Interventions like Quentin Tarantino's may sound well-intentioned. But demanding critics leave plot details out of their reviews doesn't only do them a disservice—it reduces the complexity of film as an art form to a series of mere narrative twistsby Caspar Salmon / May 22, 2019 / Leave a comment
Earlier this week, ahead of the premiere in Cannes of his latest film, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino issued an open letter to critics asking them not to spoil the film for future audiences.
The director wrote: “I love cinema. You love cinema. It’s the journey of discovering a story for the first time …. The cast and crew have worked so hard to create something original, and I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent later audiences from experiencing the film in the same way.”
For some this was a standard request, politely expressed, that the press not ruin the experience of watching a film that, clearly, has some sort of trick up its sleeve. For others—including this increasingly impatient critic—the letter is part of a sustained attack on critics in recent times, one which belittles reviewers and demeans cinema as an art form by reducing it purely to a question of narrative twists.
Look at the phrasing again: “I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent audiences from experiencing the film in the same way” (exasperated italics mine). Under the auspices of making a perfectly reasonable demand—“I only ask”—Tarantino is asking reviewers not to mention anything, anything at all, that might prejudice viewers’ experience, allowing them to watch his film without any prior information.
This is patently folly, and it’s a wonder to me that anybody accepts this high-handed pass-agg interference. The truth of the matter is that it is simply not possible for a reviewer to replicate for a reader the experience of going into a film completely free of information.
A reviewer has to discuss plot elements, in order to tackle the ways in which these are presented: criticism is the practice or art of describing the ‘how’, as much as the ‘what’. In other words, critics simply cannot perform their job of addressing how a film does things if they can’t talk about the things themselves.
To take a recent example: before Endgame came out, the film’s directors, the Russo brothers, released a letter asking ‘fans’ not to spoil it for others. Critics were also asked…