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May 9, 2007

Blogger Critics Redux

I'll try to return in a more focused way to this topic later, but for now some links to various versions of the ongoing and quickly evolving conversation about blogging and film critcism.

First, Anthony clarifies yesterday's post and points to Kurt Cobain About a Son filmmaker AJ Schnack's contribution to the discussion. I think AJ is right to distinguish between film bloggers and IMDB commenters, which AJ calls "online know-it-alls" or OKIAs, and to raise questions about what exactly constitutes an "average" moviegoer and how those moviegoers might be using film blogs to make decisions about what movies they watch. There is an issue of "taste" that needs to be considered here and those readers who consult OKIAs rather than Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott probably already recognize that they fit into the taste community addressed by the OKIAs.

That being said, Anne Thompson has pointed to some of the fundamental economic and industrial shifts that are rapidly changing the status of the film critic, with many critics being fired or replaced by wire services or other cheaper alternatives. Most recently affected is Eleanor Ringel-Gillespie, who was replaced after thirty years of service by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by a wire service. Because I grew up reading the AJC, I know Ringel-Gillespie's reviews rather well and always appreciated her work (even if I didn't always agree), and I'm dissapointed by the AJC's decision.

There's a much longer disussion of this issue at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists that is worth checking out. They point out that while the media landscape is clearly changing, "moviegoers have relationships--love ‘em or hate ‘em--with their local movie reviewers. Local critics provide priceless perspectives that simply cannot be replaced." In reading through the AWFJ article, however, I'm wondering the real villain isn't the film blogger but media consolidation itself as media conglomerates increasingly find ways to reduce expenses. I do think it's important to preserve these local perspectives, and I think AJC readers will quickly discover that the paper is underestimating Ringel-Gillespie's valuable contribution to the city's film coverage.

There's also an elitist assumption going around that most film bloggers are merely celebrating the popular, that they are complicit with the ongoing "homogenization" of mass culture, which strikes me as a serious misreading of what many film bloggers are doing. Certainly a number of film bloggers go out of their way to promote independent and non-US cinemas rather than merely adding to the noise about the latest franchise film to hit the local megaplex (on five screens!). It's probably also worth noting that these discussions of the state of film criticism usually take place over the summer when the biggest excesses of Hollywood are most visible and when the gap between critical perspectives on Hollywood films and populist tastes are probably at their widest.

Somewhat unrelated: Ted Pigeon has an interesting reading of Dargis's article on the relationship between the critic and the modern blockbuster. That being said, I'm not sure I agree with many of Dargis's conclusions. I don't think that negative critical opinion of Top Gun or 300 necessarily derives from the "literary bent" of critics who are horrified at the "infection" of movies by MTV or videogame aesthetics. While I more or less enjoyed Top Gun when it came out (I was about 12 years old at the time), it's the film's politics that troubled me, not some other aesthetic form that threatened the "purity" of cinema. I don't think that many film critics object to action sequences if they're well done--witness the critical praise for Spider-Man 2, which probably helped feed the disappointment over the more recent film. That being said, I'm probably inherently suspicious of any film whose budget exceeds that of a small country, in part because as the budget increases, there's less space for taking certain kinds of risks.

I need to get back to some last-minute grading (and some other work that has been on my desk for a while), but David at Green Cine also points to a few more articles that are discussing the changing role of the film critic.

Posted by chuck at May 9, 2007 1:20 PM

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This is an endlessly fascinating discussion; among other points, I want to zero in on something you bring up here, which is the dissolution of local criticism. Here in Dallas, there's one local critic left on a staff that used to house four or five. It's a bit disconcerting to open up the local alt-weekly and see J. Hoberman's name in place of the critics I used to read (and see on a regular basis at local screenings). I love reading Hoberman's work, don't get me wrong, but as a non-New-Yorker, that's what the internet is for!

Posted by: David Lowery at May 9, 2007 3:47 PM

Man, this whole thing/now gigantic & getting bigger conversation re: internet criticism is something way beyond what I was expressing with my criticism of Rockwell's review of Hannah. I looked for straight/close to traditional reviews of Hannah around the time of SXSW (couple of weeks ago?) did not find a single one, & then I saw that GreenCine Daily had linked to Rockwell's review, so I was excited to finally possibly get a chance to read a regular review of Hannah. When I got to Rockwell's blog I saw that The Guardian had also cited her review, so I was even more excited about reading it, 'cause I figured that if GCD & Guardian are referencing it, it might at least be adequate for my needs. But, a regular review was not what I found at Rockwell's site, actually, I don't consider her piece a movie review, but it is thoughts related to the movie. Anyway, after reading that whole post I was no closer to finding out what I was looking for re: Hannah then when I started. So I wrote a post expressing my frustration ('cause I've seen a couple of other instances recently where people say they are writing a movie review but the end product is far from it, in my opinion). Unfortunately for Rockwell, Anthony Kaufman was thinking about the same subject & referenced my post re: Rockwell's post at the begining of his post re: internet movie criticism. So, this whole thing is kind of like one of those movies where small events are kind of accidentally related to some whacked out large event. Definitely did not intend Rockwell to receive as much negative criticism as she might feel that she is getting. My feelings regarding her Hannah review has not changed, but the amplification of my complaint caused by Kaufman's post was certainly not intended.

- Sujewa

Posted by: Sujewa at May 9, 2007 10:35 PM

thanks sujewa, though i must say that those other reviews of hannah that you found existed long before mine, and i had read them before posting about hannah...if you had only looked a little harder you would have found them and wouldn't have had cause to attack mine. they weren't hard to find.

Posted by: cynthia at May 10, 2007 11:56 AM

David, agreed on the localism stuff. I do think the internet could foster new forms of localism, but local reviewers (for books and films) seem to be disappearing. Even the LA Times is down to a single film reviewer.

Sujewa, no need to add to Cynthia's response to your comment, but I do think it's worth noting that the discussion of film criticism has been going on for some time. I'd imagine the more recent version of this discussion has more to do with Peter Bart's column than anything else. Like David, I find the discussion fascinating.

Posted by: Chuck at May 10, 2007 2:15 PM

yup, the discussion on internet film criticism has been going on for some time. but this round touched off by Kaurfamn's post is the first time one of my posts had any direct connection to the discussion.
all in all, the conversation is a good thing. can lead to better net reviewes & criticism - better written.

- sujewa

Posted by: Sujewa at May 10, 2007 6:54 PM

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