Thursday, July 22, 2010
**Updated quotes to include section specific to Roger Ebert** I don't pay a lot of attention to high profile cyber wars. Generally they're kind of like the on-air feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell that raged a few years ago-- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But the sniping that has gone on between film critics Roger Ebert and Armond White is particularly compelling to blogger reviewers like myself. I don't know much about Armond White other than the fact that he is a film critic for the New York Press who tends to have contrarian views when it comes to film criticism (praising movies like "Transformers 2" while panning "Toy Story 3") and infuriating followers of the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes when he ruins the "fresh" score of movies like "District 9." I also know that he holds reviewers like Roger Ebert in low esteem, blaming him for the proliferation of blogs just like this one. ~From an interview with Slash Film We got film critics who are employed professionally by legitimate publications, and we have the world of the internet film writers. The internet has become so pervasive and overwhelming that the internet has stolen the impact and prestige and effect that traditional professional film criticism used to have. As a result of that I think that people who are now employed by the mainstream media are so intimidated by the internet that it seems, when you read mainstream published film critics, that they’ve simply given up being film critics, because they’re afraid of losing readership, because they’re afraid of losing their jobs, probably because publishers and editors simply want to get readers and appease readers, rather than inform and instruct readers. And I think that leads to a kind of anarchy where there are very few people writing about film who know what they’re talking about and who are rigorous about having standards in film. The anarchy, I think, comes from the the fact that in mainstream media and the internet, most people who are writing about films are simply writing from a fan’s perspective instead of a truly critical perspective. So what used to be termed “film critics” now is almost meaningless, because you just got a free-for-all of enthusiasms rather than criticism. I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job. And if you’ve ever seen any of his shows, and ever watched his shows on at least a two-week basis, then you surely saw how he would review, let’s say, eight movies a week and every week liked probably six of them. And that is just simply inherently dishonest. That’s what’s called being a shill. And it’s a tragic thing that that became the example of what a film critic does for too many people. Often he wasn’t practicing criticism at all. Often he would point out gaffes or mistakes in continuity. That’s not criticism. That’s really a pea-brained kind of fan gibberish. Huh. He might actually have a point here regardless of a tone that could easily be described as elitist. Ebert, for his part, gave his opinion of Armond White awhile ago saying- "It is baffling to me that a critic could praise "Transformers 2" but not "Synecdoche, NY." Or "Death Race" but not "There Will be Blood." I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll" (you can see the rest of that article HERE). Ebert also notes that White agrees with him exactly 50% of the time according to Rotten Tomatoes, which does lend validity to the "troll" label. Nonetheless, I'm compelled to admit that White has one valid point when it comes to his comments-- we, the fans, do tend to review what we like and we may not be looking at everything with a critical eye. I am not a trained reviewer-- I'm not even sure what it means when White says he has the appropriate background for film criticism. Can one get a degree as a film critic? (I'm scared to know). Does a journalistic background count for anything or must one be able to deconstruct a movie's style, influences and overall pedigree before the review can be considered valid? For my part I've always tried to be honest in my reviews. I do watch and review movies in my preferred genre, though I try to offer what I think are valid criticisms when warranted (as I did for "Inception.") I don't like to disagree with those who read and comment on my reviews, but I don't try to pander to what I hope people will want to read-- which is what White was also saying Ebert is guilty of. If I had to guess, I'd say that what White really objects to is the prevalence and popularity of blogger-reviewers. We're the voice of the fans and we speak to other fans. Who is going to be more influential in the long run, an ivory tower critic or someone who is well grounded in the genre they represent? I may not have a platform as large as White or the ability to generate controversy, but if I am taken as a whole with all the other reviewers out there who do what I do, we actually have a fairly strong voice. White clearly doesn't like that. I'm not sure what White is looking for, though I'd guess a much older system in which the fans don't get to voice their opinions. But the genie is out of the bottle. It isn't just Rotten Tomatoes, but Amazon as well. Reviews are now quite democratic and have a lot to do with word-of-mouth recommendations for or against certain movies. I hear Twitter can kill a movie these days. Obviously my bias is going to trend toward blogger reviewers, even if they fall into the fan-boy category. I think they're a wonderful tool for knowing what is worth my time and what is straight-to-video quality work. White may have the ability to throw out some erudite musings about the newest action films, but given his tendency to recommend crap like "Transformers 2," why would anyone trust his reviews anyway? Seems to me a thumbs up from White means a movie is something to be put on the "do not watch" list. But White knows how to drum up controversy and he picked the right Goliath if he was looking for attention.