Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More Movie Critics


Jim Emerson is talking again about the split between the tastes of film critics and that of the general moviegoing audience.

Like the last time he blogged about this, I agree with his general point, even though I think that he leaves out an important question: why review movies for a general audience (in a daily paper, say, as opposed to writing for an alternative weekly or a high-end magazine) if you don't/can't/aren't interested in the kind of movies that appeal to general audiences? Look at all the negative reviews of Wild Hogs on Rotten Tomatoes: they're all beating the same drum - do they represent a good use of anyone's time (I mean, aside from the whole "getting paid for writing them" angle)?

I brought this up in a conversation with my brother and he suggested that reading these take downs can be entertaining. (I'd also add that for some readers they provide a nice "us against the unthinking masses" feeling.) All well and good, I guess, but, again, why so many of them?

There are some critics who are good at figuring out ways to make a review interesting even if the movie or their response to it isn't, usually by using the movie as an excuse to write about some "real world" issue. A good strategy, but not one every reviewer is that suited for. (I'm not a reviewer, but if I were, this is probably not the kind of reviewer I'd be. Of course, that's one of the reasons I like blogging: I don't have to write about anything that doesn't inspire me to write about it.)


Jim writes:

Never mind that the vast majority of movies are losers at the theatrical box office whether they get good reviews or not. Could it be (and I think I'd better switch to boldface here) that mainstream movies used to have a broader, longer-lived appeal -- to kids as well as adults, to the intellect as well as the emotions, to the heart as well as the gut -- than they do now

Broader, maybe. Longer-lived: probably, almost definitely. Although isn't this the case with culture in general - not just pop culture, by "high" culture, too. Don't today's big lit-fic novels, like Philip Roth's, for instance, have a narrower appeal and will likely have less staying power than, say, The Great Gatsby?

I've always been a supporter of middlebrow-ism. That is, I appreciate the attempt to create popular art that is accessible to a broad popular audience but that also has loftier aspirations than escapism. I think a lot of the best American popular art fits into this category: Charles Schulz's Peanuts, Duke Ellington's music, and ambitious Hollywwod movies like Citizen Kane and The Godfather.

But I'm not sure that there's much chance of any mass audience emerging that isn't also extremely narrow.

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