Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist


The heading of the article might be misleading, so before starting, I would like to clarify that this article is written from the viewpoint that creates a Distinction between A Film Critic and An Artist (or a Film Lover). Many people might be aware of the former term, Film Critic who gives rating or stars to a certain piece of art on screen. Through his frame of reference and judgement, you decide whether to watch a film or not. It might include a lot of technical and emotional factors. 

While an Artist or a Film Lover, expresses his thoughts about films and how it appealed to him on a personal level. It is his own personal views about a film that he expresses. The public reading his articles might agree or might trash it completely. A film lover isn’t paid to do the job yet writes for his own pleasure or to clarify his own ideas. His affair with films can’t be expressed in words but a critic might always find the perfect word.  I personally call a Film Lover, an Artist because a lover always finds enough will to pursue the affection. Like Film Auteur, François Truffaut who was once a film critic and later become a film lover and a filmmaker. This write is influenced by his writings and solely dedicated to him.

Before discussing the distinction between a Film Critic and An Artist, we must first try to understand a film critic and his job thoroughly. Film Lover needs no explanation as every lover has their own way of loving a film. If you are one, you might have already understood that or are on the way towards the destination.

Who is A Film Critic?

In Hollywood, “Everyone has two trades—his own and reviewing movies.” Either one is making films or criticizing it. Being a filmmaker is arduous but Anyone can be a film critic. The latter is not required to possess a tenth of the knowledge that would be demanded of a critic of any other art like literature, music or painting. A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of German filmmaker F. W. Murnau.

A film critic is usually a graduate of a journalism school and is more visibly professional than a person who writes about Film. You can see it in the methodical way he conducts an interview. Because of the wide distribution of newspapers, social website articles and magazine columns, a critic is well paid. That is a not inconsiderable point. He doesn’t feel that he has to live by his wits. Even if he doesn’t publish books, or have a second trade, he can manage, and he doesn’t feel as if he belongs to a different social class from those in the film industry. 

Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist - François Truffaut

However, today every person who has just seen the movie feels he can question or put an opinion on the movie and become a critic. Well, not really degrading the term, but that’s a reality we are going through with the advent of social media and so many platforms. While some sane writers tend to express their personal thoughts on films, a lobby of enthusiasts will quickly jump on opinions and judgement giving ratings to the film, and turning them into commodities.

Some critics count himself as a man with a mission to dispense justice; like God—or Zeus, if he is an unbeliever—he wants to humble the powerful and exalt the weak. It is to justify his function in his own eyes that induces in him a strong desire to be useful. Sometimes he manages to be so. For the power vested in their writings, Critics often criticize film on two broad categories. They term them as entertainers or artistic films. While in reality there is no such distinction. An entertainer could be a noble film too without losing its artistry.

Since the “globalization”, good films come not only from five or six countries but from everywhere in the world. The critic must strive to give the widest possible exposure to all important films. One film may be showing in twenty theaters in Australia; another in a studio with ninety seats. One film has an advertising budget of $100,000; another will have one-tenth of that. The situation creates great injustices, and it is understandable that critics take this fact into account so seriously. A critic should judge a movie by what’s on-screen and not by all external factors that led to the creation of that image. 

Diversification of Film and It’s Criticism

Films have become diversified and specialized. Today, people make films that are directed to minorities—blacks, Irish; there are karate films, surfing films, movies for children and for teenagers. In the former days, people loved the films they produced and took pride in them. Today major film producers throw into the market, films stuffed with sex-and-violence so they won’t be left behind by the competition.

During the evolution of films and the introduction of film waves, Films were often more alive though less “intelligent” and “personal” than today. No, there was no lack of intelligent directors at that time, but that they were induced to mask their personalities so as to preserve a universality in their films. Intelligence stayed behind the camera; it didn’t try to be in evidence on the screen. The dialogues had more important and profound things than today that are filled with punches and one-liners. Love Scenes were artistic too, but not particularly explicit. There was a sense of mystery that kept the romance intact. All that is changed; not only has cinema caught up with life in the past fifteen years, sometimes it seems to have gone beyond it. Films have become more intelligent—or rather, intellectual—than those who look at them. Often we need instructions to tell whether the images on the screen are intended as reality or fantasy, past or future; whether it is a question of real action or imagination.

As production of films continues to diversify, an equally revolutionized film critic is demanded. A critic needs to understand and skillfully analyse political films, literary films, plot-less or experimental films, etc. Sometimes there is a broad gap between a film’s intention and it’s execution. A good critic should observe both the points before giving away the judgement. Sometimes, films have really great intentions but the execution is filled with flaws, while at other times, a well-made film lacks the intention. A film critic should look on both the sides, before walking over.

Film Critic and Their Relationship With Foreign Films

Filmmakers generally complain that Film Critic give preference over domestic productions to little films from outside their home country, that in their original subtitled versions will generally reach only students and cultivated people in the major cities. The same is the case when a domestic film is seen on foreign lands, it receives a kind of fanaticism. It is because we always appreciate what comes to us from afar, not only because of the attraction of the unknown excites us but because the absence of everyday references reinforces the prestige of a work.

“People of the world are so imbued with their own stupidity that they can never believe that one of their own has talent. They appreciate only people of letters who are not of their world.” Marcel Proust

What this amounts to is that if we are uninvolved with the artist, we judge with considerably more sympathy what he does rather than what he is; more exactly, if we are involved, what he is—and what we know about him—intrudes itself between his work and our judgment. It must also be added that a film seldom arrives all on its own; it is part of a larger environment, maybe a style, or a seeming series.

By the same token,  Alfred Hitchcock had been so underestimated in America for so long. From morning to night, on American television, there is murder, brutality, suspense, espionage, guns, blood. None of these gross and manipulative productions approaches a fraction of the beauty of a film by the maker of Psycho, but it is the same material.

Film Lovers – One who Write About Films

I have always written about films as a Film Lover. Film Lovers are people who write about films from their own personal perspective. People might agree or disagree but it isn’t their job to please the public. I am always on the side of those who were hissed and against those who were hissing. My enjoyment often began where that of others left off: Renoir’s changes of tone, Orson Welles’s excesses, Pagnol’s or Guitry’s carelessness, Bresson’s nakedness. There is no particular preference in my taste, and I enjoy each good or bad film (if there is a distinction) trying to get affected by its magic.

Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist

A film lover does not make a categorical distinction between art film or entertainment films like many critics working today. For them, the film is all about what is in the frame and what is not. Whether the intentions or the message, or the film making approach is fascinating for them, or it’s just a regular film. For them, there is no hierarchy in movies. 

When American filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock —the story of a sometime thief stabbed to death in her shower by the owner of a motel who had stuffed his mother’s corpse— almost all the critics of his time, commented that its subject was insignificant. However, in the same year, under Akira Kurosawa’s influence, Ingmar Bergman shot exactly the same theme, The Virgin Spring but he set it in fourteenth-century Sweden. All the critics came out in praise for Bergman and he even won an Oscar for a best foreign film. Not considering the prize, the point emphasizes being that both the films had exactly the same subject. If you scrutinize it further, then both stories are influenced by Charles Perrault’s famous story “Little Red Riding Hood. Bergman and Hitchcock each expressed part of his own violence with their skill and it is obscure to call one film great and another trivial.

Another Example being Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thief, which is still discussed as if it were a tragedy about unemployment in postwar Italy, although the problem of unemployment is not really addressed in this beautiful film. It shows us simply—like an Arabic tale, as Cocteau observed—a man who absolutely must find his bicycle, exactly as the woman of the world in The Earrings of Madame de…must again find her earrings.

On the same ground, it is vague to call The Virgin Spring and Bicycle Thief as noble or serious films and Psycho and Madame de…are “entertainments.” For a Film Lover, all films are noble and serious, and all are entertaining. A Film Critic might disagree, and it is one of the prominent point of Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist.

Relations between Film Critic and An Artist

No artist ever accepts the critic’s role on a positive level. At the start of their career, they mostly mildly accept it or avoid it. Criticism is more useful to and also more tolerant of beginners. With time, artists and critics settle into their respective roles; maybe they grow to know each other, and soon they consider each other, if not exactly adversaries, in some simplistic image—cat and dog.

When an artist is recognized, he rejects a critic’s viewpoint totally. The artist reproaches critics with bad faith, but he is often guilty of the same bad faith. He is so eaten up by egoism that he would likely be unsatisfied even with a positive review. There is no great artist who has not given in, at one time or another, to the temptation of attacking criticism of his work, but I believe that this has been held to be a fault, a weakness.

An artist could be considered courageous when, without disparaging the role of criticism, he could disagree with it even when it favoured him. That artist could wait for attacks without flinching and could respond to them with the same openness. Instead, we note a depressing situation where artists begin the dispute only when they have been disagreed with. 

A simple question to those who rail against unfavourable reviews: Would you prefer to take your chances that the critics will never mention you, that your work will not be the subject of a single printed line?  We must not make exaggerated demands on critics, and particularly we must not expect that criticism can function as an exact science. Art is not scientific; why should criticism be?

The main complaint against some critics—and a certain type of criticism—is that too seldom do they speak about cinema as such. The scenario of a film is not the film; all films are not psychological. Every critic should take to heart Jean Renoir’s remark, “All great art is abstract.” He should learn to be aware of form and to understand that certain artists, for example, Dreyer or Von Sternberg, never sought to make a picture that resembled reality.

Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist

There is no argument in the fact that a film critic and an artist hold no similarity when it comes to creation of original art. The artist creates himself and then places himself on display. It is a privilege, but it involves risk too: the risk of being studied, analyzed, judged, criticized, disagreed. Those critics who do the judging could never understand the enormous privilege of the act of creation, of the risks incurred by the one who exposes himself thus, and in turn, feel a secret admiration and respect which would at least partially restore the artist’s peace of mind if he could know it. “You cannot write a great article on what someone else has created; that’s criticism,” said Boris Vian.

However, there is a third category of people, called Film Lovers. These film lovers are often called as artist because they aspire to make their own films one day. The statement is influenced by the work of François Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard, who were initially critics but later became film lovers and then film director themselves. One who has read their articles printed in Cahiers du Cinema would understand their approach towards writing about films. Almost, each piece was written as a love letter to Cinema.

Distinction Between A Film Critic and An Artist - François Truffaut

These writers watched both good and bad films throughout, but their approach was towards the critical appreciation of films rather than defaming it in any sort. Their pieces had a detailed analysis of why a film worked so beautifully for them, and why it didn’t. François Truffaut, who accepted that he was an angry critic earlier but once became a director, understood the agony of film making. His writings changed. He wrote about films with a different approach. It transformed into articles that portrayed his love for films and filmmakers around the world. In short, François Truffaut is an epitome of Film Lover. 

I hope that you all liked the distinction between a Film Critic and An Artist who writes about Films. Some parts needed much more explanation but sometimes it’s good to leave things to mystery. This article is influenced by François Truffaut’s writing in his book The Films in My Life, Chapter 1. If you require deeper knowledge and understanding of Film Critic and An Artist, please refer to this incredibly informative book. Hope it satisfy your creative curiosity. Keep Reading, Keep Exploring.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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