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Greg Wright

Print Critics Dying

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There has been loads of good commentary in the blogosphere since this happened last week. Matt Zoller Seitz had especially good coverage. The gist of the consensus is that we are losing a lot of daily print critics - which is a bad thing as it means we lose a lot of the more uniquely voiced film criticism that has granted print criticism relevance in the face of myriad film blogs. As a consequence of these layoffs, more newspapers will simply move to wire coverage of all new releases, which tend to be both content oriented and rather commercial. We will lose a great deal of film discussion as an important American cultural space.

So now that these critics have to find work elsewhere, we will be stuck with blogs for film news and criticism. I don't actually think this is such a bad thing, as I now read more blog reviews than print reviews anyway. There are plenty of good places to stay current without having to read the Voice or Times.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Additionally, the more news we read about media industrylayoffs due to the current economy is an indication that paid cultural critics are not immune to the whims of finance.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Sean P. Means lists 27 critics who have retired or been laid off in the last year or two -- not counting those who have died, such as Joel Siegel, or those who soldier on via their blogs after their publications bit the dust, such as Glenn Kenny.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Matt Zoller Seitz has left the blogging world, and, if I'm reading this correctly, the world of print journalism altogether. Something about him pursuing a "puppet movie," he notes in the comments to the linked post. I guess I haven't been following his blog closely enough, because I have no idea what his future projects will be.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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If you write about movies, you should read this. (I'm sure many of you have, but I thought it was worth posting the link, in case you missed it or initially passed it over.) I find the "debate" -- I put the words in quotes, because it doesn't seem like much of a contest to me -- jaw-dropping. Where do you stand on the issue under discussion? Where would you like to stand? It's an either/or proposition; I see no way around it. You take JW's side, or MZS's side.

Caveat: I'm working off snippets of MZS's comments that made it into print. I have not listened to the online discussion from which the comments are drawn.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Where would you like to stand? It's an either/or proposition; I see no way around it. You take JW's side, or MZS's side.

I've been on both sides at one time or another. Back in the early nineties, I was literally dependent on movies for my mental health... kind of the state that JW describes for his own point of view. If I didn't see movies (at least three theatrical plus several Betas each week) I'd literally get clinically depressed. It was an emotional addiction. Eventually I figured that dependency was unhealthy, so I went cold turkey for about 18 months. Now I can take them or leave them. Therapy can come in many forms, and seeing movies is not the only (or even the best) option.

I think burying yourself in an artform is kind of like being a prospector. Everyone's looking for that rich vein of ore they can mine for weeks; and you can either approach that from professional's standpoint and be pretty pragmatic about it, or you can be a fanboy and invest a whole bunch of emotional energy in it, too.

Having said that, though, I don't think it's an either-or thing. Some professional prospectors still can get the thrill of the hunt without becoming Daniel Plainview, and some amateurs can do a pretty professional job of things due to admiration of the professionals.

At all levels, it's possible for fans of any artform or discipline to completely lose perspective. If MZS did, then it's probably good for him to take a break. It doesn't mean everyone should, or that everyone else has lost perspective in the way that he has.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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I think Wells is the one who lacks perspective. It's not his writing or love of movies that bothers me. It's that he can't see how someone who writes about film for a living could ever step away from that because he realized it was stealing time he could never get back with loved ones who are no longer around. That's a salient point, one that anyone, in any profession, should use as a check against their own drive and ambitions. For Wells to basically attack MZS for his decision, then to moan about it when commenters mention how much of an ogre he is -- that's breathtaking. Wells is a grown man. He can't see MZS's point? Instead, he doubles down on his original argument.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: If you write about movies, you should read this.

Seitz's approving reference to that Gene Siskel anecdote is interesting, since Jonathan Rosenbaum cited Siskel specifically in his book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films You See as an example of how crippled American film criticism is by "careerism", by the fact that critics look at what they do as a mere job and not as a passion. Rosenbaum specifically contrasts Siskel with Roger Ebert in this regard -- Ebert goes to festivals (and even started one of his own!) and has a cinephilic passion that is evident in everything he does, whereas Siskel watched films because it was his job, period.

I say all this, BTW, as one who has just put three feistier-than-usual children to bed multiple times while his wife takes advantage of the pass to tonight's Iron Man screening. I plan to see the movie for myself this weekend, but who knows. I've been going to fewer and fewer screenings, and holding on to my Videomatica DVDs longer and longer before sending them back, in the last few months, and I can only wonder how long I'll be sticking with this gig. Certainly I am nowhere near the critic that I once was, let alone aspired to be.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The Washington Post is drawing to a close on its second round of buyout offers to staff. A week ago we learned that Desson Thomson, formerly the Weekend section film critic and, for the past couple of years, the third critic in the Style section of the paper, would take the buyout. I like Thomson, but I understood. The paper's lead critic, Stephen Hunter, won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism a few years ago, and it's second critic, Ann Hornaday, was short-listed for the same prize this year. So Thomson probably figured that, although he's been at the paper much longer than Hunter and Hornaday, his role was being minimized.

However, today we find out that Hunter has taken the buyout! This sucks. The carnage is widespread, although the link lists just the latest departures. Several others announced earlier that they're taking the buyout. One name that didn't create a stir is Peter Carlson, who writes the fantastic Magazine Reader column in the Style section. No one seemed to care when he announced he'd be taking the buyout, but his columns have been the paper's highlight for me the past couple of years.

I'm still a subscriber, but wonder how much longer I'll find the paper an essential read.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Mike D'Angelo:

I guess I should head off the e-mails seeking my annual report from Cannes: It can be found this year at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Sadly, the crap economy has pretty much wiped out my freelance income since January, to the point where for the first time since 1997 I may have to go out and get myself an actual job. (Which is a bit problematic since I'm not exactly qualified to do anything else, except play poker.) One axe after another:


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I read these words in Salon today, with my jaw dropping and my eyes wide.

The issue of whether time and technology have passed the professional critic by is being heatedly debated across all cultural genres. "The culprit is none other than ... cultural studies! By treating literature as an impersonal text from which any manner of political meaning can be wrung, cultural studies professors have robbed criticism of its proper evaluative function -- the right to say this is good, this isn't, and here's why."

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Great link, Jeffrey. Not exactly ground-breaking thoughts, but very stimulating.

Some favorites:

Miller: We don't have celebrated "public critics" now because critics don't care about the public, not because the public doesn't care about critics. ... The idea that to be worthy of serious attention, a literary work has to tear down or revolutionize the forms of the past -- well, that makes literature exciting and criticism galvanizing and oh so Important for a while, but at a certain point there's nothing left to dismantle. And meanwhile, the readers wandered off to read Stephen King or watch TV. Having gotten the "fuck you" message loud and clear they just stop listening to intellectuals.
Bayard: when I think about the critics I love the most, they're not necessarily the ones I agree with, they're the ones I'd like to date. I argue with them, but when they're gone, their music is still bopping around in my brain. ... should we be doing a better job of showing people what they're missing: the excitement of unexpected insights, the thrill of new voices, the sex of ideas? That sounds like a lot more fun than figuring out which fiefdom we're going to defend in the Theory Wars.
Miller: Let's talk about what makes for a good critic. I often think that there are two kinds: the ones whose taste I find simpatico -- the ones I come to for recommendations on what to read -- and the ones who are themselves terrific writers, irrespective of what they recommend. Sometimes there's an overlap, but not often. There are critics, like Wood, that I go out of my way to read, although I have no intention of ever opening the books they tout.
Bayard: There are still -- there will always be -- people who love to read. Maybe we begin simply by celebrating and rewarding that wherever we find it, and then we do the same with good books. Life's too short to dwell on the dross.

I particularly resonate with that last bit from Bayard.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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A few weeks ago National Public Radio's All Things Considered ran a story on the dwindling numbers of print critics. You can listen to the full story here.

All Things Considered, May 8, 2008

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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I submitted a wail of grief to Stephen Hunter's online chat just now, and he responded:

Ballston, Va.: You took the buyout. WHY? You're leaving. Desson's leaving. Ann's great and all, but this development ... how should I put this? ... sucks.

I guess you're taking your Pulitzer and moving on. Nothing left to accomplish at the Post. Books to write.

We'll miss you.

Stephen Hunter: More than the money, more than the books, more than the movies, it was that #$%^&*( $#@!$%&&*( ###$$$@ drive down New York avenue that finally ground the bloom off my rose. A life with no New York Avenue in it seemed entirely worth living.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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In that same chat, Hunter mentions some flak he took over his Bourne Ultimatum review. He says New York magazine incited a mini-riot against him. So I Googled "Stephen Hunter Bourne Ultimatum New York Magazine" and came right to this hysterical putdown of Hunter's writing and criticism. I agree with some of it, but it's so high-and-mighty, while criticizing Hunter for supposedly come off the same way in his reviews, that it just made me laugh.

Enjoy.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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"Why We Need Movie Reviewers"

Slate's Erik Lundegaard makes some interesting observations on how to measure the relevance of film critics.

It's almost a given these days that movie critics are elitist, while moviegoers are populist. When the highest-grossing films get panned by critics, what good are critics? As publishers across the country dump their reviewers, this is not exactly a rhetorical question.

Believe it or not, though, critically acclaimed films generally do better than critically panned films at the box office


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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LA Times reports that one if its critics, Carina Chocano is going on maternity leave. Today the Times announced the next set of staff cuts are coming. I expect the one newspaper in a town that sees itself as the world capital of film is going to be down to one film reviewer on staff. They already have more than half of the reviews by somebody I've never heard of "special to the Times".


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Not a single staff review in the LA Times today; everything is "special to". As I looked at the reviews of Boy A and American Teen and knew my reviews were better done, I mourned.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Add to the list: Carina Chocano -- back from maternity leave for a few weeks, and included in the latest round of staff cuts at L.A. Times.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I didn't link here to the latest John Podhoretz column, about this topic, because I didn't care for it. Yes, I like Podhoretz's sensibility sometimes, and enjoy his criticism. But there's a side of me that agrees completely with Glenn Kenny.

I realize those two men represent distinct viewpoints, and that my feeling of kinship with both makes me worse than ambivalent about the area of film criticism. But I discovered with Stephen Hunter's reviews in The Washingotn Post that I enjoy good writing first, and good criticism second -- a distinction that, ideally, shouldn't have to be made. I know plenty of folks wouldn't agree that Podhoretz, or even Hunter, are good writers, but I disagree.

What bugs me about Podhoretz is a memory of him on CNN's "Crossfire," arguing with a "Premiere" editor (NOT Glenn Kenny!) about the merits of "Barton Fink," which Podhoretz thought a piffle because it wasn't "about" anything. I've always resented his snide comments about that film, and remain on my guard about his opinions -- even though I link to them frequently!

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I think my favorite reply to the JPod piece was the one that said JPod was hardly in a position to trumpet the virtues of amateur work over work that earns people paycheques when the films he finds "interesting" are pretty much all corporate Hollywood product and are therefore fuelled entirely by paycheques. Or has JPod become a champion of self-made, self-financed amateur ("am-auteur") cinema?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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...I enjoy good writing first, and good criticism second -- a distinction that, ideally, shouldn't have to be made.

If I understand what you're saying, I'd have to say I'm the complete opposite. There is a theatre critic who shall remain nameless who writes cleverly, elegantly, with vitality and clever turns of phrase. The only problem? None of it is true. He has a completely tin ear when it comes to live theatre: what he says, he says very well - only, it's not worth saying.

I say, to heck with the fancy words, give me truth, insight, perspicacity. If we have to choose... Substance over style any day!


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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...I enjoy good writing first, and good criticism second -- a distinction that, ideally, shouldn't have to be made.

If I understand what you're saying, I'd have to say I'm the complete opposite. There is a theatre critic who shall remain nameless who writes cleverly, elegantly, with vitality and clever turns of phrase. The only problem? None of it is true. He has a completely tin ear when it comes to live theatre: what he says, he says very well - only, it's not worth saying.

I say, to heck with the fancy words, give me truth, insight, perspicacity. If we have to choose... Substance over style any day!

In that case, I'd agree with you. I'm not advocating false criticism, but maybe a form of criticism that affects me as a reader of prose first.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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