|I’ve been reading (and re-reading) Kevin Lee’s coverage of the workshop on the responsibility of film criticism (featuring Adrian Martin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and (in absentia) Nicole Brenez) that was held at NYU last week, and I can’t help but walk away with a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. I met up with round-table moderator Girish Shambu early last Sunday morning, and he assured me that my charges of elitism were unfounded. (I should mention that I’ve been friends with Girish for about three years, and as everyone who visits his site well knows, he’s one of the most generous and open-minded thinkers in the film blogosphere.) His presence on the panel should have quelled my concerns, yet there are things that still left me with a sense of unease.|
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that, in his opening statements, Adrian Martin speaks of "the value of diversity within film criticism" at a workshop that (if I'm not mistaken) was closed to the general public. If, as he says, "the only thing a critic needs to write is to write bravely", and that there needs to be a stronger bridge between academic and journalistic writing, wouldn't it have been beneficial and/or productive to have representatives from the other side of the fence, whether paid journalists or mere bloggers? Yet when Girish raised the issue of the blogoshpere's role in offering unique forms of criticism not found in traditional formats (which it most certainly does), the response from both Rosenbaum and Martin was the same old chestnut we've heard time and again.
Rosenbaum's "people on the blogosphere seem to write before they think" and Martin's shock at learning of an anti-Martin website (which he describes as the collapsing of a cultural hierarchy) are the kind of knee-jerk, reductive arguments that make some bloggers (read: me) roll their eyes. Sure, there's plenty of crap criticism to be found on film blogs, but is there not just as much hogwash published in academic circles? I can't help but feel this workshop was something of a missed opportunity – a chance for two (three, had Brenez been able to make it) of the most brilliant, important critics working today to engage in dialog with the new generation of critics (some of whom are read by a shockingly high number) on the subject of responsibility – something that is in dire need of addressing in the online community. The individual presentations, while certainly interesting, rarely touched on methods of bridging the gulf between these disparate groups. (I'll openly admit that I do not understand what Nicole Brenez's paper (read by Martin) has to do with film criticism.)
While the mainstream media continues to downsize its roster of film critics, film blogs are increasing at an exponential rate. What impact, positive or negative, is this having on film criticism as a whole? This is what I had hoped would be explored in the workshop. In his presentation, Adrian Martin speaks of "a certain strain of film criticism that assumes a condescending, pugilistic stance towards films, which he finds counterproductive." If, as Kevin points out in a comment, he's referring to the snark-infused style that has become de rigueur, then he's absolutely right. Yet just as irritating (and counterproductive) are those who write intellectually rigid but otherwise soulless prose in the name of film criticism. And what of the alarming rise of the new contrarians – the young bucks who court controversy with manufactured opinions just to find and maintain readership? All of these groups are equally self-congratulatory and narcissistic, and I'd be curious to know what Martin and Rosenbaum make of these developments.
Apropos to this discussion, I came across the following quotes about film criticism in a book I picked up in Berlin last month: Jean-Luc Godard, The Future(s) of Film: Three Interviews 2000|01.