Film Criticism in Crisis? Critiquing the critics–a guest review

Matthew Boese was one of the winners of our name-the-film-critic contest. We asked him to review the panel, and here is his take:

“Jonathan Rosenbaum told a packed house at Saturday’s “Film Criticism in Crisis” panel that now is a paradigm shift for critics of all venues as we struggle over the most basic of definitions. The panel, sponsored by Film Comment and lead by editor Gavin Smith, included Rosenbaum, Film Comment’s Kent Jones, Cahiers du Cinema editor Emmanuel Burdeau, GreenCine’s David Hudson, O Magazine critic Jessica Winters, Pascual Espiritu of Strictly Film School, and Seung-Hoon Jeong formerly of Korea’s Cine21.

The major concern in the air was the decentralization of the film viewing experience. Theater-going is no longer the exclusive domain for film appreciation as VOD, Netflix, and the internet overturn the way we access and respond to film.  As film-viewing is no longer dependent on geography, the conception of an audience has vanished. There is no more “we,” the decisive buzzword of the day.  There was a collective lament for the loss of a national conversation on film of the sorts Pauline Kael pioneered.

The film blogger, in contrast to the print critic, writes to oneself rather than to a concrete notion of an audience. This has benefits and liabilities. Panelists acknowledged the importance of the editorial process in keeping both the writer and the writing process rigorous and fit. This is where a need for community is especially vital.

The conception of what the film writing is also changes with the medium of the internet. As GreenCine’s David Hudson best exemplifies, many film blogs are not primarily concerned with essay-like criticism but as a gateway to more information, and other criticism.

More than any other single filmmaker/work, the most discussed item of the day was HBO’s The Wire. Jones and Burdeau cited the show as an example of a work of great artistic and social importance that defies the typical notion of a “work.” This presents special challenges for the critic as they must respond to the change in format with a new and expanded critical language.

Despite these tectonic changes, the panel closed with more traditional concerns about the critical enterprise. Rosenbaum parted with what he saw as an unfashionable remark: the importance of connecting film with the outside world. The purpose of the critic, prompted Smith, is primarily to describe the object, to get the experience right. But as the medium redefines itself, so too must the critic’s moral purpose amid the struggle to maintain a voice and find some venue of commonality.”

-Matthew Boese

What’s your take? Let us know in the comments, or see all of our coverage on the panel.

Explore posts in the same categories: Contests, festival dispatches, Film Comment, new york film festival, on @ the walter reade, quotables

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