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If you want to ban a film you ain’t seen, you ain’t no film critic

I was under the impression that a film critic’s job was to see films and then criticise them. How foolish of me! David sends me a link to this lovely piece in, yes, The Daily Mail:

You do not need to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (which is released later this week) to know how revolting it is.

I haven’t seen it myself, nor shall I – and I speak as a broad-minded arts critic, strongly libertarian in tendency. But merely reading about Antichrist is stomach-turning, and enough to form a judgment.

…If I were to see Antichrist, I don’t believe for a moment that it would incite me into copycat violent behaviour or make me a danger to others. But it would poison my mind and imagination, with explicit, ferocious scenes of sexual violence that would stay with me for ever.

Isn’t that good enough reason to ban it?

16 replies on “If you want to ban a film you ain’t seen, you ain’t no film critic”

I think thats a great review, made me want to go and see it, isn’t this the same thing as father ted did

and yes wanting to ban a film, without even seeing it, does make you not a film critic, even if it is the daily m*** you’re writing for

btw – i’ve seen natural born killers, crash, the life of brian, even driller killer. i’ve never killed any1

>>btw – i’ve seen natural born killers, crash, the life of brian, even driller killer. i’ve never killed any1

Yet.

I don’t believe for a moment that it would incite me into copycat violent behaviour or make me a danger to others. But it would poison my mind and imagination

Why does that bit worry me the most about this?

Someone needs to buy him the bumper book of ideologies so he can look up libertarian.

Apart from the whole banning thing, that article’s broadly right. Especially about the fact that tax funding means that you are forced to pay for this film no matter what your opinion on it. And he’s right about the unaccountability of the BBFC — a point that everyone here would agree with if they had banned something.

> I was under the impression that a film critic’s job was to see films and then criticise them.

I tend to agree, but I was also under the impression that a cinema-goer’s role was to pay for films and then watch them. Arguably, what a film critic writes about is the experience to be had by anyone who pays for the film — after all, if all cinema were free, why would we bother with reviews? The question a critic answers is “Is this worth your money?” In this case, the vast majority of people who have paid for the film will never see it, so the experience they have paid for is not that of seeing the film; it is that of having the film exist. And that’s exactly what Hart’s written about.

I’m a big fan of the “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it” response to demands to ban things, but that response has an implicit flip-side: “If I don’t like it, don’t take my money.” Funding the arts via taxation completely undermines that line of thinking, so will inevitably lead to more demands to ban things — and those demands will have more reason on their side. And yes, I do have the same opinion of other works of art, including ones that I like: since everyone is forced to pay for the Royal Opera House whether they go or not, everyone is entitled to criticise it whether they go or not, and criticisms such as “Who cares about bloody fat women in helmets?” are absolutely valid. If Covent Garden only want to answer to the criticism of opera fans, they can stop taking everyone else’s money.

Surely there’s some middle ground between banning a film and threatening citizens with jail if they refuse to fund it?

Von Trier, the film’s writer and director, naturally scorns as a philistine rabble those who don’t appreciate his rare genius.

‘I don’t think about the audience when I make a film. I don’t care. I make films for myself.’

A pity he doesn’t fund those films for himself too, then.

Spot on.

> Especially about the fact that tax funding means that you are forced to pay for this film no matter what your opinion on it.

Oh come on, that’s a bit of a stretch. As ten seconds on the Danish film institute website shows, the organisation is entirely funded by the Danish government’s ministry of culture. I’m sure it’s in receipt of EU funds like every other government, but it’s hardly as if Lars Von Trier is personally raping UK taxpayers’ pockets. Unlike, say, the directors of Sex Lives of the Potato Men or The Boat That Rocked.

>But merely reading about Antichrist is stomach-turning, and enough to form a judgment.

Well, this is true in general, but *not* for someone who’s job it is to actually review films. I wouldn’t even mind if the review had said – I went to see this film but it was so horrible I walked out in disgust.

The fact that the amount of tax per EU taxpayer is small because the EU’s so big doesn’t change the argument. As I understand it, taxation is supposed to come with representation. Every person in the UK has a say in how UK tax money is spent, regardless of whether they pay loads of tax or just a little or are on benefits. When the EU takes our tax and redistributes it, it should work on the same principle. If the Danish Government want to take money from the people of other EU states, they can bloody answer to those people. If they don’t want to answer to them, they can stop taking the money.

Even if it’s small, the amount of money I’ve paid towards Antichrist is infinitely larger than the amount I’ve paid towards The Hangover. And the total amount I’ve paid towards works of art that I would never voluntarily pay for is huge.

Besides, Hart’s review is on the Web. Danes can read it.

> Unlike, say, the directors of Sex Lives of the Potato Men or The Boat That Rocked.

Absolutely, yes: they’re the British examples of the problem. Lars von Trier is the Danish example of the same problem.

aaargh, I pressed submit too early. Anyway, as I was about to say:

In general being a restaurant critic sounds like a pretty good job, but it brings comes with it the knowledge that you are going to be served some terrible food in a disastrously themed restaurant with staff who’s hi gene skills are clearly leaving a lot to be desired every once in a while – So that the rest of us don’t have too.

I don’t see why a film critic should be any different. Nothing I have read about antichrist makes me want to go and see it (that and the fact that I’ve been bored to tears by some of Triers films in the past) but I’m not writing a column the whole premise of which is offering up my opinion on films I have actually gone to see.

Frankly I think the critic is exploiting the (perceived at least) reactionary nature of the Daily Mails readership to avoid having to do something they don’t much fancy, whilst still picking up a check.

Looking again, it appears that Hart is not a film critic for The Daily Mail; he is a film critic for someone else out there, but for The Mail, he’s an occasional opinion columnist. Doesn’t look like that piece is intended as a film review.

> Even if it’s small, the amount of money I’ve paid towards Antichrist is infinitely larger than the amount I’ve paid towards The Hangover.

The big question here is actually quite an interesting one: why should governments subsidise these things? the thought of government subsidy for, say, really shite indie bands appals me, but I’ve never been particularly bothered by subsidy for really shite films. Is there an economic argument that says it’s a greater good in terms of jobs etc?

The very pleasant and helpful member of staff (who replied to us only a couple of hours after we asked for exactly the same information Hart claims he requested) also cleared up some issues regarding the DFI’s funding. The DFI is in fact funded by the Danish government through the Ministry of Culture as regulated by the Film Act 1997. Not the EU. They were even so kind as to provide documentation detailing exactly where the money comes from and how it is used

http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/2009/07/21/antichrist-daily-mail-how-not-to-review-a-movie/

Have to disagreee with that, Tony. Once member states started pooling and redistributing tax money, they all effectively became funded by each other’s citizens as well as their own. That’s what taxation is. All the DFI are talking about is the route taken through the books by a particular bit of money, as if it weren’t fungible.

> why should governments subsidise these things?

Because they don’t trust the bastard plebian public to make proper aesthetic decisions for themselves. Honestly, leave them to their own devices and they buy entirely the wrong sort of art.

> Is there an economic argument that says it’s a greater good in terms of jobs etc?

There’s an economic argument for pretty much anything, and I’m sure those who take our money and give it to filmmakers are busy making it. But look at the evidence. Throughout the Eighties, the British taxpayer paid Peter Greenaway to make appalling self-indulgent dross that maybe three cinemas in Britain would actually show for two nights before Channel 4 broadcast it at midnight on a Tuesday. British films made no money at all, because British filmmakers regarded the making of money as something that those bloody crass commercial Yanks did that got in the way of proper art. As a result, there were very very few British films. Then came a new generation who wanted to make films that the public would actually like so much that they’d pay to see them — revolutionary. And we got Shallow Grave and Four Weddings. Sure, they’re still taking tax money, but they’re getting private investment too now, because their films actually make profit. And there are now far more films made in Britain than back when it was entirely state-funded, which means more work for cameramen and best boys and the like. Nothing like as much work as in Hollywood, though, where the film industry is extremely profitable and state funding is not only not required but would be regarded as downright weird.

Anyone who claims that state funding of cinema leads to more employment in the film industry has a lot of explaining to do.

Sorry, should have said…

> All the DFI are talking about is the route taken through the books by a particular bit of money, as if it weren’t fungible.

And, to be fair, that’s the same way Hart (mistakenly) thinks about it, so yes, he probably was wrong.

There’s simply no need to look at the particular funding route. If it’s paid for by Danish tax, it’s Danish taxpayers’ business. Since Denmark’s an EU member state, it’s EU taxpayers’ business. Doesn’t even matter whether Denmark’s a net contributor to or recipient from the EU, for the same reason that the way Westminster spends money is as much the business of people on benefits as it is of millionaires.

This made me laugh:

“It’s all spooky for a bit and then this massive dinosaur turns up and starts having a fight with a giant moth. Then Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg go all batshit and turn into a pair of giant robot with bazookas for arms.”

He added: “The cast are all brilliant, particularly the little guy from Diff’rent Strokes who plays an evil badger.

“It is worth bearing in mind that I haven’t actually seen it. But I’ve given this a bunch of thought, and that’s more or less what it’s like.”

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