I’ll try to return in a more focused way to this topic later, but for now some links to various versions of the ongoing and quickly evolving conversation about blogging and film critcism.
First, Anthony clarifies yesterday’s post and points to Kurt Cobain About a Son filmmaker AJ Schnack’s contribution to the discussion. I think AJ is right to distinguish between film bloggers and IMDB commenters, which AJ calls “online know-it-alls” or OKIAs, and to raise questions about what exactly constitutes an “average” moviegoer and how those moviegoers might be using film blogs to make decisions about what movies they watch. There is an issue of “taste” that needs to be considered here and those readers who consult OKIAs rather than Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott probably already recognize that they fit into the taste community addressed by the OKIAs.
That being said, Anne Thompson has pointed to some of the fundamental economic and industrial shifts that are rapidly changing the status of the film critic, with many critics being fired or replaced by wire services or other cheaper alternatives. Most recently affected is Eleanor Ringel-Gillespie, who was replaced after thirty years of service by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by a wire service. Because I grew up reading the AJC, I know Ringel-Gillespie’s reviews rather well and always appreciated her work (even if I didn’t always agree), and I’m dissapointed by the AJC’s decision.
There’s a much longer disussion of this issue at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists that is worth checking out. They point out that while the media landscape is clearly changing, “moviegoers have relationships–love ‘em or hate ‘em–with their local movie reviewers. Local critics provide priceless perspectives that simply cannot be replaced.” In reading through the AWFJ article, however, I’m wondering the real villain isn’t the film blogger but media consolidation itself as media conglomerates increasingly find ways to reduce expenses. I do think it’s important to preserve these local perspectives, and I think AJC readers will quickly discover that the paper is underestimating Ringel-Gillespie’s valuable contribution to the city’s film coverage.
There’s also an elitist assumption going around that most film bloggers are merely celebrating the popular, that they are complicit with the ongoing “homogenization” of mass culture, which strikes me as a serious misreading of what many film bloggers are doing. Certainly a number of film bloggers go out of their way to promote independent and non-US cinemas rather than merely adding to the noise about the latest franchise film to hit the local megaplex (on five screens!). It’s probably also worth noting that these discussions of the state of film criticism usually take place over the summer when the biggest excesses of Hollywood are most visible and when the gap between critical perspectives on Hollywood films and populist tastes are probably at their widest.
Somewhat unrelated: Ted Pigeon has an interesting reading of Dargis’s article on the relationship between the critic and the modern blockbuster. That being said, I’m not sure I agree with many of Dargis’s conclusions. I don’t think that negative critical opinion of Top Gun or 300 necessarily derives from the “literary bent” of critics who are horrified at the “infection” of movies by MTV or videogame aesthetics. While I more or less enjoyed Top Gun when it came out (I was about 12 years old at the time), it’s the film’s politics that troubled me, not some other aesthetic form that threatened the “purity” of cinema. I don’t think that many film critics object to action sequences if they’re well done–witness the critical praise for Spider-Man 2, which probably helped feed the disappointment over the more recent film. That being said, I’m probably inherently suspicious of any film whose budget exceeds that of a small country, in part because as the budget increases, there’s less space for taking certain kinds of risks.
I need to get back to some last-minute grading (and some other work that has been on my desk for a while), but David at Green Cine also points to a few more articles that are discussing the changing role of the film critic.