Usually, announcing the death of anything amounts to rhetorical hyperbole but this article makes some interesting points.
Excellent article – especially the comments.
Dying? Maybe, maybe not. Changing? Definitely. There will still be a place for print publications in the future… the reports of their death is greatly exaggerated. Even if the move is toward lifestyle and entertainment magazines, and even if these publications have to transition to digital (i.e. e-reader format, web pages paid for by advertising), the strongest and most adaptable publications will find a way to survive, and the changing environment will create room for new forces in journalism (slashdot, Ain’t It Cool, etc).
As long as movies exist, there will be a critical community hovering around to support them. This community will need its historians, its provocateurs, and its thought-leaders. I also think that the essence of film criticism is a cognitive process of decoding and interpreting, and a concrete process of writing and educating. These things will still exist, even in a world where movies are all digital and publications are beamed into our brains by satellites.
What this might signal, though, is a limiting (or “death” maybe) of the authority of cinema departments. Strict peer-review is no longer the force it used to be… people don’t need publications and credentials to convince an audience they know what they’re talking about. This is a scary democratization of interpretation, and it could be construed as good (if you think art is an essentially populist act and requires a universally-accessible forum), or it could be construed as bad (if you think a lifetime of study should have priority in discussions of the medium in order to preserve its dignity).
Well put, and neatly summarised pros and cons, Jesse. David Bordwell who’s mentioned in the article is a beacon of enlightenment and deep knowledge as far as i’m concerned, and it’s good to have access to such experts. Sadly most TV and newspaper critics in the UK are on a far lower level of knowledge and understanding, largely pander to populism, and there’s been a general dumbing down; serious cinema programmes and world cinema all but disappeared from the BBC. But the internet has given us some very informed people with sites, who might not have come to attention with the lack of space on TV and newspapers.
I think it’s really as much a media problem as anything else. People my age and older got used to being able to get there criticism from a few sources without having to sift through so many options. Now you have to have filters or is system overload. That why I think something like The Auteurs could become really valuable as a portal.
I enjoyed your comments, Jesse, as per usual, and not merely because you bring an understanding
to this topic, but because you write in a cogent and coherent form.
Which brings me to my primary concern about film criticism and new media
(at this stage I guess we can call it “fairly new”).
It may very well be the case that we don’t require a resume of credentials from a writer in order
to perceive that said writer knows his/her stuff.
However, what I like about the gatekeeper (probably not the best term here) aspect of “authority” in print publications has nothing to do with the critic’s knowledge or analytical skills.
I can handle the semantics.
What matters to me is that there is an editor or editors in charge of syntax.
As much as I enjoy numerous blogs and online journals that cover cinema,
I am troubled by the lack of restraint and discipline displayed at so many of those outlets.
Grammatically and structurally speaking, it’s casual Friday every day at the office—because there is no office.
This is even evident in the Auteurs’ Notebook section now and then.
I prefer at least a slightly formal presentation of ideas, because that’s my background.
There’s nothing wrong with a conversational style, but with that approach a certain discipline toward concision and organization is still needed.
I wonder who will guide writers in that direction now.
Valid questions, yes, and this has become nearly as true in major media. Novels published by major publishers are very poorly edited today, network newscasts are rife with grammatical errors, executives at major corporations can’t write a coherent business memo, etc.
“What matters to me is that there is an editor or editors in charge of syntax.”
Pretty much sums up what I was going to say.
The “editor” thing is a trade-off, of course. The guy who checks to make sure you pronouns agree is usually the same guy who gives you a 500 word limit (or less) and pressures you to write about films you really don’t give a damn about.
Yeah, the comment section of the article is particularly interesting, especially where Jonathan Rosenbaum takes the writer to task for seemingly conflating film studies as an academic discipline with good film criticism as a whole (often written by non-academics). That said, I think there’s something to be said for both peer review and the whole editorial process as a form of quality control. It’s more than language, it’s also the cogency and presentation of ideas rather than the quick fix (how many stars the film gets).
I appreciate film criticism because it’s not about giving the film a rating or recommendation but trying to engage in a discussion with it. I almost prefer not to have the rating upfront or even at all. This is why much as I will occasionally consult RottenTomatoes and Metacritic and other one-stop review agglomerators, they are part of the problem. They are not only based on some misguided idea of critical consensus but encourage this whole “it sucks”/“it rules” verdict. In the end, complex reactions are reduced to a ridiculous numeric formula.
So maybe standardized syntax—and even spelling—is just an artifact of the few hundred years dominated by the printing press. I wouldn’t be surprised if most writing from here on out is more free floating which will often mean more mushy. Perhaps law, science, and technical writing, will be the remaining preserve of exactness because they have to be.
So how far do you think the dialog function of a forum or a good comments section goes in pushing people to be sharper in their thinking even if not in their writing?
I do think that the internet and other techologies have to a certain degree accelerated the rate at which neologisms, changes in grammer and usage, etc. are spread and are accepted by more traditional language repositories (the OED and other dictionaries, textbooks, the NY Times, etc.).
I agree completely with Rosenbaum- I find that article incredibly disturbing and reactionary, some serious classist not so subtle undertones there. I love franksaint’s comment (no. 13)… and kudos to serious generic marxist person (no. 12), i give him 10/10 for effort!
Anyway, to everyone but particularly Mat – is this acceleration of neologisms a bad thing? Language has always been fluid (an obvious point i realise). Second obvious point, neologisms are created all the time in academia, one is always writing under erasure…
Peer review is ace thumbs up (I love reading journals anyway!) but why can this not exist in a world with people writing whatever the hell they want on the internet… do you personally need someone to tell you whether something is worth reading or how you should read it etc.? Or are you trying to dictacte to the ignorant masses?
Also…there seems to be a lot of high/low culture distinctions going on, or maybe arguing for some kind of protected art/criticism kept sanitised from the lesser “democracies”- what’s all that about?
“high/low culture distinctions” …
So, are you saying that there’s no such thing as a distinction between “high and low culture”? Or that there’s no such thing as high and low culture, period? Personally, I make a distinction. There’s just no denying that there exists an established convention (which inevitably changes over time) and an ever-changing “unconvention” – and every variation that could possibly exist between the two … only the distinction itself is subjective.
Overall I think that I may not completely agree with everything said in this thread, but my major agreement lies in the need of a formally educated “overseer” to compartmentalize and “structuralize” that of the more instinctually fluent, but unfocused creator (I’m of course using generalizations, but overall I think this is usually the case – there are exceptions, but those are certainly in the minority). It’s just good to have a standard consistent form of communication as opposed to a myriad of narcissistic/chaotic “standards”.
A bit disturbing how Doherty compartmentalizes film criticism to academe, innit? As “jrosenbaum2002” (hmm…wonder who?) points out, Doherty seems to equate quantity with quality.
I don’t find the article classist, Rachel, but I can dig some of your concerns.Personally, I have no problems with neologisms but I’m not so big on LOLisms. But I think to assume that the internet allows for democraticized opinion is actually a more classist position cause it assumes equal access and it assumes people are unpaid. Is it harder for someone to make a living writing (whether film criticism or otherwise) now than it was in the past because people expect free content? From people I know I would guess yes. Does this mean a decline in quality? It probably does.
Is it possible for a film critic to have the same stature and influence as Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris in today’s media environment? I would say no. Is this a bad thing? I dunno but if it doesn’t imply the death of film criticism, it does imply the death of the relevance of film criticism.
I appreciate the digging, however I wasn’t actually referring to the apparent democracy of the internet- I actually referred to that pretty incredulously- hence the bunny ears. Even so, you can’t seriously think that formal higher education is more accessible than the internet?
@ Rachel – I don’t think it is but I don’t see why the article is so disturbing or reactionary or particularly classist. I agree with Rosenbaum’s criticism but I don’t think it undercuts the main problem that the author identifies. It reinforces. Personally, I generally don’t like reading film academics and prefer criticism from the “non-trained professionals” but that’s exactly the problem. People like the author of that piece will always have a comfy tenured position so his particular gripe is irrelevant. But is there space today for people like Rosenbaum, Sarris, Kael, Hoberman, and film critics who don’t have PhDs in film studies that give them day jobs in academia? I think they are largely drying up and that might be the death of film criticism. Nobody in their right mind would start up a new film magazine today and I don’t think there are too many decent film sites that pay authors anything.
This is from Mark Peranson’s “Editor’s Note” in the Winter 2010 issue of Cinema Scope:
“Speaking of critics, one curious effect of the ongoing decimation of film criticism in North America has been the increasing porousness of the boundries between criticism and programming, as more and more critics move from one cherished and petty profession to a new one with the same characteristics . . . some commentators have been alarmed with this development, but those who practice both jobs best share a love of film—more to the point, obscure films that can benefit from the love and the efforst these folks put forth. As far as I’m concerned, the less traditional film criticism the better: put the dinosaurs out to pasture. One way of approaching Cinema Scope, to me, is as a curated work that has always straddled the boundry between criticism and programming, attempting to provide an overview of a particular kind of contemporary cinema.”
Downbylaw: regarding “Perhaps law, science, and technical writing, will be the remaining preserve of exactness because they have to be.”
If it’s true that writers will no longer have to be “exact,” then that’s nothing to be celebrated.
I mean, at least not for those of us who like to read.
I’m not referring only to neologisms and insignificant grammatical rules.
To engage in sophisticated, meaningful discourse, writers must be cogent, present organized information,
properly transition from one idea to the next, aim for concision, and—largely speaking—make the
process of reading their work effortless.
Style and voice are also wonderful bonuses.
If those aspects of the written word don’t hold supreme value in the exchange of ideas,
whence cometh the need for anything other than the most basic communication of raw data?
Anyone without those values will probably never read well, and most assuredly will not write well.
Matt parks, let’s try this:
“Nobody in their right mind would start up a new (insert subject here) magazine today
and I don’t think there are too many decent (insert subject here) sites that pay authors anything.”
This also brings to mind a comment I read recently made by the music journalist Michael Azerrad:
“In eras past, mainstream culture was blandly, blindly complacent, so underground music was angry and dissatisfied . . . but now, mainstream culture isn’t complacent, it’s stupid and angry; underground culture reacts by becoming smarter, more serene. That’s not wimpy—it’s powerful and productive.”
I’m not sure I agree with all that—I would probably argue that mainstream culture manages to be stupid and angry and complacent all at the same time—but it’s a fair point about angry and stupid (not to mentioned disorganized and off the cuff) discourse becoming mainstream, and I do tend to belief that the remedy is smarter, smaller scale criticism that’s probably harder to locate as a result of its being so.
-If those aspects of the written word don’t hold supreme value in the exchange of ideas,
whence cometh the need for anything other than the most basic communication of raw data?-
I agree, Dr., except that I suspect the exchange of ideas is not reallly the goal of a lot of the of the kind of communication that suffers from the weaknesses we’re describing. It more about merely filling time or space, attracting attention to one’s self, etc.
And, as a footnote, David Bordwell has weighed in on his own blog.
Getting rid of those “star ratings” would be a good start in improving film criticism. All too often it’s far too easy for critics to award “stars” and then not really express themselves in the body of their review. Art is messy and there’s often no neat way to slot a film as a “five star” or “three star” experience, what have you. I’d also like to see fewer film critics who write nothing but “screenplay facsimiles” as reviews. It would be good to have a little less “thumbs up, thumbs down” type stuff and have more intelligent analysis of films. It would encourage people to take an interest in reading reviews and explore films on a more intricate level. Alas, with limited space alocated to cinema critique in newspapers and on television, this is easier said than done.
Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published in the Jan 2009 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma España :
“One reason why film reviewing in the U.S. appears to be undergoing a loss of prestige is the rapid growth and expansion of Internet film reviewing and blogging, which has intensified the already popular idea that anyone can be a film critic (unlike, say, a dance critic or a sports commentator — two other professions in which some background knowledge is regarded as essential). Personally, however, I find that the distinctions usually made between professional and nonprofessional film critics in both journalism and academia are spurious. In response to Cineaste’s question, “Do you prefer blogs written by professional critics or those by amateur cinephiles?,” I replied, “I have no idea what differentiates `professional’ film critics from ‘amateur’ cinephiles, apart from the fake credentials dispensed by institutional bases — or the fact that `professionals’, whether they’re academics or journalists, don’t have to be cinephiles, don’t have to know anything about film, and don’t have to know how to write or do research in order to be regarded as ‘professionals’ within their respective professions. As for those with blogs, I prefer those who are cinephiles, know something about film, and know how to write and do research….”
I do agree that star ratings should be abolished so that people are forced to read the entire review before making their judgment on a film, although Ebert is my favourite reviewer and i wouldn’t want him to change a thing.
Heh. Rosenbaum clearly hasn’t read or heard much sports commentary if he thinks that is a standard to which film criticism should aspire, and from my conversations with dancers and the little reading on it I’ve done online, much dance criticism in in non-specialized publications devoted to dance, such as there is for an artform mostly ignored by major media outlets, has been criticized for not being very good or the commentators very knowledgeable as well. Good criticism in any form is both hard to do and generally not in high demand in this society, and would likely go unnoticed by the majority of readers or viewers due to their own lack of knowledge about whatever such criticism would refer to, due to the now overwhelming preference for simple experiential and solipsistic response to events that. Criticism is a threat to the notion that my response to an event could somehow be a less informed or valid one than any other persons no matter how much more time and thought they may have put into thinking about the work or event or the history of the subject, and since we’re all such special and delicate little snowflakes, that just wouldn’t do at all.
Ha ha . . . I think he’s thinking more of the expectations of the audience for sports commentary than the actual quality of the commmentary itself, but you’re right, of course, most sports commentary is . . . not great. Of course, sports commentary suffers the negative effects of the new media proliferation in the same sort of way film culture does (who reads a monthly sports magazine like Sports Illustrated any more when most of the contents is things long since rehashed on the internet, TV, etc?)
Maybe we could start talking about films more like sport commentators do; “Ya gotta love Tarantino, he gives 110% everytime, Inglorious Basterds shows him at the top of his game, he really came out to film and that’s hard to beat.”, or, “You know Wes Anderson really must have wanted Mr. Fox, his last film took a pounding in the press so he had something to prove. You can’t count out a guy like Anderson when he really wants something.”, or possibly, “Haneke is hitting on all cylinders, his AFAA, art film approval average, is just under .850 with a solid award percentage to boot, so if you pitch a script into his wheelhouse he can really cut loose and send that film out there.”
Seriously though, sports commentary has the benefit of an illusion of expertise from many or most of the commentators since they actually played the game and there are scads of statistics at their disposal. Some of the commentators are good and informative, but expertise doesn’t guarantee that considering that many of the least insightful, least knowledgeable commentators were former players. There has been a wealth of factual, statistic based information on how games are won and lost developed in the past couple of decades, but all too many commentators ignore this information for their own idiosyncratic view on how games are decided or don’t properly understand the information they are presenting. Certainly, a former athlete may have insight into certain aspects of how the game is conducted on the field or in the locker room, but their ideas on the larger history of the game or how success is garnered often do not reflect a strong grasp of the all the study that has been done on these things. In the same way, film reviewers may have some idea of box office and general expectations for popularity of films, although this is in some doubt, but they often show a very limited knowledge of the larger historical frame, or even of the current state of affairs outside of their rather narrow purview of Hollywood blockbusters and other popular fare from elsewhere. The culture values sports and blockbusters and doesn’t really have much interest in the rest since niche information doesn’t interest enough people, is often too challenging to existing personal beliefs, and because it requires too much work from the spectator to either understand or to seek out the things being talked about. Page views and advertising are what determines mass market consumption and information, so it isn’t any real wonder that thoughtful commentary wouldn’t be a high priority. (And don’t even get me started on the combative, sports-like, nature of much of the commentary that does exist here and elsewhere as if criticism too is a game to be won…)
-Maybe we could start talking about films more like sport commentators-
We’re already heading in that direction, as evidenced by some of the recent postings here.
. . .also, most sports commentary is really publicity, not analysis . . . which Rosenbaum feels is increasingly true of film criticism, by the way.