His criticism exudes enthusiasm.

Pauline Kael is considered one of the greatest American critics. Yet many. like Woody Allen, believe she lacked taste. She had a love of pulpy mainstream movies, with action and humor.

She’s my favorite film critic. Her writing style is the most influential of any film critic.

I don’t think I’ve ever completely agreed with her, not even once.

Pauline Kael

I admire her because of what she wrote as a response to the movies she saw. Check her out, you can find her work online. She doesn’t show her thumb, she rarely said “You should go see this movie.” She praised performances, photography, direction, dialog that excited and interested her.

I have no interest in writing the equivalent of book reports. Like Kael, I want to point you towards movies (and books) that I like. I have no idea if YOU will like them, so I’m just going to write about those things that interest me.

That’s all.

John Simon

David Thompson