Layoffs of film critics in print is nothing to be sniffed at, but the rise of the internet critic means film criticism is set to flourish.
I’ve heard a lot about the supposed death of film criticism recently; I’ve heard of how the days of the professional critic are numbered, of how the industry is changing and of how the internet is destroying the way we think about film, discuss it and ultimately judge any given work. Some are arguing that a much-respected career, profession and indeed, way of life, is under threat of becoming anonymous, fractured and weightless, thanks to an ever-expanding community of online film critics. I’ve heard about it, but I still think it’s a load of bollocks.
As unfortunate as the removal of these critics is, we shouldn’t blow this out of proportion and start declaring that the end is nigh
There have been a number of cuts in the industry, a fact that is quite frankly inescapable. Over the past year, the likes of Chris Tookey, Anthony Quinn, Derek Malcolm and Jonathan Romney have all been cut either completely or to great effect from their respective publications. These cuts are not to be taken lightly, as critics of their calibre don’t come around often, and there are few armchair enthusiasts who could ever really fill the void. But as unfortunate as the removal of these trusted critics is, we shouldn’t blow this out of proportion and start declaring that the end is indeed nigh.
We’re all quite aware of the state of the economy, and it should come as little surprise that some papers have had to cut their highest-paid contributors. It’s not just the film critics who are being trimmed; The Independent on Sunday lost all its arts critics over summer, a loss that points to a problem far more worrying than the rise of film bloggers. And then let’s not forget that those who have lost their jobs for such reasons, aren’t heading directly into destitution – they’re still doing what they love, albeit for different publications (most of which are, ironically, web-based).
More to the point, why is the finger being pointed at the online community? If film criticism is really going to die (which it most assuredly isn’t), then it won’t be at the hands of those who have been striving for the past 20 years to popularise it. The sheer number of blogs, websites, and online communities devoted to film in all its various forms and incarnations is hard to fathom – it isn’t just proof that a lot of people enjoy cinema, it’s proof that they love it. As a direct result of this genuine passion for film, popular film criticism is booming, not because those people are trying to be the film critics, but because they want to discuss an interest of theirs.
If the web has done any damage to the professional critic, it has provided generous compensation in the form of a greater audience
Furthermore, a lot of people have managed to forge careers out of their affections for cinema. The internet’s communities offer unbridled opportunities to budding writers, not just for exposure, but also for progression. To reduce the idea of online film criticism to the mere ramblings of some ill-informed youths both underestimates the intelligence of the average cinephile and belittles their importance. The online communities are never going to replace professional critics for a multitude of reasons, the most obvious being that they have no real qualifications with which to stake their claim. Film criticism isn’t a one-way road; there are innumerable paths that are open to anyone, and they’re all clearly signposted.
If the rise of the film blogger has done any damage to the professional critic, then the internet has provided generous compensation in the form of a greater, more accessible audience. Critics like Mark Kermode and Peter Bradshaw have found a platform that has afforded them more popularity than was ever previously possible; the advent of the social media site in particular has allowed these quite ordinary men to attain a quasi-celebrity status.
So while a few Romneys and Tookeys might be out of a job, it’s important to note that their fate is by no means representative of an industry that’s arguably in its prime. There might be no escape from the instability of the financial climate in which we live, but that’s not to say that anything’s about to disappear for good. However you look at it, the fact remains that people still care about film.
So, while everyone rushes to place the expiration date on the old-school film critic, just so that they can look on smugly while gloating, “I told you so”, I’ll be doing exactly what I was doing last year: writing about film because it’s a passion of mine, and leaving the cutthroat world of professional criticism to those who have had the proper training for it.
Featured image: Paramount
Inset images: Columbia; Columbia