Monday, June 8, 2015

Film Review vs. Film Analysis

I had a discussion with Rick O. the other day (I'm not referring to the fictional ones from the Catholic Skywalker Dialogues), about my film reviews.

He said something, and I'm paraphrasing, along these lines: "Catholic theology and pop culture seem to be your bread and butter.  So why don't you do more specifically Catholic points in your movie reviews?  Why don't you make your reviews essentially 'the Catholic view of this movie?'"

I've thought about it a great deal.   And while I do often bring up the Catholic perspective in my reviews, I must admit that it is not the most dominant.   I don't believe it is because there must be a divorce between my critic nature and my Catholic nature.  This tradition we have from JFK of compartmentalizing our Catholicism is, I think, a bad legacy.

And I've come up with 2 reasons for why my film reviews aren't more "Catholic."


The objective reason is the nature of modern film review.  The purpose of a review, the reason why people read it, is to:
-get a general sense of the plot
-get a general sense of the tone
-get a general sense of the theme
-get a general sense of the quality
-get a general sense of how much they will or will not enjoy it.

As you can see, the key word here is "general."

The tightrope a film reviewer must walk is explaining enough without over-explaining.  The purpose of the review is not to do a step-by-step breakdown of the film.  That would defeat the purpose, which is to give a general overall experience of watching the film and giving the reader the best information so they can choose to see or not see the film.

And to be sure, the Catholic perspective should be raised.

But the problem is that there is much of the film that cannot be adequately analyzed in a film review regarding Catholic morality.

Take, for example, a movie like Interstellar.  In my review I make vague mention of Catholic themes about love and belief.  But I would not get into too much detail because to do so would spoil the plot.  If I spoil the plot I rob the viewer of an important element in choosing whether or not to see the movie.

However, after my initial review, I could then do a more in depth film analysis.  These would not be predicated on the question of whether people are making the decision to see the film.  In these, I assume that the reader has already seen the movie and we are now discussing its particularly theological and philosophical merits.

Look at it this way:

Imagine a friend came up to you and was curious to see a movie that you had seen.  So they asked you what you thought.  You would probably give them your general overall impression, but would be careful not to spoil details in case they choose to see it.

That is a film review.

But imagine another case where you and your friend just finished walking out of a theater after seeing a movie together and you begin to argue about what the meaning of the film was.

That is film analysis.

And for a good deal of the Catholic analysis of a movie, it requires addressing things that would be considered spoiler territory for those who have not seen it.  For example, look at the Godfather series.  You can talk about the quality of directing, acting, editing, etc without giving away the plot.  But to answer the question about the morality espoused by the film, it would require talking about how Michael's story ends.  Without that piece of information it becomes unclear.  You can talk about all of his evil actions, but without the consequences explained it is difficult to ascertain what the filmmaker is trying to say about these actions.


However, it should be noted that there are many Catholic writers out there who can successfully integrate the two above types of film writing.  The problems presented above are difficult but not insurmountable.

My subjective reason for not integrating them more is my own lack of skill.

I have not adequately found a way integrate both sides in an organic way.  Instead, what I tend to find in my writing is a general review of the film's quality based on artistic merit.  And then I make some ham-fisted attempt to insert the Catholic perspective into that review.

Sometimes I am more successful than other times.  But as of yet, I have not cracked the code.

I am contemplating simply doubling up on my critic duties: start with a film review for those who are unsure about seeing the film and then later write a Catholic film analysis for those who have seen the movie.

If you think this would be interesting or helpful, let me know in the comments section below.


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