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

Criticwire By Erin Whitney | Criticwire April 26, 2013 at 3:38PM

On Wednesday, The Verge's Joshua Topolsky sat down with film critics A.O. Scott of The New York Times and David Denby of The New Yorker to discuss the big question looming over 2013: Is film dead?
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"Avatar."
"Avatar."

[The critics were asked to provide their thoughts on the prevalence of 3D.]

Denby: It depends. I mean I loved “Avatar.”

Scott: You and I were on Charlie Rose talking about "Avatar" when it came out and we were both really impressed and seduced by that. I think that's a case where it was appropriate to the story, to the scale of visual ambition. It's not necessary a lot of the time, but I’m not willing to say it can’t be an interesting tool. I think that Martin Scorsese used it to very compelling effects in "Hugo." I think that Wim Wenders did in "Pina." You can never pre-judge these things. There was a certain point where there was a dogma among critics and the industry that a serious drama could not work in color, that that would make it too bright. Color was for costume musicals and if you wanted realism then you couldn’t have color. You could find that in James Agee, the greatest of all critics. I’m not willing to say that a virtual reality, an immersive experience can’t be a great movie.

Denby: I think our loyalty is to the artist and to the audience, to storytelling and dramatic arc, and humor. Technology has always been secondary. It helps those virtues.

Scott: I feel the same way about the big argument now involving digital versus film. Again, I want to trust the artist and there are filmmakers who know more than I do about what it takes to tell these stories. I think that digital technologies are an extraordinary, empowering, and exciting thing, and there are others who regard it with skepticism or horror. The only thing we're competent to judge is what they make.

Rotten Tomatoes logo

Topolsky: What do you think about Rotten Tomatoes?

Scott: It has a sort of limited utility. There is information there. It's a poll. It’s a little bit like a survey. It doesn’t substitute, I mean criticism is not necessary. You can go to a lot of movies you can love them and be completely untouched by film criticism, it exists for people who are interested. I think there are always people who are interested in having some kind of further conversation about what they’ve
seen, finding out what someone else has thought about it. What we’re looking for and hoping for are readers. It’s not going to be everybody who reads criticism, but you hope that you’ll have your circle who you’re talking to that kind of expands.

Denby: Those who care at all tend to care a great deal. That's always been true and it’s just as true now. I’m not bothered by the democratization of criticism. It’s part of the conversation and it’s healthy and good and people say smart things -- not always but often. I wish print editors thought as we do because there's no doubt about the devaluation of employability of critics in print with a job you could earn a living at. I don’t know what to say to kids. You meet them all the time.

Scott: Did anyone say to you -- your guidance counselor or your parents -- I mean, I don’t recall [mine] saying, "Film criticism, that's a great way to make a living!"

Denby: It was never easy, but it get easier on the internet where you can establish your voice. As I say, people should give up a little of their independence and come together with a professional attitude and start a film magazine.


This article is related to: David Denby, A.O. Scott, Film Criticism is Dying, Film Critic Jobs


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