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June 02, 2006

Movie Reviewing and the Web

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm tickled pink to find that my name, er, pseudonym got a mention in Anne Thompson's latest Hollywood Reporter column. Her topic is film reviewing in the age of the internet, and it's an excellent piece. Which I say partly out of peacock pride and groveling gratitude, of course. But the truth is also that I've followed Anne Thompson's reporting enthusiastically for several decades now. She both delivers the goods and sets them in context. She's the rare business reporter whose movie-buffery is the equal of any critic's. She isn't just good at finding out what's happening, she's also terrific at puzzling out what it might mean. Movie-business reporting doesn't get any snappier, smarter, or better-informed.

Anne Thompson expands on her piece a bit and provides a nice bouquet of links at her blog -- itself a real treat for film buffs and movie fans.



posted by Michael at June 2, 2006


Aw shucks. What I'm going to learn from you, Mr. Blowhard, is how to wrote blog entries that entice people to comment...

Posted by: anne thompson on June 3, 2006 3:12 AM

Congrats to you!

Your readers have always known this is the place for excellent entertainment and stimulating "conversation".

And the ticket price is fabulous!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on June 3, 2006 8:32 AM

Whee!! 2Blowhards got a mention by Virginia Postrel a while back, and now our fearless leader Michael hits the Anne Thompson jackpot.

Next on our agenda to conquer the world, mentionings about Friedrich's art ruminations and my car stuff.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 3, 2006 9:40 AM

Michael – Interesting stuff. A few comments.

Although theater critics have often had a huge impact on the success or failure of a play, I think that Thompson is flat out wrong when she suggests that the NY Times or Washington Post could ever “make or break” a movie, unless it was some small film opening exclusively in Manhattan. I also disagree with the notion that some films are critic-proof. The potential market for films is large, and I find it interesting at times to see that the consensus reviews of the public for some films often comes close to the consensus of film critics, but that fans of a film or a star will go see the movie anyway even though they will admit that the film was not as good as they expected. The last three Star Wars films may be the best example of this. Also, for example, “The Phantom Menace” made more money than “The Matrix,” but the latter film was loved, lauded, and was far more influential, while only die-hard Lucas fans will even attempt to defend “Menace” as a good film, but admit that they had to see it to complete the cycle.

Although some film studios think that they gain by refusing to screen a film for critics, they also know in their bones that extremely negative cyber reviews can circulate at the speed of light, and kill a movie by its third Friday screening. Cell phones may even contribute to this. A person coming out of a stinker can call his or her buddy who might be driving to see the next show and, like a horror movie warning, exclaim “Don’t get out of the car!” Of course, evil movie studios try to overcome this problem by floating false reviews on various sites.

This is why professional critics are still needed, because they are the closest thing that a potential viewer has to a neutral referee. Also, most amateur critics on the web are under-educated about film. They often simply have not seen as many films as the best film critics, and have no historical perspective. They have enthusiasm, and often write well, but lack a deeper background to do more than gush or groan. Ironically, we often accept this for movie and TV criticism, but no one in his right mind would accept a theater, classical music or art critic who openly declared, “I don’t know anything about the subject, but I like to write about it.” Hell, no one would accept someone who wrote about sports or cars who openly professed ignorance about the subject. Imagine a sports reporter who wrote, “I don’t know who Babe Ruth was, and don’t care, so Barry Bonds is the best hitter in baseball.” You can get away with this on the web or in casual conversation, but not if you claim to be a professional.

Still, professional film (and TV) criticism may be an endangered species, mainly because of the middle-brow anti-intellectualism that is part of American culture. For many film viewers, criticism begins and ends with the mantra “It entertained me. I liked it.” Film is like food for some, something to be consumed and which might make you happy for a minute, but not something to be savored, thought about deeply, or discussed. But at best, art is a continuing three-way conversation between artists, audiences and critics, and for this you need professional critics as well as talented amateurs.

Posted by: Alec on June 3, 2006 4:30 PM

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