Where Have All the REAL Film Critics Gone?

ON

I may run a movie news website, and I may give my opinion on movies, DVDs and pretty much anything else I see fit to discuss, but that doesn’t make me a bonafide movie critic. Honestly, I don’t think there are really all that many “movie critics” left in this world and Matt Eagan over at The Hartford Courant has posted an excellent article approaching the subject as he points out that newspapers are now resorting to stringers, freelancers and wire reviews for their content.

What this does is ultimately provide a disconnect for readers that typically like to get opinions from the same person on a weekly basis, that way allowing them to learn that reviewer’s specific taste and make a judgment based on it. I may not have the historical film knowledge of most movie critics, but I think it says a lot when RopeofSilicon readers can come and get my opinion, and base theirs knowing if they agree or disagree with my taste in movies.

As Eagan points out, reading a movie review used to be something of a lesson in film as well as an opinion, and no one did this better than Roger Ebert and his “At the Movies” pal Gene Siskel. The best part about Siskel and Ebert’s show was that they didn’t take their opinions to the high-brow extreme by reciting comprable films that no one would have ever seen just to prove their film knowledge. Prior to Roger Ebert’s bout with cancer last year I started to read his reviews regularly and I only wish I could emmulate his style of writing; his ability to give plot details while elegantly weaving his opinion on the acting, directing, etc. Yeah, any average Joe can critique a movie, but there is something special about a talented critic, one that you can respect as well as enjoy reading; agree or disagree.

Eagan points out that the world of movies is also vastly different than the days when critical opinion actually mattered. The days before Peter Hammond’s quotes were the only ones you saw, the days when “Two Thumbs Up” meant something.

The home theaters and easy access to movies on cable, DVD or pay-per-view have eliminated the urgency of following the reviews.

“It used to be that if you missed a movie it was gone forever,” Basinger says. “If you miss a movie that’s good you’re going to see it anyway. There is not the same relationship with the critic anymore.”

Studios have a gone a step further, refusing to release critics’ copies of movies, such as “Saw IV.” Studios know it will do well at the box office but poorly with the critics.

Proof that even a cursory knowledge of film history is lacking in many modern critics can be found at RottenTomatoes.com, a film site where greatness is quantified in a number and Toy Story 2 is ranked as the greatest movie of all time.”

While I personally agree with Eagan that RottenTomatoes needs to re-evaluate some of the folks they include in their ratings, I actually find their system of ranking movies useful. However, I do agree that a true critic should have an impressive knowledge of film history, this is the exact reason I started my Cinematic Revival pieces, taking a look back at all the films I have missed over the years. I may see just about every film that comes out each year now, but if I am going to try and one day claim to be a critic I have a lot of learning to do.

Eagan’s final declaration is quite appropriate:

The most glaring example came when one reviewer, doubling back to review the original “Halloween,” marked it down for being clichéd. The fact that “Halloween” invented most of the clichés “Scream” later lampooned didn’t seem to matter.

Proof that simply having an opinion doesn’t make one a critic.

As I have been working on this site and reading a variety of other sites online it always bothers me when I see independent bloggers referring to themselves as journalists or critics. I definitely think calling what I do “journalism” is a gross overstatement despite the fact that I have a degree in journalism. As far as being a critic goes, I guess anyone that criticizes is a critic, but in the true meaning of the word in relation to movies I think I have a long way to go.

Hopefully we will get more reviewers like Ebert soon, because if Eagan is right everything is going to be online bloggers in the future and if that ever becomes the case I fear it will mark the end of legitimate film criticism.

David Frank, our weekly editorial columnist, is currently working on his latest “Shallow End” piece discussing the slow death of the small theater houses, and with this new age of movie reporting I think it all works hand-in-hand. Soon we will be left with nothing but small-screen multiplexes featuring Saw XXXIX and popcorn for $50. I fear what comes after that.