Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's That I Hear?

Don't ask why, but I was reading some old film reviews by Andrew Sarris, and came across his take on National Lampoon's Animal House, mixed in with his looks at Revenge Of The Pink Panther, Foul Play and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Here's a short selection:

...there are at least three mentions of "asshole" on the sound-track of the movie, but they didn't get much in the way of laughs.  The audience seemed more puzzled than anything else, perhaps because the National Lampoon people, all new names to film (director John Landis, and writers Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller), have decided to fly in the face of current box office wisdom.  At a time when everyone seems to be selling his or her soul for a child-admitting PG, Animal House has opted for a raunchy R.

As we all know, Animal House became the biggest hit comedy of all, and one of the most influential, unleashing a tsunami of raunchy comedies that continues to this day, even if most are vastly inferior to the original. So Sarris's observations don't look too smart in retrospect.

But what gets to me is how he's telling us what others thought of the movie.  Andy, just let us know what you thought.  It always bothers me when critics do this, especially about comedies.  I can judge what I think is funny, and, for that matter, I can judge at least as well as they can if the audience is enjoying themselves.

I still remember reading Stanley Kauffmann's pan of Raising Arizona (here's a sample).  I'd already seen it and, for what seemed like the first time in years, laughed unreservedly at a contemporary comedy. Yet Kauffmann had the nerve to not just note his disapproval, but to take notice of the audience, which he claimed didn't laugh at all, thus confirming his view.

Even worse was Roger Ebert's thumbs down on Wedding Crashers:

The concept is terrific. The ads will fill the theaters on opening weekend, but people will trail out thinking, gee, I dunno ... why all the soppy sentiment and whose idea was the potty-mouthed grandmother? And don't they know that in a comedy the villain is supposed to be funny, and not a hateful, sadistic, egotistical monster who when he hits people really wants to hurt them, and who kicks them when they're down?

Roger has lots of problems with the film, apparently problems only he had, as Wedding Crashers was a blockbuster.  Roger is entitled to his opinion, but felt he was entitled to everyone's opinion, putting words of disapproval in the audience's mouth.  Gee, I dunno, maybe they'll walk out of the theatre thinking what a ninny Roger Ebert is.

I've said it before, so I guess I'm saying it again: I barely care what a critic thinks of a film.  I care less than nothing what a critic thinks of what others think of a film.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it must be odd viewing films alone without a large audience around (which I think this sounds like, despite their references to an audience) - I guess that's the whole point of the TV laughtrack- if people don't know when to laugh, a large number won't. I guess good critics should be above audience cues but het if they were so good about predicting how audiences will react, I guess they'd be making movies rather than writing about them.

3:14 AM, February 20, 2013  

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