The Blog

On Mature Reflection: Slow Food Film Criticism

There are many fine film, theatre, TV, games, music, fashion and food critics. Make your own list of the popular arts and take your pick. But do we need some more of those independent-minded souls who stand back a bit from the fray?

There are many fine film, theatre, TV, games, music, fashion and food critics. Make your own list of the popular arts and take your pick. But do we need some more of those independent-minded souls who stand back a bit from the fray?

As someone who works in the film world, perhaps I'd better take my lead example from another sphere. It's prompted by the occasional attack of grumpiness which strikes when one reads an album review which is a bit too glib and of the moment.

The shining, synaesthetic exception to this syndrome has to be Laura Barton's fortnightly "Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll" column in the Friday Film and Music Guardian. I'm one of her growing army of fanatical fans.

So how is she different? Well, her subject is as likely to be Van Morrison, or The Pixies, or Sixties Soul, as it is to be Josh T Pearson, Laura Marling or Broken Social Scene. She's the polar opposite of a slave to the latest press release or promotional event (though she's a skilled and evocative interviewer).But there's much more. She clearly listens over and over again to the songs she writes about. She listens to lyrics with maximum intentness, and will obsess over the significance of a single word like "that" in a way which would interest an Empson or Geoffrey Hill. She writes like the novelist we know she is and the poet I take her to be. Often the starting point for Laura Barton's exquisite meditations will be a biographical story, a personal epiphany which she has experienced. She is in the process of making art out of her life and work.

We have many fine film critics, across broadsheets, tabloids and weeklies, who are not slaves to the moment. Just staying with the Guardian/Observer family, for the sake of illustration, we have the magisterial biographical pungency of David Thompson, the sparkling insights of Peter Bradshaw, the mellow perspective and context of Philip French, and the unique combination of cred and scholarship which is Mark Kermode. The blogoshphere is a happy hunting ground, where people like David Bordwell and Jonathan Rosenbaum are able to write expansively. But I'm not sure the film world yet has its own Laura Barton. Anyhow, she is unique!

What on earth has any of this got to do with the British Board of Film Classification?

Several things, actually. First, we know we can't be film reviewers, at least in the sense that it wouldn't be fair for us to write knocking copy. Yet the public demand for trustworthy, clear but also sensitive and nuanced content information is growing all the time, and we can provide it. In the online world that becomes even more important. Second, many pupils, students and teachers want to know the often complex classification histories of films like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Salo" or "Crash", and we can do that too. We are aiming to launch a podcast in the Autumn. It will supplement our websites and BBFC App (which provides a link through to one of the jewels in our crown, our Extended Classification Information).

We work to Guidelines which are based on very widescale public consultation. More than that, I am lucky to have very talented colleagues, whose ranks include film directors, published novelists and bloggers on food, fashion and the difficult art of bringing up small children.

As with the sort of critic I am celebrating, we want to offer a quality of decisions, information and educational activity which stands the test of time. We know we can't ever quite be Laura Bartons of the film world. But I can think of few more inspiring models.