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Gaming | Film | TV

Should we sack the critics? Ken Loach fights back against free speech

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Director Ken Loach wants “ordinary punters” reviewing his films rather than critics. Is he onto something?

Ken Loach, director of Kes, and indirect contributor to the career success of Keith Lemon, is not a fan of film critics. He has called for the abolishment of professional cinema scribes, replacing them with “ordinary punters…People experienced, who know life.” Is Loach on to something, or is it just a case of bitterness and a victim mentality regarding the reception of his body of work?

“By and large critics are people who live in darkened rooms…and so it’s like it’s a fantasy for them”

He told The Guardian on Friday, “By and large critics are people who live in darkened rooms – they don’t meet the people who are running campaigns to save hospitals or save community centres, or engage in that political struggle in the real world, or organise trade union activity.”  If they did, he continued, “they’d meet people who, from their own experience, can articulate their ideas, can articulate a strategy for the particular campaign; they’d find people whose use of language is very vivid. They tend not to meet those people and so it’s like it’s a fantasy for them.”

It’s a sweeping generalisation, of course – critics (like ordinary punters) come in all shapes, sizes, and flavours. You cannot simply excuse it by using the phrase “by and large”, as Ken did. It’s still lazy stereotyping. There is definitely an argument to be made regarding the class and background of certain broadsheet writers, but they are not the only fruit in film journalism. Tabloid newspapers, women’s magazines, Zoo, Heat – all of these have equal chance of getting a blurb on the poster of the latest popcorn-chomper. And that’s before we even consider the many dedicated film publications which come out each month.


Being a film critic doesn’t automatically exclude you from experiencing real life. A reviewer is not the Queen, or Donald Trump. He doesn’t live in an enchanted castle on a high hill, out of touch with what’s happening on Britain’s Got Talent, or how much a pint of milk costs. He’s a normal person with an interest in cinema, and a talent for articulating his thoughts, be they good or bad. Or, in some cases, he knows bugger all about cinema, but he’s cheaper to hire than his brother (that was a Paul Ross joke. Keep up).

Why do we listen to the critics? The same reason we pay more attention to the advice of one close friend over others

Equally, being a “normal punter” doesn’t automatically give you the necessary skill set to evaluate and recommend movies to the masses. No matter your opinion of something, there are bound to be people who disagree. I know this all too well, from that one time I tried to make my other half watch the tour-de-force of 21st century filmmaking that is Battleship, and she made me turn it off after 20 minutes. Some people just don’t have a sophisticated enough palate to enjoy the thespian achievements of Rihanna. Those people are wrong.

Why do we listen to the critics? The same reason we pay more attention to the advice of one close friend over the advice of others. It’s a matter of trust. If you’re the sort of man who enjoys reading books about the SAS, and likes a good punch-up outside the chip shop on a Friday night, a movie poster telling you that Cosmo Girl gave something 10/10 is probably going to make you look elsewhere for your Orange Wednesday thrills. Likewise, if you’re into low budget, three-hour, sepia-tinted indie flicks where the characters sit around making meta-jokes about Sartre, you’re not going to be impressed by a recommendation from the back pages of Milf-Hunter Monthly.

Read more on film: Can British film still be ‘British’?


Ken’s remark was more than likely off the cuff, not some sort of Russell Brand-style manifesto for change, but it’s still incorrect. There is no need to sack anyone. Film critics and ordinary punters already exist, in harmony or not, and it is your choice to take the advice of whomever you like. One look at the user reviews on IMDb will tell you everything you need to know about the diversity of human opinion; and, if you’re a fan of Ken Loach films, no patronising piece of self-congratulating guff in the Mail or the Sunday Sport is going to put you off seeing one.

Creating art is a difficult process, and facing the critics is probably the hardest part. The sickening irony is that, although one needs a thick skin in order to take harsh, sometimes unnecessary digs, the very nature of being creative is that it comes with a great sensitivity. Ken Loach’s genius and beauty will live on as long as he does, and continue to be part of British culture long after he is gone. There is no film critic capable of sabotaging that, nor any ordinary punter. If you haven’t seen one of Ken’s films yet, I’d urge you to go out and do so today. Unless you’ve seen one of Mike Leigh’s, in which case, you’re fine.


Read more on film: Movies don’t make murderers


Featured image: David Boyle (via Flickr)

Inset images: Entertainment One; Cornerhouse (via Flickr)


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