I think the question becomes what is the critic's job. The critic is certainly a publicist but I doubt that most critics think of themselves in that way, or think of themselves primarily in that way. I would posit that it's reasonable to assume that a critic as populist as Ebert is reviewing films for people who are interested in the cinema primarily as a means of entertainment. I think the highly intellectual and analytical approach to film-making that you and our peers take is unique and not for everyone. Given that, I think it's fine that he reviews movies that people can see. That's his job. Anyone really into cinema will seek out Bordwell and go to the one week run of
I attempt to offer that with no value judgment on whether one is better than the other, but merely as a description of the state of affairs. I understand you'd probably like to change that, but you have to ask yourself do you really want to watch an intense eastern European film with a bunch of tweens who are texting the whole time?
The above is a blog comment by a trusted friend - a person, I should add, who is one of the most personable, reasonable, and intelligent that I know. I think it might be appropriate to respond to these comments in the blog proper, as opposed to being relegated to the response section. While I certainly take to heart his common sense and populist sensibility, our current critical situation strikes me as more problematic and insidious than he might think. Allow me to address a few bullet points:
What is the critics job?: Here's a definition that is certainly a doozy of a question: how to define something so personal and subjective? I can only suggest a response in the negative: a critic of anything, at least a critic of any value, cannot be a publicist. The two are, by definition, mutually exclusive. This is a confusion of terminology, and not a recent confusion, I might add. Roger Ebert is a publicist, not a critic, regardless of what he might think about himself. Even a cursory glance at his weekly reviews tells the tale: a reasonably gifted writer and film buff who has relegated himself to the role of plot synopsizing, and nothing more. Do people respond to this? Certainly; they happen to not be reading genuine film criticism.
Anyone really into cinema will seek out Bordwell and go to the one week run of Lake of Fire: This comment strikes me as counterintuitive: how is anyone supposed to "be into cinema" when there are no mainstream critics/reviewers to point them in the right direction? Certainly, anyone who knows of David Bordwell, Dave Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kent Jones, Amy Taubin, Gavin Smith, Mark Peranson, Robin Wood, Noel Burch, etc. doesn't need such guidance: we've already found it, the hard way. Part of my position is the radical notion that it might not be so difficult for future generations of movie fans to discover these writers; indeed, discovering these thinkers strikes me as essential to maintaining a viable cinephile culture. As it stands, anyone reading Ebert and his supposedly "everyman" approach to film art is missing out on a great deal of what is stimulating/satisfying/essential in today's global film going. There is also an assumption operating here: that a level playing field exists. This is absolutely not true. Roger Ebert, Jeffery Lyons, Peter Travers, Larry King, and others have made a mint selling their movie reviews on the AP: this is business, not love of an art form. Ebert objected to the delayed
I think the highly intellectual and analytical approach to film-making that you and our peers take is unique and not for everyone. But why can't it be for everyone? It is not necessarily based on education: most of my favorite films, ones that might be considered difficult, or at least non-mainstream, are largely visceral, physical experiences. I’m certainly not asking every writer to be “intellectual” and/or “analytical” – I’m suggesting that they might put their own style of writing, what ever that may be, to product they normally find it easy to ignore. I might ad that
Ebert reviews movies that people can see: This is another fallacy: he reviews the mainstream movies that people can see. Putting aside, for the moment, what people might be inclined to seek out, anyone living in the city of
I hope you'll excuse this surly and perhaps poorly argued response: I just really, really dislike Ebert, as well as the notion most people have that he is the be-all-end-all of film criticism. The fact that he has won a Pulitzer Prize is particularly disheartening. You might reasonably suggest that these problems are simply endemic to our culture. This is undeniable, and the notion that my ranting and raving is going to change anything suggests either extreme hubris or stupidity. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, even if for now I’m just preaching to the choir myself. And no, I don’t want to watch Bella Tarr’s “The Man From London” with a bunch of texting tweens. But I remember stumbling into a screening of Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar” as an 18 year old on the prompting of a favorite professor and having my life changed. So…