Last but certainly not least, welcome to the final part of our three-part interview series with Writer & Director Ben Woodiwiss! This time, following on from our latest blog, we begin looking ahead, into the future of film criticism and the cinematic review industry. Thinking about getting involved in the future of film criticism? Ben has some key advice for you!
Where do you see the world of film criticism heading in the future? Where do you hope for it to be heading?
Like I say, I’d like film criticism to follow a different path in the future. And although there are multiple possibilities, I’m going to suggest a phenomenological path instead. Now don’t let the word ‘phenomenological’ intimidate you. All I’m saying is that if I go to see a film with a friend I sit down, my friend sits down, and we watch the same film. However, the unseen conversation that takes place between me and the film is not the same as the one my friend is having. But we act like this isn’t the case. We talk about films as though they were objectively one particular thing, and this simply isn’t true. They mean different things to different people. Your favourite film may well be my least favourite film. Who’s right in that conversation? You? Me? No, both of us. Because both of our opinions are valid and informed by everything we’ve been through and everything we’ve seen. So with that in mind I’d like to see a more individualistic, personal response to films. A few years ago a friend recommended that I start my own film review blog, which I did, and, to be honest, it started as something of a joke. But as it went on it seemed to me that I got to say much more about the film by never ever mentioning the film, but instead focusing solely on the byzantine patterns of associations that the film brings out in me. Whether they be about my past, or other theories I’ve read about. My own phenomenological response. Now I’m not saying that I’ve cracked the code of what film criticism should be in the future, far from it, but my film review blog now gets a huge number of readers every month, so there’s definitely something to be said for approaching criticism in a different way. And, perhaps obviously, I’m not overly enamoured with the ‘140 characters or less’ school of film reviewing. Because it takes so long to make a film, I feel like the response should be equally invested in some way. But maybe that’s just me being old-fashioned.
As an industry professional, is there anything you would like to raise or discuss, or even pose a question to our growing reader-base? Where can our readers find, contact or even discover more about you and/or your work?
Two quick things that I’ll mention to anyone interested in film criticism, or thinking of becoming a reviewer:
1. Avoid arrogance. It takes years to put a film together, and along the road you end up making a large number of choices. Sometimes film criticism will fall hard on the word ‘criticism’ and writers will lay into a film for what it isn’t, rather than what it is. But here’s the thing: the filmmakers have made those choices for a reason, so it might be more fruitful to address a film for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. You wouldn’t write a review of a vegetarian restaurant by mentioning that they didn’t serve as much meat as you wanted, so why bring that line of thinking to film criticism? Talk about what a film is, rather than what you wanted or expected it to be. This caveat also includes the trap of watching a film from a position of superiority. Too often I read snide, cynical reviews, which come from a place of the reviewer placing themselves metaphorically ‘above’ the film. Personally this doesn’t work for me. I like to engage with the film, to crawl inside it and let it burrow into me at the same time. And if you’re approaching a film from a cynical, ‘all-knowing’ perspective then engagement of that type never occurs.
2. Remember that you will change over the years, but the film will stay the same. We’ve all experienced rewatching a film years later and having a completely different response to it. For me that highlights the danger of the need for ‘immediate response’ that film criticism lives in at the moment. A film can sit with you for years before you really know how you feel about it, so don’t presume that you can create the final word on a film a few days after seeing it for the first time. Don’t be afraid to explore how your feelings about a film change over time. Robert Altman felt that the first viewing of a film didn’t even count. He thought that the first viewing was so dizzy with the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ that never get into the ‘why’ or the ‘how,’ and it’s in exploring the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ that film criticism really comes to life. So bear that in mind.
If readers want to see any of my films we have a channel on Vimeo featuring trailers, shorts, and some behind-the-scenes material: https://vimeo.com/channels/lookthinkfilms
And our feature film, Benny Loves Killing, is available on both Vimeo on Demand and Indieflix:
I am, of course, around on Twitter too, @BenWoodiwiss, although I am the worst at actually engaging with people on Twitter, but that’s only because I’m the last man in the UK to not own a smartphone.
And, if people do want to see my unique response to film criticism they can find that page here, it started off being purely confrontational or glib, but has evolved into something very different: http://benwoodiwiss.weebly.com/
Thanks so much for talking with me guys, it’s a fascinating campaign and I’m really looking forward to seeing people engage with Band Wagon!
We here at Band Wagon would just like to say a huge thank you to Ben Woodiwiss for his time. His level of professionalism and intellectual insight has been fantastic, and has given our community a priceless professional account of the world of the cinematic industry and the controversial topic of film criticism. We look forward to working further with Ben, and would love to extend our best wishes to Look/Think Films for their upcoming productions. If you would all like to check out some of the projects Look/Think Films are currently planning, or to view just some of their most successful work, you can find them here. Alternatively, you can keep up to date with both Ben and Look/Think films via their Facebook.