Movie Critics Suck: Exhibit A

In the magazine Cinema Scope, David Bordwell demonstrates how a lack of specific examples undermines a potentially intriguing argument.

The essay, titled “Against Insight,” makes the following basic complaint:

“Most film criticism is fact-free ... [and] is drenched in opinions.”
He continues:
“As I get older, I’m less interested in opinions, whoever holds them, and more interested in ideas and information. Excellent writing can still grab me ... but I also want to learn approximately true things about film, and this requires going beyond most current models of what a piece of film writing should be.”
It’s an amazing and bizarre essay, in the sense that I have no fucking idea what he’s talking about, because he fails to provide a single concrete example of the superiority of “facts” in criticism over “opinions” and dreaded “insights.”

I do not believe Bordwell actually wants “facts,” which one dictionary defines in this sense as “piece[s] of information presented as having objective reality.” Because we’re talking about interpretation, there’s little in the way of objective reality, unless he really wants to read technical descriptions of how certain shots were achieved.

My guess is that his real beef is that what passes for insight and interpretation these days isn’t very insightful or interpretive. He yearns for context, and for rigorous analysis. As he says (much more clearly) later:

“The film writing I have in mind would be essayistic, but it would have a solid understructure of evidence. It would be conceptually bold and bristling with subtly defended opinions. Its judgments would be nuanced in optimal awareness of the history of cinema, its economics, and [its] technology, as well as its auteurs.”
I’ll give the guy credit, though; he knows his own shortcomings when he offers:
“My critique has been broad ... .”
Truer words have not been spoken, dear sir. In the end, Bordwell’s screed is little more than evidence of his thesis: that a vast majority of writing about movies sucks.

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