You’re long overdue an answer, so let me provide one.
If you’ve been following me and my work for a very long time then, first of all, hello, Jackson, we’ll Skype again soon enough. But, more relevantly, you’ll know that I haven’t always gone out of my way to see every single new release film that heads on down to my nearby cinemas. Time was I would have to pick and choose my cinema engagements, so if a film looked garbage or was something I knew I would despise, I would simply ignore it and move on with my life to see other films I was interested in. Maybe drop some baseless snark despite never having seen the film in question, because this was before I rerouted my online writing persona to somebody with a genuine enjoyment of movies who just gets disappointed at them from time to time – also known as “more like my actual personality” – but otherwise I’d save myself the time, effort, and money.
Those days, of course, are long gone. I now even keep a scoresheet of films I miss out on for whatever reason in order to catch up on them in a nice binge session at year’s end. I see everything, even films that I can tell from a thousand miles away I am going to hate. I vocally dread seeing stuff like David Brent: Life on the Road and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, yet I subject myself to them anyway. Somebody even asked me on Twitter after I saw David Brent why I went and saw it despite knowing that I would despise it, and it’s a fair question. In fact, it’s a question that has followed me around ever since I started seeing all the films, and it’s been long overdue a proper response (outside of a few tossed-off lines from an Inside Out article last year), so I thought that, today, I would finally provide you all with an answer and subsequently put this whole issue to bed for good.
First of all, let me shoot down the common misconception that people have about us film critics in general: no, I do not go into a film wanting to hate it. That should be obvious, but I understand that the scale of pre-release vitriol and dread that I and others sometimes can sling an obviously bad looking film’s way can make it seem like the opposite. So, to clarify, I don’t head into a bad film, or indeed any film, wanting to hate it. After all, what exactly do I gain by wanting a bad film to be bad? A loss of 2 hours to either total boredom or constant anger and/or irritation at best, and for that bad film to continue sticking in my craw long after it’s over at worst. Believe it or not, but we critics do not go out of our way to be made angry or find things to hate, and any potential enjoyment from some kind of confirmation bias we might get from these situations swiftly evaporates once the realisation that we still have to spend the next 2 hours watching this crap settles back in.
So, with that out of the way, why do I still subject myself to Rejected Doctor Who Script with the Serial Numbers Filed Off, Starring Eddie Redmayne’s Insufferable Mugging despite the fact that it’s clearly not for me and something that, based purely on past experience, I’m not going to enjoy? I used to respond to that question with the youthfully misguided assertion that “Proper Film Critics have to watch all of the new releases regardless of whether they want to or not so, ergo, since I want to be a Proper Film Critic, I shall too!” For example, Mark Kermode would live a longer, happier life if he were just allowed to skip seeing any and all Michael Bay movies for the rest of his life, given that he utterly despises each new one and is unlikely to ever see a Michael Bay film that goes against that track record. But it is his job to go and watch Michael Bay movies, so he has to watch Michael Bay movies.
Along similar lines, I would also have responded to that question a while back with a “Well, it’s for Screen 1.” Screen 1, for those of you who don’t know – which is most of you, and I know this for a fact cos I have access to the listener figures of the archives that are conveniently located in one, easy-to-reach place on this site – was a weekly university radio show I did with my best friend Lucy Meer where we discussed the past week in film, with the bulk of each episode dedicated to reviewing the past weekend’s new releases. That was the format, we stuck to that format, and it supplemented (and eventually supplanted when uni workloads forced me to drop writing altogether for a few months) my written work with regards to fulfilling my duties as a Film Critic.
Of course, over the past 12 months, both of those reasons have become rather irrelevant. Screen 1 wrapped up in June – and not a moment too soon, as well, since Lucy is already off making forward, well-deserved progress on her film career – so that excuse is now bupkis. Meanwhile, the state of this site since I launched it in the middle of last year should probably tell you all you need to know about how sporadic and unreliable my writing consistency and spark are nowadays, and seeing more and more films hasn’t been some kind of magic cure-all for that. Plus, outside of myself, the state of film criticism has shifted to such an extent that the only thing separating “Real” Film Critics and people like myself are the “Real” Film Critics get paid, and even that’s not a hard and fast rule anymore given how most sites just offer “exposure” for their articles now.
(Personal side note reminder: actually try freelance pitching next year, you coward.)
Basically, all of the reasons for continuing to see all the films all the time have been rendered null and void – and trying to claim that it’s to get “value for money” out of my Cineworld Unlimited card is a straight-up lie since, ticket prices being what they are, my monthly fee pays for itself in full if I see just 2 films a month. I’ve even had friends comment that my writing and criticism have gotten better as a result of my not feeling obligated to write about every last goddamn film. So, why do I still continue to do so, really?
The simple, honest answer: I like and need to. …stop booing, let me explain!
I’ve written before about my depression – extensively, particularly recently, and will most definitely continue to do so in the near-future, since several of my preliminary Top Films of 2016 and a few other articles are based around that – but, in information I don’t think I’ve properly shared before, I also have Asperger’s Syndrome. As far as I can tell, it’s milder than most commonly discussed or depicted cases, but for me it means that I rely very heavily on structure and consistency. Sudden change or cancellations or such can hit me harder than they do most “normal” people and send me into a bit of an emotional tailspin, which I still to this day think means I’ve never properly emotionally matured past a particularly sulky teenager rather than it being the result of a mental disability but I have been repeatedly assured that the latter is really the case. Regardless, I like structure, and that’s become intertwined with my depression as a result.
So, what started as a youthful misunderstanding of how exactly one becomes a Film Critic, coupled with both a desire to expand my tastes and the fact that I was just financially unable to see everything anyway until I was introduced to the concept of Cineworld Unlimited, eventually became a routine. Once a week, whether it was a Friday or Saturday or Sunday, I would take the day out and head on down/up/whichever direction to the cinema in order to watch whatever new films dropped that week, and perhaps also re-watch films I particularly loved again if the time permits it. Initially, this was to facilitate writing for Failed Critics, then it was so that I’d have content to fill Screen 1 with, and now… Now, it’s because I like doing it and kinda need it.
That ability to just drop everything, for one day a week, to forget any of my problems or anxieties or irritations and just watch films for a full day, nothing else and with no other baggage, is quite therapeutic in a way for me. To escape to the cinema, to watch wild fantasy worlds or even watch my own personal issues be reflected back at me in entertaining and moving ways – I am gonna write SO DAMN MUCH about The Edge of Seventeen at year’s end, I’m warning you all now – is so comforting to me. Whether I’ve had a shitty and relentlessly crazy week, or if I’ve done absolutely nothing at all all week (which really gets me down as somebody who honestly measures a fair bit of his self-worth on how much he does a week and therefore needs to keep busy), the cinema is there to embrace me and, for at least a day, help me forget all that. I look forward to it, nay, I practically live for it, cos at least it’s something tangible and constant I can rely upon.
And that’s why I see every single film, regardless of how much pre-viewing dreading/pissing-and-moaning I do. Not for any altruistic reasons, like giving every film a chance to surprise me – for example, this policy is what got me to try and subsequently fall in love with The Hunger Games films, despite a near-total indifference prior to my catch-up before Mockingjay, Part 1 – although there is a part of that there, but because I need to. Because I have yet to see a film or set of films that make me believe that I would be happier without this routine. Now, that sounds pretty bleak and/or whiney when I step outside myself and see how it looks for others who aren’t Me, but to me it really isn’t. If anything, it’s rather a mood booster, cos at least I have a thing that can reliably bring me joy and excitement even when the thing in question is telling me that I’m going to have to sit through Collateral Beauty in a few weeks. It’s something, and we all gotta have something to hold onto through this life, haven’t we?
Oh, and to quickly answer your other question: I don’t watch Horror movies in the cinema because I’m too terrified of jump scares, being afraid, prolonged uncertainty, and situations I can’t adequately predict or control to put myself through them. The exact same reasons why I’ve never asked another person out on a date, basically.
Callum Petch is near and far and always and everywhere and everything. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!