By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
That great inrush of air you hear is the collective online film community sighing in despair as, yet again, Harry Knowles is assumed to represent us and what we do. I sympathize with John Powers — I really do. Film criticism is suffering a crisis of major proportions, and the news of Henry Sheehan’s ouster is distressing. Powers’ point that few serious critics can make a living at the job is especially well taken, because there are many of us on the Internet who take the job seriously and make little or no money at it. We are not all "self-promoting fanboys," which is perhaps why no one seems to take much notice of us. But there are a goodly handful of us who don’t get flown to movie sets to hobnob with stars and directors, who use exclamation points judiciously, who don’t break review embargoes, don’t post rumors or gossip, and don’t review test screenings. We have a decent understanding of film history, and we don’t have editors and advertisers pressuring us to be nice to the industry. We are independent and fearlessly opinionated.
There may not be many of us online, but we’re not that hard to find: A quick look through critics quoted at Rotten Tomatoes would reveal some wonderful, professional critics on the Internet: Jeremiah Kipp, Jill Cozzi, Bryant Frazer, to name a few. I hope that my own work may be Considered AS professional as it is possible to be without me actually being paid for the work.
We’re here. We’re not as sexy a story as that of Harry Knowles’ latest ravings, but please don’t assume that Knowles is the future of film "criticism." He isn’t. Some of us will carry the torch until the art is appreciated once again.
Once again, a column bemoaning the death of conventional film criticism trots out the odious Harry Knowles as the one and only symbol of where film criticism is headed. Powers is correct in lamenting the rise of syndicated critics in print media, as if fewer opinions about anything were a good thing. In an era in which CNN’s Walter Jacobson meets with Republican leaders to find out how the crown jewel of televised news can better cannibalize the audience of the yapping Fox News, though, I suppose it’s inevitable. Still, I’d like to reassure John Powers, and your readers, that serious film criticism for its own sake is alive and well, though you may not find it in the usual places.
As conventional print opportunities fall by the wayside, critics who write about film have taken to the Web, and they aren’t all fanboys like Harry Knowles. Indeed, the most fiercely independent voices have found a home on the Web, because we aren’t invited to press junkets, we often don’t go to special screenings, we are often completely ignored by the studios. Many of us sit in movie theatres with the rest of the hoi polloi, to achieve the full filmgoing experience.
Yes, there are terrible writers on the Web; witness some of the work that appears in Ain’t It Cool News. But I would put some of the best Web film critics up against their print and broadcast counterparts, many of whom are merely converted writers from other departments, any day of the week. MaryAnn Johanson of The Flick Filosopher (http://www.flickfilosopher.com) has been cited by Variety and Time as one of the best critics on the Web. Stephen Himes of Film Snobs (http://www.filmsnobs.com) is not just a knowledgeable, insightful film critic, but one of the best overall essayists I’ve read anywhere. Australia’s Mark Freeman of Critical Eye (http://home.vicnet.net.au/~freeman/welcome.htm) has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history that I would put up against that of any print critic.
These are not lone voices. Web-based communities to bring online critics together with the public have been successful at a time when conventional media sites, such as Mr. Showbiz, are closing their doors. Cinemarati: The Web Alliance for Film Commentary, was founded in January 2001 for just this purpose — to bring together Web critics with film lovers in a true community. In our first year we received over a million visitors. It’s clear that there is a demand for insightful film writing, even if mainstream media don’t see it. Don’t let the ubiquity of Harry Knowles fool you that superficial, "gee-whiz-wow" fanboy geeking is the future of film criticism. We are out there, you just need to look further.
Jill CozziWestwood, New Jersey
I applaud Judith Lewis’ article “Dealing With Druggies” [March 29–April 4]. Random drug tests are unconstitutional and demeaning. In my experience, treating a child like a criminal is a sure-fire way to ensure that he or she grows up to become one. Instead, let’s try treating children with frankness, honesty and respect.
—Adam Wiggins Pasadena
“‘It’s astonishing to see how what should be sound legal reasoning has been distorted by drug-war rhetoric,’ says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.” Mr. Nadelmann is being myopic. Surely the distortion in the legal reasoning of the Supreme Court goes much deeper than the drug war.