I hadn’t read Andrew O’Hehir’s screed against unemployed movie critic bellyaching until Wolcott linked to it, but I think that both O’Hehir and Wolcott make solid points about the future of film criticism. Wolcott:
I miss those days, but they’re not coming back, any more than the doors of CBGB’s will open to reveal the Ramones onstage, firing three-chord fusillades. What’s happening to movie critics is no different from what has been meted out to book, dance, theater, and fine-arts reviewers and reporters in the cultural deforestation that has driven refugees into the diffuse clatter of the Internet and Twitter, where some adapt and thrive—such as Roger Ebert—while others disappear without a twinkle.
In a recent blog post, Ebert counseled against dark despair and declared that this was the golden age, lit by a thousand points of light. The front lines of criticism may have dissolved, but a fresh multitude of voices have arisen, many of them inspired specialists in film noir, horror, anime, and pre-Code Hollywood. “What the internet is creating is a class of literate, gifted amateur writers, in an old tradition,” he wrote. “A blog on the internet gives them a place to publish. Maybe they don’t get a lot of visits, but it’s out there. As a young woman in San Francisco, Pauline Kael wrote the notes for screenings of great films, and did a little free-lancing. If she’d had a blog, no telling what she might have written during those years.” The print emigrants and upstart originals may not be addressing a general audience, but there’s no longer a general audience to address. They went thataways.
Indeed. While I reject the notion (which O’Hehir floats) that film criticism has become fatally disconnected from the moviegoing public, I do think that professional film critics are almost uniquely vulnerable to New Media. Many professionals can do a somewhat better job of thinking and writing seriously about film than many amateurs, but the differences aren’t so great that they justify professional employment for a large group of individuals. If Barack Obama: Socialist Tyrant made payment for film criticism illegal tomorrow, writing about film wouldn’t end; indeed, I wonder whether there’d even be a meaningful dip in criticism. People write about film for the same reason that they watch film; they enjoy doing so. Given opportunity and platform, people will write about film for free, and many will do so with insight. This doesn’t mean that the insights of the very best critics are without value, but it does suggest that the days in which every newspaper maintained its own critic are gone, and moreover that those days ought not be mourned at any length.