Bloggers or Cloggers: The New Indie Film Press

by Anthony Kaufman
May 7, 2007 5:47 AM
10 Comments
  • |

Film bloggers are everywhere these days. You want info on everything from the Tribeca Film Fest to "Spider-Man 3," bloggers have got you covered. Variety's Anne Thompson just dedicated an entire column to the film-blog phenom. And in the last issue of Filmmaker Magazine (unavailable online), I examined the struggles of filmmakers seeking press when theatrical distribution isn't an option. Their main target, of course: Blogs.

But I'm starting to have my doubts about the proliferation of film blogs. Sure, "blogs are here to stay," as Anne Thompson writes, and they're only going to get more numerous and more important. But the film blog can also be cause for frustration, as indieWIRE blogger Sujewa Ekanayake wrote about after reading an unhelpful film review of "Hannah Takes the Stairs."

At the recent Tribeca film festival, in trying to select what to see among the hundreds of films, I noticed this year how hard it was to find reliable reviews of the new films: Instead of trusted critics, we get the critic-blogger -- or "clogger."

It's a disparaging name, I know, but who are these people? I guess I am one of them, too, but I used to look forward to Tribeca advanced write-ups by critics I've come to trust. Perhaps this is simply another lamentation of the Village Voice's disembowelment, but how do I know whether I agree with Cinematical, /Film, The Reeler, or next-generation Voice reviewers? The New York Times, if I'm not mistaken, assigned a single critic's notebook on Tribeca, where Stephen Holden wrote in-depth about roughly 10 films. That's pretty good for Holden, but what about the other 145 some features? Who's covering those? The cloggers, of course.

A positive blurb from anyone -- even a clogger -- is to be welcomed by press-hungry indie filmmakers, but the changing landscape of the press, where larger publications are devoting less space to arts coverage and established critics are either getting laid off or forced to cover Hollywood films (or blog), is all making it harder for good indie films to find the critics they need.

In my Filmmaker Magazine article, Jim McKay told me that he feels much of the Internet-based press lacks prestige and context. "When you're going to Amazon or IMDB, the first thing you'll often see is a write-up of your film by some Internet critic. And that can be horrifying," he told me. Indeed, among Amazon.com's top reviews of McKay's latest HBO feature "Angel" are mixed responses from one K. Harris from Las Vegas and Grady Harp from Los Angeles. They're a far cry from the imprimatur given to McKay's "Our Song" by Times critic A.O. Scott, who raved "Don't miss this one."

"'Angel,' for me, was a prime example of a piece that needed someone who understands the intentions of the film to write about it," McKay explained to me. "People who turned on HBO looking for a show were going to have a hard time with it. And if you didn't have some kind of place in which to enter this film, it was going to be tough. And some of the things I saw online reflected that."

  • |
You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

10 Comments

  • Josh | May 9, 2007 8:04 AMReply

    I agree with Filmbrain about the problems with Tribeca. They handled the media very poorly this year, at least from my experience. If they want to focus on the films (which I'm sure the filmmakers would appreciate) they need to start press screenings earlier, and allow critics (ok, well, me) access to public screenings.

  • Alex Billington | May 9, 2007 7:04 AMReply

    I would make the arguement and ask what it is that classifies a critic worthy of being read or considered one that falls into the category that you're looking for from Tribeca or indie reviews. Is it length, is it depth of the review, or is it simply past recognition or following a critic you like? Or is it even none of those, is it film education or background or experience (though I'll argue that's certainly a load of BS if that's the case).

    I agree with Vadim (the comment above mine) quite a bit, that bloggers establish a voice for themselves rather quickly and gain that trust, and therefore (for those who do read them often) should be counted as sources perfectly equal to the mainstream press outlets.

    It's true, I'm listed as the sole ("clogger") review of some indie movies on IMDB from a fest. One in particular that I hated and gave a horrible review too that they're probably just blowing off as a "clogger" review. But if I were to go read a review from A.O. Scott in the NY Times prior to an indie film's debut at a fest and it was a harsh and negative review for something that I personally found incredible and powerful, then why can't I be just as recognized for my opinion and my review (importantly given that it's my own, not a "general public" representation)? If my outlet or my website has gained enough recognition and reputation on its own (as in, enough people have read it for it to be considered a "force to recon with" so to say), then my opinion has been just as well established as A.O. Scott. I don't think there should be a seperation of such critics just because of the medium that they write for. If I had as many readers at the NY Times, my opinion would count as equal to the NY Times, right? But since I don't, I take what level of readership I do have and that's how much my review gets read and how much of an impact it has. And if IMDB or Amazon or whomever recognizes it as such, then there is no reason it shouldn't be couldn't at the same level as a professional critic. Right?

  • w bershen | May 9, 2007 3:50 AMReply

    Whether print or online why should film critics be any different from those for art, music, theater???

    that means having seen and read about and written about a great many productions over time.Without a strong background in the art form -- it is just opinion, not informed evaluation.

    And Whether one agrees or not is beside the point. Over time one learns the preferences of critics also --

    Blogs are fine-- for what they are.

  • cynthia rockwell | May 8, 2007 12:32 PMReply

    'who are these people?' is easily answered if you read the blogger's 'about' page...and any blogger's writing will quickly reveal itself to be a waste of time or not, what a ridiculous reason to fret...all i see in this post is more of old-media's attempts to view new media in old-media terms...

  • Chuck | May 8, 2007 10:18 AMReply

    I've been thinking about film blogs quite a bit for the book I'm writing on cinema after the digital era, and this entry is helpful in spelling out some of the problems with film blogs.

    I do think that "authorship" will play a key role in helping film bloggers gain credibility. Filmbrain, Cynthia Rockwell, Karina Longworth, and the cinetrix, among many others, have done an effective job of developing a distinct voice or perspective on contemporary indie films.

    Other bloggers are able to write from a variety of industrial or academic perspectives, which also contributes--I believe--to an increase in knowledge about contemporary cinema cultures (I've found Filmbrain's posts on Korean cinema incredibly educational, for example).

    Misunderstandings, such as Sujewa's complaints about Cynthia's review, will happen, but those misunderstandings happen with print reviews, too.

  • vadim | May 8, 2007 7:15 AMReply

    Not sure what you mean by "trust"; has there ever been a critic you agreed with 100% of the time? There never has been for me, even with the writers whose sensibility feels closest to my own. Like Noel above, I feel it's easiest to gauge whether or not you "trust" someone's opinion (or whether or not you even want to pay attention to it) by evaluating the lucidity of their prose and arguments, the indications of taste they give by what they reference, etc. In many ways, this is an offshoot of the debate Dave Kehr's blog sparked some time ago about younger film critics. At least with blogs writers like me develop a file very, very quickly so you can tell where we're coming from.

    Or maybe I'm just defensive on behalf of The Reeler crew, which pays my rent. I'd trust us over Stephen Holden any day, honestly.

  • Karsten | May 7, 2007 11:13 AMReply

    Hear, hear, Mr. Filmbrain, who's a good example: You're a trustworthy voice I'd like to read a quote from on a movie poster!

    But where is your review of 'Reprise'? I'm always hoping for it to be the next item appearing on your RSS feed, but alas...

  • Filmbrain | May 7, 2007 9:28 AMReply

    "but how do I know whether I agree with Cinematical, /Film, The Reeler, or next-generation Voice reviewers"

    How is this any different from reviewers in print?

    Do you trust a review from Manohla Dargis or Johnathan Rosenbaum based on where they're published, or from years of reading them?

    While it's obviously difficult (or rather, impossible) to keep up with the ever-increasing number of film blogs, many of the better "cloggers" have been writing for some time -- long enough to decide if you trust them or not as critics.

    For what it's worth, the problem with the TFF isn't a question of a lack of trusted critics, but rather a slew of films arriving sans buzz or promotion. If the festival spent half the effort drawing attention to the films as they do for their many PR stunts, we'd all have an easier time making informed choices.

  • Karsten | May 7, 2007 9:18 AMReply

    Nice post... and it puts out relevant questions - but I guess it is not so much about the existence of film blogs (they're here to stay), as much as it is a question about how much time it takes before we have got household ENOUGH names among the bloggers so that they are enough in and of themselves. When will some of the film bloggers build enough base to be respected as a name on a poster?

    As an avid reader of about 40 different film blogs, I've come to trust and rely on a whole lot of opinionmakers as if they were writing in any old media house. Indeed, I feel there's so many good writers with sharp eyes for cinema existing in online film writing, that I can't really track them all. And since I started reading film blogs for real two years ago, I've been overwhelmed by the amounts of new, interesting films I need to see.

    In fact, film blogs are responsible for me realizing that I haven't got enough time in my life to get through all the films I want to see. How's that for problem? :)

    In all seriousness; I truly believe the evolution of film criticism into a space that makes room for so many more voices, over time will prove a genuine gift to spreading cinema variety and rare film pearls, that the writers doing this will surpass the traditional ones in respect and fame some time in the future.

    (Sorry for my bad English resulting in too long sentences, it's my second language.)

  • Noel Murray | May 7, 2007 7:07 AMReply

    I understand where you're coming from Anthony, but when you use phrases like, "Who are these people?" it implies that a critic's name is more important than what he or she has to say. I write about a lot of lower-profile films, and I'm big on research, so I read as many reviews as I can find before I write my own, which means dealing with a lot of "cloggers." And I can usually tell from reading their reviews whether they've got anything to offer. Insight, lack of insight ... the prose itself tells the tale.

    I'm curious: Are you more concerned that *you* won't be able to tell whether a no-name critic is trustworthy, or are you concerned about other people, coming to a poorly written review and being turned off of an otherwise worthy film?

Follow ReelPolitik

Latest Tweets

Follow us

Most "Liked"