Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writing/Blogging Film Criticism & Journalistic Standards

So, a little over a week ago I was invited to a small gathering at Noralil's apartment. She is a writer for ShortEnd Magazine, an online publication that hosts written and podcast reviews and interviews for independent film. She was hosting indie filmmaker and well-known blogger Sujewa Ekanayake, who was in town to interview people for his current project, a documentary film project about blogging--currently titled, "The Indie Film Bloggers: A Portrait of a Community." Noralil's podcast can be heard here. Little did I know that I would be interviewed during my visit, although I'm very glad I was because it spurred a pretty heated, yet healthy, debate between me and Gabe (yeah, I know, nothing new there--especially since neither of us have a shortage of opinions....about ANYTHING).

The taped interview went pretty well I think. Sujewa interviewed Gabe and I together and posed a lot of the same questions to the both of us. We didn't always agree but our disagreement during the interview itself was relatively mild and innocuous. The real debate happened when we left Noralil's apartment. Dan was also there and tried to serve as the even-keeled moderator, but since Gabe and I can both be hot-heads, he had a tough job ahead of him. At issue were two items: 1) Gabe argued that the loss of paid movie critics, resulting in the democratization of film criticism, harms the industry (of which I disagree) because we will lose writers, and 2) My telling Gabe that he is not a Writer (purposefully capitalized).

I'd like to work backwards here. First, while my words to Gabe may have come across as cold and sharp, much like the instruments used during castration, that was not my intention. In fact, I felt horrible the moment I said it, but I needed to push on and clarify my position. I was trying to define the term Writer, which I think I can now do (which will also help with the other argument). In my argument, a Writer is someone who sees writing as an end in itself, not to be confused with writing as a means to an end.

This leads us to the other issue: Does the loss of paid (mostly newsprint) movie critics threaten the industry with the loss of writers? Gabe argues that losing paid critics (ie: Eleanor Ringel from the AJC, Nathan Lee from the Village Voice) jeopardizes critics' authority and compromises journalistic writing standards. He feels as though these people will stop writing reviews and critiques altogether since they are no longer employed. I disagree. First of all, I defer back to my original definition of a Writer. I argue that if these writers stop writing simply because they are not getting paid, then they are not true writers. To be a Writer, one must write - paid or not. So, I believe that the true writers will still write, probably even more creatively and possibly be more brutally honest than when employed by an authoritative print source.

Where will these writers go? To their blogs....and so will their readers....and hungry advertisers will follow, providing them with an income, if they so choose to allow advertisers to purchase ad space on their blogs. Writers will rise to the top, just like cream.

Yes, I do think the proliferation of blogging as a standard form of communication and/or critique, writing standards have probably somewhat declined. We tend not to worry so much about our sentence structure or proper word usage. So, I agree that the loss of some formal film reviews will likely result in less formal journalistic writing standards, but I don't necessarily think the readers will suffer from it. I think readers, movie goers, and audiences in general tend to be somewhat self-selecting with what they read and watch. People who have been trained to read arguments will have a higher standard for writing and people who don't really care, will have lower standards. That doesn't make either group better than the other, it's just the way it is.

Does reading a NY Times critic's opinion change your mind about whether or not you want to see a movie? Is that even the goal? Do you think reading the opinion changes your point of view about the movie itself - pre/post screening? What if I were to switch out "NY Times' critic" with the "Knoxville News Sentinel critic"? Would that change things? What if one is paid and the other is not?


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