Notes on film criticism for Catholic reviewers

Notes on film criticism for Catholic reviewers December 28, 2020

Recently I had an email exchange with the award-winning filmmaker Frank Frost, president of Frank Frost Productions on the topic of film criticism, specifically on the task of Catholic film reviewers and critics.

While some reviews will note content problems (language, sexuality, violence, etc.), it is often offered as guidance for parents for what may be appropriate for children.

Our conversation, however, dealt with context, expectation, scope, and concerns of the Catholic film critic. While our conversation did not cover all possibilities, I think what Frank has to say here is helpful and supportive of our critical efforts.

Frank Frost:

It is best for a film critic to keep their comments “within the four corners of the movie you see,” not the movie you wish you wanted to see.

The job of a reviewer is to review the movie in front of you, not rate it by its religious/social/political “correctness.”  Much less ask it to teach doctrine.

We need a perspective, a lens; in fact, we can’t avoid it as film critics!  The important thing is not to impose that perspective on others with sweeping generalizations.  Having respected the integrity of the story a film is trying to tell, it’s statement, recognizing its intent and presumed audience, it is perfectly valid to criticize it, reject it, whatever.  But a Catholic film critic’s credibility will suffer if he or she was to attack it for not conforming to their particular set of religious beliefs.

The meaning of a film is found at the intersection of the movie’s expression and the viewer’s filter and perception.  If we find a movie to meet our most important criteria – which to me are the values of human dignity and common good, and do so with art and beauty, then I say it is a fine movie for a mass audience. There can be much human value in entertainment.

It is good to remember what the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn once said: “If you want to send a message [in a film], let Western Union carry them.”



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