Monday, February 10, 2014

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey: Walking Out of Movies

Q: After leaving a play at intermission, the New York Times theatre critic Walter Kerr famously quipped, "You don't have to eat the whole apple to know it's rotten." Is it okay for movie critics to walk out of a film (or turn off a screener), and if so, can they write about it?

I have never walked out of a movie that I was seeing in a theater. I paid for it, I’m watching until the bitter end. Besides, often I have nothing else to do because whether I’m at TIFF and therefore have another movie right after, or watching in Toronto before catching the train home, the choice is often watch until the end, or sit around and wait for the next movie or train – something that I cannot control. And those few times when I really want to walk out, I remind myself of several movies – the most recent one being The Police Officer’s Wife that I saw at last year's TIFF – where for a while I really did want to leave the theater and not come back – only to have the film eventually settle into its rhythm (or more accurately, for me to settle into the film’s rhythm) and end up being quite good. I still don’t think The Police Officer’s Wife is a masterpiece or anything – but it slowly built to a devastating climax, and in the end I’m more than glad I stuck it out for all three hours of the film.

I have turned off a few movies while watching at home – not many, but some. The last two that I can remember were Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture (which if I was in a different mood perhaps I wouldn’t have been as incredibly annoyed with the movie as I was for the first 45 minutes before I gave up) and Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie which after 20 minutes I found so completely insufferable that I couldn’t take it anymore.

For those movies, I never reviewed them for my blog. This is the first time I have written about them at all. If I’m going to review a movie, than I feel I should watch the whole thing, and if I cannot make it through for whatever reason, than I don’t think it’s responsible to review the movie in question. I always try to remember that even movies I hate had hundreds or thousands of people working hard for months or years to try and make a good movie – so I extend filmmakers the common courtesy of watching the entire movie before I decide to bash it – if I cannot give them that courtesy, than I don’t think I have the right to bash their film.

In general I think that’s the fair rule – if you don’t watch the whole thing, than don’t review it. If you ever do write about the film – not as part of a review but as part of a discussion of the filmmaker’s work or something else - like say a question like this -  than you at least have to mention that you didn’t watch the whole thing and why that was the case. I cannot say that Tiny Furniture or Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie are horrible movies for instance – I didn’t watch them all. I can say what I did watch, I didn’t like, but everyone should feel free to completely ignore my opinion because it’s invalid because I didn’t watch the whole movie. That, after all, is true.

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