Monday, October 31, 2016

Cinema Bravo - Film Criticism's Execrable Contributions From the Dubious Fringes

QCinema, fresh from its admirably curated staging of the festival this year, recently held a forum last October 21 discussing the "Wide Wild World of Web Criticism" spotlighting film bloggers and critics. In conjunction with this discourse and all other scary things this season, I find it appropriate to share my take on this issue. I had been writing about the Philippine movies since 2008. Though I've pretty much "retired" from active writing, this however doesn't mean that I have stopped watching movies. In fact, the last 4 months have been quite hectic. There's been a steady stream of film festivals staged from July this year. Moreover, I even watch most of the commercial movies, foreign and local, being shown throughout the metropolis! I am not complaining, but these festivals can get seriously exhausting. But I am digressing. The topic of the month is web criticism in the Philippines.

A few days ago, someone pointed out a certain review from a blog called "Cinema Bravo" and ranted about its content. So I had to check it out for myself. What do I find? The most awkward use of the English language written in all its mediocre glory! Okay, let me spotlight a review of Fede Alvarez's "Don't Breathe", published September 5 in the aforementioned blogsite. 

After a slew of copy-paste introductions, the review follows:

"Its beginning sufficiently introduces our heroes (or antiheroes) and gives a quick view of their social status. The heist is quite a jackpot and each of the trio is intrigued on how they can get away with the crime as usual."

Consider those two sentences alone and you will find diction gaffes, not the least of which is a rundown of spine-tingling statements that defy comprehension: "Its beginning ... gives a quick view of their social status" Really? Then he goes on saying , "The heist is quite a jackpot..." Is he even talking about the same movie this time? He closes his train of thought with second guessing: "The trio is intrigued." His use of words is, at best, fragmented. Awkward! 

         "The heist is quite a jackpot."

As if these weren't enough, he continues: "There is admirable craft in the way Alvarez tenders horror in this age of the haunting and possession as typical themes of the genre. The old blind man’s house becomes a haunted house filled with a heavy atmosphere of fright that is effectively showcased through a delightful command of sound." Ano daw?! 

"Admirable craft? Tenders horror? Delightful command of sound?" I had a difficult time trying to wash down what he struggles to say. He closes this with a puke-inducing "and (it's) never for those who can’t catch their breath." Nga naman. In my head, I see images of anoxic and cyanotic patients reeling from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease instead of the compelling suspense thriller that Cinema Bravo is straining to talk about. Delightful command of sound, say again? Jeez. The film is a suspense/thriller so using "delightful" in this context is as alien as describing Jose Nadela's "Pilapil" or Joel Lamangan's "That Thing Called Tanga Na" a sublime piece of cinema.

          "And (it's) never for those 
      who can't catch their breath."

The same writer talks about Jason Paul Laxamana's "Mercury is Mine": "The chemistry exuded by their relationship goes way beyond strangers, family, or even lovers." What?! Are we talking psychic chemistry here? He further notes, "It is all about the new discoveries that let them become conscious of what they want and what they need in life." Surely there's an easier way of writing that. Don't you think? How does he describe Topel Lee's cinematography? "It seeps into memory..." whatever the heck it means. Are we in the subject of filter papers? Maybe Topel Lee's camera work is porous? Seeps? Porous? Seeps? Get it? ;- ) Dock and take cover, puh-leez! 

        "(Topel Lee's cinematography) 
             seeps into memory."

With a mere 440-character review, how can anyone churn out an atrociously hideous output? Imagine if this were an earnest 2,500-character piece. I shiver.

In his "Morgan" review, he has this to say: "Morgan’s teenager look does not go near that of a 5-year-old. Donning a fierce disposition and with a pair of eyes covered in mystery, it leaves a frightening appearance which serves as a clear indication of what is to expect: something bloody, something terrible, something very familiar and Frankenstein-esque." Didn't I say verbal diarrhea? These pretentious reviews really defy coherence. 

     "... which serves as a clear indication 
                of what is to expect..."

I am more of a Libby Waxman-Gelner in temperament and style. But I look up to legendary film critic Pauline Kael who pioneered the entire aesthetic of film criticism. In her hands, the medium evolved into an art form. Unfortunately, through the years, web criticism has, at some point, replaced this expertise with "amateurs, fanboys, and obscurantists". It is of course easy to censure print traditionalists of Luddittism. After all, the millennium has brought with it new technology that everyone must live with and adjust to, including taking in a modicum of tolerance to a more relaxed use of language. Personally, this is where I draw the line. If a writer is uncomfortable using the medium, by all means, shift to that which comes naturally. Otherwise, you'd end up with stilted statements and factitious exposition. Such is the case of Cinema Bravo's so-called reviews. A lot of verbal diarrhea that makes no sense.

Michael S. Roth, President of a U.S. university, once wrote in the New York Times, arguing that a big reason people are critical, is to show that "you will not be easily fooled", and that it is a sign of sophistication. But who really decides which works are beyond questioning? Surely, a prerequisite should be the ability to describe, argue and insinuate issues and values within a film. 

In film criticism, the "man who goes to the movies" becomes a trusted arbiter of what cultural artifacts are worth investigating, investing in — but he should then be able to express himself clearly. Other than clarity and truth to the medium, I reckon there are no true concrete standards in modern web criticism. But this doesn't mean, just any Tom, Dick and Jane can be valid "film critics". One might get accused of ultracrepidarianism. You don't want that. Believe me it is a virulent affliction. 


The point of this piece is that, these days, web criticism is a dime a dozen. A lot of these web pages are pure hogwash started by dreamers who have no business writing, to begin with. They subscribe to the delusion that starting a blog will readily turn them into overnight critics. Such overreaching ambition. What's worse, they're even showcased to participate in "Year's Best" list-making surveys - and I seriously cringe! Nginig! While it is indeed a free world, these people need reminding (for our sanity's sake). Besides, when inarticulate non-writers are turned into an epitome of perceived excellence, it dilutes the noble objective of these surveys - particularly when the respondents are of dubious competence. 

There are more productive ways of spending your waking hours particularly if writing isn't your forte. When you're not even articulate, you can always turn to the vernacular for a less painful experience. 

Mag-Tagalog na lang kasi, 'Teh! 

Stick to writing "features"... the ones easily copy-pasted from press releases. 

Otherwise, maybe you're better off in culinary, horticulture, macrame or ... hmmm... cross stitching? 

#careerchange #englishpamore

Cinema Bravo is single-handedly moderated by someone named JB  Estillore or Jonell Estillore who bafflingly boasts of about 570,000 likes; a head-scratcher in itself. How such execrable writing can gather that much "likes" is beyond me. Has this nation gone. errr... dull?

If I initially thought of this woeful web criticism as hilarious, I had to ultimately nurse a gargantuan headache. 

Now where's that extra-strength analgesic?!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

brilliant introduction to film criticism!

i'll bookmark this and file this under film literature.

pero tama! kailangan ng minimum na "literary apparatus" para makapagsulat ng maayos na criticism.
naiisip ko ang mga sandosenang mga food bloggers. sigurado wala akong masyadong alam sa "food criticism", pero naman, parang paulit ulit lang ang mga salita na mababasa sa bawat isang review: explosion of flavors in the mouth, the salted caramel balances out the matcha, it makes my tummy very happy.
mas maganda siguro sabihin na lang kung masarap o hindi, hindi kung ano anong language acrobatics ang ginagawa para lang magmukhang sublime. ewan feeling ko lang, ang tamang pagsusulat tungkol sa pagkain ay yung "compelling". na gugustuhin mo iexplore kung ano ang hindi pa nasusubukan ng panlasa mo.

-juan, reklamador na gusto maging food blogger