The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My reasons to snark and bark

with 26 comments

It happens once in a while that people who like to share their opinions about movies publicly, such as in podcasts and blogs get soft.

It always make me think of the guy who gets sentimental after too many glasses of wine and starts to declare his love to anyone who comes near whilst making solemn promises to become a better person.

“We should stop being so negative about films! Why should we write about them at all? Why don’t we just focus on the movies we love, guiding people to the good ones and leave the bad seeds to the silence?”

Yes, why don’t we? Isn’t that the way you’re supposed to raise children? Give them praise when they do well and ignore them when they don’t. Don’t mention the bad movies with a word and they will surely go away!

Or maybe not.

I’m probably not known as the most vitriolic of film bloggers; on the contrary. I would guess that about 80 percent of the films I write about get positive reviews with a 4/5 rating, if not more. But mind you: this is not because I remain silent about bad movies. It’s because I don’t have access to free press screenings and I’m so cheap that I don’t want to waste either my time or my money on watching films that I have good reasons to believe are bad. So I look for the good ones, based on previous experiences with the directors and on what I hear from other people in the community. It works pretty well.

However: if I ever get to watch a movie that I think is truly bad, such as in the case of Rock of Ages recently, I have no qualms whatsoever to write it down. I will not go into self censorship.

And here are a few of my reasons:

1. It’s fun to write.
Watching a bad movie isn’t enjoyable, especially if you’ve paid a full prized ticket. But writing about truly bad movies is just as fun as to write about movies you love. And it’s certainly a lot more inspiring than to come up with something even remotely interesting about a 3/5 movie.

It’s often in the angry rants about truly disgusting movies that we dare to go experimental and wild. If you’ve ever been in the stripping-down-a-horrible-movie-to-the-bare-bones frenzy you know what I’m talking about. The keyboard is humming happily as you’re hammering away. This pleasure compensates more than enough for the painful experience in the theatre. From being a pointless waste of time and money, it’s suddenly turned into material for a glowing, passionate rant post.

When you write negative reviews, either they’re barking or snarking, you’re transforming the lemons you were given into lemonade.

2. It’s fun to read.
If someone has fun writing something, you can tell that as a reader. It’s contagious. I enjoy reading posts that are glowing with passion, either it’s of hate or of love. It doesn’t matter if I have the opposite view about the movie as the writer. It’s still a good read.

3. I’m executing my consumer rights.
My fellow Swedish movie blogger Fiffi mentioned this a while, which was one of the things that inspired this post. In a rough translation she wrote:

“It feels as if the film industry is a conveyer band and we, the consumers, stand at the end station, indulging the end product either it tastes well or badly. How do you reclaim a theatre ticket you’ve bought? How do you act as an unsatisfied moviegoer otherwise than talking, blogging and discussing it? I don’t know. You can’t know if a movie is badly made or not until you’ve seen it.”

Exactly. I’ve never ever walked out of a theatre during a screening, asking to get my money back. No matter how bad a movie is, I would never think of doing that. In my world it’s rude, cheap and a signal of ignorance and bad taste. There is always an element of gambling in watching movies and sometimes you lose. That’s just how it is.

On the other hand I think you have every right in the world to warn other people about a movie you had a very bad experience with, the same way as you will share with your relatives and friends if you eat at a bad restaurant or hire a serviceman who turns out not to do his job very well. Of course you share your opinion!

As a consumer you have very little to put up against the marketing machinery of the biggest movies, but the importance of word of mouth is increasing in the age of social media and I see no reason whatsoever why we shouldn’t use our consumer power.

Emerging trend
The film critic Scott Jordan Harris wrote a column recently where he attacked what he described as an emerging trend, snarking in film criticism. To be fair it’s overall a very good article where I agree with most of what he says, but I couldn’t help thinking he’s going a little bit too far when he says that there “is no point in a thousand bloggers each reviewing the major studio releases of the week or, even worse, just choosing whichever one of them is least exciting and wasting words in mocking it.”

Harris says that our daily ambition should be to “find a film so good it moves us to write about it persuasively enough that readers are compelled to seek it out and have the same wonderful experience we did”.

Snark is something he thinks should be left for Twitter, “where attention spans are short, character limits are shorter and, as the very name “Twitter” suggests, frivolity is key.”

I think we need to bark and snark every once in a while, either we’re amateur movie bloggers or professional film bloggers. But it should be done with certain finesse of course, and not too often. Just a little pinch once in a while. It’s the that keeps us from becoming overly sweet, singing kumbaya and holding hand whatever movie we get to see.

Midsummer
And now it’s time to bring in some drinks and bring out a toast for the incoming weekend. In Sweden this is a special one, devoted to Midsummer celebrations.  Here’s a crash course if you want to try some of our pagan rituals for yourself.

Glad midsommar – Happy Midsummer!

Written by Jessica

June 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm

26 Responses

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  1. My problem is contrary to what Harris says, I actively try to avoid seeing films I think I’ll hate, yet I still end up having a negative opinion on about half of what I watch or more. I do love to celebrate the things I love and hope to motivate people to watch them, but I do think the other half of being a critic is helping guide people away from things they won’t like. Everyone has a limited amount of time and money and as a community we exist to help maximize the value we get for it.

    Bondo

    June 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    • Perhaps you’re watching too many movies. Or we’ll all come to that point eventually. If you’ve seen enough movies I guess some things come back again and again and a bit of the magic gets lost?

      I think like you that there IS a certain amount of consumer journalism in writing about movies, at least if you’re doing it for a wide audience and not for a small artsy magazine for devotees.
      As long as I’m not paid to review, I’ll happily avoid most bad movies though. Don’t want to pay for them!

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm

  2. Jessica,

    I absolutely LOVE what you’ve written here!!!

    I think when a movie goer who blogs or just randomly discusses films with family and/or friends,sees a film that they find bad, OWES it to themselves and everyone the speak to provide an honest opinion..whether good or bad. Just because you or I give a movie a bad review or even a good review, doesn’t mean every person will have the same experience. We can only describe the experience we had with that particular film.

    As for writing about really bad movies, I think they are by far the easiest reviews to write. Yes, they are fun to write and typically the fun comes through to the reader. Think about what you said about being a consumer….other than critics and die hard bloggers, who in their right mine wants to pay upwards of $15 a ticket to go and see a bad movie? I’m not talking about a movie that I had expectations of being good and ended up being terrible, but of a really bad movie. I know I sure don’t, and of the down right terrible films I’ve seen, I’ve usually been the recipient of a free pass or highly discounted ticket.

    Without having read Mr. Harris’ article, I think it is necessary for a “thousand bloggers each reviewing the major studio releases of the week or, even worse, just choosing whichever one of them is least exciting and wasting words in mocking it.” The only way studios are going to stop making terrible movies, is for the masses to read about how bad they are. In the same token, those same people SHOULD be doing the same thing for a movie that is incredibly good. I too think that a bit of snark in film criticism is necessary, albeit with a certain bit of subtlety and discreetness. There’s a certain way to get your point across without being insulting; and in cases where the film is downright terrible, let loose and have fun telling everyone why the movie was so bad.

    Joe

    twodudereview

    June 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    • Joe, thank you for your kind words. And yes, I’m basically with you. I can agree with Harris though that if the major studio releases is the ONLY thing you’re writing about, it is a bit saddening. I think we owe it to our readers to also try to dig up gems for them that they otherwise would have missed.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm

  3. A movie reviewer is someone who watches bad movies so I don’t have to.

    I try to filter out most of the crap by reading reviews/scores and trying to see mostly good ones with a cult or bad movie in it from time to time for good measure. I tend to like most films that I see, some just a lot more than others.

    And you’re right, writing rants is a lot of fun and easy to write!

    carrandas

    June 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    • … And that’s why I’mnot a movie reviewer, not for real. 🙂
      I usually just pick the good stuff. If I see something bad, it’s most of the time something that I’ve watched for free for some reason. But it’s good to see it once in a while. It reminds you of how much crap there is out there and makes you appreciate the good movies so much more.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm

  4. There’s no reason why you can’t bark and snark at a film, without the guilt, if it deserves it. What I don’t like are critics who ridicule a film for no reason other than to sound “cool”. If you’re gonna say why you don’t like something (and this goes for more than just film, I might add), at least give a solid argument to your belief. Don’t just say “I don’t like it because I don’t like it” and leave it at that.

    Nice work, Jess, once again.

    Rodney

    June 23, 2012 at 4:11 am

    • Thanks Rodney! I agree completely with that criticism should be founded on something. Transparency is of the need. Just saying “Movie X sucks” is lazy and uncool.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm

  5. I think we’ve briefly had this discussion before. I don’t have a problem with reading reviews of poor films, but I personally rarely ever get motivated enough to write a review for a movie I hated. And like you, I seldom ever watch films that I might hate. Though it happens from time to time, usually when I’m with a friend or a date and didn’t get to choose what film to watch.

    Yeah it’s kind of cheating in a way, but I only have so much time to write, so I figure it’s better spent in a positive mindset. It would be an issue if everyone felt the same way as me, but I’m confident that there will always be no shortage of bloggers willing to snark at any opportunity. That’s probably what blogs were invented for in the first place.

    I don’t mind standing alone. I think of my blog like a version of those ‘1001 movies’ books. A place where you’ll find mostly recommendations rather than warnings.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    June 23, 2012 at 6:27 am

    • I’m sure we had! I’m afraid my memory is a sift and I’m probably repeating myself sometimes, or at least getting back to topics that are on my mind over and over again with just a little bit of variation.

      I love your vision of your blog as a version of the 1001 movies book! It’s a sweet and delightful ambition and you certainly live up to it. The world of movie blogging would be so much poorer without you digging up the gems for us in the most foregin and distant places. Noone will hold it against you that you don’t snark and bark.

      There are so many others out there who will take care of that part.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm

  6. Great post as usual Jessica. I tend to review everything and anything I watch just to spread the word and yes, writing about film’s you detest can be very enjoyable indeed. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun than i did writing about Titanic.

    p.s. Nice video on the Pagan beliefs and practices. I follow a Pagan path myself and it’s often a misconception that we worship the devil or something. 😉

    Mark Walker

    June 23, 2012 at 11:05 am

    • Thank you Mark! I need to check out your lust murder on Titanic then!

      “Follow a Pagan path” sounds intriguing. Way more interesting than the Swedish traditions, which to be honest nowadays most of all are tradition. Though it IS typical that we celebrate this one so much.

      It’s the lack of light for the rest of the year and our close relationship to the nature compared to many other places I think. Midsummer captures it all.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm

  7. I agree with Harris wholeheartedly re- the snark issue. There’s a way to write a negative or not wholly positive review without descending into a string of sarcastic one-liners that just seem ill-intended, which is something I try to avoid even as I often tend to write fewer and fewer completely “positive” reviews (I’ve been told I grade harshly, which is possible).

    I agree that as a critic, professional or otherwise, one owes it oneself to be honest about what they saw even if it’s a “bad” movie you love or a “good” movie that you do not and that includes the fear of not censoring yourself to save face or be one of the group. But, the insistence on underhand digs at the filmmakers is something I can do without.

    AndrewK.

    June 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    • I guess it boils down to what is unwarrented, ugly snark and what is well deserved, well put criticism. For my own part I love when Mark Kermode goes berserk about a bad film. But I can imagine there are people out there who think he’s unfair at the expense of the filmmakers…

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm

  8. Well, I’m not unbiased on this because the entire point of my blog is to write about films that I would recommend to others. There are enough professional critics out there who live only to trash films, usually by working the title of the film into a play on words insult at some point.

    As a consumer I just want to know a little bit about a movie and why I might like it. That’s what I try to convey in my reviews. Since I started out doing recommendations for friends, I have tried to keep that same vibe in my posts for everyone – to treat them as friends that I think might be interested in a movie. If I don’t end up liking a movie I don’t bother writing a review of it.

    Chip

    June 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    • Like in the case of Bonjour Tristesse, I can see where you’re coming from and approve of the idea. I don’t hold it against people who only write about what they love, though I would say that if EVERYONE followed that guidline I’m not sure where we would be.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm

  9. Loved this post. I think my approach is kind of similar. I tend only to review movies from genres I’m already predisposed to liking. If the movie doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll explain why in the review. But I’ll never seek out a movie I know I’ll hate just to write a bad review.

    Dave Enkosky

    June 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    • Thank you Dave! I think our attitude is pretty common among bloggers. Very few that I know of have the luxury of having time to write about everything and access to go to for instance press screenings for free.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm

  10. A very good and interesting article Jessica. I agree with all of your points. Like you, I don’t go to the cinema that often, well generally once a week, but I know bloggers who go far more often; so I also don’t generally want to fork out for a film I might not like. You’re right though, it is far more fun to really lay into a film than to continually praise all the movies I watch; executing consumer rights is a brilliant way of putting it.

    Russell Betney

    June 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    • Thank you Russell! Once a week is about how often I go, and I actually think it’s pretty often compared to ordinary people. But it’s not enough to cover everything that comes out, so like you I have to make choices.

      If I’ve actually paid for a movie that I ended up hating, it IS nice to execute a bit of my consumer rights. It’s no different to spreading the word to your friends about a restaurant that served truly terrible food to warn them from getting there. Sure, you point them to good places as well, but it doesn’t keep you from pointing at those that should be avoided.

      Jessica

      June 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

  11. Great post, Jessica.

    I don’t write reviews (or anything, really) very often myself. I know when I do, I’d rather talk about things I like than things I don’t. Yeah, I could warn people about shitty films, sure. However, I think it’s far worse for someone to miss out on a great film than for him/her to watch a bad one. As such, praise serves a better purpose than the opposite in my book. Plus, I don’t have much fun writing about bad movies anyway, and I’m no good at the whole humorous snarkiness thing anyway. I’ve tried it at times, but it’s not for me.

    That’s just me, though. People should not keep from writing about bad movies if they want to. I do think one should keep a somewhat respectful tone, though. Making even a bad film is a genuine achievement, one that takes a great deal of effort and energy. While this doesn’t entitle them to a free pass of any sorts in terms of criticism, one would still do well to keep in mind that there are real people behind every movie. Talk about what went wrong with the film, what you didn’t like, what you think could have been done better. Don’t throw around lame insults just for the snark of it (I’ve been guilty of this myself at times, regrettably). Ideally – especially when it’s a smaller film that wasn’t made just to make money – try to find interviews where the director talks about what he was hoping to accomplish with the movie. It might make you reevaluate certain aspects of it, or give you some further insights. It’s easy to say “The film would have been better if they had done THIS instead”, but maybe that’s just not what the filmmaker was going for on a fundamental level.

    Emil

    June 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    • I think I’m way kinder on small films than on big budget ones. Fair or unfair – I don’t know. But I guess we’re just expecting more from a film with a 100 times larger budget.

      I also think you need to be careful of how you put your words. Sometimes when you say that “the screenwriter x sucks”, it can very well be a team work and not within the power of that named person, who can have gone against all the bad decisions. So while the script might deserve criticism, it’s not necessarily the person with the name in the top that has the whole responsability.

      Jessica

      June 25, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      • Yeah, it can often be hard to know who deserves praise/blame for anything. Let’s say that we think an actor goes way overboard in a certain scene. Should he be held accountable for it? What if it was the director who kept telling him to “do it more dramatically”? We often talk about Tim Burton and how all his films have a certain look to them, but he doesn’t use the same cinematographers, art directors and set directors for every movie he makes. Who deserves the praise/blame there, then? And screenwriting is very tricky too. How do we know if an awesome line was penned by the writer, or if it was ad-libbed by the actor who speaks it?

        So yeah. It’s difficult alright.

        Emil

        June 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm

        • Yeah, I’ve done that mistake myself. Like I thought Kiera Knightley was ridiculous in A Dangerous Method. But someone pointed out that it wasn’t her fault; she was just doing as she had been instructed to by Cronenberg. And I realized then that they were absolutely right.

          Jessica

          June 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  12. Great post, as always. I agree with everything, basically. I also try to avoid movies I KNOW will be bad or I won’t enjoy based on overwhelmingly negative response or bad word-of-mouth. I also think it’s dumb and rude and cheap to ask for your money back when you don’t like a movie. It is not the theater’s fault and you should have known better! And yes, writing and reading bad reviews is so fun!

    Happy Midsummer’s! Loved the little guide. I’m totally an expert in midsommar now, hehe.

    fernandorafael

    June 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm

  13. […] Jessica. (2012, June 22). “My reasons to snark and bark.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://thevelvetcafe.com/2012/06/22/reasons-to-snark-and-bark. […]


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