I’ve written a lot around here about the distinction between a critic and an ombudsman. When it comes to film, there is very little criticism. Mostly, so called movie critics are nothing but ombudsman. People get the idea that I think there is something wrong with being an ombudsman. There isn’t. My problem is that these “critics” claim to be more than they are. All most people want is an ombudsman.
So I was quite interested to hear about The Q Filmcast. It is a podcast featuring five guys. Each week, they all watch a film that is available on Netflix Instant Watch and then discuss it. It has something to do with WRFN in Nashville Tennessee, and it is very professionally done. At least one of them is on-air talent, with the kind of voice that fills me with a combination of jealousy and disgust. How dare you speak like that, and how can I learn to do it! Other people are techs. I figure they all work at WRFN one way or another.
The thing about the show is that it is pure ombudsmanship. And given that there are five of them, the listener actually gets different perspectives. That’s great because no one claims to speak the ultimate true. I’m kidding! They all claim it, just as we all do. But you get a variety of that. And that was well on display for last week’s episode, which was on The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
The group was split: four of the guys really liked the film and one really didn’t. Out of 10, they gave the film: 8, 7, 7, 6, and 2. Eventually, one of the 7 guys bumped his rating up to 8 and the 2 guy bumped his rating up to 3. I felt sorry for the guy who panned the film. His name is James Savage and I gather that he is usually like this. But he highlighted how there are many ways to love a film but generally only one way to hate it. One of the criticisms was that it was repetitive. But nothing could have been more repetitive than Savage’s review which was basically, “It just didn’t…”
Often I find myself in conversations about films which the other person didn’t like. And they have nothing to say. It is like Tim the Enchanter describing the Vorpal Bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “He’s got huge sharp… He can leap about… Look at the bones!” In describing his reaction to the film, Savage was reduced to, “It didn’t have enough… The aliens were too… It just wasn’t good!”
I’m not putting the guy down. The film is not for everyone. In fact, it isn’t for more than a small subset of film viewers. And as a lover of films myself, I don’t recommend The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra to most people. For the right kind of person, it is a triumph. For most people, it is an extremely weird and silly thing. But this gets to something really important to me when I talk about films: did the film work on its own terms? Look at my article about Ethan Hawke’s attempt at Shakespeare, Another Sucky Hamlet. I really hated it, yet I wrote, “Don’t get me wrong, the film is not all bad. In fact, the film shows every sign of being a very creative endeavor. I don’t think it works, but the producers were trying to do something new and I applaud that.”
So I think it is important to distinguish between “I didn’t like this film” and “this film is no good.” And as an ombudsman, I think this distinction is critical. Savage seemed to back himself into a corner. In fact, near the end, he rejected his position as thoroughly as one ever does in these situations. He increased his rating to 3 out of 10. But he was cheeky about it, indicating that what was wrong with the movie wasn’t really up there on the screen but rather inside his brain. He didn’t like it because he didn’t like it.
The people who liked it did a better job as ombudsmen. And I’ll go further: they make the film more enjoyable for someone about to watch it. Because they clearly got it. As I indicated before, most people watching the film will just be confused by it. This is why generally it is best to watch comedies with an audience. We all learn how to approach the film from others. And most audiences include people like me who I call “easy laughers”—people who see the humor in everything. So the four guys who like Cadavra provide a kind of introduction to how one should watch the film.
There was one bit of criticism brought up a few times that I thought was correct. The film does drag a bit in parts. To me, this is part of what is brilliant about it—what makes it something more than just good entertainment. But from the standpoint of someone who just wants to watch an enjoyable film, it doesn’t necessarily work. Both the end of the first act and the beginning of the third act are padded. This is entirely correct for genre. Even though Blamire isn’t still pushing the jokes as fast as ever, most people would find these parts a tad slow. I think these are the best parts of the film. But most people do not intend to watch the film ten times. (Although one of the guys said he watched it three time!)
Anyway, I think The Q Filmcast podcast is a much better introduction to a film than any review that you are likely to read. The conversation is very animated and often amusing. And everyone clearly takes it seriously. Even Savage had paid close attention and knew the film well. That alone is a lot more than many “critics.”
In each episode, they come in with “top 3” lists. For example, they’ve done “child performances” (No question: Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon.) and “visionary directors” (How about: Alejandro Jodorowsky.) and so on. For this film, they wanted, “Top 3 Films with Skeletons in em’.” They mentioned the clear ones: Jason and the Argonauts and Army of Darkness. Almost as an afterthought, they mentioned one of my all time favorites: House on Haunted Hill. That was the first film I thought of when the subject came up. But I would definitely add what is clearly a strange pick, but which has an image that has stayed with me my whole life, Manhattan. “What are future generations gonna say about us?”