The Democratization Of Film Discussion

Recently, I sat through a University lecture where an English and Film professor dismissed blogging as a legitimate and valuable form of expression. This short statement from my professor caused an unexpected and fairly strong emotional reaction from me, as hundreds of hours of my work were being discredited. In listening to the professor, speaking from her position of traditional authority, the divide between academic and public film discussion became clear.

Academics try to push the idea that while writing essays, students should not do so in a vacuum. They are joining an ongoing discussion–something the writer must be aware of. But while this is true, the digital age has opened that discussion up to the masses and if academics are not willing to accept and participate, they will be left behind.

Before I get too much further into this discussion, I want to make it clear that I am not dismissing academia or even raising questions of quality of writing and thought. My point is that if academics ignore the online discussion, they themselves are entering a vacuum.

Blogs and podcasts have opened the discussion up to anyone with an opinion and a drive to express it. This is, of course, a good and bad thing. Strict academic guidelines are no longer in place, and peer review takes on a new meaning. As the internet is flooded with different views, those with no authority or knowledge are bound to take part alongside those who do. However, peer review takes on its full meaning as it is the community that reviews and polices itself.

Writers who promote inaccuracies with their writing, plagiarize, or who have little original to say are caught and rejected almost instantly. As a whole, the online community keeps people honest, or at least exposes those who are not. If you choose not to play by the rules, you will simply not be read. Intelligent discussion, good writing, and knowledge are all rewarded online.

Rigid academics who see themselves more like Francois Truffaut or Pauline Kael, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of the online discussion are bound to fall behind. In a sense, they fall out of touch with the current conversations and are irrelevant to them.

Say for example, a film professor decides to write a paper discussing his theory on Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and ignores the ongoing online discussion about the film. He will potentially be repeating theories already discussed, dissected, disproved, or simply that have become stale. Maybe even more importantly, if he ignores what is being discussed outside the academic world, he is depriving himself of interesting ideas and insights. It is impossible to stay relevant when an entire, ever-growing, community is ignored.

My point is not to dismiss academic writing as it is both important and has a place in film discussion as a whole. However, if writers are not willing to accept the validity of the entire discussion, whether it be online or within universities, then they will become redundant. We no longer live in the era of the Cahier Du Cinema. The discussion is no longer ruled by print journalists and academics, who claimed to hold the truth because of their position. Today’s discussion is much richer, more diverse and much more democratic. And for better or worse, when it comes to cinema, the online discussion has become the most important.

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14 Responses to The Democratization Of Film Discussion

  1. RunningSiren says:

    “Today’s discussion is much richer, more diverse and much more democratic. And for better or worse, when it comes to cinema, the online discussion has become the most important.” Right on!
    Yesterday one of my five regular film friends (we are all located in different locations in U.S. and Canada) told me about a seminar she attended headed by an obviously snobby Yale prof who proceeded to diss one of the actor’s accents in “Coriolanus” and dismissed his role in the film. I’ve seen “Coriolanus” twice and while yes there is a hodge podge of accents amoung the very distinguished and talented actors from around the world, it did not distract me from the film at all. If anything, the range of accents made the film more real to me as it’s something heard every single day in any major North American city.
    Film discussions and reviews are the property of the viewers now – and today’s viewers blog online and put thoughts on Facebook and Twitter within hours of seeing a film. And how lucky we are to be able to share our views and read others’ views from around the world – time zones are irrelevant. My friends and I will often be emailing each other via our cell phones with our immediate reactions walking out of the theatre, and then will discuss a film in more detail over say the next week as each one of us has a chance to see a particular film. In the mean time, I can go online to say IMDB and have almost as much fun reading all blogs about the film I just saw. And I can also have a lively discussion in person – like today at my workout with my trainer about a film I saw months ago in the movie theatre and which he watched only last night on DVD – he hated it, I lstill oved it. Both experiences – in person and online – are totally relevant and rewarding.

    • Jim Dirkes says:

      Allow me to echo your “right on!”
      There has never been a better time to be a film fan than today. Hell, look at the discussion that this article has spawned. Without this “illegitimate” form of criticism fans wouldn’t have a way to come together like this.
      Film discussion should belong to those who sat in theaters, not classrooms.

    • colinbruceanthes says:

      Dear RunningSiren,

      As a stage actor, I’m so thrilled to hear you engaged in the different accents in Coriolanus! Your friend’s Yale professor who dismissed the multi-accented approach to Coriolanus needs to be made aware of some theatre theory. Shakespeare’s actors came from various dialectic regions, and the received pronunciation, imposed on all British actors after Shakespeare was too dead to oppose it, has been snuffed out in practically every theatre company around the world. Today the hodgepodge of natural dialects is considered to be both more accessible to modern audiences, as well as more truthful to the roots of Shakespeare. Ralph Fiennes, who’s been a star of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre for decades, knows this as well as anyone. So feel good about yourself; you’re taste is superior to a Yale professor’s! (Hurray for on-line discussion for bringing this up!)

  2. extrasequential says:

    I’m with you right up until that very last sentence!

    There’s something to be said for the process of evaluation and editorial critique that any serious writer has to undergo to get ‘published’, whether its in print, or on a serious website with its own set of standards for its contributing writers to meet (and it would be a mistake to ignore scholarly writing of this kind just because its on the internet). On these grounds, I place far more value on the work and thoughts of those writers than I do on bloggers.

    Blogs, as quickly-written online diaries of personal opinions, lacking research and references, aren’t very useful for an academic discussion even if they’re interesting and entertaining (which they are, as well as highly useful barometers of public opinion toward film).

    That said, some self proclaimed ‘blogs’ demand of themselves a higher standard of scholarship than some professional publications, and that should be nurtured! But we shouldn’t lower the standard of ‘criticism’ just so more people feel involved.

    • I agree that we should not lower the standard of film criticism so everyone can join in. Unfortunately, the standard of criticism has already been lowered by both the internet and the subpar quality of the majority of print film review. I am not glad the internet has caused a lower standard of criticism, but that is where we are now.

    • Jim Dirkes says:

      But bear in mind, just because something is more accessible doesn’t mean that it is held to a lower standard. You can be thoughtful, intelligent, and accessible. And why shouldn’t academic discussion be shaken up every now and then? It’s the only way to keep the system fresh and alive. Remember, the great pioneers in film were the ones who did things their own way rather than just aligning themselves to preset standards.

  3. Mark Hodgson says:

    Blogs can be written and posted quickly, but they can also be slowly constructed in drafts and revised for as long as it takes. I take hours, weeks, sometimes months researching, writing and photographing items for my blog posts. My work certainly isn’t academia, but it’s as considered as some print journalism, the only difference being the medium.

  4. Michael Riddell says:

    I think it is interesting that this ivory tower mindset of academia continues among some academics, particularly seeing as one of the most significant film theorists/academics, David Bordwell, writes insightful blog posts as well as publishing books. I think there is ample room for thoroughly written academic articles on the internet, it is just unfortunate that at this point they don’t have a particularly strong voice in online discussion.

  5. Terry Frost says:

    As a podcaster who tries for research and accuracy when talking about older movies, I do find that accuracy is enforced by the audience. If you flub it, they definitely will tell you and some of the richest discussions about the films I talk about come out of that. Totally agree with your summation of this interesting new direction that discourse is taking.

  6. Pingback: Hit List: February 7, 2012 « IMDb: All the Latest

  7. Jim Dirkes says:

    I am a podcaster as well. In two years I have personally released 125 episodes, close to 200 hours of discussion, and my co-host and I are about to record our 100th episode together. It all started after I listened to a bunch of other podcasts and realized that we could do that. Why not record our running dialogue and unleash it on the world. Either people would like it and listen, or they wouldn’t. But we could get our point of view out there so that like minded people could join in our discussion. That’s the beauty of podcasts and blogging.

    My first year in film school I signed up for the first class in the film sequence, “Development of the Motion Picture.” I had no real idea what it was, but I signed up because I had to. The first class my the instructor, Professor Charles Ramirez Berg, greeted the class and said, “This is ‘Development of the Motion Picture’ or as I call it, ‘History of Movies.’” Film criticism and discussion has lived too many years in the former and not enough in the latter. Blogging and podcasting grounds the world of “film” in the world of “movies.” Yeah, we recognize the artistry and the legacy and the importance and all that, but more to the point, we recognize the fun and the personal connections that these “films” create with viewers.

    Because when you get right down to it, movies are fun, they just are. But more than that, movies transcend most of the barriers that we put up between ourselves. It’s like (this is the worst reference possible, but bear with me) the episode of Robert Evans’s cartoon “Kid Notorious,” where he bonds with the gang members over their love of “The Godfather.” People from vastly different worlds, brought together by a film that is not only technically and historically important, but also objectively bad ass.

    Academics thrive in a world of elitism. It’s no different than the concept of nobility. No matter how much money you made, you are still common born. I have written hundreds of articles and produced hundreds of hours of criticism, but I don’t have a graduate degree and don’t write for important publications, so no matter how many people read or listen to me, I am still just a commoner yelling in the street. But I realize the importance of it and acknowledge that there are two different worlds. We exist for the fan, not for the professor (that is not to say the two cannot be one and the same).

    The thing is, we are fine with that. We realize that we are glorified pirate radio. All we are beholden to is our own taste, style, and sense of humor. But more than that, this professor who dismissed what I do out of hand is just some guy with a classroom. Yeah, he has more credentials than I do, but does that mean he knows any more? Does that mean his opinion is more valid? In the end, he is not that different than me. He is just a guy with an opinion that you can take or leave. It’s like Roger Ebert declaring that video games are not and never will be art. That’s nice, thank you for your opinion, and go to bed old man.

  8. wigwam says:

    I think I’d like to be on your side ultimately, except that many of your points are a bit off, and the fundamental differentiation between Film Criticism and Film Reviewing isn’t clearly delineated enough for my taste, and gets further obscured in the rest of the comments so far.

    I was first confused by your definition of the “full meaning” of “peer review” (and “peer review” itself; are you stating that anyone posting online is the peer of a film professor or professional/published writer on film? Should other sciences/academia also offer their subject matter to the whole of the population? I get that “movies”/”film” are a popular or at least public phenomena, but so is, say, psychology in that even people who don’t see movies has a psychology, but should the study of Psychology take any random person’s thoughts on the subject and equate them with those of a focused and studied individual’s? )

    I find it funny to be damning anyone to “simply not be read” since that can happen to anyone in print or online, regardless of quality, and I’d also cite it as the reason why I disagree with your stating that “Intelligent discussion, good writing, and knowledge are all rewarded online” (how so? what are the examples? are there not wide-read examples of the opposite as well?)

    And your final point of “online discussion has become the most important” begs the question, “to whom?”

    Sorry to come off condescending but I like your instinct and think it can measure up to analysis from both sides of the debate with some more critical analysis on your part.

  9. Blogging represents feedback from that too often overlooked element for which films (and books, and plays, and music, and dance, and art, and sculpture….) are created: the audience. Of course when a new film comes out I’m curious to see what a reviewer in The New York times, for instance, has to say about it. But I’d also like to hear from Joe Six Pack, too.

    No critic can be “right” or “wrong” in evaluating a film because this evaluation is, ultimately, opinion.

    Readers with adventurous tastes wishing to read my reviews of horror films can check out my reviews of such classics as BAY OF BLOOD, BREEDERS and THE KILLER EYE on the Stomp Tokyo website under The Bad Movie Report. Also, I wrote numerous short reviews for a British website called The Film Asylum which is, alas, defunct.

    Am I as “qualified” as Vincent Canby or Pauline Kael? Interesting question. I do have an undergraduate degree in English and Drama, and graduate hours in Film from University of Houston. More importantly, I love films as much at 65 as I did at 25, or in junior high school. The last two I saw were MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL and THE ARTIST, and I was completely blown away by both of them, for completely different reasons and in completely different ways.

    In evaluating any film- and I’ve never tackled reviewing mainstream work because so many other people already do so- the reviewer’s work (I deplore the term “critic”) is to determine what the film’s maker is trying to do and how well s/he accomplishes this task.

    The key paragraph in the article, IMHO, was this:
    Say for example, a film professor decides to write a paper discussing his theory on Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and ignores the ongoing online discussion about the film. He will potentially be repeating theories already discussed, dissected, disproved, or simply that have become stale. Maybe even more importantly, if he ignores what is being discussed outside the academic world, he is depriving himself of interesting ideas and insights. It is impossible to stay relevant when an entire, ever-growing, community is ignored.

    Do Shakespearean scholars seriously think that the audience at The Globe Theater was made up of visiting academics from Oxford? No, indeed. The greatest dramatist of all time wrote for the working man. The theater of Shakespeare’s day was hardly a sterile vacuum. The Bard’s reputation was built on support from what academics would call peasants or the underclass.

    It’s wonderful that the technology of this century allows a lively, ongoing discussion in which many voices can be heard.

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