Cloggers Debate cont'd

by Anthony Kaufman
May 8, 2007 2:48 AM
9 Comments
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Some clarifications on the cloggers post from yesterday: I never meant to say that a critic-blogger is inherently a clogger -- there is some fine and passionate film writing out there on the Internet that deserves to be read. So when FilmBrain asks, "Do you trust a review from Manohla Dargis or Jonathan Rosenbaum based on where they're published, or from years of reading them?" Of course, the answer is because of their years of experience -- and if that experience exists strictly online, so be it. But most cloggers out there don't have that track record.

FilmBrain also notes, "Many of the better 'cloggers' have been writing for some time -- long enough to decide if you trust them or not as critics." That maybe so, and my problem isn't with veterans, but the increasing proliferation of amateurs who might not have the cinematic knowledge to adequately review a film.

The fact is that there are dozens of print critics who appear on Rotten Tomatoes who I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot poll, but then again, their opinions are determining a film's "tomatometer," which other people are then reading or re-publishing, giving a badly skewed overall picture of a film's worth. The same is happening online and in greater numbers. Because, as we all know at the Thanksgiving dinner table, everyone's a critic.

And this gets me back to a point that A.V. Club critic Noel Murray poses, "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?" Precisely. Does the average cinemagoer have the time to sift through the dozens of film blogs out there, ferret out those that match their tastes and stick with them long enough to determine if they're reliable. Or do people randomly search the web looking for info, spot it, and digest it, without taking the time to evaluate it?

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9 Comments

  • Chris Stangl | May 14, 2007 7:10 AMReply

    Who are you? Eh. I don't trust you.

    Film bloggers aren't playing at being professional critics, they're playing the game that every human is perfectly suited to: expressing their feelings about art to other interested people. Most people in your life "might not have the cinematic knowledge to adequately review a film" (?), but that doesn't mean you don't want to hear what they have to say... Or maybe it does. Does the world need to know if WAITRESS made you bake a pie? Doesn't matter, since they don't have to read about it. Traversing the blogosphere, it doesn't seem that readers treat amateur film blogging as much more than interesting opinion-sharing. What's wrong with a multitude of diverse voices? Blogs aren't exactly wasting paper, and it's yet to be seen that they are putting professionals out of work.

    But in general: boo to making up cute words to insult anonymous writers, and not calling out substandard blogs by name. What blogs are you complaining about? Who do you wish would shut up? If it's a serious problem, why not contact those bloggers? "Some", "most", "other people" ... at Wikipedia, they call these "weasel words".

  • Sujewa | May 10, 2007 2:53 AMReply

    Re: "how about the fact that a quack clogger like sujewa can create all this fuss out of misinterpreting my original review that you, anthony, dubbed 'frustrating'?"

    (hope its OK that i comment on this here anthony)

    quackiness is in the eye of the beholder Cynthia, however, what a film review is - or what they usually contain, can be agreed upon by a majority of experts or careful or persistent observers of the medium & the industry or even for that matter, anyone who has ever read more then a few dozen film reviews. Your "review" of Hannah was not a review in any traditional sense but some related thoughts of yours inspired by the movie.
    That's my take on it, and a few others who read a lot of movie reviews agree (even though they are not interested in saying so publicly & getting into a comments war with you, i guess they are not as quacky as me :). anyway, that aside, i think anthony's frustration at on-line criticism & my frustration with your "review" of Hannah just happened around the same time & thus we find ourselves connected (in a minor way) to this lengthy discussion re: internet & film criticism. further, i do not think anyone here (or at other places where this conversation is happening) is questioning the right of anyone to publish anything that they want. but rather that the proliferation of writing about movies on the web can make it difficult to get good information about a movie. generally, i think the increased interest in writing about film through blogging is a good thing, my current movie has gotten some great reviews from blogs, but on the other hand, i have seen some bloggers write "movie reviews" that i would NEVER find in a mainstream newspaper - writing that is misleading or generally unrelated to the film and, I think, perhaps in some cases, purposefully designed to undermine the commercial & critical success of the film (i am not talking about your "review" of Hannah here). Anyway, my frustration with your review is only a very tiny part of the bigger problem that Anthony is discussing through posts here (as far as i can tell, i am sure Anthony will clarify).

    - sujewa
    (sorry about taking all that space there Anthony)

  • cynthia | May 9, 2007 8:34 AMReply

    how about the fact that a quack clogger like sujewa can create all this fuss out of misinterpreting my original review that you, anthony, dubbed 'frustrating'? it's not just films/filmmakers who can be a victim of 'cloggers'.

  • anthony | May 9, 2007 6:12 AMReply

    Gabe,

    Just wanted to say I agree with you that the distinction of quality between online and print cloggers -- is not necessarily to be emphasized. I thought I acknowledged this in my clarification ("there is some fine and passionate film writing out there on the Internet that deserves to be read"). Still, because of the web, there is now no end to the number of "critics" reviewing movies. But the issues are larger, as I'm happy to see that AJ Schack has picked up on in his blog on the issue: http://edendale.typepad.com/weblog/2007/05/biting_the_hand.html

  • gabe | May 9, 2007 5:56 AMReply

    It is important to note that the medium itself--print vs. web--is not the distinguishing factor of what makes a critic "legit". The primary distinction between bloggers (or cloggers) and "legitimate" critics is the vetting process provided by an editor. The majority of bloggers are no different than DIY 'zine publishers of yester-year who answer to no higher authority. The difference is that blogger/clogger's reviews are instant, and global. Unlike those who answer to an editor, we can post what we want, when we want, without anyone telling us what to do or say. (Or fact check, or grammar check, or spell check...etc.) The editorial process of "legit" media creates a degree of validation absent from (the majority of) blogs. As someone who posts across platforms, you should recognize that this distinction warrants mention. You also rightly point out that there are dozens (hundreds?) of "legit" print critics not worthy of serious consideration. I am not sure what to make of those who are defensive about your statements about blogger/cloggers. The fact that your blog posts (natch) kicked up so much dust means something. Perhaps those whose feathers got ruffled should post their thoughts on their own blogs. Then we could check back to see if the falling trees make any noise.

  • Pamela | May 9, 2007 5:10 AMReply

    You might put me in that category of clogger, you might not. But all of us, to a person, are arrivistes at one time or another in our lifetimes, right? Maybe several times, if we're lucky. The established guard always wants to slap around the new kids a bit--it's normal. :)

  • Ray Privett | May 9, 2007 2:03 AMReply

    Dear Anthony:

    Did you have "the cinematic knowledge to adequately review a film" when you started writing for indieWIRE?

    Your stalwart reader,

    Ray

  • ShortEnd Magazine | May 8, 2007 6:40 AMReply

    A charged statement, amigo: "...The increasing proliferation of amateurs who might not have the cinematic knowledge to adequately review a film." It seems to invalidate entirely a layman's opinion, an opinion which in general dictates the market success of a film. That's a critical barometer right there. While these type of so-called "clogger" assessments might not offer the analysis and comparative study that you're hoping for, they do indeed speak for the mainstream in many cases.

    Now, I have to open this contentious channel. As a film journalist, I'd much rather talk to a filmmaker than review his/her work. It's my own preference certainly & based on the fact that I hold any filmmaker who has the chops to make a film in some high regard. But it seems to me that even more alarming than a lack of solid review--or rather, the proliferation of "clogger" review--is the lack of in-depth discussion with a larger variety of independent filmmakers in general from the mainstream. In this I'm including editors, cinematographers, production designers, sound recordists--where are the in-depth interviews with these folks? Exclude from this criticism Filmmaker, indieWIRE, GreenCine & a handful of others, and what you get a vast majority of the time is shallow, repetitve coverage with directors, Bujalski a perfect example, who simply steer clear of a terribly ill-informed film media--myself included in that at times.

    This concerns me MUCH more than the clogger issue, just getting to know the filmmakers on their own terms & not on my terms as I see their films.

  • Andy Spletzer | May 8, 2007 6:17 AMReply

    It's tricky when we start talking about the "average cinemagoer," because, really, there's no such thing. Would the person who skips a Tsai Ming-liang film because they skimmed a couple of negative web reviews actually have liked the movie? I kind of doubt it. I think the Metacritics and Tomato Meters are perfect for "average" cinemagoer because it compiles both smart and not-so-smart critics together. Plus, they can click and read the positive and negative reviews and judge for themselves.

    When it comes to the so-called cloggers, well, I have enough trouble finding time for all the critics and blogs that I like. I wouldn't look for anyone new unless s/he was recommended by someone I trusted. The cloggers haven't started tripping me up... yet. I'm sure I'll think differently if I get back into filmmaking and make something that becomes targeted by a handful of cloggers who I don't know and can't respect.

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