Sunday, April 4, 2010

"A Critic's Place, Thumb and All," AO Scott, NYTimes April 4, 2010.

In today's New York Times, AO Scott has a strange, flaccid column lamenting (I think) the death of real movie criticism and the dissolution of what used to be an intelligent "reasoned" debate into "a nattering gaggle of bloggers."  I struggled to understand the point of his column; I found it hugely aggravating and symptomatic of a generational mindset.  Before going further, I'd like to point out that I do not consider myself a critic.  I realize that I'm a hobbyist.  I don't have formal education in anything related to filmmaking, scriptwriting, film criticism.  I have a day job and degrees in another field.  So I'm counting myself out of this conversation.  However, I do find that some of the more intelligent writing about film is happening online and yes, sometimes on blogs.  "There used to be James Agee," Scott writes, "and now there is Rotten Tomatoes."  I mean, is this the only web content this guy knows about?  And does he not realize it's an amalgamation of film criticism, pulling from hundreds of excellent (and yes, technically professional) writers from hundreds of print publications? (Including HIS!)  I realize it's sad to see the slow death of a medium, especially if it's one that cuts his cheques.  I myself cling to the Times:  I have a paid subscription and wait for the Sunday edition, coffee cup in hand.  I anticipate this cozy ritual more than is healthy.  I hope the paper never fully disappears!   But the migration of print to online content does not to me mean the death of criticism, not even "big man" criticism.

The second portion of his piece relates to "At the Movies" being yanked off the air (I only realized that by reading this today that Scott was actually one of the more recent hosts).  Yeah, I know it's a pop culture landmark but frankly, since Gene Siskel died prematurely (over ten years ago, in 1999) and was replaced by Richard Roeper, I kinda tuned out after years of watching.   (It was when Roeper gave a hearty thumbs up to Life or Something Like It in 2002 that I officially gave up).  Scott quotes some Coleridge and some TS Eliot on the so-called art of criticism: ("upon giving the matter a little attention, we perceive that criticism, far from being a simple and orderly field of beneficent activity, from which impostors can be readily ejected, is no better than a Sunday park of contending and contentious orators, who have not even arrived at the articulation of their differences") and then concludes by saying that criticism is what it always was and will be: "miserable, and full of possibility."  No discussion of magazine criticism (either online or in print), film school developments, international criticism or any insight into wonderful voices online, either alone brilliant (I will refer again to or to start with just two) or the beautiful cacophony gleaned by reading multiple blogs that together do indeed form a debate.   Oh, well!  Sad to see the Times dismissing 2.0 with tired old hands (and you're only 43, if I have that correct, not even a boomer - guess I'm wrong and age is irrelevant) and uninteresting cliches.  How much more rewarding it would have been to shine a light on the new or less well known in this ever-evolving discussion of a beloved medium!

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