Tag Archives: Movies

Journalism reality check II: The death and rebirth of criticism

Over at American Scene, Peter Suderman offers a good response to Patrick Goldstein’s LA Times lament about the loss of entertainment critics in print media. Suderman writes:

For the vast majority of people, a Friday night at the movies is just that — and nothing more. Most people really don’t care about and have no use for lengthy dissertations about the ways in which Steven Soderbergh borrows from Godard. They just want to know whether to see Ocean’s 12! Playing blame the audience doesn’t work for music studios trying to combat piracy, and it doesn’t work for cranky critics who remain convinced they deserve $2 a word for 1) their insights into obscure movies few people want to see or 2) their complaints about Big Dumb Movies that everyone’s going to see anyway.

I would add that a majority of criticism doesn’t even rise to this level of sophistication/pretension. When I led a session on criticism at the Poynter Institute’s High School Writers Workshop, I presented the difference between good and bad criticism as the difference between a term paper (an original thesis supported by examples from the text) and a book report (basic plot summary with maybe a cursory judgment). Many print reviews still tend toward the book report end of the criticism spectrum. (Plus more papers are experimenting with things like American Idol live-blogs and other “insta-criticism” that runs more toward summary/quick response but is totally appropriate for the subjects and form.)

Suderman makes an even more important point about the lack of perspective from those in the newspaper industry who mourn the loss of print critics. He writes:

Trenchant criticism hasn’t died; it’s just shifted venues. …

Meanwhile, I simply refuse to buy the argument that the loss of book pages and film-review jobs is a bad thing. Yes, it’s a bad thing for professional critics. Yes, it’s tougher for those lucky few thousand folks to make a living reading books and watching movies! On the other hand, the internet has actually created vastly more opportunity for aspiring critics to get their work read. The barriers to entry in top-end publications are still high, but those outlets are no longer the only options for critics on the make. So we’ll see fewer professional critics, sure, but we’ll also see far, far more criticism.

And yes, some of it will be bad. But on the whole, I’d guess that it will create a net gain in serious, thought-provoking criticism of just about every medium. Meanwhile, most of those truly elite outlets — the New Yorkers and the Washington Posts — are not going away.

Terrific points all. Jody Rosen is the best music critic in the country; he writes for Slate, not a newspaper. Newspapers that have a Jody Rosen should build an online brand and community around that critic and hope the critic doesn’t leave. If they don’t have a Jody Rosen, if their critics file one book-report review after another — and if newspapers increasingly need to think about what they can offer readers that no one else can — then they should treat every kind of critic as a luxury except for (maybe) local-music and (definitely) restaurant critics.

But there’s one crucial piece missing from Suderman’s analysis. Yes, there’s plenty of great criticism online. Yes, there’s going to be a net increase in great criticism thanks to that online crit-boom. But like so much of the online news-commentary-criticism boom, it is invisible to newspaper readers.

Suderman assumes that getting rid of critics won’t matter because newspaper readers will find the good stuff online. That would be true if you assume everyone has an RSS feed and reads Slate, Pitchfork, and House Next Door. Needless to say, not everyone does. If they did, that would further erode newspapers’ declining readership.

So if newspapers do get rid of in-house critics, they need to simultaneously start giving readers some of the material Suderman talks about. That goes for more than just criticism. Newspapers can no longer treat the online universe as invisible. They have to find a way to bring that great content to their readers, both via the Web and in print.

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Remasters gone wild

I’m a bit of a sucker for remastered music. I’ve rejoined the BMG music club three times for the remastered Paul Simon and Bob Dylan libraries alone. I’ve bought The Who’s Live at Leeds twice (expanded CD reissue and Deluxe Edition 2-CD set); The Clash’s London Calling twice (pre-remaster CD and 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition 2-CD/1-DVD set); and The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet twice (original CD and remastered CD/SACD hybrid), among others — though I’ve largely resisted the shameless re-rerepackaging of Elvis Costello’s albums. (Out of all my cremastered CDs, the only ones I can truly tell are an upgrade are The Band’s first two albums.)

I’ve also avoided the even more shameless repackaging of movies for various DVD reissues. So while I understand the intended audience of the Criterion Collection’s two-disc reissue of The Ice Storm (i.e. suckers like me), I couldn’t help but laugh when I read this in the Washington Post’s review:

Thanks to the Criterion Collection, releasing “The Ice Storm” today in a two-disc set ($39.95), the movie has a shot at rediscovery. The restored digital transfer, accompanied by audio commentary from Lee and screenwriter/producer James Schamus, allows viewers to see every detail in all its exquisite, retro glory. (emphasis added)

Keep in mind that The Ice Storm came out in 1997. I love the implication that the original print was found peeling and crumbling in some dank movie studio vault, and had to be restored to its full glory … 11 years after it originally came out.

And now that Sony has won the high-def DVD war, I guess we should brace ourselves for the coming Blu-ray remasters. Imagine the ad copy for the 2010 Transformers Blu-ray Legacy Edition: “You’ve never seen imaginary giant talking robot trucks like this before! Watch Shia LaBeouf talk to a car in this high-definition, luminously restored digital transfer that rescues a modern classic from the blurry, fading, what-were-they-thinking 2007 original digital file!”

R2-D2 and the siny guy

I’m probably a little late to this party, but this is just too cute.

She’s right: The siny guy always worries, that pansy!

Diablo Cody wins for Lamest Punk Oscar Statement

Few things are more annoying than celebrities-slash-“artists” taking meaningless faux-stands against the celebrity and public relations machines that drive American pop culture. My all-time favorite example is Kurt Cobain wearing a “Corporate magazines still suck” T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone. Because, you know, that’s so much more punk than simply turning down requests for an interview and not appearing on the cover of the country’s biggest music magazine. He took a stand, maaaan.

Anyway, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody joined these esteemed ranks when she totally refused to wear designer Stuart Weitzman’s diamond-studded shoes on the Oscars red carpet Sunday. See, she found out they cost like a million dollars — and there are people starving in Haiti, maaaan. I totally believe her when she writes things like this on her MySpace blog:

I must have somehow missed the part where my shoes cost a MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS and my “choice” of footwear would be publicized nationwide. I honestly thought they were just sparkly shoes. Mr. Weitzman did mention that the diamonds were real when I tried them on, but I’m not Nancy Rockman, Expert Gemologist. I didn’t, you know, bust out my miniature spyglass and assess the potential worth of my kicks.

She just thought that they were sparkly shoes, people! How could she possibly have known that Weitzman makes a special pair of shoes for one rising star every year?! Doesn’t every actress wear zirconia-encrusted shoes on the red carpet? It’s not like Weitzman told her how expensive the shoes were, right? Oh, he did? Okay, well at least she wouldn’t participate in any other over-extravagant red carpet traditions, right? Uh — wearing a Dior dress doesn’t count, does it? Surely those sparkly things at the neckline were just zirconia! And anyway, why would she have agreed to wear the shoes when she’s doing everything possible to stay out of the public eye? According to her blog,

I would never consent to a lame publicity stunt at a time when I already want to hide.

Really, folks, just leave her alone! She doesn’t want to talk anymore about how she was just a li’l stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter before Juno, or about her book, or her Entertainment Weekly column. She’s way too real and punk for any of that kind of self-promotion.

Just leave her alone and let her wear her Dior and act like she’s Avril Lavigne’s punker/realer big sister in peace. And then read her blog about it.