The Playgoer: Whither Print Criticism

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Whither Print Criticism

LA Times' Patrick Goldstein has an interesting think piece on the continual dissing of critics, particularly print critics, and particularly print film critics. Still, lessons may be applicable.

Culprit of the month, of course, is bloggers.

The media have been full of stories questioning the relevance of print critics in an Internet era that has ushered in a new democratization of opinion. The prospect of babbling blogmeisters being the new kingpins of cinema has left many critics in a sour mood. Reviewing a collection of critical essays by the long-time Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins, Time film critic Richard Schickel contrasted Giddins' work with "history-free and sensibility-deprived" bloggers who regularly "blurb the latest Hollywood effulgence."

So on the one hand we have the old guard like Schickel lumping us all together with gossip mongers and personal diarists. On the other you have the new wave militants like Jeff Jarvis, encouraging total war.
Old-school critics get little sympathy from their Internet brethren. Entertainment Weekly founder Jeff Jarvis, who writes the provocative BuzzMachine media blog, recently suggested that newspapers get rid of their critics, allowing their readers to share their opinions instead. "If I launched Entertainment Weekly today, I hope I'd have the sense not to propose starting a magazine by hiring a bunch of critics."

How about forums at least moderated by critics, Jeff?

The lack of imagination out there in envisioning a smart web-friendly criticism is disturbing.
While it's been marginalizing critics, the Internet has also leveled the playing field. On the Web, old-school credentials carry little weight. We look for a sharp, distinctive voice, not the heft of a master's degree.

Can't we encourage both? Finally, Goldstein gets around to just that.

If I were king I would firmly plant our critics in the new media world with blogs and podcasts, allowing them not only to have more of a dialogue with readers, but extend their influence by addressing timely topics.

If Variety reports, as it did Friday, that "Batman Begins" director Christopher Nolan is near a deal to remake "The Prisoner," the ultra-cool '60s TV series — I'd love to know what our critics think...

We need to get our critics up to 'Net speed. If studio marketers can spend weeks bombarding moviegoers with 30-second spots to glamorize their product, why should our reviewer almost always hold fire until opening day, long after most of the audience has formed its opinion, not to mention after most bloggers have had their say?We never let studios tell us when to run news stories or schedule feature pieces, so why defer to their preferences when it comes to running reviews? If the studios squawk, we can always review their marketing campaign, which would probably be a treat for readers and, in all too many instances, allow us to write about something far more interesting than the movie itself.

Yes, it's that simple. Give our best critics a blog. The Times apparently has a "no blogging" policy, so they don't seem to agree. However, they have started, letting AO Scott (on film) and Anthony Thommasini (on classical music) file daily dispatches while at festivals only on the online version, in between the "proper" reviews of the print edition. Funny that Ben Brantley hasn't done, say, a London blog during his trips there.

But then again, not all mainstream critics may like the idea of blogging. Too much pressure, perhaps. Filing a review every few days is much less time consuming. But, as Goldstein here suggests, that may become a luxury. To be on the front lines of criticism may mean to be out there criticising all the time. Just like all reporting in the new-media age.

(Terry Teachout, of course, remains the model of a mainstream theatre critic who has adapted--and exemplified--the new format.)

So Goldstein is definitely worth a read. Definitely some valuable take-away facts along the way that might be applicable to theatre--specifically to the vexing question of young audiences. Such as:
According to New Line marketing chief Russell Schwartz, "younger moviegoers want the immediacy of text messages or voice mail. A review from one of their peers is more important than a printed review from a third party they don't know, which is how they would describe a critic."

Hence why rave reviews in the Times still won't bail out a hip new show like "Well" or get young folk out to see The Wooster Group who never have heard of them otherwise. Outside of theatre people, reviews may just not be on the hipster radar anymore.

Also, can't resist passing on this nugget:
To add insult to injury, studios have released a record number of films this year without any press screenings — two last weekend alone, with another, New Line's "Snakes on a Plane," due Friday. Warners also has a no-screening plan for Neil LaBute's "The Wicker Man," which arrives Sept. 1.

Poor Neil. Just a few years ago John Lahr was hailing him as the greatest playwright of his generation. Now he makes schlock horror films that studio is afraid to show to Roger Ebert.

1 comment:

Larissa said...

you best not be lumping personal diarists together with gossip mongers, foo'!!!!