What’s your take on the state of film criticism?

Friend or foe of film criticism? Your guess could help you win big!

“When Jonathan Rosenbaum says, “I live on the Internet,” I take him to be claiming citizenship in a community of shared passions and curiosities, free of economic imperatives or disputes. In other words, a utopia. It seems to me that criticism plays a secondary role in the composition and functioning of this community, in which someone in Bangkok can get excited by an Alexei Guerman film and instantly share his or her enthusiasm with someone in Canada. Isn’t this the realization of Jean Baudrillard’s “ecstasy of communication?” There is a compulsion to communicate, visible on any given day of the week in any city around the world as armies of people walk down the street or ride public transportation with cell phones or BlackBerries in hand, chattering, texting, and emailing away.”

-Kent Jones, Film Society of Lincoln Center

Brush up on the issues in this extensive critical symposium on Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet from Cineaste magazine, featuring our own Kent Jones.

Then, come to the panel Film Criticism in Crisis?, part of the New York Film Festival, this Saturday at 1PM. Confirmed participants include Jonathan Rosenbaum, Cahiers du cinéma editor Emmanuel Burdeau, Kent Jones, Jessica Winter of O Magazine, Seung-hoon Jeong, Pascual Espiritu and GreenCine Daily blog editor David Hudson.

Buy tickets or enter to win!

What effect is the internet having on film criticism? Use the comments to have your say.

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6 Comments on “What’s your take on the state of film criticism?”

  1. Film Maker Says:

    I experienced the power of the internet critic very recently. My film received a pretty harsh review, and I’m OK with that. Everyone has their oppinions and this guy just didn’t get what we were doing and thought our movie was crap. Fine.
    The problem I had was that he writes review for six different film review websites. So, unlike a newspaper it doesn’t say “Mr. X is a critic for the Blah Times and here is his review”. At first glance it appeared we received six negative reviews, when in reality it was only one negative. But it took me a while to figure it out, because they weren’t the same review posted six places. Each was different enough that they were all unique reviews, but similiar enough that I eventually figured out they were all written by the same man.
    Now, if it had been a good review I would have benefitted by getting six good reviews that were really a single review, but that’s not really ethical either, is it?
    Personally I think things like this need to be dealt with.

  2. damien Says:

    This is a topic worthy of some lengthy discussion, unquestionably beyond the scope of a comment on a blog talkback.

    I just wanted to toss this out there: If serious film criticism is dead, or dying, it is because the critics who are serious writers and thinkers have a tendency to focus on, for whatever reason, films that are *supposed* to be taken seriously. In other words, the critics/theorists/academics concentrate on films and filmmakers that are ostensibly artistic or openly campaigning to be included in some sort of arthouse canon.

    In other words, it is my position that guys like Truffaut and Godard — who fathered this whole critical movement (and sure, Bazin) — embraced B-movies, pulp fiction, exploitive and explosive films. Contemporary critics would sooner analyze the latest pretentious European/Asian/African snoozer than delve into the pulpy bliss of Spiderman-3 or Hot Fuzz.

    Full disclosure: I’ve actually stopped purchasing Film Comment, along with Cineaste and Film Quarterly, for this very reason. Stop praising Sam Fuller and realize Robert Rodriguez is no less a master of DIY hard-boiled drama. Stop doing retrospectives on Sturges and realize Judd Apatow is doing profoundly interesting things with the comedy form. Stop devoting so much space to foreign films the masses will never see and dedicate that space to Tropic Thunder and the auteur also known as Ben Stiller.

    In short, if the critical, theoretical and analytical minds of today’s cinema hope to produce work that is alive and vibrant, they ought to be discussing the masterworks of today.

    I’ve yet to find a website or print rag that is willing to devote serious time to a discussion of, say, the aesthetic appeal and succes of McG’s Charlies Angels. That’s unfortunate.

  3. paulbrunick Says:

    Damien’s post might seem like a perfectly reasonable, middle-of-the-road argument, but I think it quickly unravels once you when you examine his assumptions and tease out the implications.

    “…critics who are serious writers and thinkers have a tendency to focus on,
    for whatever reason, films that are *supposed* to be taken seriously.”

    To which I can’t help reply—duh! Critics spend time explicating and reflecting upon films that reward explication and reflection. This is such an axiomatic idea that it’s difficult to articulate a defense.

    If a film is not *supposed* to be taken seriously—if it’s meant to be nothing more than a 90minute diversion filled with bright lights and beautiful faces—then what exactly, in Damien’s opinion, is the value of “seriously” evaluating it? I’m assuming that by “serious,” Damien means a comparatively rigorous formal and thematic analysis situated in a clear historical context. But as soon as critics examine the latest mega-hit through this lens, the Damiens of the world accuse them of being pretentious all over again: after all, it’s just a movie yo! So it’s a lose-lose situation. What Damien is actually proposing is a race to the bottom in which critics abdicate their, uh, critical faculties and mindlessly join in the cheerleading for the latest over-hyped blockbuster “event.” That’s what studio publicity departments are for. Having standards is not pretentious—it’s a film critic’s job.

    “Contemporary critics would sooner analyze the latest pretentious
    European/Asian/African snoozer than delve into the pulpy bliss of
    Spiderman-3 or Hot Fuzz.”

    Again: sorry but what is he talking about? Spiderman 3 was reviewed by Richard Corliss, Roger Ebert, David Edelstein, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Manhola Dargis, Nathan Lee, Manhola Dargis, to name just a few! Hot Fuzz was reviewed in all three film periodicals–Damien might know that if he was still subscribed–and was given a special event screening at Lincoln Center.

    But somehow this isn’t enough. Why do these same critics have to keep reviewing “pretentious European/Asian/African snoozers”? It’s like, God I don’t know what to hate more: movies about people that don’t have superpowers or movies made by un-American foreigners?

    The anti-intellectualism and xenophobia underlying his argument are lamentable. That he invokes the critical legacy of the Cahiers critics is just laughable.

  4. Chris Chang, Film Comment Says:

    Bad mistake bringing up Hot Fuzz around here. Not only did we host a special screening, and accumulate a small mountain of HF swag-crapola in the process, (some of which is still clogging the office), we turned the GUILTY PLEASURES page of the magazine over to Pegg and Frost so they could wax poetic about pretentious high-art snobbery such as Death Wish 3, Andre (the sea-lion movie), and Three Men and a Little Lady (see Film Comment, March/April 2005).

    And condolences to FILM MAKER. But look at it this way: No matter how many times your internet nemesis/wonk manages to get the same bad review published in different venues, he was only paid once, poorly, if at all.

  5. damien Says:

    I’m not going to defend my quickly written, and sloppily presented, post. I appreciate paulbrunick taking the time to take it apart and critique those sections he perceived as flawed. What I find irritating is that paulbrunick doesn’t offer his own thoughts on the stated topic, which is all I had set out to do. Going so far as to suggest someone is xenophobic and anti-intellectual (two things I am not) is downright rude, particularly when the offending critic is offering no original ideas of his own.

    And in response to what paulbrunick perceived to be a “Duh!” observation on my part [“…critics who are serious writers and thinkers have a tendency to focus on, for whatever reason, films that are *supposed* to be taken seriously.”], I can only find amusement, because many of the films I adore were not necessarily produced with the goal of being intellectually precious, but of being successful as entertainments. Perhaps I used the word “seriously” inappropriately. I would imagine all filmmakers want to be taken seriously. Sure. What I meant to suggest is that those films that are most overtly aspiring for a sort of intellectual-academic treatment may not deserve it as much as some films characterized by more modest aspirations.

    And again, while I won’t defend my tossed-off post, I think Mr. Chang’s own admission that the Hot Fuzz creators were relegated to the “Guilty Pleasures” section of the mag speaks for itself. Chris, if you’ve got some Hot Fuzz swag-crappola you want to unload Id’ love some. Let me know where I can send you my mailing address.

  6. Paul Brunick, Film Comment Says:

    Fair enough–as soon as I posted my piece, I regretted the tone. Polemical attacks aren’t really my forte. I guess I am overly sensitive to “pretentious” critiques, having duly internalized (but never fully processed) the anti-intellectualism of the world I grew up in. So if I redirected my self-hatred outwards, my apologies! It just seems that in the political era of Fox News–where “so-called experts” are automatically dismissed as “pretentious,” regardless of what they have to say–you should really be able to back up your claims. That many of your critiques were just (categorically, demonstrably) pulled out of thin air invited that kind of response.

    Oh, and we didn’t “relegate” Hot Fuzz to any section–it got the deluxe full-length feature treatment. The “Guilty Pleasures” section was an additional piece we commissioned in which Pegg and Frost talked about the schlock they love. You’d probably get a kick out of it if you checked it out!

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