Daft Critics vs Perceptive Bloggers

I was flicking through The Observer yesterday afternoon and my mind went back to an arts column I read two weeks ago in the same newspaper by Rachel Cooke, entitled “Who’s to judge? Better an eminent critic than a daft blogger”.

It was a lazy opinion piece about critics not being allowed to see The Wicker Man remake and how we should be suspicious about “daft bloggers” and trust more established print critics like David Denby of the New Yorker.

She also writes about a “battle” between old and new media:

It seems to me, though, that the real battle is not between studios and critics (Hollywood is about egos, so criticism will always have its place because its big names will always long for approval), but between critics and bloggers.

Which bloggers? Are we talking about Anne Thompson at The Hollywood Reporter? Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere? David Poland at Movie City News & The Hot Blog? All are well informed and publish a lot of great news and opinion on a daily basis. Plus, unlike Rachel at The Observer, they have things like email addresses and comment sections where readers can offer feedback.

I would also wager that these bloggers (and maybe even some of her readers) know a great deal more about the film business and would resent being referred to as “daft”. They far from the faceless stereotype put forward in her column.

She pursues her theme with a phrase so dusty it could have been cut and pasted from a chatroom circa 1997:

Thanks to the internet, everyone is a critic now, every opinion as valid as the next.

Is this really the case? Surely it is up to readers and the public to decide whose opinion is valid or not. Whilst the internet still provides us with some bad and lazy opinions it has overwhelmingly been a good thing for film reviews.

We can now read critics overseas like Roger Ebert, compare different reviews at sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and (heaven forbid!) contribute our own opinions via blogs and message boards.

But wait, there is still more Rachel is upset about:

The general tone of the movie bloggers, who review with such liberated abandon, is: we have taste, too, and who are you to tell us that it is inferior to yours? Which is fair enough on one level. Some people like watching George Lucas films, and some don’t. But critics are not there to tell you what is right and wrong (though they might do along the way – alone in New York last weekend, David Denby’s potted reviews in the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town felt to me like a life raft); they do so much more than that, and it is dumb – and arrogant – of people to pretend otherwise.

Is there a “general tone” to “the movie bloggers”? To assess such a thing we would have to engage in a lengthy look at people who blog about movies, which I’m guessing would run into a lot of people. But she doesn’t name one blogger or cite one example to prove her point. To say they have a “general tone” is just a silly generalisation in itself.

Telling someone that you enjoyed something (or hated it) isn’t criticism; it’s conversation.

What is so wrong with conversation? Is she saying that print journalists or “established critics” should be immune to feedback or other opinions? This is all rather ironic as The Observer has two film critics I respect a great deal in Philip French and Mark Kermode.

Both have a deep knowledge of the world of film and manage to write intelligently about new cinema releases, issues in the world of film such as censorship and classic DVDs we should own. I value their take on films even when I don’t agree with it and I certainly don’t see them in “opposition” to opinions I read on blogs.

They are just part of my regular movie digest which can range from newspaper articles, radio shows, magazines, podcasts and “movie bloggers”. The Guardian and The Observer are two newspapers who generally have an intelligent and progressive approach to things like websites and blogs.

Some articles by Rachel do appear on The Observer Blog, like her piece on British libraries or a “shameless promotion” (their words!) of her interview with Tana Ramsay in the Observer Woman magazine.

But why not make all the articles (especially opinion pieces) incorporated into a website where people can leave opinions and debate the issue at hand instead of the rather unsatisfactory blog they have at the moment. Comment Is Free is clearly a bold step in that direction but it is separate from the main Guardian and Observer pieces.

Why not make the whole paper like that? If Rachel’s piece was posted in such an environment I’m sure she would find that all movie bloggers are not the same. She might even find that on some occasions an eminent blogger is better than a daft critic.

> Rachel Cooke’s original article
> Different movie reviews from a range of critics at Metacritic

4 replies on “Daft Critics vs Perceptive Bloggers”

Excellent piece Ambrose.

It’s ridiculous for Cooke to believe that bloggers are in any way responsible for the no-screenings decision. On top of that, I’d love to know which film blogs she looked at before penning this piece. Virtually none of the better film blogs out there would bother wasting their time writing about The Wicker Man or similar Hollywood dreck.

Cooke says, “the truth is a great critic knows a lot.” But what is her definition of a critic? My guess is — one that gets paid for their opinion. Scroll through the list of major critics on Metacritic. I’d wager that most of the bloggers I read regularly have a far greater knowledge and understanding of cinema than a Gleiberman, Lumenick or Travers.

To top it off, the fact that Cooke tosses out Lane as a prime example of a great critic is laughable. Lane is indeed a smart guy, but his pieces aren’t film criticism — they’re opportunities for him to show how clever he is. Pointing out that Godzilla “likes to snack on crunchy character actors from halfway down the cast list” is neither clever nor criticism.

Nice posting. A small thought? Who really needs the critics? I don’t mean this in a “we are the revolution, everything’s being turned upside-down” kind of way. I mean that 1) the general conversation about the arts is much more open now than it used to be (and this is a good thing, no?), and 2) what exactly are the critics adding to it? And 3) if they aren’t adding anything to the general conversation — and if they aren’t putting themselves at the service of it — then who needs ’em? Seriously. What’s the point of critics if not to enhance the general experience of the arts? I’m getting fare more enhancement these days from blogging, comparing notes, commenting, etc, than I am from following any of the critics. Up to them to make me feel like I’m missing something, no?

I agree. What is wrong with conversation? That’s the beauty of the beauty of blogs — obtaining new insights on what others think. I also agree with comment Michael posted above, blogging and commenting is much more enhancing…and who needs the critics anyway?

Great post.

I totally agree with you. Blogging is a way of communication and making friends. I am planning to have my own movie blog sites. I love to watch movies in any kinds. So, I hope its a good step in sharing my ideas and reviews.

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