Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet

A fascinating new critical symposium has appeared online and in print in the newest issue of the essential quarterly film magazine Cineaste. I would assume that the recent spate of critic firings is of vital interest to just about anyone who would be bothering to read this post, and the influence of online film writing is certainly germane to the situation. “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet” seeks to explore some of the issues at stake for the future of an increasingly unstable form of discourse - the passionate, informed discussion of film as an art form. A quick glance at mainstream film coverage suggests the depths to which we’ve sunk – last I saw, People Magazine’s film coverage had been reduced to a hundred word capsule review and a large color photo, along with a list of what was currently playing. And the less said about Entertainment Weekly, the better. I offer the beginning of the editorial that opens the symposium:

“In introducing the Critical Symposium on “International Film Criticism Today” in our Winter 2005 issue, we maintained, with a certain resigned pride, that “critics at independent film magazines have virtually complete freedom, and a generous amount of space, to express their opinions if they are willing to endure the relative (or, in some cases, total) penury that results from being unaligned with the corporate media.” In recent months, American critics, having been fired, downsized, or bought out by a host of publications, are realizing that even making compromises with their corporate employers does not guarantee them a job. Given the current economic malaise, the role of online criticism has become increasingly prominent. There has also been, at least in certain quarters, an intensification of the occasional friction between print critics and the denizens of the blogosphere. In a typically ungracious broadside in The New York Press, Armond White wailed that “Internetters…express their ‘expertise,’ which essentially is either their contempt or idiocy about films, filmmakers, or professional critics. The joke inherent in the Internet horde is that they chip away at the professionalism they envy, all the time diminishing critical discourse.”

Below are the questions sent out to a myriad number of critics/bloggers, either professionals, amateurs, online or in print publications, or, increasingly, some combination of all of these things. The list of contributers includes Glenn Kenny, Mike D’Angelo, J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, Adrian Martin, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Amy Taubin, Steve Erickson and Richard Shickel, among many others:

We posed the following question to our respondents, suggesting that they could choose either to answer the individual questions, or to use them as departure points for their own essay.

1) Has Internet criticism made a significant contribution to film culture? Does it tend to supplement print criticism or can it actually carve out critical terrain that is distinctive from traditional print criticism? Which Internet critics and bloggers do you read on a regular basis?

2) How would you characterize the strengths and weaknesses of critics’ blogs? Which blogs do you consult on a regular basis—and which are you drawn to in terms of content and style? Do you prefer blogs written by professional critics or those by amateur cinephiles?

3) Internet boosters tend to hail its “participatory” aspects—e.g., message boards, the ability to connect with other cinephiles through critics’ forums and email, etc. Do you believe this “participatory” aspect of Internet criticism (film critics form the bulk of the membership lists of message boards such as a film by and Politics and Film) has helped to create a genuinely new kind of “cinematic community” or are such claims overblown?

4) Jasmina Kallay, writing in Film Ireland (September-October 2007), has claimed that, in the age of the Internet, the “traditional film critic… is losing his stature and authority.” Do you agree or disagree with this claim? If you agree, do you regard this as a regrettable or salutary phenomenon?

In the spirit of the internet’s “participatory” aspects, take a stab at answering these questions for yourself in the comments below. You can read the entire (it is lengthy) article here.

No comments: