Saturday, January 28, 2012

Film Criticism, Where is Thy Sting? (Part One)

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

Back in the spring of 2010, Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote a piece about the rapid cutting of film critics from various publications. His tone told us to get over it. We couldn't and didn't. Susan Green stepped up to address it. Before long, it became one in a series of volleys.

Dorothy Parker
Film critic Andrew O’Hehir in Salon recently lamented the end of film criticism with the idea that even if it is on its death bed, and critics are losing their jobs, quit griping about it. Write about movies, he says, instead of your wounded pride.

There are a few of us at Critics at Large who have been at the short end of that ugly stick and we don't feel quite as glib about heading to the dustbin as Mr. O'Hehir does (it's also a lot easier to take that stand when you actually still have your paying job as a film critic). But let's digress no further.

Let's hear instead from Susan Green:

Jeezum Crow! That’s a traditional term used by old-time native Vermonters, a disappearing breed, to express anger but avoid blasphemy. Last week a piece by Andrew O’Hehir on Salon.comtargeted another disappearing breed, film journalists whose work appears in print. His point seems to be that critics who have lost jobs -- such as Todd McCarthy, recently fired by Variety after 31 years -- or are concerned that could happen in the near future should stop discussing this trend.

“Shut up. Shut up now,” O’Hehir commands. “If you’re worried that people don’t want to read your movie reviews, what in the name of Jesus Christ crucified makes you think they want to read your bitching and moaning?” Well, what in the name of Jeezum Crow makes this guy think we want to read an employed writer ridiculing a colleague who worries that his or her livelihood, and probably passion, might be obliterated?The dumbing-down process is significantly accelerated as literate newspapers and magazines are eclipsed by anything-goes Internet blogs. (Critics at Large is a literate Internet blog, by the way, and Salon is a literate online mag.) Aren’t the complaining critics O’Hehir demeans just canaries in the coal mine of an educated society’s destruction?

He disses the “elite cultural institution” perpetrated by the likes of Manny Farber, James Agee and Pauline Kael as a thing of the past after “a nice 50- or 60-year run.” OK. In that case, it’s goodbye William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Dorothy Parker. Why bother to measure good writing by virtue of such clever, intellectual standard-bearers? Why have standards at all? As the millennium approached in 1999, a panel of 360 political leaders, scientists, wordsmiths and visual artists selected Johannes Gutenberg as the most influential person of the past one thousand years. His 1455 eureka moment resulted in the printing press, without which there would be no computers today, and was deemed a profound achievement that changed the course of civilization like no other. The German inventor’s first publication was the Bible. Talk about Jeezum Crow!

- originally published on April 21, 2010 in Critics at Large.

-- Susan Green is a film critic and arts journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the co-author, with Randee Dawn, of Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion.

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