For the most part, all the film criticism I read is online. Occasionally, over morning coffee, I will sit and read a print review. Recently, after reading a review of Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void, I became very frustrated with what I was reading, not because the review was particularly badly written but because it was not a review. The critic in question spent the majority of the review summarizing the film, going so far as to discuss the final shot. It was a pointed reminder of why I stopped reading print reviews quite some time ago.
While the person who wrote the review is considered a film critic, can one truly be a critic if their sole job is to summarize a film and provide a slight negative or positive take, almost as an afterthought.
This is not uncommon; in fact, it is rare to find a print review that is a true critique of a film. One should not expect all print reviews to be in-depth analysis but as reviews have become summaries and the only marker of quality is the number or star rating, the death of film criticism is on the horizon.
The beginning of the decline of film criticism is hard to pinpoint as it seems to have many points of departure. For some, the internet is the reason why film criticism is not what it used to be. Certainly, if you ask famous contrarian critic Armond White, he would agree. However, I do not see the internet and blogging as the real enemy. The decline in criticism started much earlier, as reviewers began to use stars, numbers and thumbs up or down to give their final word on a film.
Of course, this is the norm now, but as I see it, the number rating is the root of all evil in terms of film criticism. It reduces criticism and analysis to such a degree that the rating is completely meaningless.
A critic may dislike an accomplished but difficult film, but enjoy a mediocre comedy. If you were to follow the number ratings, it is fair to say that nine times out of ten, the mediocre comedy will be rated higher. While I have immense respect for Roger Ebert, and do not put all the blame on him, his famous thumbs up review system is completely flawed.
Film, no matter the quality, deserves and requires discussion far more advanced and generous than a simple one out of ten rating. This approach to film criticism does a disservice to both the film and the reader, as those reading it do not get a real sense of the quality of the film. If someone is looking for a quick take on a film, these number ratings may be the easiest way. However, it is killing film criticism. Unfortunately, with the popularity of websites like Rotten Tomatoes, a change is not looking likely.
I do not mean to dismiss all print reviews, as there are dozens of great writers still working in print. That being said, in general, there is a noticeable decline in the quality of film criticism in print newspapers. The lack of real criticism in film reviews is not necessarily the fault of the critic, but rather a result of what most people want. If people are just looking for a quick rating out of ten, then the reviews that accompany that number aren’t going to be in depth looks at the film.
Real film criticism can be an art of its own, as in depth dissection of film can result in beautifully written and thoughtful pieces. The death of film criticism may already be upon us. That does not mean we shouldn’t strive to change this horrid trend of summary disguising itself as criticism, and return to the days of beautiful and meaningful film critiques.