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Film: To See or Not to See

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Winter 2014

Henry P. Raleigh drawing To See or Not to See

I’ve still not seen Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight”. Perhaps I never will. You see I find myself caught in a quandary, a rock and a hard place, between Scylla and Charybdis and it’s necessary to keep my critical skills pure, unsullied, justice and fairness at all cost- I could go on this way-you get my concern, I think. Now the facts of the matter are these: The New York Observer had called Mr. Allen's 44th film a “master strike of enchantment”, four star worthy by a usually nasty two star critic but Salon.com dismissed “Magic in the Moonlight” as “tedious, offensive, and incompetent” while The New York Times simply yawned, seeing the film as “formulaic and artificial”, a waste of time. Ok, the New Yorker found it little better than pretty. So there you have it. To see “Magic in the Moonlight” means being forced into taking up one side or the other with fellow critics or worse, conclude all have lost their marbles. Things are bad enough in professional film criticism nowadays without suggesting we should be put out to pasture. It wouldn’t seem so hopeless if the gulf between “Magnificent” (the Observer again) and “incompetent” had not been so wide, so absolute. There’s just no wiggle room in there to budge up a compromise.

It certainly can be expected that some disagreement may exist among critics over a film. We’re only human you know. Just look at the range of critics rating listed in Entertainment Weekly. Here, for example, is a Boston Critic who gives a C+ for “Sex Tapes” where the Los Angeles critic only a D. The Denver critic refused to rate the film and went to see “Tammy” instead. Well, this might tell you something about what may be going on in the northeast. However, the cases I’ve cited here, of top-drawer critics viciously disagreeing about a major film by an outstanding independent filmmaker (“...one of the few legitimate cinematic geniuses of the modern cinema…” the Observer again) leaves one sick at heart. Can there be any explanation for this? Should one or another of these warring critics, for the good of the profession, bite the bullet and issue the contemporary favorite- “ I misspoke” or “my review was inappropriate at this time”. I fear these are not possible; the damage has been done and is irreparable. I’m sorry Mr. Allen.

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