Sunday, October 8, 2017

Whither film critics?

Where have all the film critics gone worries a Facebook buddy, citing the herd mentality that seems to come upon otherwise smart folks when they uniformly declare suspect films as "masterpieces". I see his point, that sometimes we who love the craft and honest appraisal of films-as-art as well as entertainment have reason to be dismayed when the judges seem to go from being a Greek chorus committed to telling the truth to a delusional protagonist to a peanut gallery. Time was when if you wanted to read film critics in different cities around the country, you went to the library and read the out of town papers they might be subscribing to. Now, of course, we have the internet, and each is available, every professional critic nearly, not to mention every blogger, content writer, and social media sycophant. It seems, indeed, that everyone who's review can be used in a promotion has read the same marching orders and commits to keeping the fix in place. Honestly, though, I am wondering how much of this is perception, as the sheer glut and easy access to endless reviews make it seem that that unseen hands are controlling the puppet strings. Really, was there ever a glory day when working critics, as a whole, had amazingly unique and significantly insightful thing s to say about Hollywood fare.

Yes, we had our Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris, but I'd wager the majority of the print media critics, the newspaper reviewers, that were very similar in style, argument, and range of views. While the cineastes paid attention to the true stylists and thinkers in the big city papers, the rest of the world remained middle brow and pretty much mundane in their judgments on films, yay or nay. You just didn't seem them altogether at the same time, gathered together around at an open bar. Now everything is online, at your fingertips, and the deluge of opinion, pouring on you like wet cement, can have the effect that the incidental sameness of views can seem the result of a sinister corporate force and a decline in critic intelligence. It's my guess that the ration of smart, interesting critics to the hoi polloi remains the same as it has ever been; I read whole reviews on Rotten Tomatoes more than I should,I suppose, but a fair number of the critics are literate and sharp and brandish a fine prose style, and are capable of making an interesting case for their view. And, to be sure, there's a surfeit of the mediocre opinion mongers with stale views and writing skills as rank as the very backwater that might claim them as local taxpayers.

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