On The Job

As is often the case, Dave Poland had some good feedback on the latest Risky Biz column, which needless to say I was interested to read. Thompson does have some good points about the growing popularity of online critics, though. But that's about it. Dave Kehr continued things over on his blog.Kehr has a good observation about the relationship between taste and age:

The real divides in the film crit community seem to me those of sensibility and approach, not of birthdays, and as I’ve said before, I’ll always find much more in common with someone who shares my interest in, say, Mizoguchi or Hawks, be he or she 20 or 120, than with someone who knows those filmmakers only as names, or may not know them at all. I was 14 years old when I fell under the spell of Andrew Sarris, and it certainly never occurred to me that I couldn’t trust his taste, intelligence and hard-earned knowledge because he belonged to an older generation. Quite the contrary, in fact.

(That's largely true; I've succesfully duped many older and wiser people into thinking I'm a whole lot smarter than I really am by having good taste and the ability to talk about movies.) I don't think the rise of online-based film criticism is what's hurting old school outlets like newspapers. No, I think the growing trend of print critics to automatically pan movies aimed at younger (meaning under 40) audiences without going into anything meaningful about why a particular film might be good or bad. Kehr writes of his distaste reviewing the latest tween dreck like Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen: "As much as I tried to take refuge in questions of style (not easy when you are dealing with Garry Marshall) or sociology (too easy when you are dealing with Lindsay Lohan), the fact remained that these movies were not made for me, nor I for them." I see where's coming from, believe me, but the fact remains that critics are as vital now as ever, and not despite the rise of such niche-targeted crap, but because of it. The best part of writing about movies (and there are dozens of good aspects to the gig) is the opportunity to get just one reader per review to change their mind about film or persuade them to see something differently. The purpose is not to simply say, "This is good," or, "This totally blows." Anyone can say that, and most competent readers can come to those conclusions on their own. No, it's imperative to dig in to the hows and whys of a film's successes and failures, to pull it apart and look at it in the light of our culture and society and faith and political system and everything that influences our worldview. Older critics can't just assume people will take their word for it that some films are good and others are bad. Criticism is (importantly) dependent on communites of informed judgment, but the average reader isn't a part of that community and often doesn't care to be. You have to reach that reader, to make someone who couldn't care less about the difference between Bay and Truffaut appreciate something new or different in a film. If we fail that reader, then we fail the vocation itself. My brothers, this should not be. The goal of the whole thing is to serve the greater good, to, like the man said, "raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy."