We Are Critics

If you know me well enough and have spoken with me at any point in the last year, you'd know that I've been laboring intensely over an undergraduate thesis - a rather long ethnography - which I hope becomes the subject and foundation for my visual anthropology graduate work to be continued at USC. It's about film critics and their ongoing predicament of job losses, the seeming decline in relevance in the public, and the surge of competition being contended with in the arena of the internet. (It's a dilemma that I share some part of too as my goal is to write criticism either primarily or peripherally to some other job.) I'm specifically exploring the role of the internet in the community of critics and their popular consumption, and how the rapid succession of technological changes - from the advent of the Blackberry and mobile to YouTube to the review aggregates to the blog phenomenon to Twitter and so on - has either produced or might be impacting this dilemma. Most of the work has been chronicled in chapters of my monitoring of the industry over the last many months, expressed in some of these paradigm-shifting events, coupled with my familiarity with criticism and film journalism after several years of personal obsession. When it's finished, I will try to get it hosted someplace and provide a link so you all can read it and get your "nutritional" food-for-thought (as Jeff Wells might say) on the matter if you're not quite well-versed. Or you can validate/invalidate my two cents. It's become pretty comprehensive: a heavy dose of historical and theoretical discussion for context, life history and ethnographic portraiture (Kael, Sarris, Agee, Farber, Haskell, Bazin, etc.), sociological statistics, and of course some anthropological writings (Bourdieu for talk of taste, Foucault for some aspects on articulation and authorship, Hall for power structures). I hope it becomes a staple on the shelves of critics, critic-lovers and cinephiles as it's most definitely a tome of good faith and of pure love for the art of criticism. The cinema has already had its lovers strewn across celluloid in documentary-form, now it's time for the great commentators to get their dues.

So how nice for me to see that I might have yet another source to extract some tasty morsels of information in quotation and some further historical data in the SXSW-debuting "For the Love of Movies: A History of American Film Criticism." Witten and directed by Gerald Peary, produced by Amy Geller, and narrated by Patricia Clarkson (ever the literate thespian), it is a project that has been in development for years - not unlike my own - and takes on the gargantuan task of the issue which, as any historian or storyteller might tell you, opens up into a much larger dialogue. Jeff Wells puts it:

"It's a hell of a subject -- a chronicle of magnificent obsessions and magnificent dreams, and a rise-and-fall story covering scores of critics, the entirety of the Hollywood film culture from the '20s to the present, and hundreds if not thousands of movies."
The documentary assembles a wonderful set of critics both big and small to discuss their positionality in the industry and the spectrum of criticism. So wonderful are they I may not have to interview folks like I thought I might. (But if you'd like to make a contribution to my scholarly examination of the industry, then please let me know. I'd love to still get some good direct sources in.) Being a film, though, and subject to time constraints (this isn't PBS, after all) the film doesn't look to give you a piece-by-piece dissection of the business or its constituents, but it does "agreeabl[y] canoe ride down memory creek" and "with a tinge of melancholy" as Wells says, serving up the task more than sufficiently and with enough provocation and neutrality to stimulate spirited discussion. Discussion about what the critics now mean to us as targets of an endless flurry of infinitely variegated movies. The trailer (which is rather short, and sparse of the prevailing issues) is below:

Do you read anything by the critics anymore?

IMAGE from: Listal
IMAGES from: The NY Times
SCOOPED first by: Cinematical

1 comment:

  1. thanks to you, i have a better understanding of the purpose of critics and differentiating between the good ones and the bad (the ones that tell you not to see a movie).i hope the importance of the critic doesn't die!

    p.s. i'm very interested in watching the film.