Monday, November 16, 2009

Confessions of a Blantantly Belated Review Reader

Reader, I have a confession. Though I often write reviews and wish people to read them in advance of heading out to the galleries, truth is that I often find reviews most interesting after I've experienced the show/movie/book/album myself.

That is, I often don't read a review, or at least seek one out, or at least really really read them thoroughly until I've experienced the thing being reviewed. I love reading reviews as a form of mental conversation, of getting all the angles, of comparing and contrasting to one's own point of view, or honing same.

Case in point: This weekend I went to see the film A Serious Man. Now I had read some reviews in advance (these were hard to avoid, in fact, given the film's premiere at TIFF earlier this fall). But only after seeing the movie, being perplexed by it, and chatting about it with my partner did I go home and load up Rotten Tomatoes, where, as I'm sure you know, reviews from media across North America, from writers both big and small, are compiled for most major-release films. (Wouldn't it be great if the art world had something like this? At least for Venice and other shows seen and reviewed as widely as a single major-release movie?)

Via the roster Rotten Tomatoes had compiled for A Serious Man, I think I read about seven to ten reviews of the film--some positive, some negative. It was great to read some of these pointed opinions and know exactly what aspects they were referring to in the film as they asserted them. Whether I agreed with the reviewer or not, their review invariably made a lot more sense to me--and provided more that was at stake for me--because I had seen the film myself.

I guess what this post has ended up being, really, is a little rumination on the function of reviews, which tend to break down like this:

1) Service to the reader A -- primary -- "Why, IMHO, this book/show/movie/album is worth your time and money, or not."

2) Service to the reader B -- primary -- "If you can't get to this thing yourself, here's the broad strokes of what it's all about, IMHO."

3) Service to the reader C -- typically regarded as tertiary, but for me (and likely others) often primary -- "Hey, if you actually did experience this thing yourself, here's a foil/back-pat for your thoughts on the matter."

Of course, there is at least one other important function of reviews in most media contexts, which would be 4) Service to the publisher -- "Some editorial to accompany related advertising." But that's another post/total fact of writing for any media outlet.

Okay, one more "of course"--some critics are just damn fun to read no matter what they're writing about. So sometimes reviews are there just to give a good writer something to dance around, or, in terms of service to the reader, to give good writing.

Overall, I am very happy to live in the age of the interwebs when so many reviews can be accessed online from different critics, at least for some arts genres. It makes being a blatantly belated review reader a hella lot more fun.

Image from A Serious Man from the fansite Coenesque

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