Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Critical thinking

Style has a preview of "Avenue Q" this week. I'm looking forward to this show, as much because it'll be the first production I'll be seeing in the new Carpenter Theatre. Should be fun.

Many weeks ago, Grant Mudge posted some links to blog posts by Isaac Butler. Butler may be mildly familiar to Richmonders because he directed Clay McLeod Chapman's "Volume of Smoke" at the Firehouse a few years ago. In these posts, Butler asks some great questions and makes some good points about the role of critics. The series is available in multiple parts; if you are interested you can read them all here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Going to Butler's blog was a little like falling down the rabbit hole for me in that it led to one of those classic experiences of clicking on link after link following the trail of other people's thoughts. One place it led was another series of posts on critics on the blog of James Comtois that, while focused on movie critics, also was fascinating reading. (Three parts to that one, here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Finally, Comtois linked to critic Roger Ebert's post about the rules for critics. That one is going to be added to my browser Favorites so I can refer back to it. The downside for that one, though, is that it doesn't really deal with how theater critics are different from movie critics, and there are some distinct differences.

There were many choice nuggets in all of these words about critics. I may dredge some up from time-to-time but I'd be curious about any responses to the following one in particular. It was written in reference to the "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" scale that Siskel and Ebert used:

"When push comes to shove, one of the jobs of a popular film critic is to ultimately let the reader know if he or she recommends the movie or not. In other words, a review should answer the reader's question, 'should I see this or not?'"

Several times in the past, editors have talked to me about a rating scale, either a 5-star system, or a letter grade, or a Thumbs-up, or something similar to the "Buy It, Burn It, Trash It" scale that the guys at Sound Opinions use. The opposition to such scales is usually along the lines of them being reductive, they don't give the reader credit for figuring out based on the details in a review whether it is worth seeing or not.

What do you think?


Anj said...

Something like "Kill everyone who stands between you and the Box Office" to "What's on TV?"

Anonymous said...

Also directed the reading of Bill C. Davis' Avow. And word on the street is he may be coming back to direct something in the spring.

Anonymous said...

Without looking for citations, Susan H. sometimes includes statements to the effect of "If you like (frothy comedy without much logic) or (deep explorations of the dark side of human nature) or (whatever it is) then go see this show. If that's not your cup of tea, don't." Mr. Porter, who has the luxury of more print space / air time than other local critics also has made statements such as "be sure to catch it" or "well worth the time."

In context, especially placed at the end of review, this serves the same purpose as a rate.

Sometimes, a critic may not have such a strong feeling of go see vs. don't go see. At these times, the opinions of a review stand on their own.

For people involved with mounting the productions, it's difficult territory to navigate a good vs. bad vs. mixed review. Adding a number scale (while kinder than a thumbs up or thumbs down) would add to that stress.

Then again, reviews are for the public, not for the participants, so maybe a number scale would be helpful, or, maybe audiences would stay away from anything less than something rated at the top, or very near the top of the scale.

Thanks for the intersting links, Dave. Posting annonymously as I am involved in a current production.

The French Judge gives this comment a 7.1.

isaac butler said...

Hey Dave T,

First off, thanks so much for the shout out!

Second, I'll actually be back in the RVA area, directing Sheila Callaghan's CRUMBLE... LAY ME DOWN, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE at the Firehouse.