August 8, 2012

Ecphrasis, Synopsis or Review?

Yesterday was supposed to be the day of my second podcast entitled "The Bloody Podcast Rises!" I had everything in place, two people were going to join me on it, and I went for a late afternoon nap quite excited about creating another hour of entertainment.

Of course, since you are now reading this rather than listening to that podcast, it never happened. One of my guests dropped out not so much at the last minute but two hours before, and it was impossible to find a replacement in the time left. I would be lying if I was to say that I wasn't very disappointed. I went back to bed early because I simply had nothing left to do at that point and was completely disheartened by the dropout's flakiness. There are cultural reasons for how that person is which I still haven't learnt to anticipate, so it didn't make things any easier.

Suffice it to say that the idea behind the show was to select a few "Horrible Movie Bloggers" and tear their work apart to make points about how not to write or broadcast reviews. While none of us are perfect and most of us recognise our limitations, there are others who blatantly don't care about what they are doing and make things horrible for the rest.

I'm not talking about the haters, trolls, and thread-crappers who get their fun from the comments sections on various websites. Some of them are actually funny. No, what I'm talking about are the people who seemingly have no right to their apparent success.

Take, for example, Harry Knowles. Allegedly, he started posting reviews in 1996 and, thus, has been doing so for a year longer than I've been online. I don't remember him being popular back then, but, given the nature of the internet with most people getting online through AOL/Compuserve and dial-up connections, that's not very surprising. Google didn't exist and most people used Yahoo, Lycos or multi-search tools made up of hundreds of smaller search engines to find anything.

The first incarnation of my own site, "Dr Blood's Video Vault", wasn't online until the middle of 1997 and I had trouble finding even another six horror sites to swap banner links with. Back then even I (with my website created with MS Publisher) was considered a big player and, through affiliates, I made a load of money which I'm not ashamed to boast about. Of course my site was rather sparse, but the rule was to get everything loading in less than 44k or nobody would wait long enough to see it. As bandwidth increased, pages got bigger. I'm still not sure that it was quite such a good thing to abandon the 44k rule either.

The only alternatives to the independent movie review sites in 1997 were Microsoft's "Cinemania", and the IMDb had yet to take up the position of prominence which it has today. As I saw the IMDb get created and grow, I truly thought that it was one of the greatest things which anyone has ever thought of. All that was due to change unfortunately.

Going back to Harry Knowles, he's a reviewer and a critic so he should be used to criticism. I have nothing personal against him, but I can't bear reading his reviews. I had never even heard of him until I came to America, but I made up for my ignorance quite quickly. Most people say that his writing hasn't developed in 16 years, and, as we all joke about but sadly know to be the truth, he loves just about everything as long as there's a free ticket, DVD, or financial kickback involved. Basically, you can't trust his reviews to be objective, but why should you? His written style is little different to that of a 14 year old schoolboy and, from the comments on his site, that is his target audience. He's been successful, put a lot of work into selling things, made a ton of money, but do any of us actually read his reviews? No. He's a sell-out with no credibility left. Even so, I can't help but admire the barefaced cheek of Harry Knowles to play the system at its own game and become a success from it.

There are far more "Horrible Movie Bloggers" around than Harry Knowles though. In the early to mid 2000s, I watched the rise of "Bloody-Disgusting", "Dread Central" and even "ShockTillYouDrop" as they populated their forums with their "friends" from MySpace, built-up their databases full of free reviews from people who only wanted the glory of posting them somewhere, and, after monetising the Hell out of themselves, eventually sold their sites to the highest bidders. None of these sites are what they used to be, strings are being pulled behind the scenes, and you can be sure that if they've been financially rewarded, they'll all play salesman when it comes to promoting any new horror movie rather than being honest about its content. I'm sure that there are thousands of non-horror movie review sites which are just as guilty, but I wouldn't know who they were to list them. That's why I needed a team effort for the podcast.

But that's enough about the big boys. There are "Horrible Movie Bloggers" among the lesser ranks of Blogger, Wordpress, YouTube, and whichever other social networking platform you can think of. Although they probably aren't making any money from their work, they are doing enough to really damage those who should be.

That brings me to the title of this post: "Ecphrasis, Synopsis or Review". Some people don't know the difference and their ignorance is destroying the credibility of all independent movie reviewers. It's certainly destroyed the reviews sections of the IMDb, but that whole site is a cesspit of haters and trolls on all the "Message Boards" anyway.

Are the IMDb movie ratings from millions of unsupervised click-happy 5 year olds reliable? No. The whole site is a parody of what it once was. As for the "actors" with IMDb profiles, I'm surprised that I haven't got my name on there. Like several million others who do indeed have their names on the IMDb, I haven't actually been in a movie either. But I digressed. Bitching about the IMDb would need a podcast all to itself and would be several days long. Yes, it counts as a "Horrible Movie Blog", but it's more of a forum than anything else, the reviews are limited in length, and they all suck (especially the ones with a URL at the end which invite you to go and read more of the same). I can only read a plot synopsis so many times before my brain shuts down.

Ask yourself how many blogs you've been to where the review is little more than a retelling of the entire plot of a movie with maybe one line at the end saying, "I liked it". Are these people serious? Admittedly, in some very rare cases, the "review" is actually a thirty page ecphrasis of every single aspect of the movie designed to convey what was seen in one medium into another for those who have no other way of appreciating it. I'm not talking about movie reviews for the blind or the deaf when I point out these "Horrible Movie Bloggers". The ones I can't stand are the uneducated who think that this is what a movie review really should be like no matter who the intended audience is.

These "synopsis" writers don't even get that simply rewriting the movie's plot in their own words is not a review. I know what happened. Back in the day, when their teachers told them to write essays "as if you are explaining to someone who doesn't know", they did exactly that and carried it with them until the chance to write blogs came along. I have had arguments with so many people who sent me a link to their "New Review" which turned out to be a synopsis of the movie that it's not even funny anymore.

I'm not going to be a hypocrite about it. I've done it too and I've even done it when writing essays during my incarceration at University. Of course, those essays came back with lots of red ink all over them and some quite acidic comments in some cases which made me pull myself together. A movie review or a "critique" is something entirely different to a synopsis.

A movie review should be about how the movie made you feel, what the performances of the actors were like, a scene which really stood out, if the story was interesting, or any of the thousands of other technical aspects of drama or movie production which you recognised when you willingly suspended your disbelief to entertain yourself.

When I read a movie review, I want to know all these things and I like to read how the movie affected the reviewer on a personal level. Whether it made them remember something else, an incident in their lives, or if the whole occasion was something special for them, these are the things which should be included. I don't care if the writer has gone off on a tangent from the movie itself, it's their "review". It's a personal and honest thing. As long as they never write "in and of itself", describe the direction as "helming", the camerawork as "lensing", or commit atrocious uses of adjectives such as "lugubrious set decoration" or "glorious acting ability" then it's all good.

Those people who just list every single plot point in their spoiler laden synopses are truly "Horrible Movie Bloggers", but, you know, there are even worse than them out there.

I may not write the best movie reviews myself, If I've ever said I did, you can be sure that I meant it humourously as I am well aware of my own shortcomings. The two things which I cannot abide more than any others are sycophants and reviews full of multisyllabic hyperbole.

There is one reviewer in particular (who I won't name, but we joke about all the time on Twitter) who writes every review as a sales pitch no matter how bad the movie actually is. There are monetised YouTube partners who do the same thing for financial rewards so you can see why they do it, but this guy claims to be an "aspiring movie reviewer". It's sad really because it's never going to happen for him even if Harry Knowles is so obviously his role model. His sycophancy, his gaggle of equally creepy friends who comment two or three times each on every post he writes to make him look popular, his recent overuse of "ain't" and "Hon" when he isn't even an American, and his tendency towards hyperbole and nonsensical periphrasis make such a "Horrible Movie Blogger" a figure of fun for the rest of us who are trying to improve our own writing.

There is yet another contrarian who I can't even bear to read because he writes like he swallowed a lexicon and seems unable to write the simplest of sentences without at least three four-syllable words in them which he thinks will make him appear more erudite. I could write like that too if I wanted, but I like to think that I understand my target audience and what they like to read. I also know that this "Horrible Movie Blogger" doesn't entirely understand the words he's using in the first place. Plain speech is always better. That's why I have 10 times the amount of subscribers that he does even though I'm far from being one of the most popular bloggers myself. There are fashion bloggers who post nothing but pictures and have over 100,000 GFC followers so I know my place all right.

Anyway, that's probably what "The Bloody Podcast" would have been about if we'd made it. It definitely would have been something a little bit more educational than the average podcast and funny as well, but, alas, now we'll never know. As someone who has only made 37c so far from monetising my own blog to the hilt, there would have been lots of self-deprecating humour which I know everybody loves otherwise iJustine and Shane Dawson wouldn't have become so successful for acting like idiots. Yes, they are acting. You don't honestly believe that they could be like that in real life, do you? Look into their eyes and see how they aren't quite as dumb as they want you to believe they are.

I'm not going to dwell on this podcast failure. Like most things, if you want to do something well, you have to do it yourself, and you should never rely on other people. I'll find another subject to podcast about on my own and it'll be even better.

No comments:

Post a Comment