Interview with Film & TV Critic Angelica Jade Bastién
Angelica Jade Bastién is a Vulture staff writer, TV and film critic. Bastién has also written for the New York Times, Vulture, The Atlantic, Roger Ebert and The Village Voice.
Why do different critical voices matter?
Personally, I view my role as a critic as both interpreter and historian of record when it comes to pop culture. Having different viewpoints — influenced by gender, sexuality, race, geography and everything else that goes into making us who we are — is vital to understanding the times we live in and giving the full view of the art we come in contact with in our daily lives. Also, the film canon as we know it is a lie that deserves to evolve and be rewritten entirely in some cases to give a broader view of history that goes beyond the beliefs of the mostly white men who existed in similar circles that created this canon. The canon isn’t sacred. Film isn’t just an art but a gargantuan, money making industry that influences so much of our culture in grand and minute ways. For that reason alone, it is imperative to have different critical voices that dissect it (and other pop culture industries) with a keen eye, an understanding of history, and a lot of heart.
What inspired you to be a critic?
The short answer: the way Bette Davis smokes and glares. Long answer: Honestly, I never thought I’d be a critic. It was something I truly fell in love with after college giving it a chance as I worked several jobs trying to make ends meet and keeping my precarious mental health situation in order. But it took a college film criticism class, Star As Auteur: On Bette Davis, a few years earlier to spark this love affair. I had grown to love Davis in high school and taking the class allowed me to dive into what made her such a tremendous actress. Later, criticism allows me to play with poetry, personal memoir, Hollywood history, and critical considerations of various art forms I am obsessed with. The rest is history.
What Film are you excited about right now?
I have loved horror films since childhood. I recently re-watched the brutal 2016 Irish independent film A Dark Song, written and directed by first-timer Liam Gavin. A Dark Song has nearly everything I love in a horror film: moving performances, dense mythology, a tight run time, a gorgeous understanding of the landscape it takes place in, violence that is both unnerving and revealing of characters. The film is about a grieving mother seeking to use a months-long ritual with the help of a questionable occultist to garner vengeance on those that killed her son. It’s audacious and harrowing. Why I am so excited about it — I rewatched it for a larger project — is because it is a truly bruising portrayal of grief and loss. (In terms of more recent work I am mostly excited with a lot of modern television at the moment including The Americans, whose sixth and final season is one of the most bracing and emotionally complex works I’ve seen in a while.)
What “hidden gem” do you think deserves more attention?
There are so many films worth bringing attention to from scintillating noirs like The Crimson Kimono which has James Shigeta in the lead role to melodramas like Max Ophuls’ astounding Letter from an Unknown Woman. The world of film is full of so many hidden treasures. But I want to highlight Losing Ground, written, edited, and directed by Kathleen Collins which I wrote about for Vulture. The 1982 film is an intriguing entry into the canon of work by black women directors that focuses on the lives of a married couple a part of New York’s black intelligentsia dealing with clashing desires and differing pursuits. It’s heartbreaking this proved to be Collins’ only completed film but I am so happy it was re-released and is gaining more stature. Still, the beauty and emotional depth of the film deserves more attention.