Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I Love the Art of Poetry Criticism (Part One)

Every Friday in junior high I ran to the local convenience store and bought a copy of all the Chicago newspapers so that I could read the movie reviews. Chicago boasted the supreme movie critics: Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. For at least a good half an hour, I stared at their reviews and memorized the number of stars (out of four) they gave a particular movie.

What power! What importance they made of their lives. I loved the idea that you could reduce art to a star rating.

How could I not want to keep my own archives of their thoughts?

So: I cut out their reviews and criminally pasted them in my family scrapbooks saved in a trunk in the attic. I replaced our pictures with critiques. It seemed like more than a fair exchange. Why would you want to save a picture of yourself? That felt stupid. Someone else’s opinion of someone else seemed more necessary. It made for good gossip. Still does.

It intrigues me that two different smart people could think two different ways about the same movie. Even with all my embarrassing schooling (what moron pursues of all things a Ph.D. in Creative Writing!), I believe that if you look at a movie (or poem) long enough and hard enough, you can determine its intrinsic value and review the piece objectively. Yes, objectively. You can't say such a thing these days, especially if you’re trying to make a career as an artist in any reputable institution.

I can still remember when I read the reviews of a movie called Bachelor Party. Early 80’s Tom Hanks vehicle. He plays a character whose friends throw him, yes, a bachelor party. For the duration of the movie, a lot of weird sexual shenanigans occur. That’s it for the plot. Imagine American Pie with soon-to-be married men replacing young, dumb kids. Almost all of the reviewers hated it. I can still remember what are now predictable queer jokes. One of the young studs fucks a woman in the bathroom and afterwards realizes he had sex with another man. Needless to say, he pukes.

(Full disclosure: at the time my mother took me to see the R-rated movie. We both loved it. Having seen the film on cable last month, I still do. I find myself perversely liking the young studs gay-baiting one another as a form of peer pressure to drink and screw bimbos. )

All the critics justifiably hated it. Except one. Roger Ebert. He gave it three stars (out of four). He was different. I wanted to be different, too. He didn’t go along with everybody else.

I really, really wanted to make myself special. In a way other than being gay.

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