Well, ladies and gentleman, it has come to this: blog writers are being accused of causing the “death” of film criticism. At least that is what author Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University, tells us in his article “The Death of Film Criticism,” in the February 28, 2010, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It seems that Professor Doherty is all riled up about the “viral salon of bloggers and chat-roomers” who have taken over as film critics. He laments, “In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream.” Indeed.
At this point in time and space, it seems almost ridiculous to have to defend bloggers, or blogging, or any other thing about writing that happens on the Internet, but here we go again. Of course, as in any other venue, there are those who do a better job than others, but it is obvious that the stodgy “old guard” feel we are rattling their cages. Their sacred Ivory Tower is slowly but inevitably teetering toward obsolescence, but that’s what they get for making academia such a breeding ground for ostriches in the first place.
Professor Doherty notes that film critics used to have “the ballast of traditional credentials,” meaning they had to suffer through university courses being taught by individuals who followed a narrow focus to get their terminal degrees in film studies and then wanted to transfer that same limited awareness of field and subject matter to their unsuspecting students. How many film course students, myself included, had to suffer through viewings of The Red Shoes, Un Chien Andalou, or Battleship Potemkin, we can never know, but none of us has anything to lose but our chains. Vive la Revolution!
Doherty’s “bleak diagnosis for the ink-and-paper crowd” echoes the cries we hear from publishers and editors of printed matter. Daily newspapers, magazines, journals, and books are all in competition with electronic versions that are quicker and more accessible for many of today’s readers. With things like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and the Sony Reader Pocket Edition available, it would seem that Doherty rightly notes that “the writing is on the digital wall.”
Please understand that I love books. I enjoy sitting in a chair with a log on the fire reading a favorite novel, and I hope that experience is something everyone can enjoy for many years to come. I also like to read regular books to my children, and I don’t imagine ever using an electronic device to do that. There is an enjoyable intimacy in turning a page, feeling the paper and connecting to the printed word that is almost akin to putting a needle on a vinyl record, but that’s a different story about another fading experience.
In this article Professor Doherty goes into an abbreviated history of film criticism from Carl Sandburg (yes, the poet), Siskel and Ebert, The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, The Village Voice’s Andrew Sarris, and Vincent Canby of The New York Times, among others. All of this is meant, it seems, to strengthen the argument of their meaningful contributions to the “the long tradition of discerning film criticism in America.” While, obviously, there are some movie goers who think that these critics had or have some sort of magic wand necessary to declare a film worthy of viewing, happily, many people do not.
In looking back at these famous names, or thinking of any video or print film critics presently active, I cannot remember one time I have failed to see a film because of anything they wrote or said. I am sure many of you feel the same way. Nothing is going to stop most people from seeing the film they want to see, whether it is Avatar, Hurt Locker, or an animated film like Up. Bloggers have long known this while the “old guard” (whom Doherty tells us see “the newbies as semiliterate troglodytes who prowl the viral veld grunting out expletives”) and their progeny either do not know or do not care what the general public wants.