A lot of ink has been spilled (digital, hypothetic ink that is) about the fact that so many newspaper film critics are losing their jobs in the wake of corporate cutbacks, greater influence from bloggers and just a general feeling that movies don’t need good reviews anymore to thrive. Steve Snyder in The New York Sun did an article on the very topic recently and used a quote of mine you can read here if you like. I don’t have many thoughts on the matter, or at least so I thought, because critics certainly don’t influence me in what films I do or do not see. But for whatever reason, I was moved to write an e-mail to Richard Roeper last week and I have no explanation for it. I’ve long despised critics like Peter Travers and Pete Hammond but who doesn’t really? They are not worth complaining about even. I guess the combination of all this talk about film critics being fresh in my brain combined with a couple minutes of “At the Movies With Ebert & Roeper” I saw on TV recently fueled the fire so I acted on impulse. Below is my letter to Roeper that he has yet to respond to and it contains a lot of my feelings toward all of this.
Subject: film reviews
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2008 17:39:29 -0400
My name is Chad and much like yourself, I am a self-described lover of film. Now that Mr. Ebert has permanently retired from his show and gone back to print only reviews, I feel like there’s a huge responsibility on you as one of the nation’s most recognizable film critics. The role of the film critic has seemingly morphed somewhere along the lines, from someone who analyzes and dissects the merit of a work of art and the intentions of its artist, to someone who simply promotes the films to audiences for the studios. Newspaper reviews are 2/3 plot synopsis and 1/3 thoughts by the author. Critics seem to think their job is merely to judge whether or not an average moviegoer will enjoy a night out at any given film. That is severely hurting the world of film entertainment. A quick glance at your rottentomatoes profile reveals that you’ve endorsed over 50% of the movies in the top 20 at the box office. I can’t imagine anyone who could possibly love film and simultaneously recommend so many films. What that suggests, is that you love going to the movies. Granted, everyone has their opinion but you seem to have no perspective. Even an avid film buff can probably only list fifteen or twenty films from, say 1958, that hold up today with their impact and technique, because almost everything that’s put out then and now is just mediocre. It’s your job to find those diamonds in the rough and ensure that they’re seen. What good is a recommendation from someone who endorses “Never Back Down”? Am I really going to care when he also tries to tell me that “There Will Be Blood” is good? Nope.
I’m not sure if writing this to you accomplishes anything other than illuminating the fact that we have different ideas of how to do your job. But the fact is, you have your job and I do not and I want to respect you much more than I actually do. Start buckling down on these films and filmmakers. Don’t let “The Bucket List” get away with shameless pandering and sentimentality just because it has two good performances. It’s not enough. Don’t call “The Great Debaters” must-see viewing simply because it tackles a topic that is important. The filmmaking is bland and it is resting on the laurels of its subject matter. Tell the audience to wait until a truly great film about race comes along before you call it mandatory. Trust me, there will be one. Again, this is a beef I have with nearly all major film critics, but I chose to send it to you since you have the opportunity and the responsibility to be one of the most recognizable men in your field. If you really do love film, then you’ll use that power for good.