Film reviewing the Christopher Hart way


This week, I’ve been worrying about what makes a good review, but I’ve been starting too deep. I’ve been assuming that all this anxiety about style and approach comes after the critic has experienced whatever it is that they’re criticising.

But as of yesterday, noted experimental arts critic Christopher Hart of the Daily Mail has floored my preconceptions with a review of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist that begins by admitting he hasn’t even seen the work he’s judging and goes on to to deconstruct the very journal he’s writing for. This is magical, post-modernist stuff – the kind of thing that could only be written by a true artist of the critical form, unburdened by the callow limitations of ethics and editorial responsibility.

The first major clue that this essay is really about itself rather than the film comes at the head of the fourth paragraph:

I haven’t seen it myself, nor shall I – and I speak as a broad-minded arts critic, strongly libertarian in tendency. But merely reading about Antichrist is stomach-turning, and enough to form a judgment.

A pro-censorship libertarian! A critic who hasn’t watched the film! The ironies are piled  deliciously, teeteringly high, daringly alerting readers to the dangerously (yet covertly) subversive nature of the essay they are about to read.

Now, anyone could shrug off an invitation to Antichrist by saying “What? But Dancer In The Dark was unbearable. Why would I want to see more of this shit?” or “Doesn’t that just sound like torture porn for art house wankers  who think they’re too good for Saw?” or “Hey! Doesn’t von Trier know we’ve all seen Don’t Look Now?” But Hart is simply using von Trier’s violence as a point of departure for his own brutal dismemberment of the Daily Mail world:

It doesn’t shock or surprise me in the slightest that Europe now produces such pieces of sick, pretentious trash, fully confirming our jihadist enemies’ view of us as a society in the last stages of corruption and decay.

It doesn’t surprise me that Antichrist was heavily subsidised by the Danish Film Institute to the tune of 1.5 million euros.

I tried to find out more from the Institute, but to my small surprise they disdained to reply. But you can be sure that they in turn are funded by the EU and so by my taxes – and yours.

How do you feel about that?

That section is worth looking at in detail, because the comic timing is so audacious, moving from an invocation of “jihadists” to asserting a link with the EU with Hart confesses he hasn’t confirmed, to knowingly asking the reader what they feel about his richly confected fiction. It’s a beautiful moment of connection between writer and audience, a wonderful nod to his faith in our ability to see through his games and into the paper’s conventions of fear, supposition, and fear-fuelled supposition.

As too is his so-feeble-it-must-be-deliberate brandishing of Shakespeare’s violence as an example of “dramatising the tragic universe we inhabit, human evil at its worst, and […] hidden moral process” before aggressively slamming the BBFC for being “blinded by their own cultural snobbery, swallowing the lie that Antichrist is Art.” The essay constantly threatens to fold under the weight of its own irony, but it somehow rolls intact to its climactic denunciation of “the hesitant, fumbling, comfortably cushioned, value-free Leftish elite who now govern us”.

It’s such a highly-wrought parody of Daily Mail paranoia and cultural suspicion, it’s no wonder that the editors have published it as though it were a simply-intentioned article. But the clinching evidence of Hart’s mischievous intent isn’t in anything you can see on the page: it’s in something he’s left out. Nowhere in the feature does he manage to incorporate gypsies into his fantastical cultural conspiracy – an omission so conspicuous in the Mail that it’s obvious something important must be up.

© Sarah Ditum, 2009

8 thoughts on “Film reviewing the Christopher Hart way

  1. If I ever wrote LOL, Sarah, I would write it about this. Two things though:

    -Come ON. A tap-dancing execution scene? Dancer In The Dark is *amazing.*



  2. Absolutely!!
    I for one wish to see the film and maybe I will haTe it,maybe I will love it,but it will be my choice!
    To damn a film without even seeing it is ignorance of the highest order – Christopher Hart,you should be utterly ashamed of yourself!
    WHEN you have seen it,then KINDLY OFFER AN OPINION!!

  3. I don’t think you’ll find that aggressively is misspelled anywhere in this post.

    (Um, not now, anyway…)

  4. And I can give you the bonus info, that the Danish Film Institute is fully financed by the Danish government which means the Danish taxpayer’s money.

    What an ignorant, prejudiced man, this Christopher Hart. I didn’t know that the Daily Mail was this ‘black’ in it’s politics.

  5. Thank-you for throwing that information in – it’s reassuring that Hart was so massively, terribly wrong. He’s actually popped up in the comments to another post pointing how sloppy the review was, at Mailwatch, where he’s unapologetic about the inaccuracy and blames the DFI for his poor fact checking. Just miserable.

  6. I think it’s very important to differentiate between film reviews, for a consumer audience, and film analysis/criticism with a more academic purpose. To put it another way: the job of any consumer film reviews section is to tell readers if they will like X or Y film, if it’s worth their money and if it’s more or less worth their money than film Z. It’s like that conundrum of whether or not people reviewing Harry Potter films should be those who’ve read the books – either way, there would be no point them simply writing about how wizards are made up anyway and shouldn’t be allowed glasses on the NHS.

    If you’re going to make a statement about whether or not a film is art, I think you need to see it. If you’re going to make a statement about whether or not you need to see a film to know X, I think you see it, and compare your view on X before or after. I think I’ve missed all the subtle irony you talk about above, because I thought it was a load of pretentious, potentially litigious bollocks.

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