Termite Criticism

Andy Horbal, formerly of No More Marriages, has launched his new film blogging venture, Mirror/Stage, with a manifesto-style post on film criticism in the age of blogging. Observing that blogging and other technological developments have democratized criticism, Andy calls this new form of criticism “termite criticism,” suggesting that bloggers can find a niche, an area of expertise, and “nibble away at it until sated.” He adds that film bloggers are also less concerned with reputation and more focused on creating a community of people thinking, writing, and exploring films and film culture.

It’s an enticing argument, one that carries with it all of the anti-elitist and communitarian ideals that drew me in to blogging in the first place. It also responds forcefully to the debates about the decline of more centralized models of film criticism associated with The New Yorker of the 1960s and ’70s and later with the “TV critics” of the 1980s (Siskel, Ebert, etc), although Andy doesn’t mention them, and if I’m reading it correctly, I think Andy’s riff off of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s comments in the most recent issue of Film Quarterly works well to illustrate that bloggers are coming up with new ways of writing about film. And I agree that this multiplicity of voices about movies has been incredibly positive–it’s very close to what I’m thinking about right now in the book I’m writing when I talk about “networked film publics.” Whether we’re engaging a historical project of looking at films released in 1947 or weighing in on the latest Michael Moore film, film blogs are opening up new ways of writing about film and, potentially, engaging with the public sphere in interesting new ways.

I do think Andy’s point that new technologies–such as the DVD–are worth highlighting here, although it’s important to point out that VHS and cable have made many, if not most, films available for re-viewing since the 1980s (although DVD has arguably accelerated this process). Not sure I have much to add right now, but I’m glad to see the launch of Andy’s new project.

5 Comments »

  1. Andy H. Said,

    July 9, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

    Wow, it’s almost like you had my notebook in front of you when you wrote this, looking at the thoughts that got left out of my post! Two points in particular I hope to return to in the future:

    1) [A]nd if I’m reading it correctly, I think Andy’s riff off of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s comments in the most recent issue of Film Quarterly works well to illustrate that bloggers are coming up with new ways of writing about film.

    2) [I]t’s important to point out that VHS and cable have made many, if not most, films available for re-viewing since the 1980s (although DVD has arguably accelerated this process).

    In regards to the former, while there’s a very real sense in which Rosenbaum is wrong in that article, the spirit of his comment is dead-on. Blogger’s have an unfortunate tendency to be too defensive about the way they’re perceived by the critical or academic establishments: I think it’s important to respond positively to criticisms, so long as they’re courteous and curious.

    In regards to the latter, I’ve lived my whole life during the video era, but I only came of age as a cinephile during the age of the DVD. I don’t know that I am qualified to go further in that direction, but I’d love to read something along those lines written by someone who is!

  2. Chuck Said,

    July 9, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

    I’ll have to read the Rosenbaum piece before I comment further on that–hopefully the postal gods accompany that issue of FQ as it makes its way to my mailbox. But it’s clear that old models of public film criticism are faltering and that something else is replacing it. This doesn’t speak negatively of the quality of traditional film criticism as practiced by Rosenbaum and others (and I do feel like something is being lost as local critics are being replaced by wire services), but there are some interesting voices out there using blogs in creative ways.

    With regards to your second point, there are a few scholarly and semi-scholarly pieces on VHS/DVD and cinephilila (and I happen to have several of them in front of me as I write). Barbara Klinger’s book Beyond the Multiplex is pretty good on cinephilia and the DVD. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s “The Pleasures of Home Cinema,” Screen 41.3 (2000), is also useful, especially in challenging myths about how audiences watch movies at home. For a more negative take on video-mediated cinephilia, you could check out Charles Tashiro’s “Videophilia,” Film Quarterly 45.1 (1991).

  3. Chuck Said,

    July 9, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

    BTW, my cinematic education is generally “post-video” even though my family didn’t have a VCR until I was about 12 or 13.

  4. Andy H. Said,

    July 9, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  5. Chuck Said,

    July 9, 2007 @ 7:15 pm

    Hope they’re helpful. Some of them come from more of an ethnographic POV, but they do make some interesting arguments about how we use VHS and DVD.

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