Random Play by Graham Reid

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Random Play: Nothing, if not critical

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  • Grant McDougall,

    Good post, Graeme.

    I used to write music reviews back in the '90s and got a bit of personal, verbal abuse now and again in pubs as well. It was never much skin of my back.

    I would sometimes get disgruntled musicians / fans whinging "you're not a musician, so you don't really know what you're talking about." To which I would reply "You're not a chef, but that doesn't stop you criticising a bad meal in a restaurant, does it?" or "You're not a politician, but that doesn't stop you from having an opinion on issue 'X', does it?". That usually shut them up. :)

    Also, one thing I did notice was that the more insecure a person / musician was / is, the more prone they were to abusing a critic, even if the criticism was valid.
    A couple of times, if I dished out a bad review, the act involved wouldn't get upset or harass me. Conversely, the more insecure individuals would lash out. That says a lot more about them, than about me, I reckon.

    Also, musicians often fail to put it in perspective. A critic is one person giving their informed opinion about a band - dozens, hundreds more people still turn up to that band's gigs regardless.

    Dunedin • Since Dec 2006 • 760 posts Report Reply

  • Leigh Kennaway,

    And will the RSC tickets be sold at a slight discount to compensate for the sub-par performance?

    Western Bays • Since Feb 2007 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    And so you do.

    That is where the problem lies. If you do not wish to write a bad review, then you should not attend the show with the intention of writing a review.

    Ideally, if a critic has a relationship with the product(ion), then that should be clearly stated. This seems to only happen with business writers reviewing investment opportunities.

    Restaurant "reviews" often sound like they have been written by somebody who is working for the restaurant. It wouldn't surprise me if the "reviewer" paid to have it published.

    Cheers,
    Brent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 620 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    _All Things Must Pass_

    Was that a concept album about poos and wees?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Here's something else to consider: There are some critics - New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani come first to mind -- whose sensibilities are so out of tune with my own, that if they praise something to the skies, there's an 80% I'll lhate it, and vice versa.

    And when you get right down to it, there are hundreds of thousands of books published every year and no more than a fraction of one percent will be reviewed at any length anywhere. The same applies to every other form of artistic endeavour. Surely even a pan is better than being ignored?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • hamishm,

    It's a bit precious isn't it? A reveiwer might note that it was an understudy playing the part and they might be expected to get better. The negative publicity this will generate is far worse than someone not quite there yet.
    And people should know whether or not something is worth going to see, given that a Stall seat is 38 pounds
    source.
    What Craig said about critics is true as well, there was a guy who wrote for the Melbourne Age whose movie tastes were exactly opposite to my wife and I, if he panned it, we would like it. It is a very useful thing to know.

    Since Nov 2006 • 357 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    There are some critics - New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani come first to mind -- whose sensibilities are so out of tune with my own, that if they praise something to the skies, there's an 80% I'll lhate it, and vice versa.

    One of the things I appreciate most about Roger Ebert is that he is generally able to evaluate movies as to whether they are succeeding at the type of movie they wish to be, as opposed to the more common trait of simply pouring acid on anything that does not match the critic's preferences, which is the more common approach.

    One of the few things I've ever read by TS Eliot that I liked was an essay on the value of criticism... and yet I find myself unable to wholy agree with the prevailing sentiment in this discussion. While there are plenty of reviewers and critics who are simply rubber-stamping PR to make a liviing via glossy (games, retaurant, movie, car, whatever) magazines, there are also more than a few who seem to relish a cult of personality where the reviewer has become bigger than the audience, bigger than the art or product, bigger than everything except the critic's own bloated ego.

    I can certainly understand artists being uninterested in yet another slagging from someone who is known more for their sharp tongue than their insight, just as I can understand their lack of interest in maulings at the hands of frustrated wanna-be artists (most of the most vigourous and least balanced crticism of Tarantino I've seen over the years seems to come from film school grads who seem embittered mainly about the idea that someone went from video stores to making movies with Harvey Keitel).

    Critics, like referees, can be important, but it's not uncommon for both to take themselves entirely too seriously. And without wishing to sound like I'm poking at Graham, music criticism is the area I find worst of all; pick up a copy of a random music rag and for the most part the reviews are arrant, name-dropping crap that hardly ever tells me whether I'd actually want to listen to the music in question. I've had more luck going to record stores and reading lyrics in liner notes as a guide to whether I'll like an album than I have with _Real Groovy_.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • Nobody Important,

    It is here you start to wonder, just what the role of the critics is: are critics responsible to the theatre company or to their own readers? Whose interests are they there to serve? I've always argued the latter.

    It's no surprise that Mr Reid knows who his duty is to i.e. the reader. Such a shame that some other reviewers don't get it i.e. these English reviewers. I also read that piece on the weekend and my first thought was "Why don't they just buy a ticket and go along and review it?". Did the RSC have special guards on the doors, watching out for known critics? It seems bizzarre that they should accede to such a request from the RSC.

    I used to write music reviews back in the '90s

    Me too, student newspapers, eh? To pick up on your point Graeme

    Musicians would sometimes send me albums asking me to comment on them, but only review them if I liked them. Huh?

    I think its important to remember what your mum told you: "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything". I was happy to remain silent on local musos if they were crap on the basis that I only had a limited amount of column space so why waste it on crap? Better to inform readers of what's good than slagging something (unless there'e a burning reason to ie they just got a humongous NZOA grant, or an "overseas record contract").

    Restaurant "reviews" often sound like they have been written by somebody who is working for the restaurant. It wouldn't surprise me if the "reviewer" paid to have it published.

    They're not working for the restaurant, they ususally just know the owner or the manager. And they don't get paid, just fed well. When my sister opened her cafe she got a largely negative review (damning with faint praise), and yet 4/5 stars. Turned out the reviewer was chums with the competition.

    expat • Since Mar 2007 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    there are reviewers and there are reviewers, and Mr R, you are, and have been one of the best. I've enjoyed your reviews over the years immensely (I hope you liked ATMP...it remains one of my favourite albums of all times and I noted with humour that Ringo said this week he can't remember playing on it...he's on every track but 4) and you used to have a massive influence on sales at one stage....a positive review from you would drive people to stores on Saturday morning, paper in hand. The only other critic with that sort of power was Colin Hogg at the Star in the eighties. That says something.

    But as I said, there are critics / reviewers of all colours and sadly, at least in popular music much criticism is too often deadline driven, be it the live show for the next mornings paper, or the monthlies....here are five albums, can I have 200 words on each by the day after tomorrow..which leads to the Christgau rating system...as Lou Reed said...__you spend a year and a half making an album and some arsehole gives you a B+ after one listen__, or the 50 albums in Q or Mojo wastes of ink ( I tend only to read the feature reviews)

    Simon Reynolds mused recently that music criticism is dead, and I can't help but feeling that he's right (and his ponderous recent writings offer evidence in themselves), apart from the odd beacon like yourself. The golden age of Kent, Murray, Bangs and the like, or even Dave Marsh before he decided the money was in the list books, is past, killed by the blog, and the spotty self importance of the likes of Pitchfork and Blender.

    The first duty of the critic does lie, in a perfect world, with offering something to the reader, but it's rarely the case.

    And we won't even start on record company pressure....

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    A few years ago I reviewed a documentary about old two men who'd run an exploitation film studio. I wrote that the film seemed like it couldn't figure out if it was a biography of the men or a doco about the genre of films they made.

    A couple of years after that, the film-maker emailed me and told me I was wrong, and they were actually trying to make a film about both things and he most certainly wasn't confused.

    Oh dear.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I think its important to remember what your mum told you: "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything".

    My friend Oliver used to say "If you can't say anything nice, come and sit next to me". One of the traps, I think, is that panning something can make for awfully entertaining reading.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Lambert,

    As a bit of a movie nerd, I tend to read a lot of reviews and my main criteria for judging the quality of a reviewer is the quality of their writing. As Simon points out, a 200 word review doesn't tell you much about anything, but a good feature review should be a piece of entertainment in itself. An enjoyable (albeit, one-sided) conversation with a knowledgable and articulate person about a shared interest, not some consumer guide for rating toasters.

    Whether or not I always share a reviewer's tastes is largely irrelevant if they can justify their opinion in lively, well-informed prose - who cares how many stars the movie gets in the Time Out section. That tells you nothing. In fact, ban stars. And alphabetical ratings. And please no thumbs-up/thumbs-down either.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Lambert,

    Check out Stephanie Zacharek over at Salon.com, or their tv critc Heather Havrilesky - she's laugh out loud funny and usually on the money. You could say the same about PA's own Fiona Rae for that matter, who's gone missing in action for far too long.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    as Lou Reed said...you spend a year and a half making an album and some arsehole gives you a B+ after one listen,

    To which Samuel Johnson would have retorted, "An author places himself uncalled before the tribunal of criticism, and solicits fame at the hazard of disgrace." I'd also point out some very considerable critics -- Orwell, Robert Hughes, Pauline Kael, Kenneth Tynan are just a few that float to mind - didn't have their critical facilities notably blunted when their hack work produced on deadline for newspapers or magazine are stacked up against their books.

    Having recently cringed my way through Hannibal Rising -- which apparently took Thomas Harris over six years to write -- I don't see how time or repeat exposure would improve my opinion of a shockingly bad book. (And I'm a fan of Harris.)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Quardle Oodle,

    And how must the understudy feel? Imagine if no one had turned up to see Kiri Te Kanawa as the last minute replacement in Otello at the Met in 1974.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    You know, the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Trevor Nunn is a very clever old bird. To be coldly cynical about it, McKellen could be shit (which I doubt), but his name has enough marquee value to guarantee full houses. Still, I don't think bad notes would do much for Nunn personally, or the RSC in general.

    Look at the Sydney Theatre Company's US tour of Hedda Gabler last yea r- it got terrible reviews, which would have been financially disastrous except for the presence of Cate Blanchett in the lead.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Sodium Hydroxide,

    And so you do. And it is bloody awful.

    What are you going to do?

    Are you going to be true to yourself and your readers knowing that you might kneecap their season, and piss off people you actually liked?

    Interesting. Complex. Ye olde objectivity argument. Ethically I personally write "**I think** it's bloody awful".

    I argue from the grounds that if you, as the critic, do have a wider frame of reference the production will use your review to get better, the public go to see the show as they realise one persons opinion is just that (albeit with the wider reference but tempered with the personal pronoun), your friends production presumably would have been reviewed by another critic anyway and if its bloody awful surely they would say so and (now I'm bending your analogy) if something is 100% awful the only way is up, baby.

    Also Quardle Oodle re the anti-critc stance / understudy:

    And how must the understudy feel? Imagine if no one had turned up to see Kiri Te Kanawa as the last minute replacement in Otello at the Met in 1974.

    = consummate example.

    The desert of the real • Since May 2007 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    "panning something can make for awfully entertaining reading."

    Too true, the Mr Cranky dissection of 'I Am Sam" made me snort, chortle and guffaw.

    For quality film criticism, I can't go past James Berardinelli of Reelviews. Best film critic I've read bar none.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    As I would expect, a reasoned post from Graeme and intelligent comment. Not much to add, really, except perspective.

    In 1980s London, as a 23-34-year-old, I reviewed (vinyl) singles and albums for a freesheet called Soundcheck! that was given away outside gigs like the Hammersmith Odeon and at Boots the Chemist, which then had a record department. Reviewers weren't paid for these reviews, 'only' got to keep the records (a lot of NZ publications still work on the same principle, I believe).

    I soon learned it was possible to take some snarky notes about the latest new romantic offering in the time it took to listen to the single - three minutes, usually - having already set aside those records that interested me for special treatment. I rarely bothered to re-listen to a record if I didn't like it on first listening, just went away and typed up my notes, which were then submitted to the editor.

    Years later, while living in Germany, I'd attend the playlist meetings at Radio Hamburg (for which I briefly contracted as a consultant and interviewer) and remember being appalled that the head of programming would decide whether the station was EVER going to play a single based on his thoroughly unmusical review of the song's intro, before it even got to the chorus in most cases. Egos were involved, so were prejudices against certain artists and, of course, ignorance. I can think of cases where I and one or two savvy DJs protested that a song the programme chief had heard perhaps 25 seconds from (Jerry Harrison of Talking Head's song Drive comes to mind) deserved a thorough listening and ought to be on the playlist. This was in the days before radio playlists were created and maintained by computer and rotation was maintained entirely through human intervention.

    These days - on NZBC, for example - I only review music, books and art that I like more than I dislike, and I'm slightly ashamed of the youthful arrogance that led me to believe I could say anything intelligent about a record in the time it took me to listen to it. Nevertheless, although I don't consider myself a critic, I agree with Graeme that I have heard (and like) a much broader range of music than most people I know and do now feel qualified to comment on some of it. Strangely, though, my 'hard drive' is full and I find myself just not caring about most new music... Go figure.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 49 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Craig,
    yes all very well, but I'd love you to point me in the direction of a 50 minute long player I could dissect, understand and review after one listen.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    that the head of programming would decide whether the station was EVER going to play a single based on his thoroughly unmusical review of the song's intro, before it even got to the chorus in most cases.

    Or you could do it the American way....hold open the sleeve, shake it up and down and if no crisp $100 bills or packets of white powder fell out...say "I can't hear a hit".....

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Simon:

    Fair enough, but isn't it funny how folks who complain about bad notes always blame the malicious, lazy retard who wrote the review and can't bring themselves to entertain the possibility that the work is... well, not very good? I'm a huge admirer of Lou Reed, but there are some turds in his back catalogue that won't shine no matter how hard you try and polish 'em up. In my opinion, of course. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Or you could do it the American way....hold open the sleeve, shake it up and down and if no crisp $100 bills or packets of white powder fell out...say "I can't hear a hit".....

    Where do I get a job like that? Heck, I'll prostitute my critical and artistic integrity for Up-sized Filet O' Fish Combos and cough mixture. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    I'm a huge admirer of Lou Reed, but there are some turds in his back catalogue that won't shine no matter how hard you try and polish 'em up. In my opinion, of course. :)

    Indeed...and his interview style makes Hitchens seem like the perfect studio guest. The piece in Mojo last year was cantankerous to the extreme.

    I meet Lou once, many years ago and he was utterly charming, but I watched him three minutes later utterly demolish another poor soul. I'd hate to be the person who had to tell him face to face that Sally Can't Dance is not that good (it's not).

    PS..glad you are still here.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    As a bit of a movie nerd, I tend to read a lot of reviews and my main criteria for judging the quality of a reviewer is the quality of their writing. As Simon points out, a 200 word review doesn't tell you much about anything, but a good feature review should be a piece of entertainment in itself. An enjoyable (albeit, one-sided) conversation with a knowledgable and articulate person about a shared interest, not some consumer guide for rating toasters.

    I couldn't agree more, Lambert.
    When I read a film review, I want to learn something, be enetertained and hopefully be made to think a bit. Just as is the case with film directors, film reviewers whose ego jumps out at you are a real turn-off.

    Plugging my own favourite film reviewer...Gio Fazio in the Japan Times.

    And, on a different note, I'm off to see Pitch Black in Shibuya on Sunday. Bet that'll be worth reviewing.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

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