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DFP: Performing Criticism of the Documentary Film

This unit talks about Performing Criticism of the Documentary Film.It explains who is a Film Critic,characteristics of Film Critics,Types of Film Criticism and the roles of Film Criticism.

Defining Film Criticism 

There are various definition offered by some scholars on criticism. Nwosu (2001:137) defines it as “the appraisal of a literary work by a critic”. This definition, though relevant, concerns itself with literary work mostly. Okenwa (1998:13-14) sees it as “the act or art of analyzing and judging the quality of literary or artistic work”. Okunna and Omenugha (2002:196) define it as “the act of making judgment concerning art, literature and a variety of other creative productions like drama, film, fine arts etc” .World book Encyclopedia sees criticism as analyzing, interpreting evaluating and communicating ones responses to a work of art. Criticism as noted by Anunike (2005) is not meant to soil the work of an artist, but to discuss the negative and positive aspects of it. It is not to attract, pull down or single out for ridicule the pitfalls in any work of art.

These definitions show that criticism of any literary work, deals with principles which underline creative activities in artistic presentations, like films. It considers rules of structural unity of the work, based on specific established norms of presentation and rules of production. It comments on compliance or conformity to established standards. The essence is to ensure that an objective commentary is made on works of art, since the basis of such judgments can be ascertained, analyzed and verified.

Who is a Film Critic?

The critic is a person who deals with a work of art as a concept. He/She investigates the appropriate use of production elements, in order to achieve an understanding of the work and enhance aesthetic appreciation, in the production and uses specific templates, as standard, to evaluate work. He/she therefore, sees artistic composition and presentations very clearly, records and evaluates them meticulously, (Owuamalam, 2007)

The critic is a technically proficient commentator on artistic performance. He/she understands the theatre and its production principles. A critic knows the structural outlay of plots and their classification, as genres, based on observed specific characteristics. He/she must therefore understand the significance of a production and the essence of direction as a co-ordination of the various aspects of the performance. He or she is knowledgeable about postproduction exercises, like editing and previews and understands how artistic performance should blend in a production to produce the intended message that will help in work. His/her major concern is to see how the work conforms or deviates from known, defined and acceptable standards.

Types of Film Criticism

Classification of the approach which a critic may adopt while evaluating a film is based on the perspective adopted while treating the artistic work. Based on this, there are two major types of criticism, prescriptive and descriptive criticism.

  • Prescriptive criticism is based on the fact that specific rules and laws guide activities and actions. The law may be that of nature, like the use of canoes and boats, as transportation modes in riverine areas. For instance, the rule stipulates that people must paddle the canoe, if movement is to be achieved in the river. The rule explains why walking on the river is abnormal and can only be achieved through a supernatural approach, which may pass as a miracle.
  • Descriptive criticism on the other hand, deals with a detailed account and evaluation of the work, so that vital and valuable information about the film can be achieved and obtained. It gives an insight into the reason behind actions. It is designed to articulate how the elements of artistic composition have been presented to produce a synergy, called the film.

Characteristics of Film

The characteristics of prescriptive criticism as listed by Omuamalam (2007:291), is as follows:

  • It lays down rules of artistic performance and rises the rules to assess how the work has conformed or deviated from them. It therefore uses rules to set the boundary of compliance as the index for evaluation.
  • It evaluates the logic of structural and organic unity, based in the reasoned deductions. In this way, the sequence, progression and development of plot, character and language are reviewed and assessed.
  • It assesses the activities of characters, to deduce if their actions can be rationalized in a logical manner.
  • It is authoritative and command based, since it deals with order and compliance to given instructions.
  • It evaluates the work of the director in the film, using knowledge of production principles.
  • It relies on the characteristics of the genre, as the template for classifying works and assessing their conformity to the class.

Descriptive criticism has the following characteristics as well:

  • It deals with genre classification to see how the film fits into a film type.
  • It organizes detailed information about the film in a sequential order, as contained in the film, so that strong line becomes appreciable
  • The presentation of the critique adopts a systematic approach, so that the audience can access useful and reliable information necessary for the rationalization of artistic decisions.
  • It lays emphasis on the structural unity of the various artistic elements evident in the work. It believes that a disorganized structure makes the work incoherent and confusing.
  • It substantiates organic unity in content, based in character and language. The approach observes the consistency of characters in the plot and their language use, through their motives and consequences of their activities.

Functions of a Film Critic

The functions which a film critic performs are outside the theatre. His/her duties involve creative imaginations, in the mental realm. The critic produces an evaluative report, which facilitates an understanding of the work and provides the information, which the audience uses to discuss the work. The critic performs three basic rules of:

(a) Evaluating the film based on specific standards

(b) Of assessing the film and

(c) Reviewing the film. Details of these roles are discussed in the next sub-heading.

Three Basic Roles of Film Critic

A film critic performs the three basic roles of evaluating assessing and reviewing of a film.

  • As an Evaluator, the critic uses the rhetorical approach to deal with issues pertaining to evaluations. He/she considers the methods and techniques as vital strategies for the realization of the objective of a production and as approaches through which the communication intent of the work is achieved. He/she applies the theory and practice of argumentation, which facilitate a better understanding of a work of art, so as to enhance aesthetic appreciation. For instance, as an evaluator, the critic sees how the scriptwriter has been able to create a message about life and living conditions, through actions and activities of the characters in the film. He/she notes how the systematic approach of the film guides role assignment and performance, in the accomplishment of the activities permitted by situations and circumstances in the film.
  • As an Assessor, the critic uses theme, subject or topic of discourse, to assess a film. He/she ascertains the theme as indicated by the scriptwriter. It is his/her job to observe how a plot fits the theme and how the characters perform, in order to achieve the import of the theme. The critic uses the theme to ascertain the significance and relevance of the work to the society. The order of the events in the film, the arrangement and use of language and action, are important in the determination of the value of a work.
  • As a reviewer, the critic expresses opinions, based on rational reasoning, as deduced from the performance. This is because, a review simply means a commentary made after matching or seeing an artistic performance. It is an assessment of the film, as perceived at the time of presentation. He/she analyses the film to discuss the issues like conflicts, ironies, suspense, surprise, dilemma and other plot strategies, that can excite and retain audience appreciation or patronage of the film. As a reviewer, he/she provides artisitcs information about a film, in an entertaining and educating manner. He/she is therefore a guide to aesthetic appreciation of film.


ASSIGNMENT : Performing Criticism of the Documentary Film Assignment MARKS : 10  DURATION : 1 week, 3 days