Tips for Film Critics: Part Two by Ewan Gleadlow

Have you read Part One? Check that out here!


KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU HAVE REVIEWED 

For me, keeping track of which films I have reviewed is absolutely integral. Not just to show how many films I have reviewed and how I felt about them, but to create a timeline to find out what films I need to review next. 

Sometimes I may review a film and it will have a sequel which, for whatever reason, I have not reviewed yet. As a self-proclaimed Completionist, it would be a priority for me to review an entire franchise over random, sporadic picks. 

When it comes to tracking tools, I like Letterboxd. It is practical, easy to use, and solely dedicated to film. You can share your reviews, comment on other reviews, and log every movie you have seen with a star rating, all in one place. Not to mention the friends and followers you can make through the site - it is a very welcoming place. 

HAVE AN OPINION 

That seems like pretty vague advice, doesn’t it? Really what I am saying is: do not be afraid to go head to head with the critical consensus. 

Having your own platform is fantastic. It allows for a new opinion to break the mould of what is expected. If you feel a film is truly awful or fantastic, it is your right to tell us why. Reviews like this are needed to challenge the hegemonic reading of a film. 

Contemporary reviews are integral; both on modern films and classics too. And having your own unique opinion is what makes your writing interesting. Do not be afraid or persuaded to conform to an opinion that has already been set out by a majority. 

If you genuinely feel that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is a great film like I do, do not be afraid to tell your audience that. Audiences appreciate honesty over conformity. 

ALWAYS WATCH THE SEQUEL 

 I hate the Rush Hour films, but I have seen all three of them. That is because I think it is integral that you watch the sequel. 

Whether the sequel changes your perception of the original film or not, is entirely dependent on the film, although sometimes the follow up is better than the foundation. Either way, watching the sequel can help you see the bigger picture, and the overall goal intended by the director or writer may not be entirely clear until you have seen the whole series. 

Looking for some film recommendations? Check out the link at the bottom of this article! 

REVIEW THE CLASSICS 

Sometimes it is not financially or physically possible to write reviews for the newest films. Although there are ways around this, most of them are illegal to various degrees, and so it is best to stick to reviewing the classics. 

There will always be an audience for reviews of older films. There is no harm in going back and reviewing classics starring Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Marilyn Monroe, and there is always somebody out there wanting to an updated review of Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane (1941) or even Jaws (1975). The possibilities for what to review are endless. 

What I will say though, if you are reviewing to reach an audience and to establish yourself as a trusted, critical voice, be sure to broaden your watching habits, but try not to go too niche for considerable periods of time. Much like sticking to one genre*, this may not be something that is marketable to a larger audience. 

UTILISE SOCIAL MEDIA 

The most help you will ever receive is from the wonder that is social media. 

For example, setting up a group on Facebook and inviting your friends to join is a great way of advertising your writing. Asking your friends to invite their friends, and so on and so on, is something that genuinely works rather well. 

Twitter is also great. Retweeting has been the saving grace of some of my articles, especially if your article is retweeted by cast and crew. So, don’t forget to tag them! 


To see what films Ewan recommends every film critic watches, check out this post! This piece was written by Ewan Gleadlow - you can find out more about Ewan via their Twitter and Wordpress site, Cult Following

Tips for Film Critics: Part One by Ewan Gleadlow

Before I begin, nothing here is set in stone, and, to be honest, that is the best piece of advice you will ever receive. Nothing is ever set in stone. But, if you are not sure where to start, here are a few tips I have picked up over the past year as a film critic…

JOIN A GROUP AND MAKE NEW FRIENDS

Community is always important in both journalism and critique, and making contacts, connections, and friends is essential. Not only to get your work noticed, but also to make critiquing more enjoyable. It is also a nice safety net to have if you need advice, help or a bit of support.

Groups like A Film Club are excellent examples of the camaraderie within the film critic circle. Weekly chats, promotion of your work, and a genuinely friendly following, all provide you with a good place to get yourself started.

Other groups are available, none that I am personally a part of, but there are various forums and groups scattered across social media that would provide you with similar support too.

WATCH AS MANY FILMS AS POSSIBLE

At the time of writing this, I have watched over 1,000 films. My personal goal is to watch 10,000. Whether that be short productions lasting seconds, or ensemble casts in four-hour long marathons, I try and watch as much as humanly possible. 

The main reason for this is: the more you watch, the more you understand. My personal understanding of film has greatly improved solely through watching as many films as I could get my hands on. And this is evident in the difference between my early work and my more recent writing.

But to watch so many films is a Herculean task. One way to watch as much as possible is to aim to watch a film every day. You could watch something new, or a film you have not seen in a while, and it does not have to be a feature length blockbuster either. 

I usually use short films as a break during film marathon days; where I collect five or six films, and set about watching them all in one sitting. Short films, that last only a minute or so, provide a lovely break in between features. Alternatively, shorts can also help clear your mind after a long day of working or studying… And there is nothing to say you cannot review short films either!

Looking for some film recommendations? Check out the link at the bottom of this article!

REVIEW A VARIETY OF GENRES

Chaining together films from the same genre for long stretches of time can get repetitive. I once tried to review as many Keanu Reeves films as I could in one block, but after four I realised it was not fun for me or my audience. Whilst writing a really great film review requires you to hone your interests, do not be afraid to review films from completely different genres. 

The one thing I wish I had known when I first started out is: do not become complacent. People will not read the same review, and you will tire of writing about the same genre, over and over again. Therefore a change of scenery (and genre) is always great to have. 

If your next few reviews are about films of the same genre, shake it up a little bit. Throw a film in that breaks the mould. Of course if you love Action films review as many as you desire, but always keep your audience expecting something new and unique.

HANDWRITTEN NOTES OVER DIGITAL

This one is more of a personal preference, but writing out your notes by hand can sometimes be far more beneficial than typing them. 

The most integral reason for this is that hand writing notes eliminates the distractions enabled by a laptop or tablet. Writing notes down on your iPhone is all well and good until you ignore the film and start browsing Amazon for more films or, in my case, Pulp CDs.

When you go to make notes on a film, imagine you are going to see that film at the cinema. Turn off your phone and the lights, grab some snacks, and have a few pens handy for your notes. I tend to make four pages of A5 notes due to a poor memory, but make as many or as little as you need!

Aside from reducing distractions, writing out your notes by hand just seems to look really nice. There is something satisfying about having a pile of journals and notebooks full to the brim with notes on films you watched months ago. It is almost like a timeline of your work; something physical that you can display alongside your presumed DVD and Blu-Ray collections.

START COLLECTING

I think one of the reasons I became a film reviewer is because I started to buy films quite frequently. I would come back with multiple carrier bags of DVDs from charity shops, who often sell them for a couple of pounds at the most. Possibly one of my favourite bits of writing is my review of Alien (1979); a film I found in a charity shop.

Buying DVDs so cheaply allows you to build up a library of films that you can review at your disposal. But, on the other hand, you may not want your collection to be full of shelf filler… A problem I have after a year of bulk buying DVDs. What I am going to do with three copies of Man on Fire (2004) I will truly never know.

Of course, you do not have to spend a fortune in charity shops and retail stores at all. Those with access to Netflix and Amazon Prime will be able to give up to date reviews of contemporary products, and reviewing Netflix’s newest original films could get you noticed by a bigger audience. 


This piece was written by Ewan Gleadlow - you can find out more about Ewan via their Twitter and Wordpress site, Cult Following

To see what films Ewan recommends every film critic watches, check out this post, and for more tips, stay tuned for part two!

Representation in Audiences - An interview with She's En Scene's Amanda Craig by Scott Wilson

She's En Scene

She’s En Scene is a Glasgow-based community cinema, screening films made by women for women. Men regularly ask its founder, Amanda Craig, why they cannot attend. They want to watch films made by women too. They already are, she suggests, pointing to the plaudits bestowed upon the likes of Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold.

In her experience, women are not talking about female directors or the technical stuff. That is where She’s En Scene comes in. “I did a screening of Prevenge by Alice Lowe,” she says. “A lot of women said, ‘I would never have watched this,’ but now they have and they’re like ‘she did that in eleven days while pregnant?’ I went to a Q&A screening and Lowe brought her child in, and when you see that you think ‘why aren’t women doing this? Let’s do it then!’”

Amanda embodies this ‘do it’ attitude. She remembers She’s En Scene taking off, with lofty goals in mind, wanting to achieve everything in six months. “But it takes pure loads of time,” she says, not without enthusiasm. While she might have hoped for everything to move faster, she never doubted the workload.

 All images and logos courtesy of Amanda Craig

All images and logos courtesy of Amanda Craig

We meet to discuss her project, but what happens instead is a free-flowing stream of consciousness about the state of the industry. She’s En Scene was founded pre-#MeToo, the hashtag rally cry for those who have experienced sexual abuse while working in film. Weinstein may have bust open the conversational dam, but women have long known the industry’s multifaceted problems.

We talk about terminology. Camera operator vs camera man. In academia, Amanda says, it is always the former, the gender-neutral option. “If I hear camera man, I’m going to think that’s not for me.” Representation is at the heart of She’s En Scene. If you can see it, you can be it.

This year’s Oscars ceremony was the 90th instalment, and the first to ever feature a female nominee in the category of Best Cinematography. For 89 years, women have not seen it. In March, Roger Deakins took home the Oscar for his work on Blade Runner 2049 (2017), but it is Rachel Morrison’s nomination for her work on Mudbound (2017) that felt most like a success story.

We swing back to She’s En Scene. One of the films Amanda has screened is Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009). It is a morally complex film about a teenage girl on a council estate. Angry and aimless, she strikes up a flirtatious relationship with her mum’s boyfriend. She is too young for him, he knows that, but the film does not have a moral sense of righteousness.

“Do you think,” Amanda says, “if you were in a mixed cinema, with men and women, that it would be a safe space for the topic of Fish Tank?” No, I don’t.

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She’s En Scene meets in Govan, a predominantly working class area without the cultural capital of nearby Partick and Finnieston. Amanda strongly believes in the need for a cinema in the area, but acknowledges that, so far, the screenings mostly draw women from elsewhere in the city. Even so, it is bringing people into an area with an unfair reputation.

Just like women deserve to see films created by them, so too do people in Govan deserve access to art as much as those in the city’s bourgeois west end.

“It’s all about trying to tackle isolation” she says at one point, neatly summing She’s En Scene up. She wants it to be for the community, and to not cost too much. She wants it to be a safe space where women not only have a chance to talk about cinema, but to organise and plan their own projects too. She wants the community to shape She’s En Scene, and has no ego when it comes to new ideas. A friend suggested a potential name change in the future, to which she replied “you’re f**king right!”

It is an enthusiastic and exciting conversation. She’s En Scene will undoubtedly grow and grow with Amanda at its helm, and she is keen for it to shift and develop how it has to so that women take something from it. Whether it is a safe space to discuss cinema or it is a conversation that leads to future collaborations and creations, it is a community for those who have long been without one. If you can see it, you can be it, and thanks to She’s En Scene, more and more women are seeing it.


If you would like to keep up with She's En Scene and get involved with their events, visit their JustGiving and Twitter pages!

This piece was written by Scott Wilson - you can find out more about Scott via their Twitter and Common Space Author's page.

The impactful depictions of mental health and illness in The Snake Pit and Gaslight by J Simpson

Please note: This piece contains spoilers as well as discussion of abusive relationships, institutions, and psychiatric treatment of mental illness. 

Adapted from the novel by Mary Jane Ward, based on her 8-month treatment at Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, NY, The Snake Pit (1948) tells the story of Virginia Cunningham, played by Olivia de Havilland.

Virginia is a lively, talented, and creative woman, who suffers from occasional fugue states. She floated through life, untethered and unmoored, as a kind of Bohemian free spirit. No one was able to get close enough to notice anything unusual. It is not until she meets Robert, played by Mark Stevens - a book publisher who had seen Virginia's writing - that someone is able to notice anything amiss.

Not long into their marriage, Robert becomes aware that something is happening with Virginia. She suffers from occasional bouts of disassociation. She seems to experience manic episodes, followed by a fugue state. She threatens to harm herself and others, only to have no recollection of it afterward. After a particular episode, Robert reluctantly has Virginia committed.

The Snake Pit's depiction of how mental illness was treated in the 1940s is a bleak, brutal, and chilling slice of reality. Many of the treatments were inhumane, such as strapping patients into freezing cold baths, locked into place with canvas tarps, or using electroconvulsive therapy, more commonly known as 'electro-shock therapy’.

‘The Snake Pit’ became shorthand for the horrors of how mental illness was treated, used most notably by the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 1965, when referring to the Willowbrook State School on New York's Staten Island. This use, in reference to a cinematic adaptation of a popular novel, had profound implications on the treatment of mental illness in the United States.

Kennedy's investigation into this treatment, alongside an exposé in 1972 by investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera, would lead towards a movement of deinstitutionalisation. Unfortunately this was more like transinstitutionalisation, however, as many patients found themselves in the legal system, due to lack of adequate resources for those suffering with mental illness. 

The Snake Pit is just one, if perhaps one of the most famous, instances where cinematic depictions of mental illness and its treatment would go on to impact popular culture, but one can hardly go a day without hearing the term 'gaslighting' in 2018.

'Gaslighting' is a common technique employed to make someone doubt themselves, or discredit someone’s views. The term is in reference to another grim, black and white cinematic depiction of affected mental health; 1944’s Gaslight.

Gaslight is also an adaptation, a noir take on the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, and was the second time the play was adapted for the big screen. Gaslight is the story of Paula Alquist, played by Ingrid Bergman in one of her most mesmerising performances. She meets Gregory Anton, depicted by the sinisterly beguiling Charles Boyer, while studying music in Italy in the wake of her Aunt's murder. 

Paula's Aunt was one of the world's leading opera singers, so beloved she received royal attention, and was gifted with lavish crown jewels. These jewels would prove to be her undoing, as well as the cause in setting Paula on a path towards misery.

Gregory convinces Paula to move back to the house in Thornton Square, and what follows is an abusive relationship. Gregory cloisters Paula away from the world in her Aunt's house. He then begins to manipulate her into doubting herself, and making her think she is losing her mind. Gregory's plan would most likely have worked if it was not for the intervention of the canny Inspector Brian Camerone (Joseph Cotten) of the Scotland Yard.

Both Gaslight and The Snake Pit showcase how cinematic depictions of poor mental health and mental illness, as well as their treatment, can create real change in the world. The term ‘The Snake Pit’ became synonymous with overcrowded institutions and inhumane conditions, whilst gaslighting is noted more and more frequently in the present day.

They both also illustrate the complications in caring for mental health and treating mental illness. They showcase how far we've come, whilst indicating how far we still have to go, as well as pointing out a few missteps at the same time. If there is any prayer of things improving, we must all educate ourselves on mental illness, how to treat it, and the current state of the psychiatric institution, to ensure progress.


This piece was written by J Simpson. You can find out more about J via their Twitter and website!