Noted New York Times film critic and author A.O. Scott will visit the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts to deliver a talk titled “Better Living Through Criticism” on March 24 at 7:30 p.m., and has chosen two favorite films which will play out the weekend.
“Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Beauty, Pleasure and Truth” is also the title of Scott’s recent book on the meaning, purpose and value of criticism.
“I was always into criticism,” Scott said. “When I was growing up, I was interested in books and movies and music. And probably if I had fantasies of being a critic as a teenager it was of being a rock critic, like the kid in ‘Almost Famous.’”
Unlike the protagonist in Cameron Crowe’s purportedly autobiographical 2000 film, Scott first gained notoriety for reviewing literature, and later as an all bases cultural commentator for the early online entertainment magazine Slate.
Scott said the piece that earned him his coveted position as a film critic for The New York Times was a critical retrospective of Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre.
“They took an enormous chance,” he said. “As did I in a way. I mean just kind of leaped into this void. I had not been a regular movie reviewer until I started doing it for The New York Times. That was fairly terrifying for a few years.”
Over the years Scott’s reputation gained him a chief critic position and even the attention of The Pulitzer Prize Board, which recognized him as a finalist for the criticism prize in 2010, citing “his incisive film reviews that, with aplomb, embrace a wide spectrum of movies and often explore their connection to larger issues in society or the arts.”
“Better Living Through Criticism” represents a kind of intellectual culmination of those years spent reviewing movies. In it, Scott traces instances of commentary on criticism through the ages, and defends criticism as a natural and beneficial response to not only movies, but the world around us in general.
The two films he’s chosen to program at the DFT reflect an argument he makes in the book about the way movies respond to the world in which they’re situated.
“Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” is a 1968 film directed by William Greaves, which chronicles the mutiny of a film crew as they document their misgivings in between takes of the film they’ve been hired to work on. Robert Altman’s 1992 film “The Player” satirizes the narcissism of Hollywood industry while paying homage to its history.
“I was choosing movies that are themselves works of film criticism in a way, because I’ve always been fascinated by movies that do that, that are kind of self-conscious or critical or kind of self-reflective,” he said.
When not writing, Scott serves as distinguished professor of film criticism at Wesleyan University. His advice for aspiring critics and filmmakers is to find like minds.
“These are collaborative undertakings, and so you have to find people to collaborate with—you may have to make it up yourself,” he said.
“Whether you’re talking about newspapers or magazines, or universities or Hollywood studios. All of those things are in chaos and turmoil now and nobody knows where they’re going so you have to learn to steer your own boat and to make your own thing.”
“Better Living Through Criticism: An Evening with A.O. Scott” will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 24 at the Detroit Film Theater tickets are available here for $11.
“Symbiopsychotaxiplasim: Take One” will play at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 25 with an introduction by Scott and “The Player” will follow without him on Sunday, March 26. Tickets for each film are $6.50.
Scott’s book can be purchased through the DIA in person at the museum shop or online.