Jacob Hall, an Austin based Movie Critic and filmmaker, set himself apart in the Yahoo! Movies Featured Critic contest. While Hall resigned from taking the gig on Yahoo! Movies, here are some questions he answered for me about being a critic, sharing his cinematic insight.
What’s the state of cinema? Are you questioning films more than praising a new dawn?
As popular as it is to say that films are getting worse, the truth is pretty simple: they’re not. We can put on our rose colored nostalgia glasses and pretend that everything was better in previous years, but that’s only because we’ve completely forgotten all of the terrible films that were released when our favorites were in theaters! Heck, there were stinkers clogging up the cinemas when “Gone With the Wind” and “Casablanca” were brand new. History forgets junk, just like history will forget the poor movies being made today. In other words, the state of cinema is as what it always has been — some good movies, some bad movies.
You chose “Brazil” and “Pyscho” for your contest reviews, what was behind your decision to write about them?
Both are easily in my top ten films of all time and “Brazil” is probably my favorite movie, so writing about them felt like no-brainers. “Brazil” has a strong cult following, but it’s not a film many movie fans have seen, particularly for those not used to delving into the stranger corners of cinema. It’s a beautiful, hilarious and heartbreaking movie that needs to be seen by anyone who takes movies seriously. As for “Psycho,” I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock (who isn’t?) and I think that his sly sense of humor and his clever manipulation of cinematic form are just as vital to the film’s success as the shocking plot twists. So I wanted to discuss those elements rather than go on and on about things that have already been talked to death over the past fifty years.
Most critics have no experience behind the camera, but you’ve had filmmaking experience; do you see this as essential for critics?
It’s certainly not essential. Making movies and writing about movies are incredibly different disciplines that require unique skill sets. I do both because I love them both. If anything, my time working on my own films has allowed me to sympathize with even the worst movies…making a bad movie is a grueling trial, so making a good movie is a miracle. If you have the raw nerve to make a movie and put it out before an audience, you have automatically earned my respect, even if it’s a terrible film.
It’s easy to praise something loved or bash something hated, but how do you approach writing balanced reviews?
That’s always the toughest part of writing about anything, movies or not. It’s easy to love or hate something because you’re being fueled by passion. If you love a film, you want to shout it from the rooftops and if you hate a film, you want to savage it. The problem is that most movies aren’t great or terrible: they’re average, often painfully so. The internet has showcased a devolution of critical thought, where something either “sucks” or “rules” with no in-between, so the trick is to delve into why a film is middling or average. You can’t write in platitudes and you can’t write for pull-quotes; the only way to be balanced is to be thoughtful.
The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin is your stomping ground and they have some of the best interactive screenings. If you had unlimited budget what would you screen and how would you make it interactive? For instance Keith Garcia, Programming Manager of the Denver Film Society said he would revisit “Showgirls” in 3D.
Honestly, the best that I can come up with has probably already been done. Any theater that screens “Maniac,” “Maniac Cop 2” and “Vigilante” over the course of two days with the director in attendance for a Q&A has earned my undying loyalty. However, because I’m at the mercy of an interview question, I’d want to see “Phantom of the Paradise” screen, accompanied by local bands performing covers of the film’s soundtrack. However, that’s probably me just greedily wanting to see “Phantom of the Paradise” on the big screen.