Apr 10, 2010

Why we're better off without film critics

Salon film critic Stephanie Zacharek is the latest to a lose her job. I've been keeping a steady eye on the number of film critic redundancies over the last year, as have A.O. Scott, The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Bordwell, Eric Kohn, Glenn Kenny and Anne Thompson (from whom I got the preceding links). I have the distinction of both being an ex- film critic myself, and one who emigrated to the one country on earth to send us the way of the dodo, I feel about as useful as a left-handed tuba player down a coal mine. But then I was never one who thought that film criticism served any kind of function besides the purest self-expression. Nobody in the history of human contact was ever persuaded that they liked a movie when they in fact didn't, or that they didn't when they in fact did. My own opinion of a film had about as much effect on my readers, I would guess, as a gnat bite on the rump of the leatheriest rhino. Most people can read between the lines, assessing you as coolly as you assess the film. I know I did. I used to happily invert all the opinions I read in Sight & Sound, for example, knowing that I would in most cases end up with something closer to my own tastes. It was enough for a S & S critic to dislike a movie to prick my interest in it, and conversely, their praise often made a film sound dreadful. I still think that film critics are blazingly out of sync with the vast majority of filmgoers — just look at the raise heaped on movies like Duplicity, Up In The Air, A Serious Man and Greenberg, all clever, sometimes witty, thematically rich movies with no discernible pulse. In fact, with 75% of film critics giving Greenberg an enthusiastic thumbs up, it might be argued that it's high time film critics went extinct. One of the most frequent searches that brings people to this blog, I've noticed is, "A Serious Man Worst Movie Ever." I'm extremely proud of that, if only because I feel like I've actually served some kind of positive purpose, reassuring people that no, they're not crazy, that movie really is mocking the notion of a good time as much as they think it is. To be the one offering that healing balm feels ten times more productive than writing a review of the thing. It's one of the things I most like about blogs: the corroborative, morning-after aspect. One regrets the loss of income, naturally, but I would be hard pushed to give any cogent reasons to reverse our obsolescence. I adore reading Anthony Lane, David Edelstein and A O Scott, not because they make my mind up, but because it's always fun to spot fine minds describe their reaction to anything — films, books, washing the car, having sex, breakfast. It's got nothing to do with the movie. I'll read their review on the day, two weeks later, a year after the fact — it makes no difference to me if the writer is good. And if the movie is good — which is to say that it's picked up heat at the festivals or on the blogs — I will deliberately avoid reading any reviews so as not to trample mud into a virgin plot. So there you have it: movie critics don't serve any function and they frequently ruin the thing I most like about movies. They're perilously close to being an active nuisance. Its a wonder people tolerate us for as long as they did.


  1. One does indeed have to wonder about a community that gives such splendid popcorn entertainments as "The Mummy", "The Core" and "The Incredible Hulk", "Mission: Impossible II" and "Pirates... 2" merely decent marks.

    And, speaking of criticism, was the NY Post the only paper with the guts (or, if you like, ideological antagonism) to point out that, at 130 minutes, "The Hurt Locker" was too darn long for its single, straightforward theme?

  2. I love your criticism. I love your writing. You are one of the greats, and I'm so happy that you write this blog. Truth is, the world would be a sad place without critics like you.