Sunday, December 11th, 2016

When looks matter

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Critic John Simon defends considering an actor’s or actress’ appearance when doing film criticism:

If a set designer’s sets look poor or inappropriate, we criticize them with universally conceded impunity, even praise for our perceptiveness. The same goes for our criticism of a production’s costumes. Now, of course, it will be said that sets and costumes have no feelings, and cannot be hurt.

True, but their designers can be hurt more than actors can. If I say that actor X, in the hero’s role, looks like a garden gnome (which I haven’t actually), future directors and producers may, being ever so much more humane or purblind, disagree and ignore my “unfounded” slur. If, on the other hand, they agree with it, what harm have I done?

With sets and costumes, though, it is a different matter. Because opinions pro and con in those areas are much less emotionally charged and more debatable, sympathies can be more easily shaken than about faces, and poor reviews may actually damage a designer’s opportunities.

I do not hold with pussyfooting criticism of any kind. If I say that actress Y in the role of the leading lady looked like a cigar store Indian (I actually did), I was saying so because she glaringly didn’t fit the role: two dashing young men would not have fought a deadly duel over her.

Now, I know that some reviewers would merely say of a visually thoroughly unsuited actress that she is miscast; or if she is many years too old, that she is too mature for her role. But those statements do not make much of an impression. A critic is a salesman for his reviews, and to sell them, he needs to make a powerful effect. Ergo the cigar store Indian.

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