Sunday, May 02, 2010

Never prejudge prejudice

Went to see a film this morning with the Baron: Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. I had the review all written out even before I went to see the film - I always seem to be writing reviews in my head about things that I see, before I see them. It's more convenient that way. Here's how the review began:
Intense! Harrowing! Thought-provoking! Grimly realistic! Profound! Dull!
The trouble with the review, fine though it was, is this: I actually saw the film, and the film that I actually saw was quite good, actually. Reality has quite a rude way of refuting your expectations like that. That's why it's so much more convenient to write reviews of a thing before seeing it, and why all sorts of critics so often use the simple expedient of lying about something instead of telling the truth. It allows their reviews to be so much more entertaining. Also, it often helps them cover up if they haven't actually experienced the thing they were supposed to experience.

All this reminds me, once when writing an essay at university about romantic music, I happened upon a neat quote in Hector Berlioz's Memoirs that I used to illustrate some fatuous point I was making about composers deliberately attempting to be popular. Berlioz was saying something like 'let all works that are not approved by the masses be burnt!' Years later, I actually got around to reading Berlioz's Memoirs: and discovered that he was making exactly the opposite point to that which I had quoted him as making.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so bothered by this. After all, as Sydney Smith once said: "I never read a book before reviewing it. It prejudices a man so." Likewise, one should never watch a film, go to an art gallery, read a poem, or do anything, really, before offering one's decisive critical judgment on it. Spend your time eating a cake instead. Future generations will thank you for it.


Dan the VespaMan said...

When I was young and knew everything, I would frequently use the line "I am not going to give it a chance to be crap" when referring to something I didn't like the look of and didn't want to try before forming an opinion on it.

Jumping to conclusions is a great sport.

TimT said...

I like the way you were thinking!

Email: timhtrain - at -

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