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Relied upon by some moviegoers and reviled by others, film critics for over 100 years have represented a form of journalism that sought to find and judge film as an art in a way others might want to heed. This film presents a comprehensive history of this form of writing as it developed with the film medium itself. With historical profiles on major contributors like Pauline Kael along with interview with contemporary figures like Roger Ebert, the nature of the profession is explored both for its illustrious past and its uncertain future. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I don't know why so many people have been critical of this production. If Gerald Peary hasn't put together a masterpiece, he's at least delivered a documentary history of film criticism, full of talking heads and clips from the films themselves, that is both entertaining and informative.
The two most engaging points, I thought, were the feud between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. I won't get into the substance of the conflict. Kael was a splendid writer who knew how to structure an essay, but, as a personality, she comes in second -- bitchy and manipulative -- while Sarris seems generous and forgiving.
The other observation was that print criticism by professionals is fast disappearing, along with the media that were their conduits to the public. Experienced reviewers cost money. It's easier to replace them with red hots who will work for coolie wages. Furthermore, nobody reads newspapers or magazines anymore. Everyone is on the internet. (Even Gerald Peary.) If you want to write a movie review, you can do so, even if you can't spell your own name. I expect this reflects a general degradation of our arts.
I'll give an example of what I mean by that last Olympian generalization. In, I think, 1968, Stanley Kauffmann was teaching film studies at Columbia. He had just shown Otto Preminger's "Joan of Arc" and asked for responses. Man, did he get them, and they were sophisticated too, comparing Preminger to Carl Dreyer's silent "The Passion of Joan of Arc," commenting on the evolving historical and regional images of Joan of Arc, drawing from Shakespeare, who portrayed her as a villain, and so forth. Kauffmann was inspired to write an essay, "The Film Generation", predicting that in another twenty or so years everyone would be as familiar with historical films as they were with classic novels. Twenty years later he wrote another essay, correcting himself. Students were dumber than ever. Not only couldn't they compare Dreyer to Preminger, they had to stretch for Joan of Arc. (My students were unable to identify my peerless impression of Jimmy Cagney.)
Peary doesn't blame the internet entirely, and neither would I, but a general deterioration of our intellectual curiosity -- our willingness to face any kind of challenging material -- just seems so obvious. We elect governors because they've been stars of mindless movies and presidents because we'd like to have a beer with them. "Belles lettres? Think I'll pass on that. I'll have another chili dog, and a Bud for my main man here." And I suppose it's becoming excessive to ask that an indefinite article and a common noun be separate words -- "a lot" rather than "alot." And that "losing" shouldn't be spelled "loosing." On top of all that, today's youngsters are promiscuous, by cracky. Well, don't get me started. I get all excited, my pince-nez falls off.
Among the ranks of talking heads, I sort of missed John Simon. Of course he's retired now but there ought to be footage of him around somewhere and he was by far the most savage of critics from the 70s and 80s. Who else, of the Maysles brother's "Gimme Shelter," featuring the Rolling Stones, could write: "Here we are, hungry for bread and the director gives us stones"? At any rate, I enjoyed this documentary and would recommend it to just about anyone with an interest in movies -- and to anyone under the age of 30, with or without that interest, because it will all be news to them.
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