Diego’s Little Rule Book (for Third World film critics)

  • Datum 14-04-2011
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The other day I was reading Roger Ebert’s blog and I found his post about the rules a proper film critic should obey to be taken seriously. It made me laugh… a lot. It was intelligent and well-written but, at the same time, I had the feeling a piece like that could only be written by someone who has all the access and the possibilities a film critic with a TV contract or a very well paid newspaper job in the U.S. can have (I know they are cutting down jobs over there but, believe me, it’s no fun and games in the rest of the world). After reading it, I thought: well, maybe it’s time for someone from where I live (Argentina) to write a different set of rules for film criticism in these parts of the world. Why? Well, because things look very different from around here.
Some of Roger’s more general observations could be applied everywhere, like ‘Advise the reader well’, ‘Provide a sense of experience’, ‘Keep track of your praise’ or ‘Respect the reader’s time and money’. We will all agree with those observations. But most of the others, no matter how well-intentioned, are hard to apply over here in sunny Buenos Aires. And I guess it’s the same in most places, even in the U.S.

So, here goes: these are Diego’s Rules for Poorly Paid Film Critics from Third World Countries.

1 Find Freebies wherever you can. According to Roger, ’the critic should ideally never accept round-trip first-class air transportation, a luxury hotel room, a limo to a screening and a buffet (…). If you go, your employer should pay for the trip.’ Welcome to the jungle, my friend. Where I work, the employer expects you to get the hotel for free, find a way to get tickets for free and, if you can spend your own money on meals, even better. ‘Why should we waste 10,000 dollars covering a film festival most of our readers don’t give a damn about?" they say. So, either you deal with that or say "Hasta la vista" to Cannes and all other big film festivals (and I’m just talking about four or five). And forget about getting some days off when you’re back: "Come on, you’ve been to Venice, you don’t need a rest. Get back to work straight from the airport."

2 Have commercial endorsement but act like you don’t. I work for a major newspaper so I don’t need to endorse anything (thank God!), but lots of colleagues have their blogs and webpages full of advertisements for new releases and some other commercials. Do you expect them to say the movie with the huge billboard on top of the page is a piece of crap? They should, and they say they do, but I still can’t find many examples reading their magazines. One blogger was even defending a movie everybody knows he doesn’t like with words like: "I don’t like this type of film, but it will work for people who… like this type of film". Well, yeah… and your accountant will like it too!

3 Get as many free DVDs as you can. Come on, Roger: ‘Be wary of free DVDs?’ Most of our colleagues started this job to get free tickets for films, free VHS, free DVDs, free shrimps and free whatever. Send them back or donate them after you saw them’? Be thankful if they don’t upload them to the internet, or sell them to the hooded guys from the black market across the street for a few bucks. You say we should buy the DVDs? I don’t really understand the concept… What do you mean, buy them? Are they for sale? Really?

4 Be prepared to give a negative review. I agree, completely. A great sentence. But be prepared also to get threats over email, angry phone calls from the director, producer or distributor and be sure you have a doctor you can trust when you meet one of those people half-drunk at some party. With ‘be prepared’, did you mean to have a helmet on all the time?

5 Pose for photos, ask for autographs, beg for a job. Reporters are not fans. I keep telling that to friends who ask me to bring them a Sylvester Stallone autograph from some crappy interview. I don’t do it. I refuse to do it. But, let me tell you Dear Roger, I witnessed colleagues not only asking stars for photos, but giving their cards to directors or even their PR people and begging for jobs. Some of them went from working for a little cult magazine to being part of big local productions. And they pretend to be taken seriously…

6 Never turn your cell phone off. ‘No cellphone use. No texting during the movie’, you say. That’s exactly what I was telling my boss the day Paul Newman died while I was watching a movie. ‘My cell was turned off, I was at a screening’, I said, two hours later. I bet they can’t print his answer in this magazine, but you can imagine it.

7 Never return a gift. If you get a t-shirt, a poster, a mug or some strange artifact they just invented to promote a movie you would not remember when you see that artifact in your office three months later, don’t return them. If you don’t like them, sell them for a few bucks, give them to the beggar who asks for money around the corner from your house or use it as a Christmas gift for some distant nephew. "Look ma, our uncle the film critic, brought us the Clark Kent glasses!" You’ll be the cool uncle for a few days…

8 None of these rules should be taken seriously. I know you noticed it, but just in case…

Diego Lerer

Diego Lerer is a film critic and editor at Clarín, Argentina’s biggest newspaper. He is also vice-president of Fipresci, the international federation of film critics.

See www.fipresci.org/festivals/archive/2008/vienna/extraordinary_stories_dlerer.htm for Diego Lerer’s review of the Argentine film historias extraordinarios, shown at IFFR.

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MGM has a roaring lion, Paramount a mountain, Warner Brothers a shield, 20th Century Fox its own logo as a huge monument. But Universal has the world. Sometimes a small plane accompanies the letters that circle the world. The message is so clear you cannot call it a metaphor. A Universal Picture is a picture for the whole world. The globe stops spinning just as Hollywood is at the centre of the screen.
RKO lets its transmitter broadcast from the top of the world in the conventional sense, the North Pole. The Dutch company A-film uses a cute variation on the theme; from outer space there is a zoom in all the way to the north of Amsterdam, where the office of A-Film is located. It is less grand than DreamWorks’ ‘boy in the moon’. Orion Pictures moved even further away from the earth, with an animation of the stars that form this constellation before they form the word Orion. Earth is out of sight.

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