Here at Much Ado, as young and emerging critics, we are not only interested in writing our own criticism, but we’re also interested in critics, the job itself and the industry as a whole. Which is why I’m proud to announce we’re starting a new series called “The Critics Interviews” in which we will, as the name suggests, interview film, culture and industry critics. Our first interview is with one of the Much Ado team’s favourites, Vulture’s wonderful Hunter Harris. Enjoy!
1. In this day and age, how do you think the rise of social media is impacting film criticism?
It’s obviously a lot easier to receive reader feedback than ever before, for better or for worse. I’m not technically a critic — my job is to write about movies and the industry, not actually review films — but I love engaging with people who like my work, and those who disagree with my opinions. More importantly, though, it’s put so many new writers and movies on my radar. It’s also shown just how completely removed from current conversations writers at legacy publications are.
This doesn’t really impact my read on movies, per se, but I’ve really grown to appreciate stan twitter, for better or worse. It’s so cool to see what small details people are thinking about. Vulture’s whole editorial voice is to take silly stuff very seriously and to be a little bit funny about serious stuff — stan twitter has helped me when I can’t decide on a pitch, like, Okay maybe I’m not the only one curious about this one random scene…
2. There has been a lot of debate recently regarding the responsibility of the media in wider culture, for example, concerning the portrayal of minority groups, or the work of known abusers. Do you think that films, and by extension film critics, have a moral responsibility to the general public? Is this something that critics should be commenting on, or is the role of a film critic purely that of artistic merit?
I think we have a moral responsibility and a journalistic one to contextualize the work, and that includes seeing who it’s not doing right by. Right now particularly, Matt Zoller Seitz and A.O. Scott have both written about Woody Allen’s place in the Time’s Up movement: it’s incorrect and disingenuous to write him out of the American film canon or to retroactively discount his importance. He made movies that a lot of people saw, and that a lot of our best filmmakers today grew up being inspired by. It’s harder — and, I think, more valuable — to consider what it means that a filmmaker who has been so influential is an alleged abuser with pretty retrograde ideas about women and relationships.
I came across an old Wesley Morris (he’s my favorite working film critic) interview a few years ago that really speaks to this question: “There are a lot of wrong things that happen in movies — like the ongoing lack of people of color in a certain class of Hollywood films, or what function women are serving,” he said, “and more critics should be capable of picking up on those things and articulating what they are.” Not to be petty, but look at what’s happening with Three Billboards: here’s a movie that focuses more on the interiority of a violent abusive cop than it does on the victims of that abuse — while making a big show of pretending otherwise! — and not a lot of critics are picking up on how little this movie cares about its black characters.
3. Whenever a filmmaker or artist directly responds to your criticism, how do you typically react? Do you ignore it, or try to inform the artist on why you feel the way you do. If or when this has happened, has the response been reasonable, or have their been artists who take more hostile approaches?
I don’t have much experience with this, publicly or privately. Definitely people have not liked things I’ve written, but I’ve never had an example of a filmmaker saying or tweeting that they didn’t like my opinion. Usually, though, I stick to what I see as the Beyoncé school of thought when it comes to social media and the pressure to react: I just post my shit and go. If you like it, great; if you disagree, it’s just not a good look to bicker over it. If it’s a question of clarity — that maybe I wasn’t as clear on a point, or I overlooked a contradiction — then I’ll take another look. Otherwise, I feel confident in my read of a movie if I’ve decided to write about it.
4. What would your advice be to younger generation of critics?
The essential advice is just to read everything you can and watch everything you can. Read contemporary critics you like, and older criticism. Watch as many movies as you can — old ones, new ones, indie and superhero, documentaries and features. There’s still so many financial barriers to success as a young person in this industry — seeing new releases/film festivals are expensive — but there are some programs for young critics. (I went to Sundance when I was a senior in college for free as a Roger Ebert fellow, a program I really recommend.)
5. Was there a moment or a film that made you decide to become a critic?
The review I think about the most is from Wesley Morris on Dope, a movie I didn’t like. He wrote about the experience of seeing the movie during that year’s Sundance, writing that “Famuyiwa had them eating out of his hand. More power to him. But he’s feeding them black shit white people like.” I think about that all the time — it’s literally just a routine Sundance dispatch, but it was so perceptive on the whiteness of a festival, the phony white liberalism of an audience, and how black critics read black work uniquely, and how it feels when a black artist is hurting us.
6. Where do you think film criticism is going as a business? What are the changes that are needed in the business to improve the standards in which we review films?
The only thing I know about film criticism as a business is that there ought to be so many more writers of color and queer writers and writers who aren’t just white dudes.
7. What is a film that you always go back to for a rewatch?
This is a great question. Lately it’s been Jackie — I had to watch a lot of horror movies for an story I was working on, and I’m so interested in how that movies shows grief-as-horror. Overall, though, maybe Postcards from the Edge? It’s just so funny, and my favorite Meryl Streep performance. It’s so quotable — “I’m not a box. I don’t have sides. This is it: One side fits all!” Sometimes Wolf of Wall Street: It’s not my favorite Scorsese movie, but it’s extraordinary and compulsively watchable.
Extra question for Hunter: Call Me By Your Name or Lady Bird?
Lmao. This might be hard to believe since I don’t over-tweet about it, but my favorite movie of 2017 was actually Good Time.
If you’d like to be part of our series or want to suggest a critic you’d like us to interview please contact Dilara Elbir at twitter or mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org