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Bad Bad Reviews

Did your debut novel get a bad review? Was your first film a flop? We have just the medicine for you.

January 9, 2018  |  by Vera Lowe

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An influential film critic pans the Godfather. A legendary philosopher fails to be impressed by Citizen Kane. A coveted British magazine can't even sit through Psycho, let alone find any redeeming value in it. Coppola, Welles, and Hitchcock are here to tell you: Welcome to the club.

1. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)

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"I don't see how any gifted actor could have done less than Brando does here. His resident power, his sheer innate force, has rarely seemed weaker… Because the picture has so much of the commonplace, it escapes being called commonplace. In no important way is it any better than The Brotherhood (1968), on the same subject… Al Pacino, as Brando’s heir, rattles around in a part too demanding for him… The surprisingly rotten score by Nino Rota contains a quotation from "Manhattan Serenade" as a plane lands in Los Angeles."

— Stanley Kaufmann, The New Republic 

2. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)

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"There follows one of the most disgusting murders in all screen history… It might be described with fairness as plug ugly… The stupid air of mystery and portent surrounding Psycho's presentation strikes me as a tremendous error… I couldn't give away the ending if I wanted to, for the simple reason that I grew so sick and tired of the whole beastly business that I didn't stop to see it."

— CA Lejeune, The Observer (UK)

3. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

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"Kubrick is after a cool, sunlit vision of hell, born in the bosom of the nuclear family, but his imagery – with its compulsive symmetry and brightness – is too banal to sustain interest, while the incredibly slack narrative line forestalls suspense.

Who wants to see evil in daylight, through a wide-angle lens? We go to The Shining hoping for nasty scare effects and for an appeal to our giddiest nighttime fears – va­porous figures, shadowy places. What we get doesn't tease the imagination. Visually, the movie often feels like a cheat…"

— Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

4. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

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"So while seeing where Pulp Fiction is coming from is easy, guessing where Quentin Tarantino is headed is more difficult. A gifted mimic who knows how to make lively collages out of movie history, he seems unconcerned that his films feel more like heartless dead-ends than an opening to something new and involving… [T]he evidence that he can live without the rush that violence or its threat brings is not convincing."

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

5. Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

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"The audience is asked to believe that people working inside the television oligopoly scheme to advance their corporate positions with such melodramatic abandon that their behavior constitutes not just an affront to traditional moral standards but clear and present danger to democratic society. Yet the plot that Paddy Chayefsky has concocted to prove this point is so crazily preposterous that even in post-Watergate America – where we know that bats can get loose in the corridors of power – it is just impossible to accept."

— Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine

6. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)

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"Kane might have been interesting for the Americans, [but] it is completely passé for us, because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense… And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema."

— Jean Paul Sartre, L'Écran français


Feeling a little better? You should. And you should treat your poor reviews with the same outrage as Orson Welles.

"I could take it that he and Sartre simply hated Kane," he said in a 1983 interview to Henry Jaglom. "In their minds, they were seeing – and attacking – something else. It's them, not my work."


Vera Lowe is a writer and translator living in Chicago. 

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