Magazine article Variety

Critical Evolution Theories

Magazine article Variety

Critical Evolution Theories

Article excerpt

My 26-year tenure as a movie critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer coincided with a transformational period in moviemaking, exhibition and criticism itself. All have now migrated from analog to digital; the latter two from a monolithic delivery system to a multiplicity of them.

I have migrated, too, voluntarily leaving the Inquirer for pastures that, while not necessarily greener, offer a chance to adapt to a changing landscape. I still write reviews, only now it's six a month instead of 20.

What better time to collect my thoughts about the state of film criticism, to take its temperature, blood pressure and check its vital signs?

For me, as for many colleagues, the past five years have been a period of "premorse" - anticipatory mourning - for what looked like the latest death of criticism.

However, "Critics haven't been put out to pasture," says Roger Moore, the longtime Orlando Sentinel film critic laid off before Thanksgiving and now with the MCT to piece together a living doing what they love." His is the optimistic view.

"These days," says one studio exe< "some bozo on the Net with a generic website who calls a comedy the laugh riot of the decade' is much more likely to get quoted than some more knowledgeable critic who writes, 'The film's wit brings to mind Preston Sturges.'"

Still, the idea makes me giggle that this is the Dark Ages for movie criticism and its finest practitioners have retreated to the monasteries of academe. Countless times during my career, criticism has been declared dead only to pop up its furry groundhog head and give frisky proof to the contrary.

In 1981, shortly after the New Yorker published Pauline Kael's "Why Are Movies So Bad," "Entertainment Tonight" premiered, training its spotlight weekly on movie grosses and creating the impression that the films worth seeing were those that made the most money. Kael, among others, publicly despaired that the focus on grosses would effectively kill criticism. It did not, although "ET" did supply an infotainment model that enabled studios to get publicity for their products while bypassing criticism entirely.

In 1990, in his Film Comment piece "All Thumbs," Richard Corliss took aim at "Siskel & Ebert at the Movies," and their quotable soundbites he indicted as responsible for the dilution and "devolution of film criticism." Film criticism prevailed, and so did Ebert.

In 1998, in the anthology "The Crisis of Criticism," Jim Hoberman's "The Critic of Tomorrow, Today" pointed the finger at the commodification of the film-critical enterprise, celebrating those who resisted the critics' role as "underpaid cheerleaders."

Fast-forward to 2012 and an e-mail conversation with Roger Ebert He writes, "Film criticism has never been healthier. Film critics have never been so unemployed or underpaid." His point is taken: There have never been more outlets for critics, even though the remuneration isn't good.

Given the rise of online movie-review aggregators, it's never been easier to find a spectrum of opinion on a specific film - most of it from daily and weekly critics whose work appeared in print.

And given the multitude and the erudition of film bloggers unconstrained by space limitations, one can find learned writing - reflections on a film, director, actor, cinematographer or handheld camerawork - at a keystroke. …

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