Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

For to be a critic

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Back before I graduated college, I started writing up short film reviews.  The goal here was to post these onto Amazon.com and go about finding a print or web publication that accepted freelance reviews.  Before long, however, my copy of Writer’s Market was out of date, money was short, exams were due, and I spent most of my time translating biblical Hebrew texts.  

In that time, I wrote three or four reviews—two of which I posted at Amazon.com while the others sat quietly on my hard drive.  Upon graduation, I thought about returning to the task and went back over the pieces I had already written.  I found there that pungent odor that rises off the page when a writer has left old writing on the shelf for too long.  The writing wasn’t bad, per say, I just knew I could do better. 

I kept toying with the idea, and occasionally I would sit and try to write a review of a film I’d just seen.  Some of these ended up posted at my old blog, but most joined the others in that damp and neglected corner of my computer’s hard drive.   When I would sit down and begin to write, you see, all the inner self-talk that goes on beforehand would go deep quiet.  I wouldn’t hear it again until I started doing some other benign activity, like washing the dishes.  Suddenly the words would come, and I’d scramble back to the keyboard and get them down before they were lost.  

I like movies, I’d repeat to myself.  I like the film I’m writing about and I have something to say.  Why is this so hard?

For inspiration, I’d go and read more film reviews.  I had already read them in an attempt to copy the style; still do, actually.  The format isn’t that big of a mystery—it’s a topic paragraph, followed by a brief summary, a list of likes and dislikes, and brought to a close in a solid, terse conclusion.  Easy, right? 

I’ve spent some of my morning these days rereading Ken Gire’s Windows of the Soul.  I came across the following passage over last weekend that, I think, let a little light in to shine on my plight.  Gire writes:

C.S. Lewis explained the right way to look at a work of art when he said: “We sit down before a picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it.  The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender.  Look.  Listen.  Receive.”

For many of us, though, that is not what we do.  We look and listen, but instead of receiving, we react; instead of surrendering, we resist; instead of coming away changed, we come away critical.  And that is true whether we come away from a movie we see on Saturday night or a sermon we hear Sunday morning. 

The light blinked on when I read the word “critical.”  We don’t call film reviewers “critics” for nothing, you know.  The vast majority of their work exists to react, resist, and criticize.  The problem, I realized, was that my heart wants to surrender.  The reviews I read for inspiration and guidance only teach me to react.

Example.  I’ve read a number of negative reviews about Superman Returns.  The funny thing is that I agree with much of their criticism.  Some of these reviews seethe with annoyance.  Me?  I’ve seen it twice.  I went in the first time reacting, and the second time surrendering.  I walked away enjoying it more the second time.  An example of fine filmmaking it isn’t—it’s a good story, and it doesn’t set out to be anything else.  It doesn’t have the feel of a movie that’s trying to be special, just good, and I shouldn’t ask any more of it than that.  Once I do, I’m weighing it against my own set of convictions and preconceptions instead of taking it on its own terms.  And I find that I my enjoyment, as well as my discernment, is more functional when I surrender. 

Yes, there’s a place for conviction and reaction.  I believe it helps temper our souls after we’ve surrendered.  I do not wish to raise one above the other, only to raise awareness of the one that is overshadowed.  Put another way, want to allow the Holy Spirit enough room to move me before I shut something out.  Therefore, when I sit and try to write my next review, it may not come any easier, but I’ll have a better understanding of what I need to write.   


Written by taj

July 12, 2006 at 8:00 am

Posted in Movies, Writing

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