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Don't read me first!


If you ever intend to read my review of "Tru Loved," please read it now. This is so essential that I'm taking a risk by posting this blog entry on the same day the review goes up. The review brings into focus a belief that is at the core of my critical approach. I have cited it many times. Please forgive me for repeating it. As the critic Robert Warshow wrote, "A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man." In other words, whatever you saw, whatever you felt, whatever you did, you must say so. For example, two things that cannot be convincingly faked are laughter and orgasms. If a movie made you laugh, as a critic you have to be honest and report that. Maybe not so much with orgasms.

[Click clock to read dial.]

If you reached the end of my "Tru Loved" review, you found that I stopped watching at about eight minutes. How did this discovery make you feel? My editor, a wise and expert woman who has saved my ass many times over more than 20 years, was horrified.

She e-mailed me: "Just got down to the part where you mention that you watched ONLY eight minutes of this movie. I don't blame you but do you really want to open that door? I fear your admission will start people wondering whether this is a regular practice. Of course it's not but you don't want to raise those suspicions. The alternative: take out those grafs. Or I could kill the review and we could try to find a substitute. Your original review is clever and well-written but I think morally dishonest because you conceal your MO until the very end."

This is a valid point of view. I thought about it. I defended running my original review. I have been asked countless times, "Do you ever walk out of a movie?" My answer is that I almost never do, but when that happens, I always mention it in the review. At this moment, I can actually recall only one movie I've ever walked out on: "Caligula" (1979) I wrote in the first paragraph of my review, "Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length."

My editor argued that in my "Tru Loved" review, I should reveal in the first paragraph that I drew the line at eight minutes. I protested. That would pervert the flow of the review. Everything after would be anti-climax. What I was trying to do was recreate my thoughts as I watched the movie, and show them leading inexorably to my eventual decision.

But was I placing my regard for my prose over the rights of the movie? I hope not. I hope the review truthfully records the process I went through.

Another question may come up. Was my review negative because the movie is pro-gay and I am anti-gay? Not at all. "Tru Loved" was never screened for critics in the Chicago area, so far as I am aware. Knowing it was opening, I looked it up on IMDb and found this plot summary: "Recently relocated from San Francisco to conservative suburbia by her lesbian mothers, Tru struggles like all teens to fit in and find love, but her quest is complicated by sexual politics, closed minds, and closeted friends as she seeks to establish her school's first Gay-Straight Alliance."

Sounded interesting. I obtained a DVD screener. I wanted to see the movie. It was opening here on only one screen, but I've been trying to review more such indie movies (also this week: "Toots" and "Moving Midway." Last week: "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" and "Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer."). I started viewing with an open mind and my customary hope that I would enjoy it. I did not. In some way, a film must seal the deal with us. It must make us willing to watch to the end. Even when a film doesn't do that for me, I keep watching because, if nothing else, I can get evidence for a negative review.

With this film, I believed I had all the ammo I needed, not involving the movie's story, but its competence. It did not seal the deal. It left me with no confidence that it would be able to. If nothing else, I hope the review reflected the stream of consciousness that can take place when a movie loses a viewer's sympathy and goes wrong.

At the end of the review, I appended this imaginary Q&A:

Q. How can you give a one-star rating to a movie you didn't sit through? A. The rating only applies to the first eight minutes. After that you're on your own.

Now I look forward to reading your comments.

Personal to readers: Congratulations! I've said how impressed I've been by the high quality of the comments on my blog, and now here is proof. John Brandon of Computerworld, naming this blog #2 on a list of the 10 best-written blogs on the web, has this to say about you: "Equally entertaining are the comments from readers, which are about the best you will see on a blog." The link is here.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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