Saturday, November 29, 2008

Roger Ebert's Journal: Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!

Roger Ebert column at the Chicago Sun-Times, November 26, 2008
Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!

Roger Ebert is the movie reviewer at the Chicago Sun-Times, made famous by being part of the movie review team of Siskal and Ebert (later Ebert at the Movies). This column talks about the art of being a movie critic. It's trigger.

The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and "thinkers." Oh, it can be done. But with "Synecdoche, New York?"

. . .

Worse, the AP wants its writers on the entertainment beat to focus more on the kind of brief celebrity items its clients apparently hunger for. The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been "seen with" somebody, who has been "spotted with" somebody, and "top ten" lists of the above. (Celebs "seen with" desire to be seen, celebs "spotted with" do not desire to be seen.)

So, what is a film critic for? Is it just to tell about the gawking of the actors and actresses who play the character on the screen? In another forum, one of my book reviews is being severely criticized, because I have stated that my primary criteria to judging a book is the believability of the characters (after I grant to the author the scenario and situation), not the politics of the book. Ebert says this much better.

Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should "reflect the taste of the readers." My friend said, "Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald's?" The editor: "Absolutely." I don't believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, "You are correct, sir!" A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged.

I could only hope to move in the general direction of that goal. And mourn every sign of its passing that comes my way.
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