I have wasted no time. Tom Laughlin, to synchronize perfectly with the Spring re-issue of The Trial of Billy Jack, has put the question, “Why are movie critics out of touch with the audiences?" He has answered it himself (see last weekend's newspapers) in some 2000 words; but, consistent with his belief in open forum, he has invited others to answer the same, in 300 words or less. He has put the question and invitation in the form of an essay-contest sweepstakes (Details available at participating theaters and fine stores throughout the area), and the rewards are sufficient enticement for me to doff the airs and pretenses worn in the past. With any of the prizes — whether $25,000 cash or 1975 Plymouth Trail Duster — I can envision myself setting off on the road to a decenter life. What follows (copyrighted and postmarked, April 28, 1975) is my entry, my essay, or — with a nod to Mr. Laughlin — my artifact:
To answer the provocative question proposed, or posed, by Tom Laughlin of Billy Jack fame, and of Billy Jack Enterprises, Inc. … "Why are movie critics so totally out of touch with the audiences they are paid to review for?" …. we might proceed, first, by posing another relevant question .... What kind of people covet the role of critic in the first place??
(It is almost overwhelmingly tempting to repeat what is so often pointed out .... THOSE WHO CAN — DO! THOSE WHO CANNOT — CRITICIZE! But we must not content ourselves with mere truisms. We must probe, poke about, pose questions, turn over stones, and dig deeper.)
To answer this question…. What kind of people? …. we might proceed by way of another relevant question …. What are the facts of life as a paid critic?? With this last question …. What are the facts? …. we are fundamentally posing the question …. What are the attractions (should we say ADVANTAGES? .... PRIVILEGES?? …. FRINGE BENEFITS???) of playing the critic's role? And with this question .... What are the attractions? …. we have come a long way back toward the crucial question …. What kind of people covet the role of critic??? And having posed that question, we have posed, hand in hand, the question .... What is it that differentiates — divides — separates — cuts off — the critics from the audience?
It is most interesting to point out, first, that precisely such questions as those we have posed (e.g. WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE? and WHAT ARE THE FACTS?) are in fact the very kinds of questions that the critics avoid like the plague, while they unsheath and brandish their own unsubstantiated opinions over everyone's heads like conquerors' swords! Was it not the Great British statesman Winston Churchill who spoke of "the firm ground of Result and Fact" as distinct from "the tossing seas of Cause and Theory”??! FACTS WOULD BE LIKE LITMUS PAPER THAT REVEALS THE TRUE COLORS OF THE NOW REIGNING CRITICS (but for how long?)!
For example ... Why not follow the precedent established once upon a time by Variety, the show business trade paper (remember that, as a trade paper, IT truly CARES ABOUT THE HEALTH AND FUTURE GROWTH OF MOVIES — How many critics can say the same, while they are browbeating their audience away from the very movies they would enjoy seeing the most??)? Why not keep a BOX SCORE on the critics? — How many of the movies that they selected to "swing at" (their personal favorites) turned out to be "hits"? And how many of the ones that they “sneered at,” like Casey at the Bat, were called "strikes" by audiences, voting with their hard earned dollars at the box -office? Therefore, would it not be possible to compute a BATTING AVERAGE for each critic? How many critics would not earn themselves a one-way ticket to the BUSH LEAGUES??
But we digress.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS OF LIFE AS A CRITIC? AND WHAT CUTS HIM (OR HER) OFF FROM THE AUDIENCE??
Clearly — in 300 words or less, there is no room nor time for mealy-mouthing — one significant fact (or factor) is that the critics see movies FREE OF CHARGE. Therefore, there are critics who will see a movie two or three times just in order to enhance their finicking nitpicking (or in the case of high brow art films, to enhance their hoity-toity , superior-minded savoring) — How many in the audience can indulge in such luxury??
Another factor is that CRITICS OFTEN WATCH MOVIES IN LITERAL ISOLATION from real audiences — in plush private screening rooms with rocker-back seats, with ashtrays at arm's length, and with nobody to tell them to shut up when they start their snide remarks. AND THEY ARE SEALED OFF FROM THE SOUNDS OF SPONTANEOUS EXCITEMENTS, JOY, LAUGHTER, TEARS, APPLAUSE!
Clearly, one can see that these factors create a veritable BREEDING GROUND for attitudes of personal PRIVILEGE, PRESTIGE and POWER just as surely as mushrooms sprout in caves and mildew spreads in closets without proper ventilation The practices of criticism should be EXPOSED, for the critics' sake and the audience's! So .... Throw open the doors! Throw on the lights!!
I BELIEVE this insulation (hibernation??) from the real world — in comfy, dark, smoke filled rooms — is a manifestation that subconsciously harks back to the complacent security of infancy — even unto the womb itself!! What is this pampered and catered-to profession? . . . . IS IT CRITICISM OR PARASITISM??
A simple test could unmask the critics once and for all. Ask yourself how many critics believe on their own message (or artifact) so highly, deeply, profoundly, and overwhelmingly that they would dare to purchase, with their own hard cash, full page advertisements in every newspaper (with the exception of a few high culture journals) in Southern California? What do YOU think?….???