Comics Creators

Dancing about architecture - criticism - discuss


Back when I was regularly reviewing comics for a website, providing the star rating was the part I hated most. Boiling down your thoughts and feelings in reaction to a piece of art is hard enough when you’re aiming for a handful of paragraphs, but distilling that down to a simple numerical value between 1 and 5 seems so reductive as to be virtually meaningless.


[Quote]I think the most important thing when you’re criticising any work - no matter what - is to first try and figure out what the work is trying to do. Not what you want it to do, or to be, but what it wants to be. And then the question is, does it do that well?

If a movie has no interest whatsoever in plot, but only in aesthetics and characters, that’s what you judge it on (–> MI:2, John Woo movies in general). And so on.[/quote]
I agree to an extent, but I think that logic actually extends to your own criticism too, in the sense that when you’re writing a critique, the audience that you’re writing for will necessarily dictate the form that your critique takes.

So (say) a critique of a movie for a mainstream film magazine will be different to a critique written for an academic audience, or for an audience that’s interested in technical aspects of filmmaking etc.

So while it’s definitely important to consider what the film is trying to do, it’s also important to consider who the critique is aimed at, and what they might be expecting to get out of the movie.


One movie critic whose reviews I respect greatly is Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine. He doesn’t dismiss a horror film simply because it isn’t “high art”; instead, he judges it on whether or not it succeeds as a film within the genre of horror. Film critic Roger Ebert was like that, too, and wouldn’t hesitate to put a slapstick comedy on his end-of-year Ten Best list, if it was a well-done slapstick comedy.


Absolutely. And it’s also perfectly fine to say, “this movie isn’t for me” simply because you don’t like movies with too many/too little words, too much/too little action, horror movies or whatever. Just as long as you’re aware that that really is based on your tastes, and doesn’t say anything about the value of the movie.

(For me, that’s the opera. Just can’t stand the way people sing there. It just isn’t for me.)


I enjoy writing about music and do it both professionally and in my free time. I don’t really think about measures and chords and stuff. Nobody cares. Production values and techniques is something they care more about, but only to a point. Music writing to be is barely writing about music at all; it’s writing about where we’re at, what engages our society. The “architecture” line never meant much to me, all communication is an attempt to convey abstract concepts. Costello or whoever said that is using a guitar to talk about love, friendship, life, which seems more like “dancing about architecture” than writing about a song is.

I don’t write about film much anymore but I remember I never wrote about plot. I’d sometimes get down 900 words and realize I haven’t mentioned what “happens” in the movie at all. I hate reading plot recap at all.


I review films in my spare time for a DVD site (I’ve never done it professionally) and read a lot of them, and I feel the same. Plot recaps are about the dullest form of criticism to read, and they always suggest to me that the reviewer hasn’t really got a lot to say about the film if all they can do is report what happens in it.

Having said that, I know that when writing reviews I always feel duty-bound to give at least a little bit of a description of what the movie’s plot is actually about, just as a framework to give some context to my comments about it (and to help people who might be coming to the review totally fresh, with no idea of what the film might be about).

It’s a tricky balance.


Yes but I suspect that may be because you understand the inherent message in it. Which is treating any art like a science is a bad idea.

That bugged me with the NME at 17 reading it in the 6th form college library, I called up a recent article from the same paper on the best songs of the last 15 years and it was pretty good (it got me buying about 15 songs) but fell into the same issue of always starting with the lyrics.

We used to joke in university that middle class indie kids were ‘dancing to the lyrics, rather than the beat’.


True - you cannot argue your own experience into becoming a new experience. At least not without MK Ultra training.

And, again, there often are different personalities at play, conscious and otherwise, when watching a film or show or listening to music.

Do you guys ever think about how you watch something? Or read a comic book? Or then when you talk about it later?

When I break it down, it is similar to acting. On stage or in a scene, you are bifurcated into actor and character. Whether scripted or not, part of you is the character in the imaginary situation and part of you is your normal ego - your personality - who knows that this is a performance. Naturally, those two don’t always agree and, naturally, it is not exactly like the normal ego is in control of the character. If anyone plays a musical instrument, you’d also compare it to moments where you are in the flow of the music and it is more like the instrument is playing you at times.

When watching movies, I think there is something similar going on. There is your immediate experience of the film, and then there is your reflective ego-centric point of view about it. And they won’t always agree. AGE OF ULTRON and FURY ROAD are good examples for me. My immediate experience was very good - I was entertained - and a lot of that was also due to being in an audience in a good theater where everyone had a good time. However, my personal perspective of the film has a definite criteria for what is “worthy” in movies, and that was far more critical. If I watched the movies at home, I probably would have a different view entirely.

I think most people have this division of experiences whether they are aware of it or not. When we talk about the movies we see and the books we read or even the news stories that show up daily, I think we are really expressing our personalities - egos, the roles we play in our social groups - much more than the actual experience we had watching the films. I think the experiences are much harder to express since they are much more personal and less able to be expressed.

Now, add to that something that the film INCEPTION brought up (spoiler: whenever the movie is talking about “dreams,” it’s really talking about cinema as an experience). One of the early scenes where Cobb is explaining the dream tech to Ariadne, he asks her to explain how they got to the cafe where they are having the conversation. At that point, she realizes that she’s dreaming and everything blows up - a metaphor for the collapse of the suspension of disbelief.

For most films (and especially comic books and novels), I’d say the majority of the movie happens in your imagination. A man holds a gun to the head of another man in the living room of a house. Cut to: the gunman drives along a road in the city, alone. Cut to: he stands on a dock and throws the gun into the river.

You probably assume he shot the guy in the first scene and is now getting rid of the murder weapon, right? Of course, it could be a set up, but it seems clear. On top of that, though, also think about how much of the story you created in your mind aside from that one clear point. In terms of practical active time (if it really happened), from the moment the gunman is in the living room to the moment he throws the gun into the river would take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours (and days in time actually filmed) while the actual sequence of shots could take 3 minutes or less. There is a lot of stuff that is cut out, but we naturally fill it in as background.

In a book, everything is created in your imagination from the cues of the words on the page. In comics, we add what happens between the panels. In film, we create what goes on between the shots. In many ways, that is what the filmmakers are trying to achieve, using the medium to activate your imagination. So, really, you are the filmmaker.

So, if you don’t like a movie, it’s because you have made a bad movie in your head, and people who like bad movies just have better imaginations :smiley:




Hey Mr. Pedant, be careful how you used effect/affect in the last couple of hours before chucking pebbles around the greenhouse. :wink:


That affect/effect thing would never happen to me. Nevernevernever. Not in a million years. Never.

…did that happen to me? Because it might be time to unpack those samurai swords and just end it.


Have you read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics Johnny? There are some similar ideas in there about how active the audience is in colluding with the artist to create a narrative that jibe with what you’re saying.

I must be an idiot, but I completely missed that reading of the film. You’ve made me want to go back and watch it again now.


Yes, and as INCEPTION teaches us, the real objective of movies is to give one corporation an advantage over another…

and bring people back into touch with their children.

Honestly, though, if you psycho-analyze the story, it is basically about a filmmaker whose put his job above the demands of his family to spend decades to make the greatest movie ever and once he’s done, he can go back home where it seems like hardly any time has passed.


Huh over Memorial Day weekend I posted a list of the great classic rock songs of all time (a takeoff of the radio marathons they do over this weekend) and I think only 1 or 2 were there due to the lyrics.

Lyrics are generally pretty dumb, unless you’re Deep Purple I guess.


You can see them here:

Four of the first five reviews drive into the lyrics first, and not to disparage lyrics entirely, there are some great lyricists in pop music but they are few and far between.


Like Jay-Z said, “I dumbed down my lyrics and doubled my dollars.” :wink:


Well not just anybody can write a line as insightful as “you’re a slave to money then you die.”


This might be an urban legend, but I read somewhere that when Steven Stills was asked about meaning of the lyrics " Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove, And the eagle flies with the dove" from Love the one you’re with, he just said that he had no idea as he was high when he wrote it.


I’m sure this one made it for the lyrics:

Take a straight and stronger course
To the corner of your life
Make the white queen run so fast
She hasn’t got time to make you a wife

'Cause it’s time this time in time with your time
And its news is captured, for the queen to use

Move me on to any black square
Use me any time you want
Just remember that the goal
Is for us all to capture all we want
Move me on to any black square
Anywhere, yea, yea, yea

Don’t surround yourself with yourself
Move on back two squares
Send an instant karma to me
Initial it with loving care
Don’t surround yourself

'Cause it’s time this time in time with your time
And its news is captured, for the queen to use


My wife is a musician and has tried her hand at song writing a time or two. Her difficulty seems to be that for a musician she is a very analytical person and lyrics not making sense bugs her.