Do Film Critics Need Filmmaking Experience? John Cleese Thinks So…
Art and Experience: Let’s not beat a dead parrot over this one…
Breaking into Hollywood is so very hard. I think these past pandemic months have really brought a reckoning down on this industry and the people trying to actively be a part of it. Unless you’re connected or independently wealthy, the only way to get ahead is to consistently write great screenplays or make great movies, and from there…get lucky.
Man, it’s so damn hard to do this kind of work.
It’s the kind of life that breaks most people. Most very talented people do not get lucky. Maybe they sell one thing… maybe nothing. Maybe it’s all over in a few years.
Hollywood is not a meritocracy.
That’s why I find it kind of asinine to suggest that the only valuable critics are the people who have made things.
Comedy legend and Monty Python co-founder John Cleese has been actively stating this opinion on social media, where he has started a debate over the necessary qualifications for film critics. Cleese wrote, “It’s odd that, given [film critics’] inabilities [in acting, directing, or screenwriting], they are then put in judgment over people who can write, direct and act.”
He doubled down with this next tweet:
I agree with Oscar
If critics could write or direct or act, presumably they would be doing that, and earning more than the pittance that critics are paid
So it’s odd that, given their inabilities, they are then put in judgement over people who CAN write, direct and act
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) August 4, 2020
Cleese’s main argument is that commentary on professional sports is always better from former athletes, and asked his followers, “Could the same principle now be applied to the arts?”
So we ask you…
Do Film Critics Need Filmmaking Experience?
Film criticism is one of the most important film-related jobs out there. Not only do you have to have knowledge of history, mechanisms, and executions, but you have to make an effort to see and analyze everything.
You need to be fluent in art motifs and try to check your biases at the door.
Obviously, some people are better at different aspects of all of that stuff, but a critic strives to get better and better.
I started this article talking about how hard it is to break into Hollywood because many statistics have shown its equally as hard to break into the NFL or MLB. Now, the people who comment on those games are retired players. People who have come into the league, done what they could, and retired.
If you were going to limit film criticism to people who had retired from filmmaking…well people don’t really retire, do they? They work and work until they can’t work anymore because nothing is guaranteed.
No one wants to stop, life just stops. And while that also happens for professional athletes…it’s usually because their bodies can’t hold up. For filmmakers, it’s because they can’t get budgets or fade away.
Yes, those people would be great critics!
But you know who else are already great critics?
Lots of people who do not go that route.
See, art is not about function. In football, you need to run plays to score touchdowns. If you’ve played football, you understand how the functions work. But art is about emotion. Art can make anyone anywhere feel a certain way.
Art is subjective, sports are objective. You want to win.
The best art makes you feel.
And because we have, like, 9 billion people on this planet, movies and TV shows make everyone feel lots of complex things. Sure, there will be some overlap, but art actually affects the individuals.
So, it is actually ludicrous to say you have to participate in making filmmaking to judge films. You’re not just judging how they’re made, but how they make you feel. If you can feel emotions…you should be a film critic.
Apologies to the psychopaths who feel nothing; you might not be suited for the job.
Now, critics need to uphold their end of the bargain. They need to be educated, watch a vast array of things, and know enough about film history to judge things based on time, concept, and intention.
I’ve read my fair share of criticism of my own work. It’s always hard to hear. But you can learn a lot about the kinds of emotions you want from people and the way they react.
Requiring critics to have made things or put themselves through Hollywood seems misguided. What we want them to do is to have big hearts, to understand the empathy machine, and to be able to articulate emotions and beliefs the way many in the masses cannot.