The Last Critic Who Mattered?

By Verini, Bob | Variety, September 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Last Critic Who Mattered?


Verini, Bob, Variety


The Web, social media and newspaper cuts have all worked to fragment and kill off serious voices in the mainstream media

This week's opening night tribute to the Toronto Film Festival's chief cheerleader, the late Roger Ebert, will beg a key question: Can anyone fill his shoes? No other critic ever possessed the international platform of his TV gigs, his visibility, celebrity or his Pulitzer Prize.

To put it another way: Was Roger Ebert the last film critic who mattered?

Chaz Ebert echoes the sentiments of many when her husband passed in April. "His criticism was infused with a history of film; with a history of people, and a life well-lived that gave him background and context.... He loved what he did and how it connected him with the dreams of moviegoers everywhere."

Bizwatcher Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com places him into an historical context. Criticism began as "an esoteric exercise" before the thumbs up-thumbs down Chicago duo "brought film criticism into the mainstream."

Agrees historian Danny Peary, "They were part of the regular entertainment regimen for people, for the masses.... Ebert genuinely loved movies and encouraged people to see them."

So did many of his peers, of course. The defunct Boston Phoenix's scribe Gerald Peary created a feature doc celebrating his profession's "rich history, putting it together with lives and real faces" hoping to "usher in a Renaissance in film criticism. But clearly it failed on all counts."

The doc, "For the Love of Movies," sells well on the Internet, even as upwards of 100 critics have been laid off since its 2009 release.

"Film criticism doesn't have a great sway over the masses of people's taste," he mourns. "The object is to put pants in seats, and I regret we film critics aren't doing anything about that."

Undisputed once and future locus of opinion is the Internet. Notes DergarabeEbert's dian, "The bastion of the elite has become populist. Social media have become the critic. It's a collective, a co-op."

Says one filmmaker who wished to remain anonymous, "Twitter and Facebook have replaced (critics). …

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