In an ongoing dialogue between the two major critics at the Times, Manohla Dargis and AO Scott on film criticism today:
Dargis: As critics, all we have are our beliefs, ideals, prejudices, blind spots, our reservoirs of historical and personal knowledge, and the strength of our arguments. There are empirical truths that we can say about a movie: it was shot in black and white or color, on film or digital, in widescreen or not, directed by this or that filmmaker. But beyond these absolutes there is only our thinking, opinions, ideologies, methodological approaches and moments in time. That isn’t to say that criticism is a postmodern anything goes; it is to admit that critics are historical actors and that our relationships with movies, as with everything in life, are contingent on those moments. Her moment was exciting. So too is ours.
Movies and criticism have kept moving and it’s worth noting that because of the Internet, there are now more critics than ever and more cinematically knowledgeable ones, too — the diffusion of expertise is one reason that critics no longer have the impact they did. They have an effect — if not the visibility, book contracts or talk-show stints — and what’s out there now is more of a din than the chattering of a water cooler discussion. And there’s an astonishing amount of exciting work coming out of academia. These are boom times for new and old media studies, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the entertainment media and its obsessive emphasis on celebrity, the Oscars and the box office.
SCOTT I agree that notwithstanding a certain amount of fluff and noise, we are living in an age of varied and vigorous criticism. And that if a certain cachet and bravura has been lost, quite a bit has been gained in terms of intellectual brio and open debate.
Indeed, it is much harder to justify paying someone to write movie reviews when reviews are available online for free. The critics who will last, I figure, in paying gigs (as opposed to those who adapt to the blogger style – like Glenn Kenny, Anne Thompson, Marshall Fine, etc) will be those whose writing is so good it can’t be replaced or supplanted. Bloggers, for the most part, take on a conversational tone in their writing. They give their opinions, and sometimes write very passionately about films they love. Their writing is good, of course. But there is an art to good film criticism. AO Scott, Manohla Dargis, Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan, Bob Mondello, Joe Morgenstern, David Thomson, Scott Foundas, Ella Taylor, David Edelstein, Todd McCarthy, Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Stephanie Zacharek, Andrew O’hehir, etc. We don’t need to read their reviews because they want to find out if they should pay money to see the movie; we read their reviews because their reviews, or essays, stand on their own as great works of writing. Some of the blog-based critics (although what makes a critic anyway? I don’t know another way to say it) write reviews that good. Kim Morgan, Jim Emerson, Karina Longworth, etc. I’d count Guy Lodge at In Contention and Craig Kennedy at Living in Cinema — our own Ryan Adams, when he is motivated to do so, as well. But caring as much about the writing itself is what separates, to my mind, good film criticism from the rest.
But that, my friends, is my very unpopular opinion.
What the New York Times lacks, however, if I may be so bold to say, is a lively cinema discussion area on their site. They are too married to the conventional model of film critics who do their best to kind of interact with their readers, but in no way interact the way many other sites do. They should mix things up with some great movie blogs added in, the way they did with the Carpetbagger. I can think of a couple of great movie blogs that would fit in quite nicely at the Times.