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A.O. Scott and David Denby Discuss the Fate of Film and Criticism in Tribeca Talk Series

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by Erin Whitney
April 26, 2013 3:38 PM
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"The Critic."

Topolsky: Are critics really irrelevant? Or is this the Age of the Critic?

Denby: There’s still something that we [critics] can do. What Tony did for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was sort of send fireworks up people's well, but his review made a difference for a small film. For that kind of movie certainly. It doesn’t commercially make difference for what we say about "Oblivion" or "Iron Man."

Scott: With "Iron Man 3" or last year’s "The Avengers," these are designed to be not only critic proof but also audience proof. They generate an enormous sort of expectation. Their opening weekend is the definition of a pseudo event. And people will go whether or not they like it and whether or not critics like it just to be a part of that experience, which is not in itself a bad thing. It's like watching the Superbowl or Oscars...I don’t know if we’re in the age of the critic, but I think we definitely are in the age of criticism. We may be in that instance not as relevant as some of our precursors. But that activity of criticism, which is the activity of thinking and talking about what we've experienced and trying to make some sense of it, is absolutely flourishing and increasingly vital.

Fox Searchlight "Margaret"

Denby: How is criticism going to handle if there is an enormous flow of material coming from 20 different outlets and everybody getting into content? Who’s going to sort it out? I can think of two kinds of rescue systems: There's social media, things like the Kenneth Lonergan film ["Margaret"], which was sort of languishing and people started tweeting about it. That was a case of a social media groundswell, which eventually led to critics waking up and helping the movie. The other thing, the other rescue operation, is that we need a new kind of internet film criticism magazine, which can be less starchy than the traditional film magazines which are online, but which would be combative and have debates. If you were a young Andrew Sarris or Pauline Kael, where would you want to write now? Because print media are not hiring critics. There’s been a slaughtering of employment in print during the last three of four years. The internet criticism now, and this is just a structural not a critical description, is a kind of horizontal tower. We need something more centralized, a magazine that’s professionally edited where people can debate each other. People would earn a living, which you can’t do now.

Scott: I think that some of that is starting to take shape. On the internet there is a kind of coalescing around less film specific, but more generally critical organs like the LA Review of Books, or The New Inquiry, or N+1, where there are a lot of people writing very interesting cultural criticism on those sites. I think in a way it’s happening for movies, but I think one thing that’s happening that I don’t think we’ve begun to think about enough is the collapsing of all culture into this digital melting pot -- distinctions between what is television, what is a movie, what is a video. The hierarchy of the division of the art forms is starting to collapse. It may not make sense for people to say in the coming generations "I’m a film critic."

Next: The critics tackle 3D.

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