For those of you accustomed to reading my accolades for singers, artists & pianists it may seem that you’ve stumbled into the wrong page, with a headline like this.
Oh my God, he actually says negative things? yes
Isn’t that against his credo ? actually… yes… keep reading because this isn’t as negative as it looks
Okay, enough self-mockery.
I watched Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tonight, a film i craved for a number of reasons. Having lost my father at a young age, i was intrigued watching a film about a boy who lost his father. For me, at least, this theme will never lose its interest, a theme that is likely secondary to film-makers mostly concerned with a portrayal of 9/11 and its impact upon a family.
And so I was totally conflicted. I found myself struggling throughout, liking aspects of it, and yet revolted in other respects. Perhaps that sounds bad.
I thought I’d go to my pal google to see whether anyone else felt this way, and POOF the first thing i found left me feeling much better, namely a page titled The 9 Most Scathing Critical Responses to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on movieline.com.
Rather than mutter about the things it did wrong, i want to at least give thanks for the things it did right:
- Max von Sydow gives a wonderful performance
- Sandra Bullock gives a fairly good performance in a thankless sort of role: a mother and wife, expected to cry meaningfully after losing her husband in 9/11, as her son becomes even nuttier than before
- Thomas Horn? a bravura performance of a very unlikely character, one who clearly got under the skin of the complainers on movieline.com: except that his craziness is entirely believable.
- Speaking as a Torontonian –that is, someone traumatized by 9/11, but also, a distant observer who doesn’t claim to understand what this felt like to New Yorkers–i thought the film has merit as an exploration of some really complex feelings.
Coming away from this film “conflicted” –as i put it earlier–is understandable. I wonder if it’s still too soon to be attempting this sort of film. All i know is that the complexity of the material deserves something so complex that it isn’t easily understood or seen. I want to give the film another look.
I am having some serious thoughts about critics & criticism, frustrated and maybe even a bit angry. Critics seem ready to hurl abuse when they don’t understand something, a tendency i find reprehensible in the extreme; if one doesn’t understand something surely one should keep quiet, at least until one has figured it out (although in the case of this film, unlike the other critiques i’ve seen lately, the film’s detractors probably feel confident they understand this film through and through). I feel grateful for this film, and feel that thanksgiving should be our central sacrement:
- gratitude for the blessings we have in this rich & beautiful country of ours
- gratitude for brilliant & eloquent artists
- gratitude that someone might listen to what we have to say
In other words i am mightily tired of critics who spend more words cutting down than building up, more energy spent on dissecting than on synthesizing and helping explain. A critic can perform a hugely useful role when encountering something new, if s/he would only use their words to help people understand. But i find that critics in Toronto lately seem to be tangled up in their own credentials, so intent on proving their competence that they jump on anything that diverges from their narrowest definitions of their form.
I’ve had a series of similar experiences over the past few weeks, watching adventurous artists attempt something new, but encountering more negativity from critics than from the audience. No, the audiences in fact are ready for newness, whereas the critics are defending the ramparts of the status quo, an empty citadel long deserted by all but the most literal-minded. (again that’s more relevant to my experiences with music & opera than this film, but it still seems to be the overall pattern, of critics who are too ready to knock things down).
It’s late as i write this, so I mustn’t let my fatigue stop me. The film i saw wasn’t perfect, but also much better than you’d expect from reading those nine scathing responses. I shall see it again at some point, hoping to reconcile all those swirling feelings & contrary emotions.