screen wriTer

Don­ald Clarke on those con­tro­ver­sial

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Thank you for read­ing this. No, re­ally. If ad­ver­tis­ers are to be be­lieved, “to­day’s busy life­styles” leave the av­er­age con­sumer barely enough free time to eat or breathe. It is, thus, de­cent of you to waste five valu­able min­utes read­ing a bunch of face­tious re­marks con­cern­ing the un­stop­pable ad­vance of the star rat­ing in the re­view pages of news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines.

If you go among any gath­er­ing of film crit­ics, it won’t be long be­fore some bearded mal­con­tent be­gins whing­ing that most pun­ters now sim­ply glance at the star rat­ing that heads the re­views and ig­nore the text be­neath. A glimpse of the fu­ri­ous e-mails that ar­rive weekly at Screen­writer Plaza sug­gests that the dili­gent read­ers of The Ticket are, in fact, happy to plough through a sur­pris­ing amount of drivel from this writer (thanks, again). Still, it can’t be de­nied that, re­lieved of the need to ac­tu­ally dis­en­tan­gle sen­tences, film fans with par­tic­u­larly “busy life­styles” do, in­deed, tend to use the star rat­ings alone as their guide.

Space pre­cludes any com­pre­hen­sive ex­am­i­na­tion of the flaws in such an approach, but con­sider, for ex­am­ple, how the rat­ings sys­tem fails to ac­com­mo­date irony.

I would very much like to see a film in which lizards wear­ing hats ram spit­tle- soaked copies of The Da Vinci Code down Dan Brown’s un­wel­com­ing gul­let. Guy Ritchie’s Hat­ted Lizards vs the Mon­ster Hack would not, I sus­pect, qual­ify as a mas­ter­piece in the sense that word is used by grown-up crit­ics. It might, how­ever, be some­thing I could hap­pily watch twice a day for the rest of my life. None­the­less, grant­ing this fine hy­po­thet­i­cal en­ter­tain­ment the full five stars would surely pre­cip­i­tate a jus­ti­fied vol­ley of hate mail.

Time Out rates films out of six stars, so, con­trary to what the poster might im­ply, the pres­ti­gious Lon­don list­ings mag­a­zine did not quite give No Coun­try for Old Men its top rat­ing. Em­pire mag­a­zine, for good or ill, throws stars around with aban­don. Peter Brad­shaw in the Guardian is some­what harder to please. The only sure way to dis­cern the proper mean­ings of th­ese lit­tle gal­ax­ies is to read the crit­ics on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and at­tune your­self to their fol­lies and bi­ases.

In re­cent years, the ten­dency to­wards re­duc­ing crit­ics’ opin­ions to bald in­te­gers has ac­cel­er­ated with the growth of two in­flu­en­tial web­sites. For each new re­lease, Rot­ten Toma­toes and Me­ta­critic boil down the views of hun­dreds of film crit­ics into one eas­ily di­gestible per­cent­age.

Dif­fer­ent method­olo­gies lead to some dis­crep­an­cies, but it is, the sites sug­gest, now pos­si­ble to ab­sorb a huge mass of opin­ions in one swift gulp. So, what did the New Yorker, the Cleve­land Plain Dealer, Salon and a hun­dred other publi­ca­tions make of There Will be Blood? Me­ta­critic called it as 92 per cent; Rot­ten Toma­toes gave it 91 per cent. How did Paris Hil­ton fare in The Hot­tie and the Not­tie? A chill­ing 6 and 7 per cent, re­spec­tively.

Hooray! It is now no longer strictly nec­es­sary to read a word of any film writer’s copy. So, thanks again for both­er­ing.

dclarke@ir­ish-times.ie

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