The Wesleyan Argus | A.O. Scott Defends the Art of Criticism

“One of the things that any artist is working with is other art. You think about filmmakers, for example, and they all start out as film fans. You have Martin Scorsese as a kid going to double features every day and absorbing all of the world in that way, and then thinking about Quentin Tarantino in the video store,” Scott said. “In the simplest way that you see something or you hear something, and you start thinking, ‘How did they do that? Could I do that? Could I do it better? How would I do it differently?’ All of what we identify as aspects of the creative process, the absorption of influence, the learning and discarding of rules, the workshop discipline of figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how—all of that is criticism.”


Most human effort results in mediocrity, it’s just the tragic fact of the human condition. The question is, though, how mad are you gonna get about that?

The Wesleyan Argus | A.O. Scott Defends the Art of Criticism

When Did Feminism Get So “Sneaky”?

There’s a nefarious, Mobius strip quality to “sneaky feminism” as a piece of rhetoric. If the point of using it is to satisfy readers that the product in question is ideologically sound, but also chill (Lean in! Not too far!), then this ostensible attempt to make feminism palatable is rather anti-feminist, if sneakily so. That’s because one of feminism’s foundational goals has always been to release women from their disproportionate obligation to show tact, delicacy, and sweetness—to say their piece without being aggressive or annoying about it. Yet we’re asking feminism itself to shimmy through a window and creep down a corridor dancing between laser beams before whispering its claims in the cultural ear.

When Did Feminism Get So “Sneaky”?

On Sentimentality: A Critique of Humans of New York

I’ve never followed HONY, and I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen any of the posts, but I’m familiar with the project. Interesting how it’s pretty much inevitable that even our most noble efforts will be compromised somehow. You can’t observe and document people as some kind of inert, neutral, sociology-less being… so it’s important to take criticism well when you run with projects like this.

On Sentimentality: A Critique of Humans of New York

In Defense of the Expert Review | Balder and Dash | Roger Ebert

When scientific experts criticize “Gravity” for failing to display an academic-level understanding of the laws of nature, they are missing the point. Nobody goes to “Gravity” for a physics lesson; they go to be entertained. But there are times when a fact-check of a film can provide necessary context and, especially if the film is based on true events, illuminate not just how a narrative deviates from the truth but why it does. At their best, expert reviews can even illuminate deeper truths, like how reality is an often unintended casualty of pop culture. Since mainstream movies only show us what we want to be true—almost by definition, a film that sells tens of millions of tickets does not challenge any widely-held perspectives—movie fact-checkers can show why a certain film felt the need to diverge from reality to tell a satisfying story.

In Defense of the Expert Review | Balder and Dash | Roger Ebert

I Started a Joke: “PBR&B” and What Genres Mean Now | Pitchfork

This is what genres do really well, for good and for ill: They make large amounts of music easier to talk about (and, by extension, sell). Most often, genres do not stand up to scrutiny, yet they’re a fundamental part not only of music discussions online and off, but of any conversations we have about culture more generally. Particularly with the infinite online options for music access and conversation, pithy and memorable genre names can make it easier (if not necessarily accurate) to classify, discuss, and compare music. Genres arise out of tastes, and are often institutionalized (I wrote about one such example here), though online there’s infinitely more space to create, market, sort and search by micro-genres. (Remember “witch house”?) People have lengthy, years-long arguments using genres as combatants. If nothing else, genres make music easier to fight about.

I Started a Joke: “PBR&B” and What Genres Mean Now | Pitchfork

Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn

I always tease them at the beginning of the semester about their writing—I say, “Whenever you write me at 11 o’clock on a Thursday night begging me for an extension on the paper, the prose is always so beautiful and the email is so wonderfully structured.” It’s a joke, but it’s also not a joke—in that situation they understand the rhetoric of the form to which they’re committing themselves: They understand who they are as a writer and a beseecher, they understand who I am as the person in charge, they understand what evidence to adduce in their favour—their dog died, their computer broke or whatever. Which is why the email begging for the paper extension is always a well-written piece. But whenever they have to write three paragraphs about women in Genesis or whatever—when they have to make an argument—it’s basically “word salad,” because they’ve never read anything that presents a text, wrestles with it and comes up with some conclusions. For that reason, I think it’s better that they should be reading Pauline Kael reviews in the New Yorker than Derrida.

Filed under: Daniel Mendelsohn.

Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

After watching THX 1138, I started reading about co-writer Walter Murch. I love how he separates his film editing from his film writing:

When I write a script, I lie down–because that’s the opposite of standing up. I stand up to edit, so I lie down to write. I take a little tape recorder and, without being aware of it, go into a light hypnotic trance. I pretend the film is finished and I’m simply describing what was happening. I start out chronologically but then skip around. Anything that occurs to me, I say into the recorder. Because I’m lying down, because my eyes are closed, because I’m not looking at anything, and the ideas are being captured only by this silent scribe–the tape recorder–there’s nothing for me to criticize. It’s just coming out.

That is my way of disarming the editorial side. Putting myself in a situation that is opposite as possible to how I edit–both physically and mentally. To encourage those ideas to come out of the woods like little animals and drink at the pool safely, without feeling that the falcon is going to come down and tear them apart.

So simple, so obvious: if you want to get some ideas out without reflexive self-editing, choose your medium and environment so it’s hard to edit. Use a tape recorder, separate digital vs. analog desks, Sharpies, index cards

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

Yelp Hates on Museums | Los Angeles County Museum on Fire |

A critic who thought the Frick Collection “sucked” would not have a job. Yelp’s reviews are infinitely more democratic, written by anyone who cares to write them. That includes not a few masochists who hate museums and go anyway. There might be something to that. If a certain percentage of Yelpers find LACMA or the Frick boorrriinnnnggg, it might be worth knowing—to others who are thinking of going and worry they might be bored stiff. Serious critics almost never address that audience or that concern.

Cf. The Onion: Whole Museum Visit Spent Feeling Guilty About Moving On From Paintings

Yelp Hates on Museums | Los Angeles County Museum on Fire |

AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies is a list of the 100 best American movies, as determined by the American Film Institute from a poll of more than 1,500 artists and leaders in the film industry who chose from a list of 400 nominated movies.

I’ve seen a little over half of the updated list. Interesting to see how the rankings changed between the first list in 1998 and the revision in 2007. Vertigo, City Lights, and The Searchers each jumped over 50 spots. Doctor Zhivago and The Birth of a Nation, originally list in the top 50, failed to make the cut the second time around. But The Sixth Sense did!

AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Q. and A. – Chris Rock Is Itching for Dirty Work –

On criticism:

Only fans should be allowed to criticize. Because it’s for the fans. When I hear somebody go, “Country music [stinks],” I’m like, well, country music’s not for you. You’re just being elitist. Only a fan of Travis Tritt can say the record [stinks], because he’s got every one.

Also, on the need to work up your craft in private:

When you’re workshopping it, a lot of stuff is bumpy and awkward. Especially when you’re working on the edge, you’re going to offend. […] You’re mad at Ray Leonard because he’s not in shape, in the gym? That’s what the gym’s for. The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up. And every big stand-up I talk to says: “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?” Just look at some of my material. You can’t imagine how rough it was and how unfunny and how sexist or racist it might have seemed. “Niggas vs. Black People” probably took me six months to get that thing right. You know how racist that thing was a week in? That’s not to be seen by anybody.

Q. and A. – Chris Rock Is Itching for Dirty Work –