May 8, 2011

On being an egocentric horror movie reviewer

"Hello, my name is Dr Blood and I'm an egocentric horror movie reviewer."

Yes, I know it sounds like a parody of an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction (which it is) but it's the best way to begin one of my rare "meta" moments. Like all movie reviewers of course I'm egocentric and believe myself to be right otherwise I wouldn't be writing a blog in the first place.

What really seems to get people bent all out of shape when they encounter a blog like mine is that I'm not merely giving opinions. Anyone who has ever seen a movie of any kind will have an opinion about it and can start writing a blog should they feel like throwing themselves into this attention-seeking maelstrom of online writers. No, what I try to do is objectively quantify and qualify horror movies into specific categories, recommend the good ones and tear apart the bad. Does that make me different from other bloggers dealing with the same products? Maybe not, but I think so.

I've mentioned it before (a long time ago) but it's worth repeating, if you start writing a movie review blog without the very basic educational training in criticism that would lend any credibility to what you have to say then you'll soon get very bored with blogging. Even with Bachelor's degrees in "Film Appreciation" or "Literary Criticism", you are still likely to get burnt out to some extent and, to be honest, the blogs of film school students are often the most hyperbolic, alienating and boring things to read on the internet anyway. Some people with absolutely no training or academic qualifications write the most entertaining blogs that I've ever read but that doesn't make their opinions anything other than just opinions.

Only a couple of years ago there was a huge wave of "Negative Nancies" all trying their hardest to outdo each other with expletive laden similes of exactly how much movies sucked. Aside from the amusing use of which animal's apendages were being sucked hardest, most of those blogger's opinions have fallen out of favour. Yes, I too can be as negative as is humanly possible when the film deserves it but, again, it's not merely opinion but objective appraisal. Like most people, I do aim to be as positive as possible especially when I've spent money on a product.

Anyway, as much as I want this post to be all about me, let's look at a few terms which most people don't even realise they are using. I also felt like writing something educational for a change which may be useful when you are watching, reviewing or even making a movie.

Here are some great big Greek words that we all should know (with links to Wikipedia so you can learn them at your leisure): Exposition, Aristeia, Ecphrasis, Catharsis, Mimesis, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, and Hamartia. It's pointless throwing the word "formulaic" into a movie review if you don't know what those formulas are or where the "tropes" and "clich├ęs" that exist originally came from.

And here's some useful Latin (which has the explanation so you don't have to click anything):
"In medias res", or "into the middle of things"; this describes a popular narrative technique that appears frequently in ancient epics and remains popular to this day.
"Bonus dormitat Homerus" or "good Homer nods"; an indication that even the most skilled poet can make continuity errors.

Basically, you can save yourself the huge expense of a Classical education with one trip to Wikipedia and a good read of the article on "Ars Poetica".

The best quotation ever which is very applicable to horror movie reviewing in particular:
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper catharsis of these emotions." (Aristotle)

Finally, here are the rules that filmmakers need to know before they try to break them: Classical Unities, and Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Having mentioned all these "rules" and "terms" that we should all be for the most part unconsciously using when we review films, I am often very aware that if I or anyone else actually wrote a review containing them, I probably wouldn't read it. "Art is best when hidden" is another useful Aristotelian principle. Blogs which throw around words such as "auteur" and empty phrases such as "in and of itself" are likely to meet with more scorn, ridicule or disinterest than any other. Always be on your guard against purple prose.

None of us are perfect (even Homer nods, remember?) but I think we all try to write the best posts that we can within our means. I doubt that any of us are making any money from our blogs and we all do it mainly as a hobby. If you do it as a job to get advertising revenue then shame on you.

As an egocentric horror movie reviewer, of course I think my blog is better than anyone else's and as reviewers yourself, don't you think the same thing when you click "Publish Post"? Be honest, when you've read through your copy several times, made your corrections and added a few more details, don't you feel a little bit like Shakespeare? Aren't you just hoping for hundreds of comments from people you don't really know and will never meet in real life just to fulfil your need to be acknowledged? Is that so wrong? Hell, no. Keep writing and enjoy it! It's why we are bloggers!

If none of this interests you, here's a picture of a monkey French kissing a cat.

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