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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970

Film Criticism

Film Criticism


You would be more honest in your appraisal of The Wild Bunch if you said simply that you didn't like the film and that those who did were nongs. Instead you try to lend a degree of unnecessary respectability to your assertions by indulging in some very tricky pseudo-criticism. You assure readers that the Leone movies and Butch Cassidy are 'infinitely superior' to The Wild Bunch in terms of script, photography, theme music and performances. I note with some interest but little surprise the omission of direction from your list. This important (nay, paramount) concept sifts the cinemaphiles from the literati, since it seems to elude those, mainly bookworms, who haven't yet matured to a full understanding of the film medium.

It is self-evident that one can take practically any film which impresses initially, break it up into its various components, and then decide that in each of these several respects there is at least one other film that is superior. This procedure is farcical, since a film that we think highly of is, after due consideration, analysed into the rubbish bin, condemned by some weird and totally spurious method of comparison. But our appreciation of films is generally based on the totality, not the bits and pieces, despite the fact that when called on to defend out position we tend to parade our opinion of the bits and pieces in order to lend weight to our like or dislike of the whole. He would be brave indeed who would say that the Leone films and Butch Cassidy, as total entities, are infinitely superior to The Wild Bunch.

Your incomplete list deserves some investigation. Photography, for example, unless grossly out of focus, is not in most cases a legitimate subject for 'objective' criticism, since each has his personal opinion as to what kind of photography best suits the mood and setting of a film. The inclusion of 'theme music' leads me to believe that you would dismiss the music in a film if it was not (a) memorable, or (b) heard occasionally on the radio. But I need hardly point out that it is not the purpose of film music to be either memorable or heard on the radio. The worth of the music in a film is not related to its attractions as music independent of the film.

Certain phrases or lines in The Wild Bunch may seem peculiar to those sophisticates steeped in the art-house offerings, but again it is hardly worth observing that the Western as a genre has conventions of action and dialogue that are peculiar. And one could hardly say that the Leone films are notable for subtlety of utterance. As for the 'performances of the leading actors', it must be noted that in the films under discussion it is the case of comparing different styles. The grotesquerie of the Leone films, the studied naturalism in The Wild Bunch, and the distinctive charm of Newman and Redford—all these have points in their favour. You seem to be saying, however, that the performances in The Wild Bunch are noticeably second-rate. I can assure you that in this case the Emperor's clothes are not seen, not because they are not there, but because the beholder chooses not to see.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the intent of your postscript. Perhaps you were intending to say that in each and every one of the aspects you name The Wild Bunch is inferior (the 'infinitely' is excused as hyperbole). If this is so then the last shred of objectivity I cling to deserts me, and I must deem you, Sir, a fool. I agree that the Emperor's clothes syndrome must be avoided at all costs, and I have elsewhere pointed out what I consider to be the faults of The Wild Bunch. What is to be avoided even more, however, is a reaction to the syndrome that goes off the deep end, depriving the viewer of all his critical faculties. Your dislike of The Wild Bunch is unobjectionable; your reasoning is entirely fallacious.

Rex Benson