It’s April, and a little early to cast about for annual trends, but if last year was the year of the Box Office Slump, this year is well on its way to being the year in which the Critics Were Cast Out. 11 films so far, including two this past weekend, "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz," and it’s beginning to seem like what used to be the kiss (off) of death â€” not daring or bothering to offer advance screenings of a film for critics â€” apparently doesn’t matter much to anyone anymore, as few of the film in question are having much trouble finding decent box office biz, at least for the opening weekend. It’s like when you’re just out of college and being part of a threesome seemed all wacky and hip, but gradually you realize that you have less and less in common with Audience these days (and to be honest, you never got Studios to begin with) and then Audience and Studios are spending an awful lot of time together, and suddenly they’re talking about getting a one-bedroom together, just the two of them, and Audience hugs you and says "no hard feelings, we’ll totally all still hang out, right?" and wonders if maybe you should start dressing more your age.
And where is this metaphor going again? Ah, yes, to the Orlando Sentinel‘s Roger Moore, who, at his blog Frankly My Dear…, details how he was accidentally not uninvited to an advance screening of "The Benchwarmers," and who wrote a nasty review that was also the only one out there; it was carried by Knight-Ridder papers across the country. At which point Sony starts with the outcry:
And with the calls from Sony, come the lies. The review is "bogus," they tell one editor. "Unauthorized." That I "disguised" myself to get in (a roped-off row for "press" is not exactly incognito) to another. That KRT subscribing papers have to "pay" extra to run the review.
Incidentally, in his late review of "Phat Girlz" at the Boston Globe, Wesley Morris writes that:
When movie studios refuse to show films to the press before opening day, it usually means they stink. In the case of ”Phat Girlz," which wasn’t screened for critics, I’m convinced it’s because the studio didn’t see the movie.
This is a disarming and, in its own way, delightful vehicle for its star and executive producer, the comedian and actress Mo’Nique. Who could hate this movie?
Who knows? This could spawn a near-future era of antagonistic, espionage-based reviewing, in which critics sport fake mustaches and trench coats and creep into screenings of "Big Stan," only to be bounced back out onto the sidewalk in a tumble of tweed and brittle bones by sharp-eyed, ‘roided-out publicists: "Damn you, Sarris, we said WE’RE NOT SCREENING FOR CRITICS!"
In the LA Times, Mark Olsen interviews Phillip Lopate, who recently edited "American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now":
The question we’re sort of dancing around is this: Does film criticism matter?
If you’re a writer, as I am, you may feel it’s great to have this interesting, distinguished prose being generated. As a reader, I try to situate film criticism as a part of American letters.
I want to dodge your question by giving two answers. If film criticism no longer matters as much, I hope this anthology will be seen as a valuable tribute to what once mattered terrifically. If film criticism continues to matter, let it spur on future film critics.
Lopate will be at REDCAT in LA on Thursday, on a panel with Manohla Dargis, Richard Schickel and Kenneth Turan.
At RogerEbert.com, Lisa Nesselson of Variety responds to friend’s request for pithy advice for the would-be critic in a way that’s frank, funny but far from pithy.
In closing, I’d say the privilege of being a critic really kicks in when I get to write "the Variety review" of an important film and I feel like I really, truly, am the "right" person for the job. I’m enormously proud of my reviews of "Bowling for Columbine" and "Irreversible" (both written on tight deadlines in the pressure cooker of Cannes) and I’ve been told that my review of "Memento" has helped other people understand the film.
But I have colleagues who just crank out copy, figure one word is as good as another and everything they write will be glanced at at best and then discarded, so why knock yourself out? Variety always wants to know what’s "hot" (a word I would retire, if I had the power…). But why would anybody who aspires to make movies or act in them for the long haul ever want to be "hot?"
Film criticism, at least in English, seems often in the position of
apologizing for its own existence, pretending to be something else, or
wishing it were something else. Undercurrent wants to be a place where
film criticism can dispense with alibis.
Honestly, while what we’ve looked over so far on the site is admirable, we don’t think this particular form of dense, academic-influenced criticism has ever been in danger â€” the small but impassioned crowd that would read a near shot-by-shot analysis of "The Wayward Cloud" isn’t going anywhere. It’s the great, more personal and more populist writing in papers that you come back to, week to week, that we do worry about.
+ The movie Sony re-HEALLY doesn’t want critics to see (Orlando Sentinel)
+ In ‘Phat Girlz,’ empowerment is entertaining (Boston Globe)
+ Sort of a critics’ revue (LA Times)
+ Advice to a Would-Be Film Critic (RogerEbert.com)
+ #1 4.2006 (Undercurrent)