Review has to be the most abused word in blogdom, where anybody with a three-line opinion about a movie becomes a reviewer.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally buy the point that it helps the layman to make himself heard and trash movies he does not like. Truly wonderful, because, as a filmmaker, I want to know what people think about movies. It’s as honest a response as you can get. Almost virginal, straight from the heart of a man/woman who is reacting to something he/she just watched. I’m all for bloggers to pour their heart out about movies.
But academically speaking, there is a need to differentiate between an opinion and a review. It might seem the same to the layman, but there is a world of difference.
Reviews are an offshoot of analysis. Done purely by experienced journalists who understand the medium they are reviewing — Food, cinema, music, books, etc. And, a review is not just opinion. It is the juxtaposition of what a communicator (filmmaker/writer/chef/artiste) is trying to say, with what the audience perceives it as (you) and studying closely the devices which help the communicator connect or disconnect with his audience.
Simply speaking, when we are talking about films, it is about studying the filmmaker’s intent (based on interviews), the message (deconstructing form and content) itself and the message as perceived/likely to be understood by the common man (common cribs, usually reflected through word of mouth/blogs/audience feedback).
What does a reviewer study? He examines how far the filmmaker has succeeded in what he’s sought to do, how has he done it, what makes it smart communication and where does it fail and why, the cinematic techniques in form which enrich or curtail the narrative, the validity of the story itself (content) and its plausibility, the alienation devices used to differentiate fantasy from realism and the genre and a basic summary of what is good about the movie and why it is good and what is bad about the movie and why is it bad. Based on the pros and cons, sometimes, the reviewer tells you if its worth watch or not. Sometimes, he lets you decide if you must.
So how is this not mere opinion?
Because, review writing is a scientific process to a large extent. Which is why it is the job of a specialist. Which is why there are film schools teaching people film appreciation and criticism.
Which means that facts mentioned in the review cannot be contested because they are valid and true.
A review is not mere retelling of the story of the film. It is an objective, holistic, look at the sender, receiver, the message, the noise and the feedback.
Sender = filmmaker
Receiver = audience
Message = story (content) and how it is told: the narrative (form),
Noise = defect in the message (things within the message that cause miscommunication between the filmmaker and the audience)
Feedback = how the audience responds/is likely to it.
While studying sender, you read interview to find out filmmaker’s intent and what he’s tried to say and also, who is he trying to talk to?
While studying audience, you study the RELEVANT audience (as desired by the filmmaker… the people the filmmaker has made the film for) response. For example, Vijay’s films might be most politically incorrect, but is he trying to talk to those who believe in political correctness? You have to consider what the crowd in the hall has to say. What is the box office telling you?
While studying the message, you study the content (the story, the plot, the sub-plots, the characters, their world, their problems and the things that lead to resolution of the conflict) and then the form (the devices, the ploys, the ups and downs, the colours, the music, the editing, the art direction among other techniques and technicalities used to convey everything listed under content) and see if this form and content appeals to the intended target group.
While studying noise, you need the skills, the expertise and the knowledge gained through training and/ or experience in understanding cinematic form, the history, the trends, the hurdles, the collective conscious of the society, the context, the political correctness etc.
While studying feedback, you need to see the consequences of the movie on the common man. How responsible is it? Will it lead to civil unrest and make people of two communities kill each other? Will it glorify violence? Will it promote racism? Will it lead to more men on streets thinking sexual harassment is cool?
Collating all of this under 500 words needs quite a bit of skill and understanding of cinema, which only comes with time. Which is why film criticism is serious business. Which is why Raja Sen, Baradwaj and Lazy are such good critics.
Yes, there is a certain amount of judgement that is bound to creep in, which is why reviews differ from person to person. But the criticism part in a review is more or less just the same. This judgement is derived out of personal experience and the sum total of cinematic encounters you have had.
Half-information is dangerous. Which is why reviews by incompetent critics could be misleading. Which is why not every three-line opinion about cinema is a review.
But to a filmmaker, it’s not what the critic says that matters, it’s what that three-line opinion from his target audience that matters. So make yourself heard on movies, “review” it in your blog but it always helps to know the difference between an opinion and a review.
Thalaiva, spot on when you say that there is a difference between “opinion” and “review”. But if this difference is not obvious to the layman, then the layman needs some serious knowledge transfer involving a dictionary. Might seem to be a frivolous line, that last one, but when you really look at it, you will see what i am saying. I mean, its all about preconceived notions. Appreciation for a movie is all about that too, which is both good and bad. Preconcieved notion is what makes or breaks a movie, whether the movie satisfies expectations or not. So while some people like me will go and have fun at a Rajini movie, others will diss it from the day it is announced that Rajini is working on a new movie. But when people like me (the Rajini fan in me, that is) become reviewers then it becomes next to impossible to “review” that movie without bias. At the same time, these “whiners” cannot do it either. In fact, You see them coming out of the woodwork in droves when a thalaivar padam releases and actually if you look, they have started appearing now.
Having said all that (btw, I mean no offense and i am not saying I see that when you do your stuff),IMHO, it is impossible for any South Indian to do a completely neutral review of a movie in the same language as the reviewers tongue. The hero worship makes one to take sides way too often!
But see, our problem is this. I think our movie consumption matches our output and from a young age we see so much cinema that we sometimes start thinking too much. And we place too much emphasis on “reviews” and “psuedo reviews” and curtain risers, which clouds judgement! I have seen people who wouldnt watch a movie before they read a review. For a lot of us, a movie can be quantified, which should not be the case. IMHO, there are a lot of intangibles that will appeal to some and not to others. To judge a movie by a 3rd party description – I understand how that would pain a film maker.
im not sure if you understood it entirely. you are saying personal bias plays a big role in a review.
im saying there is science involved in the art of reviewing. you can be taught to review just like you can be taught to be creative. you can be objective and develop that skill with experience. its like any other profession. its skill based.
reviewing is the ability to analyse and see the big picture (irrespective of your personal bias) because your opinion will constitute only 5 per cent of a review… the rest of the review is all analysis anyway.
so if you know to do your job, you will know to handle bias and put it in place.
reviewing isnt about opinions alone, its about analysis based on facts. its not about saying this is good and this is bad… its about saying why is it good and why is it bad. the what is good or bad could be your opinion but unless you can validate it, it just remains an opinion.
for example: if you are saying you thought Vikram sucked in a role, its an opinion.
but when you say the portrayal lacked consistency and explain where the inconsistencies showed with examples that cannot be contested, it becomes criticism. when you show where he scores and how he scores with use of body language and subtle gestures (things that cannot be contested), then you display your flair for appreciation.
The day you are able to rise above your personal bias and judge it objectively, you become a reviewer. But my point is why should be a reviewer when you can be audience? Why be something you are not qualified enough for?
You can simply say this is my opinion and have your say.
Why insist on calling it a review? That’s my point.
Also I agree with your point that people shouldnt judge a movie by third party description…
But I also want to say that reviews are not mere third party description. (I know a lot of the reviews we read are just that!) But reviews serve a purpose. When a Superstar movie releases and we are not able to go watch it, we google for information… on whatever information we can lay our hands on… you are right that some of these shape our opinions and form pre conceived notions… isnt that even more reason that criticism should be a specialist’s job? And lets face it, you would want to hear a fair account of what the movie promises, a review that doesnt give away too much and tells you all you want to know and what to expect.
If you don’t read reviews, its not you who is to be blamed… If reviews are retelling of story and a mishmash of opinions, why would you want to read them and ruin the movie watching experience… its the quality of reviewers we have that are to blame. Very few people are qualified to do the job. Very few people understand the medium. Very few people understand that communication isnt about the story or the audience alone, it’s all encompassing, which is why a review study the whole circle — filmmaker, story (form and content), noise, audience perception and response.
When you study all of it, there is very lil scope for opinion, and bias has a very small role to play.
I meant that personal bias is what that prevents a lot of us from being a reviewer.. Now let me go and read the rest of your comment.
By sticky i meant date this post sum 31st december 2999( for now blogger allows only 31st december 2007) so that it stays on top always. This post is a must read for all self proclaimed reviewers of “fine arts” more so wrt cinema. People have to understand that a review is not sayin’ “the movie starts with this, ends with this, has 6 songs 4 fights, 32 smooch scenes, 156 belly-area freeze shots…..” and narrating the entire story scene by scene to the best of their knowledge and language.It’s not something that can be done by every other 10th grader, engineering college student, my fair lady or mylapoor maami ….
Though this post is absolutely unwarranted in terms of xplaining urself, it’s a what’s what on reviewing.
Waiting to watch TFLW. How often do you hear “subbudu”s sing? 🙂
“IMHO, it is impossible for any South Indian to do a completely neutral review of a movie in the same language as the reviewers tongue. The hero worship makes one to take sides way too often!“
??????? uh? south? Indian? hero worship?
nan sense i say….
if sum1 disagrees wid u they comment on ur page…blogin abt it is sad..n mainly…its normal u find ppl like this everywhere..(psst try orkut)..jus “free-ah viddu”…lolz..but i agree wid ur review 100%..rest can take a flyin f&*$…;)
suderman, with this post i think a lot of guyz are gona remove the word ‘review’ from their vocab for a long time. But nowdayz the ‘opinion’ seems to be doing more good (or bad) to the movie than the review. After all they are also people, a pukka critic’s review, tailored to perfection, true in all aspects, will definitely sound frail, when compared to the amount of masala that can be found in these ‘opinions’.
That was a totally WOW post!
where have you been?
i am all for opinions.
as much as I think reviews in the mass media are sacred.
reviews in blogs work differently. I know Praveen…so I know what he means when he gives me his review of a film.
In a newspaper, you don’t know the author. Nor does he know your taste. So he needs to make himself clear and make sure he does justice to it.
in this case, its not even about disagreeing. cuz i never said what he attributed to me. its gross misrepresentation of the truth. bloggers are not accountable to anybody dude… they get away saying what they want. my point is that when they are not accountable, how can they be trusted? so how seriously do we take a blog? only as credible as its author comes across as, right?
About subbudu sing, there’s an interesting quote about critics.
An Irish playwright, Brendan Behan, once said that critics are like eunuchs in a harem: They’re there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can’t do it themselves.
So am I just a critic or a filmmaker really? The product will tell… Even Im curious to find out!
What an apt quote!!! harem!? souten effect? 😛
good luck man.
PS- it’s bharat.
I,ve been reading some ur reviews.
It’s good. And funnny at times. I just want to ask u one quest: Does a person who reviews the film has any right to comment on the story or the soul of the film? Or one just need to look at how well the story has been told and how convincingkly its been portrayed with other aspects such as actors, setting, music etc?
Net net, Do u have any right to comment on the storyline?
like i said, a review is not about a comment… its about analysis… when you analyse the story, you see how it is told…
even the weakest story can be salvaged with powerful storytelling… its only when the storytelling fails, that the
weak story becomes obvious… similarly, a great story could go haywire if told poorly… so when you review, you need to study both… its not about a comment…
most of d time..i can say much after u kinda put it in ur opinions..cos i only end up sayin “true”…so anyways..if u r okay wid ppl spreading rumours dat u r d actually bettlenut chewing koundar from senkasi pattinam producin captain’s movies by selling vekkol….then well…i don have a problem..(pardon my exag..im a film maker…n dat 2 tamil)
Thanks Sudish for clarifying and educating us. I was having this question from sometime and didnt know whom to ask..thanks for such a detailed explanation 🙂
Ps: I “was” also a self proclaimed ignorant reviewer, till I read this post.