Is Film Criticism Dying or Evolving?

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by Matt Singer
June 25, 2012 12:34 PM
4 Comments
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"Ratatouille."
After three and a half years of college, I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to be a film critic. I went to talk to my favorite college professor, one of the few at my school who taught classes in film studies, about career options. Essentially, I asked him how to get his job. After rephrasing my question so it didn't sound like I was trying to put him out of work, he explained that the first thing I'd need to go was get a master's degree in cinema studies. His other advice: "Write. Write everyday. Write about every movie you see. Write anywhere you can get published."

In early 2002, this was still something of a difficult task. At that time, blogs were still in their infancy -- in 2002, I only knew one guy who had a blog, and he used it to talk shit about his friends behind their backs, so blogging seemed like a weird and vaguely icky practice. Instead I had to find editors willing to publish my work -- and eventually I did. Slowly but surely, I worked my way up the ladder, from unpaid columnist to unpaid columnist at a slightly larger website, to unpaid columnist at an even more impressive website, and finally to poorly paid columnist at a less impressive website. That was ten years ago. Today, the process is a whole lot easier; just go on Tumblr or Blogger, start a site, and begin filing reviews.

I wonder, though: would I have been a better writer in the long-run if I'd gone that route? Do the barriers to entry in a field weed out the passionate from the dilettantes? Is the dedicated amateur better than the informed professional? At his site, Smell of Popcorn, Max Lalanne votes in favor of the former -- which, he says, isn't killing criticism, but rather helping it evolve."

"Times are a changing, but it’s for the best. If film criticism itself is the act of print publications having the only respectable critics worth reading, then yes, film criticism is dying. But if film criticism is the pure and great act of analyzing and reviewing cinema, then my friends, it is a blooming and flourishing art that is being fueled more and more everyday."

Obviously Lalanne is proud of his site and of the platform that he has to express himself. And that's great. Some critics, including Roger Ebert, have declared this "The Golden Age of Film Criticism" -- because the Internet has given anyone with a perspective on film the outlet to share it with world.

But perhaps it is time to separate the practice of film criticism with the profession of film criticism. If Lalanne wants to write about movies in his spare time for the rest of his life, he certainly can. But if he ever wants to transition from Smell of Popcorn to a paid gig, that transition is going to be a whole lot tougher. Soon, it may be completely impossible.

As valuable as the Internet's thousands of perspectives are -- and as truly inspiring as it is when someone like Lalanne self-publishes film criticism purely for the love of the game -- it's worth remembering that value and inspiration come at a price. And it's one that's being paid not just by critics, but by writers and editors in all forms of journalism. If you want to devote yourself full-time to the movies in the future, you'll probably have to be a professor like my old college advisor. Otherwise, you better have a sugar daddy or sugar mama willing to pay your bills (if said sugar daddy or mama is reading this right now, you can contact me at mattneedsanewmacbookpro@hotmail.biz. My wife says she understands).

I started writing about film around the same age as Lalanne. I was lucky enough that I didn't have to get a day job to pay the bills for very long; ten years later, this is my day job. I just hope film criticism's evolution doesn't kill the careers of the next generation of critics.

Read more "Why Film Criticism Isn't Dying But Merely Evolving."

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4 Comments

  • RON MERK | June 26, 2012 1:53 AMReply

    Dying! No, dead! Good criticism takes three things: intelligence, education and love of film. As being snarky has replaced being accurate, and anyone using some graffiti with a small amount of punctuation can "blog" (now there's an intelligent sounding word), the landscape of criticism has changed do dramatically, I don't think there's any comparison to the world of criticism that existed when I came into the film business (back in 1968). Is there hope on the horizon, sure. Am I feeling confident that we'll get back to having people like Sarris and Kael again? Well, the jury is out on that one.

  • Jennifer | June 25, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    I've noticed that the advent of blogs has brought a different level of film maker, one whose self importance often eclipses the films which he and/or she is reviewing. There's a more sniping tone from blogs, and more personal digs at talent or directors for no reason other than that they exist. Film reviewers who took to critiquing from the journalism track maintain a certain objectivity in their reviews. Most are not feigning attempts at pseudo-intellectualism in order to make themselves sound more intelligent, or important, than others. They are providing a simple and straightforward critique of a film's highs and lows. While I do enjoy reading the reviews from some blogs, I largely stick to the old school critics, whose viewpoints I find much more in keeping with what real criticism is about - the movies themselves.

  • Max Lalanne | June 25, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    For film criticism to keep being a paying job, indeed, the best and perhaps only option would be to invest in a professional, well-kept website running ads, in my opinion, and provide your own salary. You would have to become, yes, a full-time, dedicated blogger/reporter as well as a critic, and work hard to get your site up there with the biggies. Probably hire a small team, too. But I still, absolutely believe film criticism can be a paying job, if you're passionate about cinema, resourceful, hard-working and know what works online.

    Incredibly honored to be mentioned in Criticwire, by the way. Thanks!

  • Rohan | June 25, 2012 1:27 PMReply

    Film criticism is more like 'favoritism' now. It will no longer be considered, let's say in the next 20 years, film criticism as it will be more about the personality of the film-maker. Film-maker will be bashed, and called names. Few names, who critique a film has already started doing that, so this will continue and expand with others who will be film critics.

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