Saturday, May 24, 2008

Killing the Souls of Movie Critics

A lot has been written recently about movie critics who are dropping like flies - and, by extention, the demise of film criticism in general, which is the much bigger issue.

Variety's Anne Thompson has written most eloquently on the subject, devoting pieces to critics in general and to Premiere.Com's Glenn Kenny in particular

And, back in April, the Salt Lake Tribune's movie critic, Sean P. Means, compiled a list of 28 movie critics bought out or fired this year (including Newsweek's David Ansen) in a piece cleverly titled The Departed

What hasn't been noted is that movie critics have been dying a slow death for a couple decades now, thanks to Hollywood's shrewd penchant for making movies that are viritually unreviewable (not to say, unwatchable) and the news media's insistance on fluff-and-commerce pieces that, frankly, are soul-killers for critics.

I, for one, think that movie reviewers should review movies, period. There are certainly enough films being churned out today to keep critics busy. Critic-curator-multimedia artist Daryl Chin recently wrote to
Flickgrrl, the movie blog of Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic Carrie Rickey, offering this jaw-dropping tally: in excess of 650 films opened in New York city in 2007. "That said," Chin adds, "only about one-fifth of those movies will make it out of the big-city indie spots."

Yes, your average movie critic can be kept quite busy these days reviewing films exclusively.

What your average movie critic shouldn't be doing are those soul-killing chores that any features intern can knock out - namely inane lists ("The Top Ten Biblical Epics of all Time!"), seasonal previews ("New 'Indiana Jones' Is the One to Watch This Summer!"), pieces on how much the latest joyless blockbuster has taken in ("'Fill in the Blank)' Joins the Billion-Dollar Club!"), Oscar predictions - does any self-respecting movie critic really care who or what wins an Oscar? - and, yes, even Ten Best Lists.

Those lists are especially annoying because they are delivered at the year-end, a particularly busy time for movie critics - and on deadline, no less - with the top ten often, and understandably, selected in haste.

Speaking from experience, a month after every Ten Best list that I've ever written, I was always disappointed, regretting my picks and wishing I could go back to make upward or downward adjutments.

It's a nonsensical exercise and it prevents critics from doing the necessary - namely, taking time to just think.

One other thing: I'm not sure it's completely healthy for movie critics to do interviews - to get cozy with people they are paid to critique. Actually, it's dangerous. Trust me, jawing with a star or a filmmaker can be very seductive - self-aggrandizing for the critic.

So it's no surprise that I alienated more than one editor on more than one occasion with my rigid views on what a movie critic should do (review only) and shouldn't do (frankly, nothing else).

Which brings me to Andy and Larry Wachowski's "Speed Racer," a film that fails in such an elemental way that it boggles the mind. Here is a movie worthy of genuinely serious criticism, which your average newspaper editor definitely would not want. A serious analysis of "Speed Racer"? I mean, it's a cartoon, right? A live-action animé.

And so, it's tempting for even a good critic to go on automatic pilot for something like the Wachowski film, writing a disposable review of a depressingly disposable movie, often for purpose of self-preservation.


Note in Passing: Come June 29th, it will be a year since Joel Siegel died, and by all appearances, "Good Morning, America," the ABC show for which he reviewed movies, has made no effort to replace him. Oddly enough, I've a hunch that Siegel would liked "Speed Racer."

(Artwork: Emile Hirsh in Andy and Larry Wachowski's "Speed Racer")

1 comment:

Sheila Tompkins said...

Movie critics are spread way too thin nowadays because movies can be covered from so many different angles. I like what the L.A. Times and N. Y. Times do. They're critics just review, as you suggested, and there are other people on staff to lists, interviews and previews. Keeping critics free from that kind of trivia keeps them pure.