Writing reviews is hard. Writing good reviews is harder. This class has been both a thrill and a challenge as I’ve learned how to cover and effectively review a whole plethora of mediums. Out of all the mediums we have covered, I felt most comfortable writing about theater and movies. I have been deeply involved in theater and musical theater from a very young age and have a solid background in stage production. Because of my experiences and knowledge of this type of performance art, I could write my reviews of shows like Les Miserables, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised], and Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure from a place of authority. I knew what I was talking about and could present a legitimate critique to my readers.
I felt similarly about the movies I reviewed, Django Unchained and The Queen of Versailles. Here at Kalamazoo College I have taken several film and film theory courses that have prepared me to speak intelligently about movies. I have also been exposed to movies my entire life and have developed a pretty clear idea of what kinds of films I consider to be “good” and why. It was incredibly interesting for me to read the works of former New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael and learn how she approached film reviewing. I really appreciate that she sought to talk about movies the way real movie watchers talk about them upon leaving the theater. I think this kind of mentality can be helpful when reviewing mediums across the board.
Book reviewing proved to be a struggle for me. I had trouble deciding what elements I should include in my reviews of Afterglow and The Submission and what elements I should omit. Since both books we read had received substantial acclaim, I also found myself being swayed by the opinions of The New York Times or The New Yorker before I’d even finished reading the books. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have the same experience when reviewing Django Unchained, which I knew had been nominated for several Oscars before I viewed it. I think, in part, this was because I didn’t feel as comfortable reviewing books as I did movies, so I relied more on other people’s opinions. Aside from books, I also had trouble reviewing the Academy Awards ceremony because, again, I wasn’t sure exactly what I should or could focus on. Also, the fact that the Oscars had a divided audience- both the physical in-house audience as well as the television audience- also tripped me up. I wasn’t sure how to navigate this division and wasn’t even entirely sure that the show did or could accommodate both audiences.In general, I think one of the biggest challenges of this course and of writing reviews as a whole is that I’m not always prepared or confident enough to make a bold stance and run with it. I found this to be particularly true with my final assignment; my critical essay on AMC’s Breaking Bad. I seemed to have competing opinions within my own head and found so much evidence to back up both arguments about the series, that I had trouble deciding what I really believed and why. It’s also scary and unnerving to put myself out there and make a statement, especially because Breaking Bad is a television show that so many people feel passionately about and also because my piece can be read by a larger audience than our (forgiving) journalism class.
As I move forward, I want to continue building my confidence as a writer and continue developing my voice. The exposure I received in Arts Journalism to so many different types of reviewing, however, has definitely helped to build that confidence and has helped me see that I can, in fact, maintain a position of authority about a large variety of subjects, even if I’m not necessarily an expert in every field I am reviewing. This class helped solidify my passion for this type of writing and I am looking forward to doing more of it in the future.