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25th February 2015

YCHTT: Has Film Reviewing Gone Too Far?

Confused film reviewer Tom Bruce grapples with the existentialism of Birdman

Over the past few months I have come to question the relevance of film criticism in its purest form, the 500 word (or thereabouts) review. If someone is committed to watching a movie then they probably will, yet if they do place their trust in a reviewer that person will probably be found on YouTube anyway. Moreover, there are so many newspaper and blog critics out there that were you to run your any typical hatchet job or glowing endorsement through an internet plagiarism tester you’d probably discover two-hundred write ups that made the same points about the same parts of the same film. So, what has brought on this introspective examination on the value of cultural critique? Birdman, mostly.

Squawking and flapping its way into cinemas and awards ceremonies everywhere, this cunningly made one-shot (or rather very, very well-edited ONE-hundred-shot) drama has achieved global praise for its off-the-wall humour and gut-punch performances, to the point that saying anything negative about it would be as futile as ‘downvoting’ the next Age of Ultron trailer. Its Oscars are already waiting in the wings, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s not perfect, though: to use that most sinful of reviewing clichés, Birdman is not for everybody, but it is a tightly run ship which covers a lot of physical, psychological and existential material within an extremely confined setting.

One scene in Birdman really resonated with me; it made me not want to talk about the film at all – let alone review it – simply to avoid the inter-textual black hole which it would create. Main character Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) , in fit of jealous rage, accuses a revered theatre critic of being a coward, never ‘putting anything on the line’ and constructing an entire career out of capricious, superfluous sentences which have no higher function than to label and compare. Regardless of his crushing schizophrenia and playwright’s pretentions, Riggan has a point. It’s hard to rip yourself from the formula when writing about a film, especially one that has several Academy Awards attached to it along with 378 professional critic’s reviews roosting in its IMBd nest, a page which places it in the top 120 films of all time. What can all this mean? Probably, it means I should take a break from reviewing films.

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