This is a part of Musings on Film Criticism. It is a series about what is discussed in two film criticism classes the writer sits in. Check all installments here, to be updated weekly: Musings on Film Criticism.
Film criticism is a responsibility. It may not be an advocacy, but the ability to write and to disseminate is a privilege of power – something that may level film criticism from simple opinion forming to a weapon.
Oversaturation of film writing due to social media may have diluted the effects of film criticism. As a result, film criticism has fallen along the lines of promotion, summarization, and interpretation. Oftentimes, it gets trapped in a mere listing of the individual writer’s likes and dislikes of a given film. But if one writer were to say that they like a film’s cinematography or an actor’s performance, the other writer may not share the same sentiment. And if both arrive with the same evaluations, the reasons for such may differ. Meaning-maker is then futile, as all interpretations of a text can both be wrong and correct in themselves regardless of the quantity and quality of their basis.
The sharp and inquisitive edge of criticism is dulled by rampant multiplicities and subjectivities.
Granted, one may say that pure objectivity is an illusion. And one may find subjectivity and multiplicity the very reason that makes film criticism thrilling. Also, this is in no way to discredit anyone who opts to write in the said modes above. The reasons for writing and its functions vary.
This is for the film critic who wishes to have a lasting impact in the field he is writing for: you should be a militant writer.
To be a militant writer is to be aware of your position in the modes of production. To be a militant film critic is to grasp the tangible materiality and conditions that made you and a film possible, dismantling them if necessary. Walter Benjamin has made the author accountable with their position in the modes of production. This extends to the filmmaker-auteur and the film they are making. Now, it should circle back to you, as the author-critic.
“Film criticism, in particular, has only developed its corpus as a self-serving
reflection of its own triumphs and demise. It has not also aroused any critical change in the film industry’s trajectory which has woven film criticism into its promotional and marketing arm. Film criticism has only served the Filipino elite’s dream towards the perfection of its own image of
Philippine Cinema”, says Adrian Mendizabal in his article.
The tendency of some film critics have always been to reaffirm the corporeal notion that is Philippine Cinema. They deem the next film they could get their hands into as the “New Great Filipino Film”. They easily get enamored with the newest love teams and rising stars. They stick their thumbs into the hottest director in the scene.
As a militant film critic, you should ask yourself whether the film you are promoting as Marxist exploits its labor force during its production. Ask whether a feminist text really abuses its cast or whether representation comes with a cost. Ask whether the wholesome image a celebrity is emanating publicly fits their private life. Ask whether the film industry’s stunted growth is the result of the state and industry’s hunger for profit and influence rather than that of a ‘passive and ignorant’ audience. Ask whether progressive attitudes in film texts really serve the uplifting of the industry, the people, and the nation, or whether they are only done for profit, clout, and acclaim. Ask, reassess, then redirect all your criticisms into the powers-that-be that make everything as it is.
But more importantly, ask yourself whether your process reflects your writing. Being paid and being under a corporate publication tend for the writer to be censored or to be lenient with a certain party. It’s always easy and tempting to be a praiser and sympathizer if it means being in cahoots with industry insiders, producers, stars, and fandoms – connections that will in turn help you further your film writing career.
Your position and ability that made it possible for you to write should be factored in your stances. To be a hack writer praising personalities and ideologies a film espouses so that you could achieve your quota with the week’s pay pits you with the elitist local film industry as a problem, rather than its solution for change.
To recognize and confront the contradictions of a writer’s attitudes on social systems to their actual position in them is the least a writer should do.
Interpretation and aesthetics only go as far as your taste in them. “Cinema’s tendency to overcompensate the fetishistic character has also captured the imagination of film critics who write criticisms that magnify this fetishistic character”, Mendizabal adds. A militant film critic moves past the film text to look as to how and why a film and film culture was made possible in the first place. Is the film for profit or for advocacy? Is it for emancipation or for subtle subjugation?
Is militant film criticism moralistic and prescriptive? Yes. Because it has to be. In order to combat metaphysical multiplicities, it needs to be polemic, firm, and authoritative in its approach.
Furthermore, in saying that a critic “must be a militant” does not force you to be one. “Must be” means that we have to be, at least in some capacity. The reaffirmation of cinema as a mere elite fetish commodity affords little help to the actual living conditions of film workers and little struggle against abusive culture and institutions – things that need more of our attention.
A developing country with a cinema and film industry so incomplete and unsustainable to live with isn’t the work of magic or a corporeal entity. It’s the result of a very real and very tangible systemic materiality that we all should be vigilant about.
“The Author as Producer” – Walter Benjamin, 1934
“The Filipino Author as Producer” – Conchitina Cruz, 2017
“Transforming Film Criticism into a Militant Practice” – Adrian Mendizabal, 2019