Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The stupidest critical cliché ever?

I had some fun last week with a pair of posts about critical clichés, which you can find here and here. Last night, though, I found one that I think beats them all. It was reproduced on the DVD box for a movie at my local video store, and it tells us that the movie "Has to be seen to be fully fathomed."

Think about that for a moment. Don't movies generally have to be seen to fathomed, fully or otherwise?

And now, readers, your question: What is the stupidest critical cliché ever?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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23 Comments:

Anonymous John S said...

In one of the previous posts, Martin Edwards mentioned "transcends the genre".

What's wrong with the genre that it needs all this transcending?

May 28, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

Anything with a blurb quote by Stephen King.

On reading your post, I was wondering what was the movie? "20,000 leagues under the sea"? "The Poseidon Adventure 1 and 2 boxed set"? Not the recent execrable "Flood" I trust.

May 28, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John: I once read an incisive criticism of "transcends the genre." It's easy for us to say the expression reflects its users' snobbery, ignorance of the genre, or both, and we're right to say so. But the commenter I have in mind pointed out that "transcends the genre" is also unfair and even self-contradictory. If a novel tries things previous crime novels had not, and it succeeds while remaining a crime novel, it has by definition not transcended anything. The commenter suggested that rather than all this nonsense about transcending the genre, crime fiction ought to be praised for being so flexible and so open to new kinds of writing.

May 28, 2008  
Anonymous Jim Carmin said...

My favorite phrase to hate is "arguably the best," which to me equals "arguably the worst" or perhaps "arguably the mediocre." It means nothing.

It is clearly arguably the stupidest critical cliche or then again, maybe it isn't...

May 28, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, I shall have to pay closer attention to Stephen King blurbs. What elevates them to the rank of stupidest?

The movie was a cartoon, apparently, because the DVD box billed it as an Eastern European version of South Park. That, of course, forces one to consider the possibility that the blurb was a joke. But it certainly appeared genuine. I shall investigate further should I return to the video store this evening to return the movie I borrowed.

By the way, what are we to call video stores once they switch over to DVDs?

May 28, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jim, it is one of the year's ten worst. Many critical clichés are mere verbal tics, and perhaps "arguably the best" falls into this category. If quizzed on why he uses the expression, what would a critic/reviewer say? What message is she trying to send? That the critic is beyond dogmatic pronouncements and is broad-minded enough appear to be willing to argue the point? Or is it just a fancy form of fudging?

May 28, 2008  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

One of my mild irritants is 'if you read only one book this year, read...' Frankly, if you're going to read only one book this year, I wouldn't waste too much time reading reviews.

A close relative of 'transcends the genre' is 'writes like an angel', which is generally used, in a tone of slight surprise, about any (of the many) genre writers who can actually write.

And, finally and in fairness, I can think of several movies that could probably be fathomed, reasonably fully, without one bothering to see them...

May 28, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A more than mild irritant for me is "must-read." There is no surer way to ensure I will not read a book than for a reviewer to call it a must-read.

I'd say "writes like an angel" also is related to "luminous prose." It may even be a newer way of saying the same thing. I recall noticing it only after angels experienced their rebirth in popular culture a few years ago.

For those movies not of the category you cite, one might write: "You've read the rapturous reviews! Now see the hit movie!"

May 28, 2008  
Blogger Alexander said...

Howzabout the any phrase with the word "readable", like "eminently readable" or "sophisticated yet surprisingly readable"?

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Readable" I could live with in a discussion of a book about some abstruse subject that the author has rendered accessible. But I'd find it odd in a discussion of fiction, especially a "popular" genre such as crime fiction.

May 29, 2008  
Blogger moonrat said...

"in vivid, luminous prose..."

(blech)

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Right. Do you suppose it was special typography that made those words glow, moonrat?

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd say "luminous prose" is winning the scorn race. If we can make just one reviewer think twice before using the phrase, we will have made a difference.

May 29, 2008  
Blogger legilbegil said...

"At the end of the day..." This annoying introduction to every commentary caught on about 24 months ago. Must be nominated for the longest day if you ask me.

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That transcends the genre of critical clichés. It joins "on the ground" and "going forward" as expressions that users think lend gravity to what they say. In addition to being annoying, these expressions are superfluous. Next time you read one of them, remove it mentally, then read the sentence without it. See what difference it makes to the meaning.

May 29, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

I mentioned Stephen King because he has a blurb on just about every book out. He can't possibly read them all. Karen (aka Euro Crime) and I went to visit Murder One bookshop last month, and every book in the window display had a blurb note by Stephen King or Val McDermid, sometimes both. I think the ratio was 3:2 SK;VMcD.

My most hated crime fiction cliche of all time, that appears in far too many books, is the fine-tooth comb or the fine tooth-comb (hate 'em both).

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would not have believed that Stephen King could write as much as he does, but he apparently does. Perhaps he reads that much, too.

Ken Bruen is another indefatigable blurbster. He makes it a point in some of the blurbs to say something like "I canceled plans for a night out and stayed home to read this book instead." I take such a declaration as a clue that he has read the book. He also seems to have a genuine enthusiasm about writers he likes, a further suggestion that he may have read them.

If a fine-tooth comb turned up at a crime scene, what would the sleuth use to examine it?

May 29, 2008  
Blogger Sarah Hilary said...

"If a fine-tooth comb turned up at a crime scene, what would the sleuth use to examine it?"

Excellent question, Peter! Thanks for cheering up my morning.

June 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah! Good to know two minds are now at work on this vital question. Thanks!

June 01, 2008  
Blogger Zen Wizard said...

"Grabs the reader by the throat from the first page--and doesn't let GO!" should probably be retired to a nice, peaceful mausoleum at some point.

The next, "The little movie that COULD!" can be a little movie that could, but after that we need to retire the cliche'.

June 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought you might suggest that "Grabs the reader by the throat" should be throttled to death.

I'm not sure I've ever read "The little movie that COULD," but I certainly recognize that genre of sentimenal personification, and I agree with you about the need to retire it.

June 04, 2008  
Anonymous Fiona said...

i always enjoy "read this with the lights on!" or the alternative, "don't read this with the lights off!"

duly noted

June 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a close to relative of "Has to be seen to be fully fathomed." Thanks

June 06, 2008  

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