Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

When Print Critics Get Erased

When daily print critics get erased, do movie audiences disappear, too?

Or does the average daily newspaper critic (see photo at right) using the time-honored critical method (see photo at right) offer anything more than a predictable Friday beatdown of whatever genre movie wasn’t screened early enough for them to respect?

Isn’t everybody who cares about what critics think already turning to the many excellent alt-weekly and online film critics — professional and non-professional — who post informed, funny, vibrant, sometimes deranged opinions?

Anne Thompson of the The Hollywood Reporter writes today about the effect that critics can have on specialty (meaning arthouse) films, and mentions the recent ousting, or re-assigning of some prominent film critics. Three of the best are:

Jami Bernard, New York Daily News.

Michael Wilmington, the Chicago Tribune.

Charles Taylor, one of Salon’s original film critics, and one of the most knowledgeable and passionate writers about the arts.

Anne Thompson mentions the buyout/retirement of Kevin Thomas. I don’t believe his departure has undercut the arts coverage in the Los Angeles Times. For years, Thomas rarely encountered a movie he couldn’t summarize and, like a proud godparent, say something far too nice about.

Sony Classics executive
Tom Bernard says the changes have effected ticket sales for arthouse and specialty films in Boston, Seattle and Miami.

“When audiences lose faith in a paper,” says Bernard, “they end up doing something else.”

Yes, they stop reading and subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. And they don’t want to go to the movies because 1) the theaters, no matter how new they are, reek of human funk, Cheez Wiz and microwaved popcorn (see this Sunday’s Observer: Peter Bradshaw goes off on movie “munchers”) and 2) even if the some movie sounds interesting, it’s not so interesting you can’t wait three months to see it on DVD.

I’ll leave it to David Poland to talk about whether or how much theater attendance figures are down. Surely it can’t help that big cities have fewer screens showing art and true independent films.

If your hometown has anywere to see decent movies, where do you go?

Who do you read?

I read and recommend
Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com)
Dennis Lim, the Village Voice. (I look for Jessica Winter‘s reviews there, too.

Peter Keough, The Boston Phoenix.

Matt Zoller Seitz, The Newark Star-Ledger, New York Press and his blog, The House Next Door.

Charles Taylor, The Newark Star-Ledger, the New York Observer).

Kim Morgan, Sunset Gun.

The Onion’s A.V. Club

Scott Foundas, LA Weekly.

Ty Burr, Boston Globe. I read Burr when he was at the Boston Phoenix and when he was the video critic at Entertainment Weekly and their tribute go-to guy. I didn’t discover the Globe’s Wesley Morrisuntil 2005 year, but I liked the way he tore into Crash, early and often, and wouldn’t let it go during Oscar season. If those columns are archived, read them.

Josh Rothkopf, Time Out New York and Cliff Doerksen,Time Out Chicago

The King
Joe Bob Briggs aka John Bloom of The Joe Bob ReportThe pre-eminent scholar of Drive-In movies and all the cinema you missed out on because you were too busy giving or receiving oral sex during the show. A strong influence on my critical thinking. Joe Bob allowed me to see (Predator 2 in a new way. I found the sequel lyrical, profound, a delicious clash of manners and technique.)

Killer Intellectuals

Kent Jones, Gavin Smith, Chris Chang of Film Comment
If film critics formed street gangs like the ones in The Warriors, these guys would be the Baseball Furies: the facepainted Mets fans wielding three bats tied together. Not as scary as they think they are, but they could everyone’s asses. If they ever left their neighborhood.

Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Chicago Reader

When the subject is French New Wave cinema, his are the essays to read. Other times, I have no idea what he’s saying.

Good enough to steal from

Peter Sobcynski, Hollywood Bitchslap: Known for his generous wit and a weakness for Milla Jovovich movies, he’s the most plagiarized-from writer since Oscar Wilde.

The Man Who Has Seen It All
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times
Forget the thumbs-up/thumbs-up down business and the fucktard on the TV show. Ebert’s web site has 25 years of excellent criticism – and critical re-examinations – of nearly every movie that’s been released in North American theaters.
For a never-published story, I used his site’s search function and found his average grade for movies to somewhere between two and three stars (on a four-star scale). I made a bar graph, showed it to Ebert and remarked that it looked as he’d been giving a higher average grade in recent years – Closer to three stars. He’s the first to say he’s gotten mellower — but it’s possible (he’s said this in many interviews and he said this to me) that overall, movies are more good than bad. He’s one of the lucky people who gets to see the good ones.

“My biggest regret is that we’d gone with five stars instead of four — that way the middle grade wouldn’t be a half-star.”
But, Ebert said, his first editor wanted a four-star scale and that’s what he was stuck with.

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5 Responses to “When Print Critics Get Erased”

  1. LYT says:

    Joe Bob is indeed the king, and my critical idol. However, my favorite L.A. based critic is Dave White, of Movies.com. I think he may be the hardest working, too — they make him see and review everything that comes out. Most other critics I know share asisgnments with at least one colleague.

  2. James Horacio says:

    I really enjoy Brian Orndorf of filmjerk.com and hollywoodbitchslap.com. He comes off as a regular movie-loving guy with informed, humorous opinions – one of the brave few to praise “Da Vinci” and “Break-Up.”
    Plus, he always manages to have reviews ready for the films the studios refuse to screen on Friday morning. Now that’s commitment the print world should learn!

  3. Carlos Rivera says:

    There’s an outstanding critic (Milan Paurich) in northeastern Ohio who used to write for a daily paper in Youngstown who I used to read all the time. The paper dropped him because it was cheaper to use anonymous wire service reviews (sad), but he’s now writing for an alt weekly in Cleveland, The Free Times.
    Paurich is so good I can’t understand why he didn’t get picked up by a major newspaper/magazine in one of the big US markets. You should definitely check him out.

  4. anthony says:

    hey justine,
    Because of recent decisions by Voice management that have lead to fellow commenter, LYT, showing up in the Voice, people like Jessica Winter are no longer writing reviews for the VV on a regular basis. Regrettably, you will find her name less and less.

  5. jim weidle says:

    Just finished reading Jessica Winter’s
    ‘Rough Guide to Independent Film’, and found it very tangy. Good film writing takes up the slack between that stuff up there on the big white screen…and us.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon