Thursday, June 24, 2010


The story continues. Earlier this year I discussed Gerald Peary's For The Love Of Movies: The Story Of American Film Criticism. The documentary shows the rise and the fall--it wasn't that long ago when being a movie critic was a job that put you in the center of a thriving field, not to mention a thriving debate.

In the past decade or so, as print media has been dying, so has the major film critic. There were a number of pieces bemoaning this fact. Then Andrew O'Hehir, in Salon, told the critics that no one wants to hear them whine.

Now James Wolcott, in Vanity Fair, surveys the debate. He quotes Tom Shone, who wrote a fine books on Hollywood blockbusters, and now claims that critics have become insular and cut off from popular taste:

I think… film critics are blazingly out of sync with the vast majority of filmgoers—just look at the praise heaped on movies like Duplicity, Up in the Air, A Serious Man and Greenberg, all clever, sometimes witty, thematically rich movies with no discernible pulse. In fact, with 75% of film critics giving Greenberg an enthusiastic thumbs up, it might be argued that it’s high time film critics went extinct.

This is a bit harsh. First, there are plenty of middlebrow critics who like many of the same films as the masses. Second, critics see a lot of films and so tire more easily of all the cliches Hollywood throws at them. Third, isn't it sort of the job of critics, even middlebrow ones, to have good taste, and thus disagree with the public at regular intervals?

As for the films he lists: Duplicity was meant to be a crowdpleaser, an international thriller with big stars. It didn't get great notices and, while it made a disappointing $80 million worldwide, it's not like the public shunned it. Up In The Air he may not like, but the public did--considering it's a fairly intimate film, it still made over $160 million worldwide. A Serious Man, without a big name, still managed to make $26 millin worldwide--and it's not like it got wild praise from the critics (in fact, none of these films did). Greenberg was pretty bad and even with a name made almost no money, but, is Shone saying there's no room for character studies with weak plots--even if they're not all gems, and seem to him to lack a "pulse"?

Anyway, it's hard not to have sympathy for all the people losing their jobs, but, it's true, as Roger Ebert points out, there's more being written about film than ever--it's just spread out, mostly over the internet, and often more specialized.

Average filmgoers often mock critics, saying they've got rarefied taste and don't get what's truly entertaining. But the question becomes what lasts? A lot of what's popular disappears. Critics can champion things and get them attention in their time, and help keep them alive down the road. For that alone, it's a worthy avocation.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

One day I need to find a book or article that explains how the music of Mozart became more popular and respected after his premature death. I'm no expert, but I understand that Moxart had "tabloid" fame as a child, but then became a middling composer, not much performed in 18th Century Europe, while others like Salieri and Handel and Haydn were superstars. Mozart's music, however, outlasted anything by Salieri, and is generally viewed as superior to Haydn and Handel (I think).

Whatever the mechanism, it seems true quality often does press through the veneer of marketing, popularity contests and connections. I think this will be true of films as well. We've bare;ly had films 100 years, but alreay you can see certain films from earlier decades becoming timeless classics, respected by generation after generation.

9:43 AM, June 24, 2010  
Blogger LAGuy said...

This stuff about Mozart is a bit of an exaggeration. He may have had some ups and downs in his career, but as far as I understand, he was a well-known composer, played throughout German-speaking Europe (and especially admired by the smart set) during his short life. A much better example of a composer who wasn't appreciated during his lifetime but revived later is Bach.

10:33 AM, June 24, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter