Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ask JKM a Question #12: 250-word reviews?


A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

“It took me almost half an hour to read your review of Prometheus.  Ever consider writing 250 word  or under reviews?”

Thank you, Anonymous, for writing and for asking me a question.

I suppose I should answer in the first case that there are plenty of venues on the Internet where you can find and read movie reviews that are 250 words or less, if that fits your desire. 

And certainly, if you go "by the book," experts do often advise bloggers to write “short” pieces because apparently modern attention spans are short.  I read a book last year that insisted the modern attention span is nine seconds and rapidly diminishing.

Yet I don’t work for a daily newspaper, where space is in short supply. 

And I don’t generally review new movies right after they premiere, so I’m not on a tight deadline either. 

Therefore, I boast a few luxuries that some other reviewers aren’t afforded. 

I can thus write as lengthy or as short a review as I desire. I generally write until I’m satisfied that I have adequately described the nature of the film or program under my microscope. I try not to impose artificial limits on myself if I believe I have something valuable to say, or some valid argument to write.  I'm very big on backing up my assertions about films with examples, photographic and textual, if at all possible.  But making a coherent and provable case, with appropriate examples, takes up space...and words.   I find that I can't say much that is valuable or in-depth in nine seconds, or under 250 words.  Sorry!

Plus, I firmly believe at this point that a good-sized readership seeks out this blog because it offers more detailed movie reviews.

Either that, or people just really like my toy collection…

In other words, this is just what I do, and it seems to resonate, at least a little, with a smart, curious readership that I enjoy interacting with. Without getting defensive about it, I suppose I would ask you, in response to your question: “what do you consider the purpose of film criticism?”  Is it only to describe general, emotional impressions of a film? Or is it to point out, perhaps, something in a film that perhaps you sensed and saw, but were not quite able to enunciate and put a finger on?  If it's the latter, I would like to be your guide in the process of crystallizing those ideas.  I would hope that we can take a journey together in which our individual knowledge informs one another and new interpretations get forged.


In my opinion, life and art are sometimes too complex to reduce to the binary decisions of “yes”/”no,” "see"/"don't see" or "thumbs up"/"thumbs down."  Accordingly, this is the kind of blog I write, and this is also the kind of film criticism I enjoy reading  I understand it took you thirty minutes to read the Prometheus review, but perhaps you might consider the experience good practice for life.  Eventually, you're going to run across a piece of work longer than 250 words (er, like this response...) and have to follow it, understand it, debate it, and reckon with it on its own terms.

25 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:13 PM

    John, I read this blog BECAUSE you write longer entries than most--your blog has meat. It's not a morsel--it's a meal. Anyone who isn't hungry shouldn't visit this restaurant.

    --Rich Handley

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    1. Thanks, Rich!

      I appreciate the vote of support. I really appreciate it. And I like how you formulate the dynamic. Don't visit this restaurant (or blog) unless you're really hungry for a meal! I may have to steal that from you...

      All my best,
      John

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  2. "I firmly believe at this point that a good-sized readership seeks out this blog because it offers more detailed movie reviews."

    Exactly!

    Y'know, I kind of pity someone like "Anonymous" who obviously wants to read what you have to say, but "needs" it in Cliff's Notes form.

    JKM, thanks for your hard work,
    Ivan

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    1. Thank you, Ivan, for such an affirmative comment. I appreciate it.

      I feel like Anonymous might be teenager-age-young. Don't know exactly what makes me think that. But I think as you get older, you realize that the world is a lot more than 250 word hunks.

      By the same token, I wonder if Anonymous is reacting to some famous quote a film review -- I can't remember who -- saying critics ought to be able to write a critique of a film in 250 words or else they are being self indulgent.

      Naturally, I don't agree with that philosophy, and I think a lot of folks don't...

      Warmest regards,
      John

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  3. It's absolutely the considered response to movies and the depth of your insights that draws me back to your blog over and over, John. I recall the Prometheus review well and very much enjoyed losing myself in it for a little having seen the movie, then mulling over your thoughts alongside my own. Your reviews are the next best thing to being able to have a lengthy conversation on the subject – although of course there's always the comments section for that! This blog genuinely and consistently enriches and informs regarding your chosen subject matter, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Just kidding. It really is just the toy collection.

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    1. Hi Adam,

      I KNEW it was the toy collection!

      Kidding! :)

      Thank you for writing in and adding your thoughts on the matter. I enjoy writing the long material, but it's important that people enjoy reading it as well.

      It makes me feel very happy that this is the case for you, and that you enjoyed the Prometheus review as well.

      All my best,
      John

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  4. I enjoyed your response. Please keep writing to whatever length you feel necessary for a given film or topic. Your loyal readers appreciate it.

    It is funny (and/or distressing) that with the advent of Twitter, Tumblr, and other micro-platforms, blogging is now considered long-winded and old school. I too have been criticized when I have gone beyond a couple of paragraphs.

    My guess is that the complainers will not be reading J.R.R Tolkien or Frank Herbert novels, let alone Proust, Dickens, and Dostoevsky! Those who suffer from short attention spans (and nowadays we truly are talking SHORT) are cut off from so many great experiences. Not to mention that many of them can't hold a live conversation for five minutes without checking their Blackberry.

    As Simone Weil once wrote, "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." Cultivating the skill of attention pays enormous dividends.

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    1. Hi Patrick,

      It really is distressing, I agree, that some people are refusing to countenance longer pieces simply because they've become accustomed to shorter ones. I'm sorry to hear you've been criticized in this regard as well, and my message to you is the message I keep ingrained in my brain: better to test (and possibly grow...) those apparently short attention spans with a longer piece, than accommodate those with 9 second attention spans. Seriously. Give 'em a challenge, if you feel it's worthwhile to write longer pieces. Then it's up to them to embrace that challenge or give in.

      Your excellent comment gets at the case I was trying to make in my response. If you can't get through an in-depth review of Prometheus, how do you get through Dickens, Dostoevsky or Tolkien or Herbert, as you accurately note?

      This kind of short attention span certainly seems to be putting a lot of literature off the table in terms of accessibility, and that's absolutely tragic. I don't put my blog in that rarefied category of literature, but I do think this problem is symptomatic of a larger one in the culture. How can we judge a candidate for instance, if we can't read and learn about important issues in a campaign? The whole thing is...a little scary.

      I loved your quote from Weil, and I appreciate your attention very much. Thank you for taking the time to write and to support my work here on the blog.

      Back at ya!

      best,
      John

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  5. Well said, JKM! As a commentator above stated, the reason I come here is because you write such in-depth reviews. I wouldn't have it any other way and coming from someone else who likes to write epic treatises on films, it's good to know that there are others out there doing likewise.

    Keep on keepin' on.

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    1. J.D.

      To quote Dirk Diggler: "I'll keep trying if you keep trying." :)

      I always enjoy your epic treatises on films as well. That's the kind of writing I enjoy and cherish, and I would feel terrible to see the cinematic art form reduced to responses of essentially two tweets on Twitter. That's the world of Idiocracy as far as I'm concerned!

      Thank you for the support my friend, and you keep on keepin' on as well.

      best,
      John

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  6. I really like your toy collection... :D

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    1. Hi Jaeck,

      I really like my toy collection too! :)

      I've learned that is easier on the brain, actually, to alternate between long deep posts, and more fun ones (both for a writer and a reader). The great thing about blogging is that it accommodates both traditions.

      And yes, I know you're joshing...

      best,
      John

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  7. Anonymous3:23 PM

    John I extremely enjoy your unabridged stream of consciousness point-of-view that you express here at your blog. This is why I make my visit here to read your thoughts a mandatory daily part of my life. I am grateful that you blog unhampered intelligent analysis.

    SGB

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    1. Thank you so much, SGB.

      I really can't imagine reducing my writing to 250 words a post. I just tend to have more to say, as readers here know!

      I'm thrilled you have made the blog a "mandatory daily part" of your life, and I just want to say that seeing your name on the comments gives me a thrill every day as well. It always means a lot to me to know that you are reading my work, thinking about, and offering viewpoints about it.

      All my best,
      John

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  8. I wouldn't have you change (shorten or lengthen) at thing, John. Keep doing what you're doing. It works.

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    1. Hi Le0pard13:

      Excellent advice from an excellent blogger (and writer). I intend to keep doing what I'm doing, and I'm glad you think the paradigm works!

      All my best, my friend.

      best,
      John

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  9. Robert7:00 PM

    This is my favorite blog. Don't change a thing.

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    1. Hi Robert,

      Thank you for the vote of confidence! I don't plan to change anything, except to post more and more frequently, when I can...

      All my best,
      John

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  10. As someone who's prone to writing longer blog pieces myself, my attitude is "use as many words as you need to express whatever it is you want to say." Especially in the realm of intelligent film criticism (as opposed to mere film reviews, which are a different animal entirely), it sometimes takes breathing room to develop a persuasive argument. And in the case of particularly rich material or something you simply feel strongly about, there's often a great deal to talk about. (You ought to see my own review of Revenge of the Sith, which is as much an analysis of the ups and downs of my 30-odd-year love affair with the Star Wars franchise as it is about that specific movie!)

    I don't always agree with the cases you build (I didn't care for Prometheus, for example), but I love that there's someone out here who gives genre films and television the same kind of respect and thought as work that is more generally acknowledged as "significant." It's especially welcome when it comes to the stuff we grew up with in the '70s and early '80s, which is often dismissed as kid stuff, or worse (your defenses of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica leap instantly to mind).

    Bottom line: you're right to do what you're doing, and to do it your way, and this reader wouldn't have it any other way.

    Oh, and your toy collection rocks!

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    1. Hi Jason,

      A wonderful comment, and I appreciate it. I feel as you do, that there is room for long essays when delving deep into television and film. 250 words can't fully describe the aesthetic wonders and mysteries of Solaris, or the dark, "splintered-psyche" visuals of Black Swan. Or even the suspense-building filmic techniques of Friday the 13th. I need the space, and I try to put it to good use.

      I would love to read your review of Revenge of the Sith....

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  11. John,this is Chris Kewley(Timeslip).I like your long reviews,hopefully you will do one for Timeslip,even if you don't like it!Keep up the good work!

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    1. Hi Chris,

      I ordered Timeslip and have watched the first several parts of the first serial. I'm enjoying it very much so far, and when I finish watching all the episodes and "internalizing" it, I'm definitely going to write cult-tv flashback on the subject!

      Thank you for a great comment, and for introducing me to the series!

      best,
      John

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  12. Articulating and formulating eloquent analysis like this requires freedom of thought and expression. When you're good, you're good and when you're great, you're John Kenneth Muir. SFF

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    1. SFF:

      Wow! Thank you for that comment, my friend. It means an awful lot to me. I always appreciate your support and fellowship, and I feel the same way about your always-excellent work as well.

      Best,
      John

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  13. I don't have to tell you that I enjoy your blog immensely. You've blown some movies wide apart with your in-depth analysis, some or most things I haven't even thought of or considered. A must read. While I might skip a film review here and there is only due to the film itself or that I haven't seen the film and don't want a spoiler....or I don't have time ;) I certainly don't moan over if something I read takes long to read, if it's worth reading...it's time well spent...and hopefully your mind has expanded.

    - Jósef

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