To Camilla Long: In Defence Of Moonlight

It is unfortunate that your attempt at critique appears to be so wet behind the ears, and lacking in any real promise. Actual film critics know that film can be relevant to any audience; something you seem to have missed.
Eugene Gologursky via Getty Images

Hello Ms. Long,

In your review of the Barry Jenkins film, Moonlight, for The Sunday Times, your intentions could be termed obvious, but perhaps it would be more appropriate - kinder, in any case - to say that they are simply not clear. Nevertheless, it is neither unusual or original for a writer with self-publicising tendencies, and a familiarity with basic English, to perform a clumsy sort of iconoclasm on a work that is universally admired.

You will inevitably be accused of racism and homophobia, by virtue of your poor reading of the film, but perhaps you and your editor will be happy with the angry responses that your writing has nakedly baited. As they say, no publicity is bad publicity. I would love to give you the benefit of the doubt, but your car crash attempt at criticism makes that impossible.

The trouble is that your review is not a review; it really doesn't qualify at all. It is, however, a waspish response to other reviews, which - for the better part - display an understanding of how cinema works. The latter is absent from your writing, which is little more than a demonstration that you were once taught how to make paragraphs; how nice of somebody to publish them. I hope it is a valuable learning experience for you. It must be nice to have the exposure.

Your sentences also refer to "the received wisdom" regarding the Jenkins project; a curious reference because your article does not indicate that it is in receipt of any such thing. If you must discuss wisdom, it is essential that you first of all have some sense of what the word means.

It is unfortunate that your attempt at critique appears to be so wet behind the ears, and lacking in any real promise. Actual film critics know that film can be relevant to any audience; something you seem to have missed. It is why Son of Saul, for example, a film set in the Holocaust - I don't know if you've heard of it - can be appreciated by non-Jewish audiences who weren't alive during World War II, and why a film like La La Land, which I hear you liked, can be enjoyed by black audience members.

And yet you assume that a film with a black cast and a gay theme can only be relevant to a black gay audience. It rather puts one in mind of the American president recently asking an African-American journalist if she would like to set up a meeting with some African-American politicians that she asked him a question about at a press conference; as if she would know them, you know, being black and all. That occasion elicited accusations of racism as well. This we must presume to be a schoolgirl error on your part. Must try harder.

You seem to think that the Moonlight story has been told countless times. Perhaps you are alluding to Christopher Booker's seven basic plots, which he believes cover all the narratives spun since antiquity. If so, well done, but, based on what you write, your knowledge of such things seems doubtful. If you are referring to Booker's maxim, it should follow that any plot in any film has been reiterated countless times, meaning that fashioning the maxim into a damning point, specific to a particular enterprise, is a superfluous waste of your time and that of your readers. Nice work if you can get it.

Yours is a daft, ill-informed, lazy critique; a waste of a privileged opportunity to write about a complex, illustrious genre in an informative way. Actually, your regard for other film criticism could be viewed as quite contemptuous too. Why else would you use the term "Cinematography dahling [sic]" in a broadsheet critique, unless perhaps you are a fan of Little Britain? Come to think of it, your piece would not be amiss in vulgar television satire: you seem to be entirely out of touch with the correct approaches to your chosen field.

While it is true that Moonlight responds to certain classic cinematic tropes - childhood sweethearts, torches long carried, ghetto drug issues, and so on - it is unique in other ways. If its uniqueness ventured over your head, I suggest another viewing. It is, after all, not unusual for a viewer to miss things with their first.

At least Moonlight's originality was apparent to the cineastes - that's people who appreciate cinema to you - of film organizations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Sundance Film Festival, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts; the sort of viewers who watch films without one eye on their smartphones, checking their Twitter follower count.

It might be an idea for you to use your dictionary in future, when trying to write your little reviews. Your basic grasp of English is commendable, but it would be useful to your readers if you understood what a plot is because Moonlight definitely has one. Whereas, you have written that it only has "10 minutes of a plot," which doesn't even make sense as an idea. It is more likely that you only gave it ten minutes of your time, which is a pretty shabby approach to film criticism.

But then, mysteriously, you go on to say that some scenes are filmed "slowly and well, uncluttered by cliches and dialogue." Presumably, that would be your ten minutes of a plot. How can I put this delicately? Tautology is a waste of column inches, but self-contradiction is even worse. Once again, it isn't dissimilar to the American president stating that fake news reports are right about leaks. You can see the contradiction. Can you? I hope so anyway. Needless to say, it is quite woeful that one writer can prompt another to invoke the clown in the White House more than once. Oh dear.

Overall, your lazy technique would be awarded a Fail in a situation where criticism is taught. That's a thought! Why not go to a film criticism class? I'm sure a broadsheet column yields enough of a fee for you to pay for one. A course will assist your attempts at critique, and you will find yourself executing them with greater care.

With your remaining remarks you make distasteful jibes at ghetto speak, and attempt to discuss characterisation and performance. You will appreciate that at this juncture your assessments of acting have precious minimal credibility. Perhaps it is best, therefore, not to discuss what you have written any further, as we have established beyond any reasonable doubt that you are writing on a subject for which you have no evident grasp. Unless, that is, you are just being nasty, and why would anybody want to write a nasty review about a successful film by an African-American fimmaker for the Sunday Times?

Do the course; it will help.

Yours sincerely.

David McAlmont.


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