So You Think You’re a Film Critic?

Critics talk about critics, enthusiasts and those folk quoted in movie ads

Last Updated: March 15, 2010 @ 5:18 PM

These are interesting times if you’ve ever considered yourself a film critic, professionally or as a casual pursuit. It’s true whether you’re a longtime print critic disavowing online as Richard Schickel did, or if you consider Variety’s recent firing of its staff critics in place of purely using freelancers.

A Hyperbole in Film Criticism panel took place over the weekend to discuss the implications of the critic not just in a cultural role, but also in the essential relevance of the profession.  

The session was moderated by Eric Childress and featured five online critics (Jen Yamato, James Rocchi, Drew McWeeny  and moderator Eric Childress) and a sole print critic (Austin Chronicle’s Marjorie Baumgarten.) It opened with a broad question as to the worst trend in film criticism, which quickly spiraled into the question of how the instant-broadcasting effect of Twitter affects the review process.
“As the medium shifts, we live in a different kind of mental economy," said Rocchi, "but you have to get people’s attention."

The problem surrounding hyperbole arose when Baumgarten answered what she disliked in a critic:

“I think there’s a problem in distinguishing between a film enthusiast and a film critic. An enthusiast just puts their ideas online; a critic is a writer first and not a film enthusiast first. Hopefully, those things exist in balance, but I see the film enthusiasts as the ones who are tweeting and posting everything.”

“It has to be an informed enthusiasm and well written,” Rochi said.

Baumgarten added, “Something worthy of the name ‘journalism.’”

That led to a discussion that flew from brevity of attention spans (Yamato: “Readers want to read less in general”) to junkets (Weinberg: “I felt like a whore. I did a junket for “Zombieland” … what if I find this movie is a piece of crap?”) to critics’ blurbs on film ads.

“One of the problems this really boils down to is, I didn’t call myself a film critic for years,” said Weinberg. “I always thought people just respected my opinion and reading my stuff. For six years I worked for free at a site because I wanted to get better … [w]hen I see a guy who doesn’t even put a pen to paper considered an authority on what you should see this weekend, it infuriates me.”