An Introduction to Final Shot
Updated: Jan 6
When the Coronavirus came and the world locked down for the first time, while some lucky Brits were outside in their gardens basking in the May sunshine, I was finishing my final year dissertation which I had (inevitably, Coronavirus or not) left until the last couple of months of the academic year. The consequence of that was brutal productivity during the first lockdown, negating the need to be doing DIY or reinventing the wheel with all the new hours that had suddenly become free. However, with a second lockdown becoming increasingly likely, and cinema suffering a period of great strife, jobs in the industry are hard to come by. So, with little else to fill my days, I thought it was time to stop procrastinating and be productive. And then I spent a few more weeks doing nothing. And now, here I am, in the midst of the second lockdown, finally sitting down to write and start up the blog that I have always wanted to use as a platform for my thoughts on film. In this first, introductory post, I want to outline the nature of this blog, the writings that will primarily feature on it, and my motivations for creating it.
One cinematic discussion that I find particularly absorbing is the question ‘What is a critic for?’. There are two opinions that I wish to highlight on this topic, the first from scholar Robin Wood, who suggests that true criticism is found in the space between the reviewer and the scholar. In Wood’s view, the critic analyses films without slipping into either the “junk food” style of reviewers, or the painstakingly academically researched but stylistically uninspired writings of the scholar.[i] Though Wood is a man never shy to present a strong opinion as objective truth, I do think there is some merit in what he argues here. There can be more to criticism than a mere summary of plot and quick rating out of five, and discussing film on some deeper level can be enlightening, but giving an opinion is equally important, and, ultimately, the perceived ‘quality’ of a movie becomes paramount to those for whom seeing a movie is an exchange of time and money for entertainment. Therefore, I will do a little of both on Final Shot, sometimes reviewing movies straight, sometimes looking at them from a different angle than other critics, and always giving my own personal opinions (no matter how unpopular they are within received cinematic wisdom).[ii]
This leads nicely into the other point of view, from one of Britain’s leading critics, Mark Kermode, who has dedicated an entire 50-page chapter of one of his books to the subject of what a film critic is for.[iii] “I honestly think the eighties Hollywood romp Breathless, staring Richard Gere, is better than Jean-Luc Godard’s epochal nouvelle vague masterpiece A Bout de Souffle”, Kermode writes, before going on to say “I have rather fonder memories of Breathless, even though I know in my heart that it is a lesser piece”. Whilst I appreciate Kermode’s sentiments here, I disagree with his second sentence because why should Gere’s version of Breathless be the “lesser piece”? Sure, other critics have a different opinion, and Godard’s film is undoubtedly more important as a milestone of cinematic history, but that doesn’t mean it is a better film. What, in the grand scheme of things, makes one film better than another? It is arguably arbitrary and entirely subjective. Therefore, in my own writings, I will have no trouble tearing down crap ‘classics’ or routing for deserving works which have been largely under-reviewed or attacked by other critics. I would love to be convinced that I am wrong when I deride a movie, and I do have a sneaking suspicion that he who enjoys the film the most is in the right: after all, why would I want to spoil somebody’s genuine enjoyment of a film when I can instead try and understand what it is they see in it that makes it so great? And it is also important that I recognise my own biases. Two that immediately spring to mind are a leaning towards 21st century films (it seems the further back into film history I go, the less I can personally and emotionally relate to what is on the screen), and a desire to champion the underdog (the films I feel are underappreciated will have a special place in my heart, whereas those which are commonly lauded as ‘great’ will rarely be my favourites, no matter how much I enjoy them). Though you, as a reader, should be aware of these prejudices and may become more attuned to my tastes through my reviews, know that I will always honestly express my feelings towards a film and try to get to the heart of the movie’s virtues and failings as I see them, arguing my case as persuasively as I am able. To summarise, then, and finally answer the question ‘What is a critic for?’, I again turn to Kermode who writes “film criticism, if done properly, should involve opinion, description, contextualisation, analysis, and (if you’re lucky) entertainment”, a concise verdict that I wholeheartedly agree with, and my hope is that every review I post on Final Shot will be comprised of a blend of these five elements. Though in the end, of course, you will be the judge of how successfully I achieve this endeavour.
This name, Final Shot, serves a dual purpose. On the one hand it refers to the USP of the blog in that I will always pair my reviews with a cover photo taken from the final moments of the movies. I think that the way films end is one of the most fascinating areas of cinema and every review will reference and consider these final shots in some way, examining how a film can leave you in its spell until its very final moments, and, with the right kind of ending, beyond the boundaries of its on-screen existence. This necessarily means that I cannot guarantee spoiler-free reviews, and indeed, discussing films in the depth that I intend to in some cases may require analysis of the plot on a deeper, and crucially more revealing, level than in standard reviews. The second meaning of the name Final Shot can be found in the films I seek to review here. For the most part, these will be established, acclaimed movies from film history that I am seeing for the first time, expanding my knowledge of the cinematic back catalogue and putting my thoughts down on paper. As such, I am giving a fresh take on well known films, a final shot at finding something new to say about them, and, with my unyielding dedication to stay true to my own feelings on these films, giving a new perspective, whether good or bad, on films which have seemingly already been designated a rung on the ladder of film history. This will be my primary focus, although occasionally I will diverge from this a little. Perhaps I have something intriguing to say about a film I have seen before, whether because I discovered something new about it upon a second watch, or because I want to write a love letter to one of my very favourite movies and capture why it is that it enthralls me in cinematic rhapsody with every repeated viewing. Perhaps I have recently seen a television programme that is particularly captivating, and I want to write on a medium that is fast surpassing cinema in its artistry and ambition. Or perhaps I have been lucky enough to see a new release, even in these trying times, and I want to share it with you. You know, like a normal reviewer. Ultimately, however, my goal for this blog is simple: to continue to explore the global, historical universe of cinema, regularly viewing films I have never seen before and reflecting on them sufficiently to be able to write perceptive and compelling criticism.
[i] Robin Wood, “Criticism”, Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. Volume 2: Criticism-Ideology. [ii] It should also be noted here that, much as I have done in this very post, I will try to lead the reader to other relevant, interesting writing, ranging from scholarship to other blogs like this one. I’m not precious, if somebody puts something better than I can, I’ll recommend you have a look at their ingenious work. [iii] Mark Kermode, The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex, a book I heartily recommend, both for its insights into modern cinema, and its thoroughly entertaining writing style.