14th June 2015

Last Tango in Paris (1972) – a movie put on the map by Pauline Kael’s compelling review.

I have a friend who rarely enjoys wine. His palate and knowledge are such that he now cannot afford that which he loves most. Most other wines – the ones I’m happy to drink – seem to him like pale imitations.

I am headed that way with music myself. Having spent most of my life on the outside of any sort of rigorous appreciation, I returned to study voice and – in consequence – spent much time listening to the world’s best singers, seeking to understand why they are good.

My palate for music has changed as a result. My tastes have turned. I find zero fascination in singing talent plucked from a garrison of wannabe famous people, participating in countless TV talent shows. Although they may display potential, they do not – to my ear – display talent.

Most singers of any genre are tipping away – good enough to survive, but without the wherewithal to truly edify their craft. Just because it’s ruby red and made of grapes does not make it fine wine.

Criticism of this ilk is decidedly unpopular in our culture. It is often considered impolite and ungenerous. Indeed, the more I have come to understand music the less credence my opinion is given. I am treated by some of my mates as an elitist nerd. It is as if knowledge is the antithesis of appreciation, not its prelude.

And yet, true informed criticism is a motor of progress in all artistic endeavour, including the art of marketing. I believe that part of our essential role, as marketing professionals, is to expertly criticise the creative and intellectual outputs of others.

Pauline Kael was the foremost film critic of the 20th Century, plying her trade for The New Yorker through the 1970s and 1980s. What marked her out (aside from her wonderful, direct and simple writing) was a laser focus on her visceral reaction to a movie, not its rational deconstruction. Further, she  held that criticism should emanate only from one’s informed personal experience with a film, not an osmotic assessment of opinion, infused with others’ hopes and expectations. Kael panned many commercial hit movies; her encouraging words put other niche films and actors on the radar. Her view was that criticism is an essential part of film-making, because without it the integrity of what is actually good is lost – and the culture moves towards movies which are popular, and convenient for the interested parties whose business it is to produce them.

(The food industry fell victim to such circumstances in the 1970s and 1980s, only for us all to discover that whilst we may have had full bellies, we were being poorly nourished. The absence of strong food critics ultimately undermined our collective health.)

In essence, the movie critic is the quality-control champion of the movie goer. This is what we in marketing are too: representatives of the consumer’s best interests.


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