Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I don't know how important reviews are.

The good news is that the New York Times saw our show and liked it. (In the interest of full disclosure, we also got a rather scathing review from a theater website; I'm not going to link to that one.) By coincidence, the first reviews of The Express are also up at Rotten Tomatoes, and both are good.

Once again, though, I wonder what (or whom) reviews are really for. They're one person's opinion, and while that one person might have a body of experience or knowledge that makes him or her a subject matter expert, it's equally likely that that person is a recent college graduate who wrote the review for beer money or free tickets and had a nasty case of stomach flu that day. (Believe me, that isn't gratuitous snark; I've been that reviewer, or that reviewer's guest.)

The book community has been up in arms lately about the disappearance of book reviews and book review sections from newspapers, which is part of the catastrophic decline in newspapers in general. In New York, I read the newspaper on the subway, but when I'm home, I read the papers online, and so do most of my friends. I used to pay the fee to subscribe to the Times online, but they don't charge anymore, and that makes me happy -- although I wonder how it's going to work as a business model.

And it's true, I don't browse reviews online. More often, I look for reviews through sites that aggregate them (yes, usually Amazon, though I rarely buy from them). I almost never read a review before I've read the book, and it is very unusual for me to buy a book, see a movie or go to a play based on reviews.

Reviews are entertaining, and most weeks the reviews are all I read in Entertainment Weekly. Maybe that's enough of a reason to justify their existence. But I'm curious: do you read reviews? Do you make purchasing decisions based on them? Are there any reviewers you especially trust, or any you automatically ignore?

Five Random Songs

"Hesitating Beauty," Billy Bragg & Wilco. Woody Guthrie's marriage proposal, set to music by Wilco. This whole album (Mermaid Avenue) is great.

"Rain is Falling," ELO. One of the more obscure tracks off the Greatest Hits album. I've always thought they sounded like the Beatles, and this song is especially Beatle-y.

"Give Me Back My Wig," Hound Dog Taylor. Electric blues from the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection.

"A Face in the Crowd," Kathleen Edwards. A great cover of one of my favorite Tom Petty songs.

"The Rascal King," The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I've said it before and I'll say it again: horns are the bacon of popular music. Horns make everything more fun.


Anonymous said...

I read reviews, but I don't use them as the final say in whether or not I see a movie or buy a book. If I'm truly interested, or a person I know really talks it up, then I'll be more likely to give it a chance.

norby said...

Oops, that was me.

Claire said...

An aggregate review, for me, will influence my decision if I'm on the fence about something (I might not have seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona if it hadn't done well with the press, I avoided the Rainn Wilson movie because no one seemed to like it). More importantly, though, a good reviewer will identify things about a film, book, or album that I might otherwise pass over or miss. They'll suggest ways of interpreting and enjoying whatever the work is that I usually wouldn't have thought of on my own. A lot of people understandably don't want others to color their opinions. Me, I know perfectly well that my background in cinematic studies is limited, and that I haven't yet read or heard every worthwhile piece out there, and I appreciate the context that a well-rounded reviewer can provide.

steve said...

Firstly, congratulations on the favorable review.

The reviews I trust and "go by" are generally those posted by consumers...once again thank you Internet.
I find that professional reviews seem to think they need to showcase they're writing talents when reviewing. I don't want to have to think too hard when reading a review. Just tell me if you thought it was good or bad and why AND if you think I might like it and why. I'm low-brow that way.

Moira said...

Reviews might not mean that much, but good ones must make you feel great. Congratulations!

BTW, I don't know why clean sheets feel cooler than ones that have been slept on? Is it physics of the fibers or just and illusion?