Friday, October 23, 2009

Do Film Critics matter?

What's wrong with film criticism today? 
Do film critics matter?  According to a post by film critic and author Marshall Fine on his web blog "Hollywood and Fine", the answer is, in general, no.  
But then he instructs us to ask a different question: When do critics matter?  Here's my opinion, on a topic I have mused about for a long while now, as I look at the listings for my local 12-plex theater and can find not one film of great interest to me:

Lately I have been thinking about the role of film critics and film criticism in general, and the conclusions I’ve drawn are somewhat parallel those expressed by Fine. But there is more to it, I think.~

Interesting you mentioned “Bonnie and Clyde”, and later Pauline Kael. Actually, Ms. Kael was as central to the salvation of “Bonnie and Clyde” as to the demise of the Bosley-Crowther-style lockstep conservatism.~ As a young film-goer and aspiring fimmaker and critic, I was inspired by Kael’s forthrighness and style. She had the knack of making you feel you were actually experiencing the film she was reviewing, whether or not it was a positive review, and whether you agreed or not.~
Kael, Vincent Canby, John Simon, Stanley Kauffman, and my hometown Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, formed my own personal film school.  They created their own esthetic through their writing about film, writing that stood on its own artistically. Now, we seem to be back in the pre-1960’s era of film reviewing, the function being merely to assist the studios in promotion.~

What we need is a movement like the French new Wave of the late 1950’s, with a manifesto, a collection of edgy and intelligent artists, and a publication (on-line or hard copy) that stirs the imaginations of those who care about film as a human art. Too often now, film and its use is relegated to amusement-park-style thrills and mind-numbing pyrotechnics. I assert that the artistic breakthroughs that occurred in movies in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s were attributable to the philosophy of that group of infuential critics.~
It could be that the “magic demographic” is hungry for movies that speak to their emotions and reflect the eternal challenges of human interaction, and they just don’t know it.~

There seems to be a strange-bedfellows relationship between film criticism and popular filmmaking that is ruining the experience of theatergoing for the rest of us; many critics now seem to be culled from the ranks of video-gamers and techno-geeks that studios are playing favor to. Many of todays reviewers lack background in other arts like literature, music, philosophy, and so their writing remains shallow.  Studios “feed” mainstream critics with favored “quotes” in return for having their reviews excerpted in the movie ads.~
It is as though, now Bergman and Antonioni are gone (both dead on the same day!), and without the likes of Pauline Kael to call studios out for their shrillness and dishonesty, anything goes, and the few films with even a bit of artistic merit to play in the popular movie houses are those that are made with an eye toward year-end awards.

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