Film Criticism's Death Greatly Exaggerated
Grigori Rasputin. Jason Voorhees. Jay Leno's primetime career. Some things just can't be killed, no matter how many forces conspire against them. To this list we can add the practice of film criticism, which, as Jim Emerson at the Chicago Sun-Times points out, is still going strong, despite being pronounced dead on a near-daily basis.
What set him off were disparaging comments about criticism from Time Magazine movie critic Richard Schickel. Here's what Schickel had to say about the line of work he's been in for 43 years:
Watching all these kind of earnest people discussing the art or whatever the hell it is of criticism, all that, it just made me so sad. You mean they have nothing else to do? ... I don't know honestly the function of reviewing anything.
Emerson rebuts Schickel's point thusly:
You could make the same complaint about any kind of writing, or any enthusiasm that people feel like writing and talking about, from sports to politics. Oh, you tech columnists and food writers -- stop communicating with others about things you're interested in! What is the point? If you have to ask, you're not likely to feel ardent about engaging in the practice -- except, perhaps, for the paycheck. Now that is sad.
His full response is a multi-pronged, 1500-word assault on the hoary claim that film reviews are getting shallower. He admits that while talented critics have a harder time getting published in print, the Web has made "compelling, serious, in-depth criticism" more abundant and more accessible than ever. Emerson dismisses the old-guard view of the Internet as a swamp of puerility and bile, and concludes with a stirring reflection on why people like him write about movies, and why they'll continue to do so:
Movies are about seeing things through others' eyes. So is movie criticism. My only hope is that you'll find whatever I wrote about a particular movie worth reading and thinking about, even if you ultimately reject my point of view or have no intention of seeing the movie in question.