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, when Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote a piece about the rapid cutting of film critics from various publications, his tone told all of us to get over it. Since we wouldn't and didn't, Susan Green first stepped up to address it. By the next day, everyone wanted a shot beginning with Kevin Courrier. On the third day, David Churchill came to the podium. Not originally planning to write anything, Shlomo Schwartzberg followed after reading the previous days' posts. To complete our response, Andrew Dupuis provided a philosophical reading of how the film industry has affected the art of criticism.
My colleagues [Susan, Kevin, David & Shlomo] have previously and majestically destroyed Andrew O' Hehir's ignorant article "Film Critics: Shut up already!" I support them and their opinions whole heartedly. But I feel as if my position on the subject would be trite, so I'm shifting the looking glass from film criticism to the film industry's impact on it. Here are some disparate observations.
We've been focused so intently on whether film criticism is on its way out or not that I think we've somewhat neglected an important point that we wouldn't have anything to write about were it not for the films themselves. The steady decline in the quality of films has paved the way for many a harsh word. In other words, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to stay positive when pretty much every film that projects itself onto the silver screen simply isn't worth the time it takes to attack it with the mighty strokes of a keyboard. This may be partly why film criticism just isn’t being taken seriously anymore. Criticism today examines the mediocrity of mainstream cinema but doesn’t often look at how we got here.
Film criticism originated from the realization that the movies we were watching were being crafted as an art form, that there might be more than meets the eye. The likes of Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford were paid tribute because it was recognized that they were manipulating the medium to better suit their own voices; they made art disguised as popular entertainment. But that was cinema in its golden age. This month over two dozen films saw a major theatrical release. Compare this to a decade ago when only a dozen were released, two decades ago where eight made their way to the silver screen and thirty years ago where a single film was released to theatres in April. Films used to be treated as events. Things were so much simpler and releases were handled with care. But industries grow because it's the nature of the beast. And it leaves a lot of garbage to search through if we're going to find anything worth mentioning. But there are still diamonds in the rough (only it's excruciating to sit through most of these poor excuses for entertainment). It’s those little gems, however, that keep most of us coming back for more. The lot of a film critic is to survive the garbage heap to seize the diamond – but the garbage can wear down the morale of the critic. Is he even sure he’s writing about an art form anymore?
We need to keep history alive but stop living in the past. Of course, if we don't pay tribute to films now that were deemed worthy thirty years ago who will? If no one shows an interest in films like the originalInvasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the wonderful 1978 remake then they may not live beyond DVD's eventual demise. With technology changing rapidly films are getting left behind. Avatar may be damn near impossible to avoid right now but will Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) survive to find a new audience? We've given so much power to contemporary cinema and its fading magic that many viewers will grow up blissfully unaware of the films their favorite movies play homage to.
People will never stop seeing bad movies so a critic can't stop this no matter how hard they try. It's not enough to know that disposable movies like The Back Up Plan are already being mistaken for other unmemorable flicks such as The Break Up (2006) and The Wedding Planner (2001). The box office tallies of James Cameron's Avatar and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland continue to push movies likeThe Lion King (1994) and Jurassic Park (1993) further from our consciousness. Money doesn't equate quality and it certainly won't dictate whether people will still care about Avatar twenty years from now. Which begs the question: Will anyone remember or care about the reviews those pictures received?
It's not good enough to continue offering disposable critiques of terrible films or documenting the forgetfulness of a picture whose name escapes you after leaving the theatre. We need to shift our focus and honour films, both past and present, to those that matter. The best movies pay tribute to the legacy of film history; they’re not made because they feel they deserve a place there.
Sure, many critics are in it now for the pay cheque but don't forget why you chose the profession in the first place. Forget O' Hehir and Speak up, don't shut up. If we lose sight of why we fell in love with films in the first place there isn't a reason to keep on writing about them now, is there?