Watch Now, Write Later: The Dos and Don'ts of Film CriticismApril 19, 2018

If you're a BA English student, then there's a high chance that you'll study cinema at some point of your tenure in the university. If you don't, then you might get the opportunity to learn a thing or two about film criticism. It doesn't have to be an essay assignment on a Hollywood blockbuster, but there's a possibility that it can be brought up during a lecture.

Studying film criticism doesn't guarantee that you'll be a member of the Australian Film Critics Association in the near future, but you might be noticed if you have your own blog and try to be prolific in writing film reviews. Cinema is a popular medium, such that other art forms (like sculpture) seem obscure by comparison. It can be accessible to everyone, which makes admirers of paintings snobbish (if compared to film enthusiasts). As a matter of fact, the upcoming Cannes Film Festival is getting lots of publicity for the organising committee's tussle with Netflix. There's no doubt that streaming is the most convenient means of watching a movie (or TV show). It's also cheaper than a movie ticket, which threatens the entertainment industry itself. Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg argue that there's nothing like watching a movie on the big screen, which you can suggest as an essay topic.

If you're a film student, then you're expected to familiarize yourself with Australian Cinema. You don't have a clue about the silent film era, which won't be a cause for serious concern. (You're a film geek if you know one while your professor will be impressed if you have seen one.) You must have heard about the works of Gillian Armstrong (at the least) if you're asked about the Australian films during the 1970s. And there's no need to be afraid if you turn out to be the only one who doesn't believe that the 1990s isn't the Golden Age of Australian Cinema. There will be a more intriguing topic than that, though. How can small film studios lure local viewers to see their own (independent) movies?

It might take you some time to answer the above questions, so it will be better to know the fundamentals of film criticism first.

What Does Your Professor Expect From You?

You must be able to analyse the storyline based on techniques. You're expected to write a summary of the movie, but one paragraph will be good enough. You'll likely to receive a booklet, where you're going through a list of terms that people in the entertainment industry know too well. You might not be able to capture a crane shot of the Sydney Opera House, but you must be able to write a page or two on how this particular technique help moviegoers appreciate a particular movie. If you're uncomfortable about it, then you can resort to your favorite movie quotes. Your professor is looking forward to reading your analysis of a certain motion picture, so a mere mention of a quote or two will be good enough.

You should be able to know the significance of the some images. Cinema is a language of images, and a good director is capable of expressing his (or her) thoughts (or feelings) on a few scenes. It can be a panorama of a stark landscape, if not an angled shot of high-rise buildings. There's no mistaking about the point of view of a character. Does it polarise the audience? Is it mere entertainment? Is it the best of both worlds? You can only pick one.

You need to justify the adaptation of a book (or play). Most films are big-screen adaptation of a beloved classic, if not a best-selling book. If it's too popular to the generations of readers, then you might have gray hair when you learn about a remake. It's been a practice since the heyday of silent films, so it's no longer a question of being against it. The first thing that comes to minds of most students is if it's a good adaptation (or not). It doesn't have to be faithful to the plot, as minor details can be altered without changing the primary intention of the author. If you think that viewers don't have to read the book, then try to be persuasive about it. Knowing the book won't be enough. What do you like most about that book? You should move forward once you figure it out.

Reading Other People's Works Defeats the Purpose

You might be tempted to read a review from Sydney Morning Herald, if not browse on any film blog that can be accessed in a few minutes. Don't. Watch that assigned film, and then decide if you like it or not. You must be able to provide a few reasons based on its merits (or lack of it). You don't have to memorize all the terms that a film crew knows by heart, but you must take a look at the list from time to time. It will make your own version of film criticism credible enough.

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