Monday, February 11, 2008

Ego Trippin'



Here's something that's been wigglin' in my head for a while. This was a question in one of Dennis Cozallio's movie quizzes:

18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?

And this was my answer:

What a load of utter horseshit. "We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read." I challenge you to find one critic who agrees with this statement. Yes, the negative stuff is easy and fun to write, at first. But it's a pleasure that wears off quickly. What critics actually "thrive on" is the very thing that Brad Bird...er, I mean, Anton Ego...thinks is the rare exception to the rule: finding something new and exciting, and wanting to tell the world about it. That is why people become critics. It's what drives them to start their own fanzines (or, nowadays, websites). They are passionate about the art that they love. Of course, you have to write something every week to get a paycheck, and there's not always something that makes you want to scream from the rooftops about it, so yes, critics do occasionally "criticize" art. Which apparantly makes artists very defensive. I see this attitude again and again, that critics are small men who must insult the work of the true artists whose creativity they so envy in order to make themselves feel signifigant (my favorite example is the "first art critic" in History of the World Part I), because God forbid any mere mortal be allowed to have an opinion about Real Art! The irony is that, every day these artists have people telling them to change the ending, make it more palatable, show what happened to Llewellyn Moss, whatever, and who is defending them? Who is championing the artist's work? CRITICS.

OK, before I go any further, let me point out how right I am right now, since No Country For Old Men is such a good example of this. Would that movie be the Oscar front runner if it hadn't been so strongly championed by critics? Or would people still be pissed off about the ending? Thank Anton Ego and his ilk if Atonement doesn't win Best Picture (although, for all I know, Atonement could be awesome. I shouldn't talk shit.).

But I keep thinking about this speech, and how wrong-headed it is. In many ways. For one thing, what he's saying doesn't even match up with what happens in the movie. He talks about "defense of the new," but we clearly see that he admires Remi's ratatouille because it tastes like the ratatouille his mom used to make. That's like a critic wanting credit for being on the cutting edge because they discovered Sarah Jones.

But more importantly, there's this shit about truly understanding what "anyone can cook" means. Because he doesn't understand it. I don't want to get into whether this speech is supposed to represent Brad Bird's views (although it's not far off from the "if everyone is special, then no one is special" argument in The Incredibles), but I will point out that this is the reformed Ego here, and he's still doesn't get it. He doesn't understand the difference between "anyone can cook" and "anyone can be a great cook." Maybe not everyone can be a great artist, but anyone can create art, and doing so will improve the quality of anyone's life. You might be an awful writer, but writing your awful book will be more fulfilling than reading War and Peace. Making a shitty movie is more fulfilling than watching Citizen Kane, and playing in your own lousy band is better than listening to The Beatles. Hell, me, right now, writing this ridiculous bullshit about the philisophical fallacies of a cartoon character is more fulfilling than watching Ratatouille. Ego is expressing an outdated, anti-democratic view of art, an idea that art is only a worthwhile pursuit if you're great at it. And to apply that view to cooking, the most democratic of arts, is even worse.

Instead, he concludes "a great artist can come from anywhere." We're supposed to believe this is news to him? I mean, I know Europeans are less removed from the class system than we are, but it's 2008. Even a pretentious old man shouldn't need to be just figuring that out.

3 Comments:

Blogger Charlie said...

Dude, in Europe the class system is still a major part and is emphasizes every step of the way by the media. You should read some of Britain's critics.

I think it makes sense, to be honest. I certainly don't think its a blanket accusation against critics, but it certainly highlights those who stick to what they like and refuse to open their minds up, and there really are a lot of people who like to tear into movies, especially with the rise of the internet critic. This is why I don't read mainstream criticism anymore, because the majority of it is so heavily based on negativity, and their ego inevitabily comes into play. And that's the thing, critics now are personalities, and have been since the days of Kael, or even Cahiers du Cinema. I am biased though, because I think I've been heavily influenced by the internet critics and their shit, cause they seem to have the most ego of all.

2/24/2008 5:56 AM  
Anonymous Bashar said...

Man, I'm not sure where the writer have hurt you in his script, but I think he has somewhere.

First of all, it's a movie, trying to create some character. The critic Ego was shown from the beginning, and as his name speaks, to be extremist who have taken things personal with Gustues. And it's true, many critics (definitely not all or most) tend to take sides. They take things personal, they make an irrational statement sometimes, and just want to defend their position. Or to be unique, they have to be different. So if everyone is saying product A is good, his opinion will be kinda pointless. We already know that people would say. If he says it's bad for this and that reasons, then some might look at him as smart person. And it's true, he is risking very little, and over taking people striving to make good things.

At the end of the movie, the meal brings him good old memory. He is hit hard he can't deny it, so let his ego away and wants to see the chef. When he found the chef, well, it was unexpected source. And if someone wants to defend it, he's gonna have a lots of guts to do so. Coming from top critic who was running against the restaurant makes it even harder. Ofcourse he didn't disclose the source of the meal, but noted that he knew it.

In his letter, he is admiring critics mistakes, and how they often see themselves above the people doing the real work. I personally absolutely loved the speech, and I review how I may sometimes criticize something without looking why and how much effort was put into this thing. It's easy to criticize. Get into the game and see how hard it could be I tell my self.

In his last words, a great artist can come from anywhere. He is also referring to the rat here. You wouldn't believe it if someone tell you a rat made the soap. But thats what made the critic believe in it.

In the end, all movies tend to exaggerate sometime to convey a message. I personally didn't see an offend in it.

4/02/2008 2:30 AM  
Anonymous Bashar said...

Speaking of mistakes,

Sorry, "admiring critics mistakes" should naturally be "admitting..." :)

4/02/2008 2:32 AM  

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