Critic Critiques — Has the Internet Been Good or Bad for Movie Criticism?

Posted on January 14, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Until a few years ago, the movie critics you read were determined by geography.  There were a few critics in national publications, like Pauline Kael in the New Yorker and the critics for Time and Newsweek.  If you lived in Chicago, you got to read Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but if you did not, you read the critic in your local paper.  The internet made it possible to read any critic you liked.  And it made it possible for anyone to be a critic.  I started putting my movie reviews online in 1995 and did not start getting paid for it until five years later.

This democratization of movie criticism has been both good and bad.  The worst part has been the result of overall budget-slashing at news organizations across the board.  Film critics are among the first to go.  A documentary called “For the Love of Movies” was a sad elegy to the era of the professional movie critic.

Director David Cronenberg is especially critical of aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.  He said

Even now if you go to Rotten Tomatoes, you have critics and then you have ‘Top Critics’, and what that really means is that there are legitimate critics who have actually paid their dues and worked hard and are in a legitimate website connected perhaps with a newspaper or perhaps not. Then there are all these other people who just say they’re critics and you read their writing and they can’t write, or they can write and their writing reveals that they’re quite stupid and ignorant. … Some voices have emerged that are actually quite good who never would have emerged before, so that’s the upside of that. But I think it means that it’s diluted the effective critics.

It is clear to me that the best part of this access to technology by both critics and filmgoers (and thus the dissolving of the distinction between them) has been the range of new voices.  My friend Sonny Bunch wrote for the Washington Post:

there is some use in examining the way that the movies themselves help us order our existence. The movie screen may not be a mirror for society. But it can be a roadmap for understanding and navigating it. And the non-expert may sometimes, even often, be better equipped to help us travel that path than the expert.

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