Apr 9, 2014
This has been a post I have been writing for nearly two years, always going back and forth on whether I should finish it or not. This is a rather bold statement and one that needs a bit of clarification, and possibly it’s the one I really didn’t want to start to begin with. Yet with each week I see what passes for a new film review, and not just by the fanboy such as myself, who tries to pass their blog as a synagogue of cinema, it just keeps getting more clear how true the statement is. Film criticism is dead.
Since the dawn of commercial art, there have been those who have taken it upon themselves to become experts on the subject, usually because they have a deep affection for the subject. Film critics for the most part came from the theater where a good word could make or break a production. It’s understandable the importance of critical reviews of a show as anyone who has ever had to fork over serious cash in order to see a big production could tell you about. It was important to know that such an investment would be worth it. Film, on the other hand, has always been a relatively cheaper option. The role of the critic wasn’t so much about the investment any more as much as it became about the quality of product.
But over the last thirty years, there have been more choices in art and much of it tailor-fitted to audience demands. The “critic-proof” films started to arrive. Film critics, understanding that these films weren’t meant for any critical recognition (though they would certainly take it if given to them), started to get very snarky, or should I say more snarky than film critics already were. Adam Sandler films were reviewed with the same standard put towards an Oscar contender. And if the critic didn’t, then they would be called out for being a hack.
Should critics be preferential in the films that they chose to review? Does Tyler Perry’s work not merit the attention of critical response? Not at all, but that wasn’t ever the real problem. The problem is that critics didn’t challenge the work, instead deciding to deride the films considered beneath them as excuses to work on comedy skills. They became more interested in their credentials of authority than they were a voice that could communicate both towards the audience and the filmmakers. They would pander to one at the expense of communicating to the other. Rotten Tomatoes became a scoreboard instead of a collaboration of voices.
So I say once again that the authoritative film critic who passes judgment on a piece of art and deems it worthy or unworthy now lives in the dying embers of its last sunset. Film critics and wannabes are seen now more as mere spectacle whose opinions are little more than either affirmation or rebuttal for something they themselves will be seeing either way or have already seen. Film criticism is out. Film conversation is in. And the funny thing is that it has been in for a very long time. It was in when two Chicago film critics took to public access television and offered their thumbs. But the next step didn’t occur until the last decade when podcasting and blogging started to take over.
That’s right; the very thing that diluted the power of the film critic is in fact the very thing that is replacing it, just not in the way it was thought. Social media allowed people to talk about film in a way that was never possible before, they could share their opinions in a way that would create a conversation. Granted, many of those voices are trolls, but those who had something to say about film could find a community that could challenge their thinking, give them more to think about and raise the level of thinking in regards to art. Most film podcasts and YouTube hosts record in groups with varying opinions and thoughts on what they saw, and not just on the critical darlings either. For the first time, horror fans could provide a new look and appreciation for films not appreciated by the critical elite. Oscar-winning films could be taken apart and classics reexamined by guys with a Skype account and a recorder (like a particular podcast I just happen to host, for example).
The old guard understands this. That’s why when two esteemed critics disagreed with each other over a film, they took it to a podcast to settle the dispute. Many are starting to be actively engaged in either their comments section online or creating forums to actively engage in these discussions. Film lovers are no longer stymied by the films that they deem great as long as they can express what it is that they like about that film. I’ve seen someone give a defense to House of the Dead 2 that almost convinced me to give it a shot. Almost.
Is there a risk in all this? Absolutely. Having such an abundance of opinions available can make finding definitive experts in film study very difficult to find. Aspiring filmmakers will have various voices to listen to and very little guidance that can be taken from any of these. But on the flip side, it means that no matter what kind of artistic statement or lack thereof is presented, someone is going to say something good about it.
But in all honesty, film conversationalists need to aspire to understand the art that they are talking about, to be able to convey as clearly as they can what it is that they see and to not rush to judgment before either seeing the product or having taken time to come to a complete opinion, even if to say that you do not have an opinion on it. And it goes without saying to listen and appreciate those opinions that differ from the consensus.
I used to aspire to be a critic when I was in my 20s, to be the next Roger Ebert. But I realize now that I don’t want to be an authority in film, I just want to talk movies, share a few opinions and listen to a few million more. I don’t want to make or break a film, I just want to laugh with the bad ones, contemplate the good ones and try to find something interesting about the ones I absolutely hate. And from the looks of things, I’m not alone.