Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Haters Gonna Hate

Here's a post from Don Surber about how Vincent Canby's negative review of the original Rocky destroyed the reputation of The New York Times and even helped number Canby's days as a film critic.  I'm not a huge fan of Canby's, but this is just stupid.

First, it's not a critic's job to agree with the public.  It's a critic's job to discuss the film in question, to be discerning and to give an opinion.  If the critic's job is to like what the public likes, why bother to have one--just report on the grosses.

Second, any critic who lasts long enough--and Canby reviewed films at the Times for about 25 years--is simply going to hate things you like and like things you hate.  A reader may even get used to certain prejudices of the critic and judge accordingly.  But Surber lists a bunch of hits Canby didn't like as if this is proof something was wrong.  (And I'm just talking here about reviewers at dailies.  If you're a critic for a classy periodical, you gain respect for not liking hits.)

Third, the facts (even as Surber notes them) don't add up.  Canby was a film critic at the Times from 1969 to 1994, and during those years was an influential critic.  Rocky was early in his tenure, as were some of the other films that Surber is disturbed Canby didn't like.  If there was any trouble, Canby would have been kicked out (or more likely, upstairs) earlier.

The irony is there was a Times film critic who was famously fired for being out of touch--Bosley Crowther.  He was a film writer there from 1940 to 1967 (not a particularly good one, I'd say).  When Bonnie And Clyde was released, something seemed to snap in him.  He panned it and when the film became divisive, went out of his way to attack it in print several more times.  But the film was a huge hit, and a harbinger of things to come.  Crowther was put out pasture, removed as the Times head film critic in 1968, and it's generally believed this was because the Times felt the fracas showed he was out-of-touch.


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