The war on film critics

Critic_lYou know, in Europe, they value film critics so much that they just passed a law over there making it illegal to advertise movies with misleading blurbs that quote critics out of context. Meanwhile, over here, as this American Journalism Review article notes, newspapers are laying off critics as fast as they can. It doesn’t help that industry figures, like the freakin’ editor-in-chief of Variety (who employs more than a few critics himself) argues that critics are unnecessary most of the time (except at awards season) because moviegoers will go see well-marketed blockbuster fare no matter what the reviews say.

I understand the economic argument — why pay a local staffer to review movies that open simultaneously across the country when you can use a freelancer or syndicated reviews? But I think local film scenes will suffer without hometown champions. In Boston, for instance (where * disclosure alert * I am a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics), the BSFC scribes help program screenings at local repertory houses, give lectures, and tout local filmmaking talent. Also, I think papers will suffer if they can’t offer someone who’s responsive to area readers; it’s a lot easier to get some feedback from an e-mail of praise or complaint to a local critic than a nationally syndicated one. Finally, I reject the short-sighted expert quoted in the AJR article who says he gets all the review info he needs by reading the average scores at Metacritic — ignoring the fact that there’ll be no sample of reviews for Metacritic to average if all the local reviewers get downsized.

Sure, I’m arguing out of self-interest, but I think the overall conversation about film is enhanced by having more voices, not fewer. I also think local critics are your last line of defense against the Hollywood marketing machine (like The Critic‘s Jay Sherman, pictured, someone has to be willing to say, "It stinks!"), and that newspapers will be doing you a disservice by taking that line of defense away and leaving you to depend on solitary, homogenized opinions by reviewers who don’t have a stake in your community. Tell me, PopWatchers, do you depend on your local movie critics, or will you not miss them when they’re sent packing?

addCredit(“The Critic: Everett Collection “)


Comments (67 total) Add your comment
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  • Joey Jo Jo

    I used to be a movie critic in San Francisco and I don’t miss it. Mostly because I had to hang out with movie critics and they are the most overeducated yet unfulfilled lot I’ve ever met. After the screenings they’d stand around in a circle jerk, trying to impress each other with their witty putdowns. Knowing them made me rethink my choice of career. So even though I’m feeling for you Gary, I’m kind of glad to know that there are some of those people will be laid off and moving on to more fulfilling lives.

  • Jason

    I don’t know about any of you, but our cities are already losing their character via Wal-Mart, McDonalds and the rest, this is just one more case of globalization gone wrong. Cities need their own character, their own celebrities, their own feel. We especially get this in Canada. Things aren’t deemed cool unless the stamp of approval comes from outside. I try my hardest to embrace whatever is local without shunning what comes from outside my community. Local critics fall into this category.

  • Lesley

    While I agree that people will still go see blockbusters despite what critics say, the movies that will be hurt are the smaller movies that rely on good reviews and word-of-mouth as a large part of their advertising. I’m sorry, I don’t care what anyone says, there are a large number of movies that we would not have seen if it hadn’t been for positive reviews. We may say that we don’t go see a movie because it got good reviews, but we are indirectly affected the things critics write about them.

  • joe

    Zach Effron on the main page = Donny Osmond

  • Stephen

    Reviews depend on the movie. For instance, I knew I would see ‘The Simpsons Movie’ no matter what any critic said. However, I had to comb through rotten tomatoes before seeing ‘Knocked Up.’

  • Stephen

    Also, critics are losing relevance. How else can you explain the success of any Adam Sandler film?

  • Christine

    I think that local critics are needed because people (like me) want to be informed by professionals out of curriosity.I want to know if the movie I’m interested in going to is worthwhile.
    Maybe critics are being fired because people don’t want to feel belittled by an educated professional when their favourite film gets called “trailer park, B-flick trash”. I’m personally the only person I know who reads reviews.That says alot about the intelligence of the people I choose to acompany.

  • wildecat

    Well, I guess it depends on what city you live in. I live near Buffalo (no jokes, please – born and bred here and I’ll love it ’til I die!), and our main newspaper critic definitely suffers from “big fish in a small pond” syndrome. Namely, he stuffs every review with all sorts of literary and obscure film references just to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s really gotten insufferable but since we’re a one newspaper town, he’s the only game in town. There are other reviewers at the paper, by the way, but since he’s an editor, he makes sure to assign himself all the big or important films to “critique.” Blech! Thank God for the internet (especially, so I can read a variety of reviews and not just the pompous ramblings of that gasbag.

  • Dee

    I confess that I am guilty of what the Variety article suggets – local criticism isn’t really a concern. I’ve always read and respect Roger Ebert’s reviews, and I usually look to Rotten Tomatoes for the rest.

  • Paul

    Art cannot exist outside the discussion of art.

  • Dominique L.

    I’m a film review whore, and I’ve found it to be very useful to read what the critics have to say in The New Yorker and my local paper alike. As a film student, I see many films and I rely on critics to help me pick what to see. For instance, I wouldn’t have seen the amazing “Once” if it weren’t for critics. Same with “The Squid and the Whale” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”. They also help me steer clear from pictures that might have good trailers, but end up sucking the big one (i.e. last year’s “Trust the Man”). In fact, bad reviews kept me away from a blockbuster I was sure I’d go see: “Shrek the Third”. My boyfriend on the other hand (also a film student) avoids reviews like the plague so he can avoid spoilers and “make up his own mind.” Because of this, he doesn’t hear about smaller independent flicks or the failings of major blockbusters unless someone tells him. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t always agree with critics, but I love having them around all the same.

  • Dee

    As a general rule, I don’t read critics if there is a movie I *know* i’m going to see and I know they’re going to hate. But I do check them for other films. I checked critiques for “Waitress” and was glad I read them in advance. Some critics give away WAY too much of the movie, or significant plot points. There has to be a way for them to review a film without giving out significant info. Just my 2cents

  • Horatio

    Local film critic? That went the way of the dinosaur in Central VA years ago. Not it’s all syndicated. I tend to read several of the national critics (EW’s included), but certainly do not count on local critics any longer.

  • Horatio

    Now that it’s all syndicated…

  • Andy

    I think local film critics are important to help maintain an interest in criticism in general. My local film critic (Jack Garner, who has been used a couple of times in Reviewing the Reviews) just retired a couple of weeks ago. He goes back all the way to the first Star Wars, and now writes a freelance column every week about movies and other thoughts, but all the reviews are syndicated John Q. Critics who I don’t know or care about. It was interesting to hear the reliable local critics take on the movie, and I was more interested to see what Jack thought about the latest film I wanted to see than some person whose taste and history of movies I knew nothing about. I wanted to be able to put a face to the reviews, and the local movie critic allows that, and makes the reader want to compare his or her take with the other reviewers with different taste.

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