Reactions Not Reviews

“A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded.” —Mary Kempton

I have been wrestling with what my goals are with Picture Show Journal. I do not have a mission statement, but I have decided on one thing. I am writing movie reactions, not movie reviews. What’s the difference? Read on.

Many years ago I fancied myself a critic. In actuality, like so many other “critics,” I was just another opinionated asshole. My credentials: I could write well enough, I watched movies, and I had a computer with internet access. Voila, a critic is born.

As a writer, the most basic need I yearned to fulfill was to have my voice heard. I wanted to matter. That is not too bad a motive, though when one is sufficiently neurotic, as writers often are, it can become ugly. It usually does. As a jerk, I wanted the people to look to me for my genius—I am neurotic with delusions of grandeur. Oh, and I wanted to get into early previews for free. For a while I did, and yes, it was nice—very nice—to cut past the line of people who “won” the free tickets (while supplies lasted, get there early, seats are not guaranteed). Neurotic, delusions of grandeur, and an insufferable dick. What a wonderful combination.

Yet I kept on, but the more I reviewed movies the less I enjoyed them. Reviewing movies was work, and worse still, I was having to watch films there was no way I was going to enjoy. The whole thing was getting out of hand. All the while, somewhere deep in the back of my mind the little nagging voice kept saying, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

And it was right. Who the fuck did I think I was? I was not a critic. I was not taking time to give an in-depth analysis of the films I wrote about. No, I was just blasting my random opinion, sitting high and mighty behind the shield of relativism. So I quit.

Well, I quit going to the free screenings. I figured the people who made the films I was writing about deserved better. There is little chance they are going to get it, but at least I was not going to be one of the freeloading jerk-offs panning their hard work unjustly. No, I would pay my way to see the movies that interested me and then write about them, or not. I was making the first step in taking back what I loved about movies.

Because, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to go to movies purely for the entertainment. I wanted to reconnect with that. I wanted to get away from the stuff that was taking the sense of wonder out of films, the stuff that was making it work and me a jerk. When I turned my critical eye on myself I was disgusted with what I saw. No more, I told myself. For a while I quit—completely—but like so many addicts, writers do not choose whether or not they are going to write. They write. And so I fell off the quitters wagon.

So if I was not a critic, and I was not writing reviews, what the hell was I doing? I pondered this for a long time. What I eventually realized was not everything needs a deep examination. There are those people who write those kinds of reviews about movies, and that is fine and good. That is not me. One, I am not working on a Master’s thesis. Two, some films are purely popcorn, and those are generally the films I like to watch. Basically I wanted to express my connection with the films I was watching; I wanted to share what I loved, to lament what I disliked. In other words I wanted to express my reaction to films. So, that was what I was going to write: reactions, not reviews. I have no desire to be a full-fledged critic or reviewer or whatever hoity-toity title. I am just a regular Joe who loves movies.

Mostly that is what Picture Show Journal will be, my reaction to the movies I watch. Mostly. I hope that my reaction articles are entertaining, and hopefully they sell people on the movies I have enjoyed. It would be nice to help out even in a small way. Likewise, I hope that my experience makes my opinions that are less than favorable reasonable, rather than being the death shots to the wounded on the field of battle.

And if it turns out that I miss the mark, that I have not accomplished my goals in the eyes of you, the reader, fuck the lot of ya. What do you know?

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