FAILURE TO TAKE ART OF FILM SERIOUSLY LIMITS OUTLETS FOR ARTISTS SUCH AS DE PALMA & MALICK
In his "Box Office Rap" column, The House Next Door's Clayton Dillard (at Slant) rips into film critics for their lack of support for the artists of the cinema. "The cultural sins of critics who consistently refuse to treat the very art form they cover seriously prevents Passion from getting picked up by Sony Pictures Classics or Fox Searchlight," states Dillard, "thus ensuring its financial and artistic demise, since Entertainment One lacks the resources or track record to entice exhibitors, thus getting the film into just a handful of theaters and simultaneously On Demand. Although [Brian] De Palma ranks among the greatest living American filmmakers, with revisionist academic work and thoughtful online features pleading the case, critics continue to miss the point. Successful cultural historicity depends on a fluid engagement with delineating significance over a period of time that encompasses more than simply the immediate moment. When critics make no mention of De Palma's past work or controversy, it bastardizes film discussion and, frankly, only exists a notch or two above the YouTube comments sections.
"David Edelstein's claim that the film is 'entrancing and narcotizing in equal measure' carries a glibness that speaks to such faulty consideration—as does the capsule-length entirety of his review, with nary a mention of another De Palma film. Serious film criticism should either engage with a work in light of the filmmaker's past work or, at least, thoroughly explain the viewpoint being offered; Edelstein does neither. Even Alan Scherstuhl's positive review for The Village Voice undercuts its enthusiasm by saying 'Passion is pretty good. If you cared enough to make a list, it might be your fifth or sixth favorite De Palma.' Two issues: By claiming the film 'pretty good,' then placing it in the top fourth of De Palma's work, Scherstuhl's uses the same glib tone as Edelstein, as if to belittle the significance of 'a new De Palma film,' as Quentin Tarantino once called it; and by relegating film culture simply to listing of 'favorites,' the implication is that De Palma's work isn't worthy of more serious contemplation or consideration, as rankings will suffice.
"De Palma isn't the only casualty here, as the same thing happened earlier this year with Terrence Malick and To the Wonder, which likewise received a simultaneous On Demand and limited theatrical release, while critics thumbed their noses with rampant claims of 'self-parody.' If critics fumble at identifying important cultural markers (whether Passion is 'good' or 'bad' is less important than the track record of its filmmaker), then what chance do audiences have of being expected to perform anything remotely similar? This is less about 'bad reviews' than unthinking reviews: Obviously, for a critic to dislike the film is perfectly within bounds, but to neglect giving the film more attention, prominence, and a word count exceeding 116—now that's irresponsible. So, if you want to see a thriller this weekend, the multiplex offers Closed Circuit or Getaway...take your pick."