Essay Question: Should critics let nonrelated issues influence how we review a film?

OFCS members ponder the question (suggested by member Susan Granger):

“Will Mel Gibson’s overt and confessed anti-Semitism affect your review of his upcoming film, Edge of Darkness? Does the fact that the film contains no Jewish themes affect your answer? Ultimately, can a critic can truly separate an artist from his professed prejudices and moral values? Should we let nonrelated issues influence how we review a film? Is it even possible to avoid such biases?”

Answers after the jump.

William Goss, Cinematical:


Pablo Villaça, Cinema em Cena:

Not at all. But obviously, if the film dealt with that specific subject matter (anti-Semitism or even just had Judaism as a significant plot element), that would be different, because then his personal position about Jews would have obviously played some sort of part on his choosing of the project and would have to become part of the analysis. However, unless an artist’s personal ideology/proclivity/biases play a obvious part on the project, I don’t take it in consideration.

A.J. Hakari, Passport Cinema:

While an artist’s personal views can (and, in some cases, should) come through in his or her work, rarely do they ever effect my opinion. While I vehemently disagree with Mr. Gibson’s anti-Semitism, I’m prepared to see Edge of Darkness on its own merits (and Gibson’s own Apocalypto was among my favorite films of 2006). Not all critics can separate an artist’s offscreen life from his onscreen work, but it can be done.

Kevin LaForest, Montreal Film Journal:

“Overt and confessed anti-Semitism”? Where did that come from? Sure, Mel’s had his problems, including with the Jewish community, but he’s not a Nazi or anything! About whether a filmmaker’s (alleged) moral values should influence a review, it seems obvious to me that this shouldn’t be the case. Of course, many critics can’t help it, and they’ll overrate every George Clooney movie because he seems to be such a nice guy while being needlessly harsh with others who seem arrogant, intolerant and/or crazy. But if I find any critic who actually holds Gibson’s off-screen antics against him when reviewing his movies, I’d like to see if they’ve also panned every Polanski film since 1977…

Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic:

Depends. If you like what the artist has to offer in his/her work but find his/her personal/political life objectionable, you should be able to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and praise the work. If the work is junk and the artist is a saint, same deal. I’m sure Ron Howard is a nice guy but he isn’t half the artist Roman Polanski is. Sometimes your knowledge of an artist’s offscreen flaws even adds some flavor to the work. Gibson has always been troubled and angry, long before the sugar tits episode, and it looks like he’ll be compelling in his new movie for that reason. We might not buy him in a romantic comedy any more but we sure believe him as a driven, violent thug out for revenge. Now if all the villains in Edge of Darkness wear yarmulkes and say “Oy” before Gibson punches his fist through their heads, that’ll be a different story…

Felix Vasquez, Cinema Crazed:

I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to separate biases since many critics have bashed directors and actors for their personal views before, but I think an actor or director should be granted a pass on their prejudices and or beliefs because their professional work does not necessarily reflect the actual person. Should we dismiss the fine works of Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, or Mel Gibson because of their personal actions or views? I think their work should be judged on its own merits.

Robert Roten, Laramie Movie Scope:

Unless there is something in the movie itself that relates to anti-Semitism, Mel Gibson’s opinions won’t affect my review. My own feeling it that it would be very hard for a director to separate his own movie creation from his own moral values and prejudices, so those are certainly fair game for a reviewer when they show up in a film.

We should not let nonrelated issues influence how we review a film, just as any journalist should strive to maintain objectivity. The question is what is related and what isn’t? I always feel free to make any political comments I feel are appropriate when a film raises a political issue, such as the issue of health care policy raised in A Christmas Carol. Readers who don’t share my political views don’t like that, and complain about it. But since I am my own editor and publisher, I set the rules.

Rob Vaux, Filmcritic:

I’ve made it a policy not to bring external factors into a film review. The quality of a performance should not normally be influenced be where the actor is eating, who he’s screwing or what he’s setting fire to in the alley behind the Viper Room. Gibson, however, merits an exception. The virulent content of his statements steps into the realm of genuine evil; more disturbing is the number of people willing to let such Anti-Semitism slide. If Gibson’s rant had been about blacks, would he have ever worked again?

Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Films:

There is no such thing as objectivity. We all bring our own attitudes and life experiences to the project of making and consuming of art in both subtle and overt ways. I can say that Mel Gibson’s personal history doesn’t affect me, and that might be very true if his issues don’t push any buttons for me. On the other hand, Woody Allen’s dalliances with Soon-yi Previn made a negative and lasting impression on me that has contributed to my souring attitude toward him and his work. When I’m aware of such biases, I recuse myself from reviewing a film, preferring to leave it to cooler heads. When an industry attitude — say, the objectification of women or the stereotyping of African Americans — affects the end product, I feel it is my duty to speak up. I consider it healthy and proper for critics to be human beings, since movies reflect our dreams for ourselves and our culture.

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