Sunday, April 13, 2008

critical quackery: A.O. Scott Rambles

I hate to sound snarky, but I don't quite understand the point of A.O. Scott's piece today in The New York Times. I know that it was positioned as an essay on the return of Roger Ebert to print criticism - and also, circuitously, on the state of modern film criticism in general. (Unless you haven't heard, it's going through a disturbing upheaval.)

Nevertheless, these two points never congealed. I've no idea how the article was pitched but it emerged in print as a formless hybrid - an unreadable mishmash which, in the end, said absolutely nothing.

I am more than a little appalled at the amount of space alotted to it by the Times. That kind of newspaper space - which underlines the "importance" of the piece (an importance which, frankly, just wasn't there) - is precious in these sad days of fading dailies.

And it's difficult to fathom that this sloppy, indulgent essay actually passed through a series of editors at the Times.

Any thoughts?

(Artwork: The New York Times' A.O. Scott)

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Moviezzz said...

I agree completely.

I got the paper yesterday, saw that on the front of the Arts and Leisure section, and put it aside to read last, looking forward to it.

But, it didn't really offer anything new. I thought it would be more of a career retrospective, but it wasn't even that.

I do like Scott as a writer, and he did have a couple cute lines in it (about Roeper's wardrobe). But for all the talk about the story, it wasn't what it should have been.

j. kaiser said...

A.O. who?

Ted Pigeon said...

A.O. Scott has done much better. It's tough seeing the best journalistic critics falling victim to the crumbling along with the institution. I'm not trying to be sensationalistic, but I find it depressing to see pieces like this, which (for whatever reason) are thrown together, contributing to the negative cycle that keeps snowballing in journalistic film criticism.

joe baltake said...

Good point, Ted

Susan said...

I agree. There was something vaguely exploitative about the piece.

Mehren said...

I can only imagine the article as it would have been written by Joe Baltake, my favorite film critic in the universe. I like Roger and I'm glad he's back writing and God bless his health. But I love Baltake's work. He's never been indulgent, self-important, or pompous, and didn't crucify those involved with terrible films though he'll explain why a film is bad). Instead, his writing on film was/is brilliant, thoughtful, inspired, intellectual, and grounded in his deep, extensive knowledge and passion about film in every sense. Joe is almost an undiscovered treasure. The work of many famous and rich film critics can't hold a candle to Baltake's body of work. Another thing I loved about his movie reviews was that they educated the reader and thus made viewing a film a richer experience, and tied all of your film viewing experiences together. Baltake showed film lover how to get the most out of the art of cinema. Baltake's reviews made me feel excited about seeing a new film and heightened the anticipation. (Now I'm rarely excited about seeing a new film.) Anyway, I was disappointed but not surprised by the mediocre Scott article in the NYT. For TV film critics, I enjoyed listening to Siskel and Ebert back in the day and I'll never forget the laughs I had listening to the "Mens on Film" skits on the Living Color TV Show ("Hated it!". But, I'll go to my grave knowing that Joe Baltake is the best film critic in the universe!

jbryant said...

While I agree with Mehren that Joe is a helluva critic, he may not be the best in the universe. Andrew Sirius of the Venus Voice and Manohla Martian of the Neptune Times are quite good, too.

joe baltake said...


I swear that I am not "mehren." Plus my mother is deceased. But I have a hunch about who wrote those adulatory comments. I should be embarrassed but, strangely, I'm not.

Anonymous said...

It starts out as a piece on Ebert (no mention of his Pulitzer being what made him stand out to begin with) and then becomes something of a condemation of TV critics.

I, for one, was never that big Kael fan, though I had a teacher who lived and died by her reviews. Had a great arguement with him in film class over "Birth of a Nation." (I could not understand why such a hateful piece could be considered a classic.)

Siskel and Ebert as a team were great, especially when they
were still on PBS. I'll never forget their mutual disgust for "Porky's" and their campaign (so it seemed) to champion "My Dinner With André."