Monday, September 7, 2009

LGC/Mission Statement

The LGC is the Layman's Guide to Criticism, a concept I conceived in college in the 1980's. I developed a love for art films at a time when home video was in its infancy and repertory movie theaters were more common. Researching the films so that you could spend your budgeted time on those that spoke most to you meant books, catalogues, magazines, and (on rare occasions) newspaper archives as sources of information. Some of this was presented as dry data-heavy documentation and some was art criticism but nearly all added pieces to the overall picture. That picture was always more valuable than the sum value of its parts. However, when you veer from the factoid, nuts-and-bolts type coverage to the more subjective analysis it becomes more difficult to distinguish the self-indulgent bleating from the insightful perspective-- especially if you haven't seen the film being discussed. I would increasingly find reviews of movies I knew very well and learned to respect the writers who noticed what I missed, to the extent that they could change my opinion on the movie, pro or con. I also learned to tell when a critic wrote their review by skimming the press release and making up something to meet a deadline without actually watching the movie.
What I hadn't anticipated was how difficult this would make conversations with noncineastes, that is, most other people in the world. While it's true that most people watch movies at some time or another it's also true that most people don't study and disect them. They want a good story but won't go searching for the story behind it. Their idea of a review is a five-star system. (The best rebuke of this system came at the end of a MST3K episode. After watching a typically inept production one of the robots pointed out that a well known, mass-marketed movie critic gave the movie three stars in his paperback guide and proceeded to list all the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films also given three stars by the same critic. Without bad-mouthing either the movie or the critic, and in the space of a few minutes, he demonstrated that the star ratings system only pretends to give you information when in fact it tells you nothing to distinguish one movie from any other, even when they are markedly different. All it really tells you is, "This is a movie", which you already knew. Not bad for a puppet.)
Having realized that I had taught myself a foreign language as regards discussing movies with people I decided to enumerate my choices of paths:
  1. Stop talking about movies with most people. (Nope)
  2. Pretend that I don't know what I've learned. (Nope)
  3. Be condescending to people who don't know what I've learned. (Nope)
  4. Share what I've learned (oh, sure that sounds innocuous enough, even constructive and positive-- "I assure you sahib, these bricks are made of the finest of intentions...")

Wouldn't it be great if there were a manual you could hand people that would explain to them in straightforward language exactly why the local paper's movie critic never seems to like all their favorite "Ernest" movies? Why movies aren't really 'good' or 'bad' per se, but good or bad for a given audience or for a given time period? Why mentioning or depicting a topic is not the same thing as endorsing it? (Well, maybe you can't teach common sense, but still, we'll never know if we don't try.)

Great indeed, but no manual, no finite work, can ever convey understanding that broadly. I had to read dozens and dozens of articles before I began to see that there even was a language and approach required to understand all of what I was reading. Having read a hundred or more, rereading the first of them became a different experience. My learning was interactive; it necessarily changed me and those changes in turn colored the way I experienced the same materials. The Layman's Guide to Criticism (LGC) can only exist in installments and now, over 25 years later, technology has caught up to and overtaken my theories. The blog format not only pares out minute examinations but can be accessed (using labels/tags) as tailored to the needs of the reader.

One addendum specific to this particular blog: The Doom Patrol is a comic book that features a team of super-heroes and more so than most falls precariously close to a Rorschach test. The premise was that the characters be different than conventional heroes and succeeded despite or because of their differences. In different decades and under different creators and editors the group has fluctuated both in membership and general tone. The story-telling approaches have occasionally presented unique problems to conventional data-bases and so this blog seeks to kill two birds with one stone: provide an organized (and as comprehensive as possible) analysis of each appearance and argue for or against their significance to the whole.

More in two days.

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