No matter who they are or what medium they work with, artists will all eventually have to deal with criticism. Everyone reacts to stimuli differently, sometimes those reactions are quite negative. Everyone’s a critic, but professional critics (full disclosure: like myself) are responsible for not just reacting to art but for also explaining in detail why they reacted that way, positively or negatively. It’s an easy job to do badly and a difficult job to do well, and of course it’s subject to subjectivity, because we’re all human beings and we can only filter art through our own knowledge and experience.
Many filmmakers struggle with the right way to respond to criticism, often falling back on platitudes like “We made a film for audiences and not critics”, which fall apart on closer scrutiny. But let’s give credit where credit is due, because Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has responded to the Cinema Sins review of his ambitious giant monster movie, and he’s picking them apart piece by piece, very effectively.
Cinema Sins, for those who may not be familiar with the content, reviews movies by highlighting “everything wrong” with them. Typically this amounts to pointing out individual clichés, plot holes and continuity errors. Although their content is often entertaining they have come under fire on many occasions, because it could easily be argued that they reduce the conversation about the art of cinema to its component parts, and gloss over the myriad complicated creative decisions that go into all of these so-called “sins” in favor of making cheap shots.
Of course, it could also easily be argued that their form of film criticism is perfectly valid when used to supplement the larger swath of significantly more nuanced criticism out there, and that many of their so-called “sins” are, indeed, problems we all notice with movies at one point or another. It could also be argued that the Cinema Sins videos are satirical, even though their satire mostly takes the form of pointing out perceived flaws (which is of course a form of criticism).
Jordan Vogt-Roberts seems to be in the former camp. The director took aim at Cinema Sins this morning, after their review of Kong: Skull Island premiered on YouTube, arguing on Twitter that “Things like Cinema Sins simply suck the life blood of other people and are often just wrong about intent or how cinema works. It’s terrible.”
Although Vogt-Roberts argued in favor of similar content, like Mystery Science Theater 3ooo, which “built something artful, endearing and comedic on top of the foundation other people’s work” and “had merit to itself”, he argued that Cinema Sins “contribute to the dumbing down of cinema as they syphon other people’s work for their own gain.”
And since turnabout is fair play, he also found a series of “sins” in the Cinema Sins video review of Kong: Skull Island, picking apart their critique in a series of illuminating tweets. Here are some highlights…
Of course, Jordan Vogt-Roberts commits a sin of his own when he later admits that he didn’t watch the whole video. But his “walk out”, if you can call it that, is understandable, and he does say he might finish the review at some point in the future… but it doesn’t sound like it’s something he’s looking forward to.
Whether you agree with Jordan Vogt-Roberts or not, and whether you’re a fan of Cinema Sins or not, the dynamic between art and art criticism is an ongoing issue. If we’re going to critique filmmakers for claiming they don’t make movies for critics, then we should also be willing to accept when filmmakers make salient arguments against their critics, and remind ourselves that art is not a mathematical equation.
Counting the errors in a movie is not the same as critical analysis, and even if Cinema Sins owns up to that (and it would seem that they do), it’s perfectly reasonable to remind audiences of that fact. Again, turnabout is fair play… and everyone’s a critic.
Top Photo: Warner Bros.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.