It’s Hard Out There For A Critic

This summer, the major studios decided press screenings weren’t all that — they bypassed newspapers critics in favor of popular review: weekend box office numbers. The recent Los Angeles Times poll suggested that today’s kids prefer peer analysis to highly trained professional analysis. We’ve suggested that today’s critics are out-of-touch with the real world.

So what role should film (music, book, architecture, etc) critics play in the real world? In response to a question from colleague Patrick Goldstein, there is this:

“I’m sorry, but we’re not supposed to be applause meters,” says Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan. “If you wanted to go to a restaurant for a special occasion and someone said, ‘Why not go to McDonald’s? More people go there than any other place.’ Would that really be enough to convince you?”

That’s true enough. But Turan — a fine critic — misses the point: he’s still out of touch. Most movies released today are lousy, there’s no question about it. And, frankly, most of the movies that newspapers lavish columns inches on are rarely viewed by the vast majority of the movie-going audience. In a world of pure budgetary concerns (we must always be practical), if readers aren’t noticing what the critics are saying, then it is logical that reviewers will lose prominence and eventually jobs.

This means that print publication reviewing has to evolve. Simple as that. Goldstein says

If I were king I would firmly plant our critics in the new media world with blogs and podcasts, allowing them not only to have more of a dialogue with readers, but extend their influence by addressing timely topics.

If I were king, I’d develop a crash course on popular art and require the nation’s critics to attend. I’d suggest that the LAT’s insistence on differentiating between “Music” and “Pop Music” is artificial and reeks of inherent snobbery. I’d note that despite my continued best efforts, reading the weekly Los Angeles Times Book Review makes me angry. Couldn’t they pretend to acknowledge the bestseller list? Is it so hard to admit that there is a wide range of books and tastes out there in the real world?

I am not so sure that Pauline Kael was ever as influential with the public as she seemed to be with studio heads. If she were reviewing today, she’d be beating the same “woe is me” drum as the rest of our print critics. She’s still be playing by the old rules — and here I’m going to give Goldstein the last words because he clearly sees the future and it is now:

We need to get our critics up to ‘Net speed. If studio marketers can spend weeks bombarding moviegoers with 30-second spots to glamorize their product, why should our reviewer almost always hold fire until opening day, long after most of the audience has formed its opinion, not to mention after most bloggers have had their say?

We never let studios tell us when to run news stories or schedule feature pieces, so why defer to their preferences when it comes to running reviews? If the studios squawk, we can always review their marketing campaign, which would probably be a treat for readers and, in all too many instances, allow us to write about something far more interesting than the movie itself.

2 Responses to “It’s Hard Out There For A Critic”

  1. WE ARE THE CRICTICS The rest need a job

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