Melissa Jo Peltier

Author of fiction and nonfiction; film and television producer/writer/director

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Should We Publicly Criticize Other Artists? More thoughts....

April 1, 2015

Tags: Storytelling, Criticism, critics, Writing, movies, film

How does one blog about another artist's work without unintentionally causing hurt and damage?

I'd never thought about the question until a personal experience. When my husband John Gray and I released our indie feature WHITE IRISH DRINKERS in 2010, we received rave reviews from places like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and other major publications. We were an international “festival darling,” delighting and moving audiences all around the world. But a certain New York Times reporter slammed us with such personal bile and cruelty; it literally destroyed our limited theatrical run in New York. NYC – the one city in which indie film audiences actually go by critics’ reviews to decide whether or not to see a new film. Our little film – which cost in total less than a weeks’ craft service budget on something like “Transformers” – which was made from the heart, inspired by my husband’s true childhood experiences – was trashed by this guy with the most venal spite – with far more personal hatred than with which I’ve seen the same guy review big budget Hollywood frivolities. What’s funny is, he claimed he didn’t believe the characters, somehow suggesting that Martin Scorsese “invented” the 70's working class New Yorker as a fictional trope – and that my husband just lifted Scorsese characters and dropped them into our movie.

No, in fact, the characters were dead on representations of people my husband grew up (including my mother in law!) within Irish working class Brooklyn in the in 1970’s. Did this critic think Tony-winning actors like Stephen Lang, Karen Allen and Peter Riegert would have signed on – practically for free – to do a film like this if they felt these characters weren’t deeply real? My initial thought was perhaps this guy had never met a living working class person of that place and time, and actually believed they were indeed inventions from the mind of Scorsese (who, by the way, is not a writer but solely a director.)

To make matters worse, after this influential guy's review, quotes from his review and its general gist started showing up in the reviews and blogs of the internet pajama brigade. The point isn’t whether he was “right” or “wrong” about the film. There are people who loved it and people who hated it. The point is, it’s all opinion – but why should one man’s opinion be enough to destroy an entire film’s potential? A film that took the better part of two years of our lives, and on which so many others gave their hearts and talent for so little money?

After that experience, I realized that no matter what I might think of a film or a book, someone sweated blood and tears and worked from the heart to create it. Unless it’s a studio “paint by numbers” formula product, it came from the creative well of a real person – and even in that studio example there are usually people who gave up a year or more of their lives to complete it. I decided then and there that I would never post another critique about a film, theater or literature project that was in its overall tenor negative.

In "real life," people pay me well to give my opinion on their projects. They hire me behind the scenes as a “story consultant” to fix broken stories. That’s not the same thing. In that case, they pay me to be honest – even brutally so. They want me to tell them what to throw away and when to start from the ground up. They then have the choice to act on my advice or not. That’s not the same as publicly weekend quarterbacking another artist's work.

So since I do want to write about the art forms that obsess me, here’s my disclaimer – with the exception of reality TV or what I consider irresponsible “journalism” – I won’t write about anything except something I admire. Behind the scenes I’ll give anyone who engages me professionally my unedited opinion about anything. But in public, I only want to encourage and laud fellow artists, and learn from their vision and their creative choices. Negativity and snark will never accomplish this.


  1. April 1, 2015 2:22 PM EDT
    I learned my lesson. When I had a stroke 4 years ago, there were already a list of people that never believed I would be anything with while. Yet here I am President of a state wide organization that feeds thousands of pets, lead a problem dog list of thousands and have a state wide meeting group of hundreds, President of our county citizens corp, and more even though I can only work a few hours a day and spell with even less accuracy...I have decided that as long as I am here, I am only going to give out encouragement and help as I can. Positive words like yours made the difference to me!
    - CJ Anderson
  2. April 1, 2015 3:49 PM EDT
    Bravo, Melissa! I learned a long time ago not to believe everything I read in the paper- especially that which is written by people who believe their opinion should be adopted by all. I was taught to preface thoughts with "in my opinion" and to look for good in everyone and everything, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder
    No one opinion is right - especially the opinion of a critic!
    - RitaT

Published Works

Reality Boulevard
"...a book in the tradition of great Hollywood novels, from Carroll and Garrett Graham’s Queer People (1930) to Michael Tolkin’s The Player (1988), and reads like Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Network screenplay retooled for the 21st century" - Ken Salikoff, Kirkus Indie Magazine
"In this smart, funny, insightful novel, reality TV becomes all too real...Peltier examines the Hollywood world of writers, producers, rich kids, actors, wannabes and con men with a keen and often compassionate eye. " - Kirkus Reviews
"Once I started reading "Reality Boulevard," I could not stop...this is the best satirical look behind-the-scenes of "reality television" ever written." - Arnold Shapiro, Oscar & Emmy-winning Producer of Scared Straight; Rescue 911; Big Brother
“[Millan] arrives amid canine chaos and leaves behind peace.” —Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
Non-Fiction (Co-Author)
“As complete a tome on the subject as one could want…If the answer you’re looking for in this guide cannot be found, the question is not worth asking...this is an impressive piece of work.” - Bookviews, June 2011