We go on and on about this so often even we’re sick of it. No, not Josh Thomas: the twin evils of Australian criticism – critics siding with their mates instead of the viewing public, and critics who think the best way to support the local industry is… oh wait, since when was “supporting the local industry” even part of a critics job? Now retiring film critic Margaret Pomeranz has come out swinging against the harsh hand the local press dealt Josh Lawson’s recent sex comedy The Little Death:
The latest manifestation of our apparent cinematic self-hate has been around The Little Death, Josh Lawson’s take on sexual fetishes. Australian critics have almost universally condemned the film, which stands in contrast to its rave reception at the Sydney Film Festival, where it premiered and was second-most-popular film with the audience, and at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was launched – and widely sold – internationally.
Among those Australian critics who have “universally condemned” The Little Death were, um, us:
It’s basically a collection of lame sketches that’re only slightly better than The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, in that once they explain the basic set-up (they’re all based around couples with a specific fetish – one woman is turned on by her husband crying, another has a rape fantasy, a guy only gets turned on by his wife when she’s unconscious, etc) they just wander around for a while then fizzle out. Off the top of our heads, of the four main storylines two end in a pregnancy, one ends in marriage and one in divorce. They might be legitimate relationship milestones but they’re hardly surprising or funny.
So yeah, not big fans.
The thing to pay attention to in Pomeranz’s somewhat incoherent article – first she talks about local films that received solid reviews but were shunned at the box office, then she blames poor reviews for the bad box office of Australian films… so Australian films should be given good reviews even though by her own argument good reviews don’t help at the box office? – is this bit that comes a mere ten paragraphs after she starts defending The Little Death:
A disclaimer is in order here. I was unable to review the film because my elder son was one of the executive producers. But that connection means I can see up-close the anguish of putting a film out there only to have it so dumped on locally.
So she’s not speaking here as a reviewer, or even as a supporter of the local industry: it’s the mother of one of the producers saying “stop picking on my son’s movie”. Why did this even get published?
Only kidding: we all know that blaming reviewers for when a local movie or TV series tanks is a national pastime. No matter that when critics do come out in force to support something that the audience clearly isn’t interested in – oh look, more articles on how Please Like Me is “the best show you’re not watching” – it makes fuck-all difference. Critics should side with the local industry at all times, even if that means (as has arguably been the case with the career of Margaret Pomeranz) the general public becomes aware of their bias and ignores them. Because hey, if the public are ignoring critics, they’ll probably pay more attention to actors and film-makers telling them how great Australian films are, right?
We’ve been doing this long enough to know just how much power critics have in the real world, and it’s pretty much bugger-all. The only time we can influence anyone’s decision is when they’re a): open to the idea of watching something but b): haven’t made up their mind as to what to watch. When it comes to Australian films, after years of duds – duds critics like Pomeranz talked up hard for “the good of the industry” – the audience has made up their mind. Unless it actually looks really good – and honestly, how many Australian films can you say that about – they’re not interested*.
As for Pomeranz, turns out she’s just another “critic” who sides with the big boys instead of the viewers who turn to her for advice. It’s no surprise that she came out with this twaddle having already announced her retirement; now she doesn’t even have to pretend to be objective about what she wants to peddle. This is the kind of ingrained bias that puts people off both critics and the media they shamelessly promote. At this stage of her career, she’s doing more harm than good.
*other real problems with getting people to see Australian films include: poor marketing, limited availability, and lack of audience drawcards. C’mon, we’re talking here about a middle-class sex sketch comedy with Josh Lawson as the star: it’s a wonder they got anyone out of their houses to see that.