Monday, April 7, 2014

My biggest flaw as a critic

Nobody is perfect. We all have our own flaws and weaknesses. Aspects of our lives that are not as good as they could be. This includes myself.

One thing film critics should do is to be sure to look at all the aspects of a movie. Every scene, meaning, performance, hidden subtext and so on. While I try my best to get as much as I can out of watching a movie, I admit that I will never get as much out of it as other people.

This cuts into my biggest problem as a critic and a big flaw as a person: I cannot read body language. At all. 

I cannot tell when someone is uncomfortable, happy or content just by looking at their body. Hands crossed or legs folded tells me nothing, because I feel that it could mean anything. I need verbal confirmation to understand how someone feels or what they think. 

As a critic, this does mean that I’m oblivious to certain things. Performances, for example, that use mostly body language (or lack there of) are lost on me. Like Renee Jeanee Falconetti’s performance in 1928’s “The Passion Of The Joan Of Arc” uses almost entirely body language in her role. Most critics have said this is one of the greatest performances in all of cinema, but I don’t get anything out of it. Just a lot of her staring blankly at the screen with huge wide eyes and moving like she hasn’t slept or ate in months. 

That performance meant nothing to me, because I don’t understand body language. 

I freely admit this is a flaw as a film critic. I should be observing the body language of actors and actresses to pick up the subtleties of their roles. It might bring something new to life that I wouldn’t notice otherwise. The truth is that I cannot. 

It is like I’m staring at a dictionary to an alien language, being told to understand every word, but not having the most basic rudimentary understanding of their language. 

This is rather personal, but I believe I understand why this foreign language escapes me. I have Asperger Syndrome. It is a mild form of Autism that mostly effects my social skills and behavior. One of the most common symptoms of Asperger Syndrome is impaired nonverbal behaviors and an inability to recognize them. 

The best way to describe it is that my brain is wired differently than most people. I was diagnosed with Aspergers when I was seven years old. When I was a kid, the most noticeable thing it did for me was, when I got excited, I lost control of my arms and flailed wildly. In the years since then, I’ve learned to control it and only let it go once I am alone.

Another thing it did, and this was something I wasn’t even aware of, was I would develop a deep love and attachment to things that caught my interest. This is usually limited to very few things, but as a kid, that was Godzilla, Power Rangers and Star Trek for me. I learned everything I could about those three subjects and was usually only interested in talking about those topics. Everything else was unimportant. 

When I was younger, these were the only two symptoms I was aware of. Even more have come up as of late, thanks to many studies and research. The lack of knowledge on body language is something rather new to me, but it makes sense given my past with movies that use much body language and my distaste for those films. 

I do know this, I refuse to use my Asperger Syndrome as a crutch. Just because I have a personal flaw or make a mistake does not mean it is okay to blame it on my Aspergers. To say that would be like saying I am someone with Autism before I am Paul Sell. 

And I say screw that. 

We are flawed creatures, but our strength comes from recognizing those flaws and being able to correct them. I may be terrible at body language, but it is something that can be learned (at least I hope so). 

I am proud to be a film critic, but I’m even more proud to be willing to admit to my flaws and learn to be a better person because of them. 

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