Meet Devin Faraci, The Reluctant Bad Boy of Film Criticism
By Marcus Julianus, Associate Critic
EX: Tell us about where you grew up and what kind of childhood you had.
DF: I grew up in New York City, in Queens and Brooklyn. I had a lower middle class life; I was the child of divorce and was a latchkey kid growing up with a single mom.
EX: What course of study did you pursue?
DF: Nothing! I failed out of college.
EX: What your professional ambitions were when you were younger.
DF: I wanted to be a writer, but I mostly assumed I would be a novelist.
EX: What, if any, early events contributed to your becoming a professional film critic later in life.
DF: None, really. I never had any intention of being a professional critic. I grew up watching a ton of movies, but that was just what I liked to do, not something I saw as a career.
EX: How did you first get into reviewing films? Did you think at the time that you could make a career out of it?
DF: I was working at a non-profit in New York City and had a lot of free time. It was during the release of the STAR WARS Prequels and like everybody else in my generation I was searching online for any information. I found a site called Corona Coming Attractions, and from that I found a site called CHUD.com. I began hanging out on the CHUD message boards, and I began participating in threads about new releases. Nick Nunziata, the guy who owned the site, got to know me from the boards and began asking me to contribute to the site, first writing up news stories and later doing reviews. I didn't have a professional PR connection, I just lined up early for buzz screenings and then went home and wrote about the movie. I had a full time job, so there was never a sense that this could be a 'career.'
EX: What was the first movie that you ever reviewed? Do you still have the copy of that review? Do you ever look back on it and if so, is it with pride or embarrassment?
DF: I honestly don't know. I don't really pay attention to my old writing. Whenever I do come across something old, I cringe. The stuff I was writing at CHUD is particularly bad. My tone was horrible, I had limited knowledge of the film industry and my opinions were colored by terrible fanboyism.
EX: For a film critic, you've seen your fair share of controversy, from the Ed Champion article, to the Silver Surfer debacle. Are you film criticism's bad boy? If so, do you secretly (or openly) relish that fact?
DF: I have strong opinions and I present my feelings bluntly. This bunches up a lot of undies in the world, it turns out. I can't really help it - it's not my schtick, it's just me. I have a low tolerance for dumb people and I have no time to coddle people who think a critic needs to be objective or that every opinion sentence should begin 'In my opinion.' I like that people respond to what I say, negatively or positively. That's the whole reason you say stuff to people - to get responses. I can't imagine being a writer who is so even-keeled nobody even notices what he's saying.
EX: How did the debate/boxing match in Austin TX come about? After the fact, did you regret fighting Joe Swanberg?
DF: Every year at Fantastic Fest there's something called the Fantastic Debates. Two people get into a boxing ring and do a couple of rounds of verbal debate on a topic. Then they put on boxing gloves and duke it out. I have been going to Fantastic Fest for years, and that's how I met Tim League, who owns Badass Digest. I did the debates a couple of years ago - they had me debate a guy who was billed as the president of the Michael Bay fan club, but who was actually an improv comedian who proceeded to dismantle me in the verbal debate. It was fun, and the boxing part was fun.
Most of the Fantastic Debates are fun. There have been a couple of cases where people had real beef, but generally it's a lark. That said, we're always interested in putting on a good show, and a good show could include people with a real beef getting in the ring. Joe and I had a beef, and we happily agreed to the Debate. I was surprised at how serious the boxing got, and I never expected to get my ass handed to me so strongly.
I don't regret it for a moment. For one thing, as a critic it's important that I got into a boxing ring and let someone who I criticized punch me in the face. I didn't win that fight, but I also never stopped getting up. I stood behind my words. But more than that, it was a great show. I'm proud to have been involved in something that was so exciting and fun and talked about.
EX: What do you find most rewarding about being a film critic?
DF: I love sharing my opinion. I started as some obnoxious guy spouting his opinion on a message board, and I would probably still be that today in some capacity if I didn't have this job.
EX: What is the biggest challenge of being a film critic?
DF: The biggest challenge for me is writing reviews for truly great films. I feel like I should be writing something that aspires to the same level of quality as the movie about which I'm writing. It's really easy to take apart a bad film, and it's a little bit of work to find stuff to say about a mediocre film, but great movies are daunting.
EX: You really seem to enjoy your work. Is there anything you'd rather be doing?
DF: I love my job. There are other things I would like to try, but this is my calling. Which is weird, because I didn't even start doing it until my late 20s.
Career Highlights and Inspirations
EX: What has been the biggest moment of your career?
DF: This is a tough question to answer because it's kind of vague. My career has gotten me laid, it's gotten me into serious relationships, it made me move across the country, it's brought me all over the globe, it's made me friends with some of the greatest filmmaking talent of the modern era, it's given me incredible access to stuff in Hollywood I never thought I would see. I've been quoted on posters and TV spots and in books. I've appeared on television and in documentaries. But I guess the biggest moment is one that repeats: whenever I meet someone who has read my stuff and been impacted by it. I met a guy who told me he became a journalist (a real one, he went to J School and everything) because he grew up reading my stuff. That was a pretty big moment.
EX: What goals have you set for yourself going forward?
DF: I'd like to write a book.
EX: Who are your favorite critics to read? Do you draw inspiration from other critics?
DF: I don't read many other critics. The reality is that I'm afraid I'll steal from them, or that their great writing will change my opinions before I can write my review. I draw inspiration from my friends who are critics.
EX: What is, in your opinion, the best review that you have ever written? Why?
DF: Beats me. I write them and leave them behind. A lot of people really like my review of Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN; back then I was giving movies scores, and I gave that one a 'Fuck You Out Of Ten.' Zombie apparently hates me for it.
EX: What is, in your opinion, the worst review that you have ever written? If you could go back and change it, would you? What would you change?
DF: They're all bad in their own way. I publish a lot of first drafts - it's the nature of writing daily content for the internet. I also have had some stupid opinions that I look back on and regret. I've given good reviews to movies I ended up hating and bad reviews to movies I later loved.
EX: What is your personal philosophy on film criticism? What are you trying to accomplish by contributing your writing to the pop culture conversation?
DF: I think film critics should advocate for good films and filmmakers, while exposing bad films and bad filmmakers. Film critics should help contextualize movies for their readers, and hopefully a movie review will be as worthwhile to read on its own as it is in conjunction with seeing a movie.
EX: What is your opinion of Existimatum?
DF: I think it's the weirdest thing I've seen in a while. I guess you guys started it as a joke, but it seems like you're taking it more seriously. I appreciate that you're mostly critiquing the writing; I think it's weird to call out someone for an opinion. As long as it's well argued it's valid. I don't mind reading reviews I disagree with if they're well-written.
EX: You write about a lot more than just movies. You've got articles about TV, video games, and you seem eager to enter the pop culture conversation regardless of the arena. How do you select the subject matter of your articles? How do you manage to stay up-to-date in so many different fields?
DF: I write about whatever interests me. I stay up-to-date by spending far too much time on the internet. I'm something of a sponge when it comes to cultural trends and fads and stuff - it's very easy for me to keep up with it.
EX: Is it important to you to be perceived a certain way? Do you wish to be seen as a "critic", a "writer", or a "journalist"? Or something else entirely?
DF: I don't know? I kind of cringe at the idea of being a journalist, because I'm not. I don't have any training in that and the stuff I write doesn't stick with journalistic values by any means. I try to use journalistic values to guide my news writing, but that doesn't make me a journalist. I have too much respect for that job to pretend to be one.
EX: You star in Badass Digest's weekly YouTube videos. How does that experience differ from your work in print? Is there one that you prefer?
DF: Those are over for now. I like the video stuff, and it seems like I'm okay at it. The difference is that the video stuff takes more work for less content. I found the experience of making those videos to be exhausting, but I think that was a function of who I was working with. I'm hoping to get another show off the ground.
EX: Your older reviews graded movies on a scale from 1 to 10. In recent years, you have abandoned that practice. Was that a conscious decision? If so, what was the reasoning behind it?
DF: The rating was a function of the site I wrote for, CHUD.com. That was the house style. I HATE it. Rating systems are dumb, and they encourage people to look at a review as math. They say "You gave it an 8, but in this paragraph you complained about this thing a lot. It feels like a 6!" Or they ignore the thousand words you wrote and skip to the rating. Movie reviews are as much about prose as they are about opinion, and they're definitely about reasoning and arguments. Boiling it down to a grade is antithetical to the way I approach reviews.
EX: You seem to eschew the typical Top 10 list format. You seem to prefer the number 8, and you like to leave your selections unranked. Why is that?
DF: I'm terrible at making lists because I always forget stuff. I don't rank things in my mind, and I think ranking art is, on a fundamental level, dumb. Why is Mona Lisa better than Starry Night better than Guernica? The number 8 just came about because I like the sound of a list called "8 Great..."
EX: What advice do you have for aspiring film critics?
DF: Don't become a film critic. There's no money in it. There's maybe even less prestige. Anybody with a Blogger account is a film critic now. Go become a video game critic - thats' the medium of the future. A smart game critic can become the Andrew Sarris of video games. That job's already taken in film criticism.
Existimatum would like to thank Devin Faraci for his time and his unique, fearless approach to film criticism.
For further reading, check out the review mentioned in this interview here.