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Thursday, February 14, 2013

BAM Alumni: Daniel Goldberg, Film Critic

by Nathan Gelgud

Photo by David Worthington

Every year, BAM Education offers the Young Film Critics program to high school students. It’s a series of free after school classes taught by veteran NYC film instructor Josh Cabatt. 

We recently started the 2013 sessions and found out that Daniel Goldberg, a YFC alumnus from 2005, is now a professional critic. He’s a staff writer at Slant Magazine, where he writes television reviews, and he’s currently working on a short film that he co-wrote and plans to direct once he raises the funds (find out more about that here). 

We caught up with Goldberg over email to talk about criticism, television versus film, and not watching The Wire.

What stuck with you about Young Film Critics?
I remember how detailed and constructive and precise the feedback was on my writing. The program taught me to write with authority rather than write for an authority figure. I got to try on this new voice I had never heard myself use before by becoming a critic. I remember the discussions and debates we had about what, exactly, the role of a critic should be. Today, sometimes I forget what an open-ended question that is, until I remember those discussions and humbly admit that the critic has a myriad of roles that are all somewhat up for debate.

Since you brought it up, what is the role of a critic? 
For me, the most important thing is to be honest and unapologetic. Reactions are instinctual. It's the verbalization of those reactions that requires thought. Sometimes it's tempting for me to carefully consider whether or not I like something, but I know that if I'm doing that I'm not being honest with myself. It usually means that I'm afraid to stand up for my opinions.

What’s it like writing TV criticism? Do you think it differs from film criticism?
As you watch a film, you don't have as much time to form an opinion because the event itself occurs in the span of 2 hours or so. Sometimes, if I get only 3 episodes of a new season and have to write an advance review, there's no difference there. But if I'm doing a mid-season review, which I love, I get to watch a show along with the rest of the country and let my reaction form more effortlessly and gradually over a period of two or more months. 

The way you talk about timing in TV makes me think of how people are mentioning a lot about a renaissance in TV as shows are telling stories with very long narrative arcs, but isn’t the creative challenge of television doing what you need to do as a storyteller quickly and efficiently?
I agree. Any worthwhile show will have a self-contained arc within each episode to justify your 45 minutes or however long with the show. That said, one comparison I like is American Beauty vs. Six Feet Under, because I feel that Alan Ball explored very similar themes in each of them, and attempted a very similar tone, yet the two mediums produced different results. There is no stand-alone two hours of Six Feet Under that succeeds on the level of American Beauty. But as a whole, I think Six Feet Under is a much more impactful show because it ingrains a certain formula or pattern over the course of 63 episodes—63 hours—and then it kind of subverts that formula at the end without actually breaking from it. The extended time-frame is crucial to really establishing the formula, I think, but that's not to say it's just a means to an end. I think each episode does succeed on its own.

I want to talk about The Wire. I didn’t like it and I stopped after two and a half episodes. This infuriated fans (those Wire fans can be a testy bunch) who said I didn’t give the show enough time. When do you give up on a show?
I haven't seen The Wire! I wouldn't want to say that you're justified in giving up on the show and thus incur the wrath of those crazed fans. But oddly enough, I had a similar experience with Damages, which also has a rabid fanbase. I found the pilot episode so thrilling and satisfying that I didn't really crave more after having seen it. Perhaps good pilot episodes have a sense of mystery—even if they're not working in that genre—which is why they're not always the most satisfying on their own.

That experience with Damages was actually pretty rare for me, though. I tend to stick with a show through thick and thin. It's fans like me, perhaps, that allow writers to get away with some pretty heinous things. Usually, though, my loyalty is redeemed at some point or another when the show recovers. If an entire season proves worthless, I'll stop watching.

Check out Goldberg’s archive at Slant here

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