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Thursday, April 24, 2008

This backlash follows a perfect storm of anti-intellectual prejudice: Movies are considered fun that needn’t be taken seriously. Movies contain ideas better left unexamined. Movies generate capital in all directions. The latter ethic was overwhelmingly embraced by media outlets during the Reagan era, exemplified by the sly shift from reporting on movies to featuring inside-industry coverage....

This disrespect for thinking—where film criticism blurred with celebrity gossip—has resulted in today’s cultural calamity. Buyouts and dismissals are, of course, unfortunate personal setbacks; but the crisis of contemporary film criticism is that critics don’t discuss movies in ways that matter. Reviewers no longer bother connecting movies to political or moral ideas (that’s was what made James Agee’s review of The Human Comedy and Bosley Crowther’s review of Rocco and His Brothers memorable). Nowadays, reviewers almost never draw continuity between new films and movie history—except to get it wrong, as in the idiotic reviews that belittled Neil Jordan’s sensitive, imaginative The Brave One (a movie that brilliantly contrasts vengeful guilt to 9/11 aftershock) as merely a rip-off of the 1970s exploitation feature Death Wish.

If the current indifference to critical thought is a tragedy, it’s not just for the journalism profession betraying its promise of news and ideas but also for those bloggers. The love of movies that inspires their gigabytes of hyperbole has been traduced to nonsense language and non-thinking. It breeds a new pinhead version of fan-clubism.
"What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Movies": Armond White argues that film reviewing in America has gone completely off the rails.
What we don’t talk about when we talk about movies these days reveals that we have not moved past the crippling social tendency that 1990s sociologists called Denial. The most powerful, politically and morally engaged recent films (The Darjeeling Limited, Private Fears in Public Places, World Trade Center, The Promise, Shortbus, Ask the Dust, Akeelah and the Bee, Bobby, Running Scared, Munich, War of the Worlds, Vera Drake) were all ignored by journalists whose jobs are to bring the (cultural) news to the public. Instead, only movies that are mendacious, pseudo-serious, sometimes immoral or socially retrograde and irresponsible (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Army of Shadows, United 93, Marie Antoinette, Zodiac, Last Days, There Will Be Blood, American Gangster, Gone Baby Gone, Letters From Iwo Jima, A History of Violence, Tarnation, Elephant) have received critics’ imprimatur.

That there isn’t a popular hit among any of these films proves how critics have failed to rouse the moviegoing public in any direction.
There's a little too much of Matthew Arnold here for me, and anyway I think he's misread There Will be Blood (actually very good) and World Trade Center (actually pretty pernicious) at least—but I can't disagree too vehemently with anyone who gets this out there:
Critics say nothing about movies that open up complex meaning or richer enjoyment. That’s why they disdained the beauty of The Darjeeling Limited: Wes Anderson’s confrontation with selfishness, hurt and love were too powerful, too humbling. It’s no wonder that the audience for movies shrinks into home-viewership; they also shrink away from movies as a great popular art form.