A guest posting from Bob Hall on our film reviewers:
(They just don’t know it yet.)
When people tell me about a movie they’ve seen, I always want to know how it was worth their time. The best movies, I think, can change our lives. This, I think, must be a good use of time.
Death by China—one of the best movies I’ve ever seen—is a good use of time.
Know, now, that this is coming from an experienced movie snob. Back in another life—back when I thought I had time—I could drink coffee and discuss art cinema with the best of them.
(Now that I think about it: I would love to see one of those old Dave Kehr Chicago Reader reviews—on Cassavetes’s Love Streams would be perfect.)
This in mind, I hope it makes sense to hear that Death by China left me more inclined to review the reviewers than to review the film.
The longer you’ve followed the issues, the more you’ll agree with me. I wouldn’t fault a reviewer for criticizing a film’s lighting or pacing. This is a specialized part of their paychecks. But when a movie and director meet a higher purpose: if the critics aren’t up to meeting at the same level, they can get in over their heads—and get their characters tested right quick.
For some lively examples, look at:
The Death by China audience rating is currently 80%—not bad, really, considering that Cassavetes’s masterpiece is 88%—but the Death by China critics’ rating is 30%.
This, I will argue, is a clear-cut case of killing the messenger. Movie critics are specialists who understand movies better than they understand China and trade deficits. These critics are basically, unwittingly, blaming their ignorance on film director Peter Navarro. I agree that Death by China is outrageous and extreme, but this is only because our relationship with China is outrageous and extreme. Navarro understands our relationship with China as well as anybody. He’s simply presenting the facts and telling a story that needs to be told. If anything, I’d say he’s still understating things a bit—deliberately, perhaps, in attempt to reach a larger audience.
(Of course, I live with this stuff every day, so I think almost everybody understates the dangers.)
If I were you, I’d go see Death by China as soon as possible and consider it time well invested. It’s fascinating and informative—even entertaining in its own unpredictable way.
To say this movie has the power to change our lives is to damn with faint praise. This movie has the power to save the world and the lives of our children.
This movie can give us time.
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