At the social media cooler during the holidays, a fire breaks out on Netflix Don’t look up, Adam McKay’s allegorical disaster film, despite its all-star cast, received little stellar reviews from critics. McKay took the corner kick in to dispute the call from what they see as fake elites. “It’s ours Dr. Strangelove for today!” dead director Frank Oz “An instant classic!” Oscar-winner Al Gore As it is said, director and co-writer David Sirota himself joined the discussion, decrying critics for not appreciating the art of prophecy.
The unequal three-dimensional Donnybrook – film critics on the one hand, mainstream audiences and underrated artists on the other – is a digital-age twist on a perennial Hollywood story. Neither the fans in the stands nor the players on the field, film critics received from both directions. Of course, critics have long been seen as an elite group of intellectuals. Hollywood has helpfully provided a vivid embodiment of the type in George Sanders’ acidic performance as Addison DeWitt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All about New Year’s Eve (In 1950). He couldn’t do or couldn’t teach, so he fell out of his passenger seat in the third row.
Notably, DeWitt was a Broadway critic writing for a major New York newspaper (a thinly disguised version of the drama critic George Jean Nathan, though it was Brooks Atkinson at New York Times who can, with a single rating, make or break a Broadway show). In contrast, for much of Hollywood history, film critics were not seen as high enough value targets to focus fire on. Sure, the advertising departments of the major studios ate up good reviews in books, and filmmakers reveled in print approvals, but no one was under any illusions about the power of the film. film critics in putting their ass in a chair. . “Neither the pan nor the plate have much of an impact on the average moviegoer,” Diversity observed in 1937. A decade later, little has changed. Check out reliable reviews and great returns for David O. Selznick’s lust in the dust of the West Duel in the Sun (1946) and great reviews and incredible returns for Fred Zinnemann’s modern-day travelogue Search (1948), Hollywood Reporter columnist Irving Hoffman concludes that “no reviewer is playing Svengali for Cash Client Trilby”. (In today’s headlines, replace Spider-Man: There’s no way home and Nightmare Alley.)
From the 1930s to the 1950s, the biggest influences were not film critics but gossip columnists, none more so than Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, news’s twin queens. ie general entertainment. The two have forged long-standing symbiotic relationships with studios built on mutual equality rather than impartial judgments about a film’s aesthetic merits. They stick their heads in more than they can film, but when they deliver a physical blow – usually about an off-screen sex scandal or communist involvement – it can be the kiss of death. Little wonder they made it out as clever robbers. Producer Hal Wallis once gave Hopper a mink coat so she wouldn’t get scorched September deal (1950) after Joan Fontaine sneaked on her on set.
Among motion picture exhibitors, conventional wisdom holds that moviegoers can always “smell for themselves” without a critical warning dog. All Bette Davis or Joan Crawford acolyte really wanted to know was when and where the movie was shown. If a (male) New York Times Critics don’t care Now, Voyager (“A cautious imagination,” sniffed Theodore Strauss) or Piercing gently (“Miss Crawford’s brave suffering left this audience strangely unmoved,” Thomas Pryor shrugged), she was undaunted. (Pryor is very gracious in acknowledging his gendered reaction, noting that at a screening of the film he attended “there were many women in the Strand Theater who frequently shed tears of obvious amusement. “)
It wasn’t until the post-war era that film critics began to accrue a measurable impact on the box office receipts of a niche but growing market – foreign cinema. A stream of novelties poured in from foreign actors with no competitive value and unknown directors. The waiting audience asked knowledgeable openers to be directed to the arched seats. “In key cities, it is the person who makes the tune, first and last, who calls the tune. Diversity in 1946, heralding “dictator power” almost as “dictator power” that film critics wield over subtitled cinema. An outstanding pick from the right critic – it would be Bosley Crowther at New York Times – secure a line at the ticket window, and not just in Manhattan but across the nation’s long-standing archipelago. “Rashomon is a rare piece of cinematic art,” decided Crowther in his overall review of Kurosawa’s masterpiece.
Another type of foreign importation also expands the power of the film critic exponentially. In Paris in the 1950s, a group of future critics and filmmakers writes for the film magazine Cahiers du Cinema conjure up a game-changing gambit they’ve named la politiques des auteurs. With astonishing speed, “auteur theory” crossed the Atlantic and changed the way critics and audiences viewed Hollywood cinema. As a result, collaborative creations that roll off the assembly line in Hollywood will be credited primarily with the work of one worker, the director. In 1967, the class-conscious Newcomer Tom Wolfe speculated that film critics had accepted the auteur theory “because it seemed to give them an expertise and thus a status sets them apart from literary and dramatic critics.”
Indeed, to talk about auteur theory, film critics need a background in filmmaking techniques and a solid background in the history of motion pictures. Previous generations of film critics have often stumbled upon the role, cast to the beats of sports or the copy table. New film critics are movie enthusiasts. Some even have university degrees.
Admittedly, the massive shift has resulted in a lot of contrition, but it has also nurtured the first and possibly last adulthood of American film criticism (the story is lovingly captured in the film). documentary by Gerry Peary For the Love of Movies: An American Film Critic’s Story ). Brand names from the era continue to shape moviegoer perceptions: Andrew Sarris, whose American Cinema: Directed and Directed 1929-1968, published in 1968, became the auteurist Bible; Pauline Kael, the brilliant, quick gunner at New Yorkers; and, not to be missed, TV stars Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who have opposing thumbs, first on PBS and later on aggregate, delivering binary verdicts on broadcasts run for the week between 1977 and 1991. (When they gave a serious “dislike” adaptation of Mike Nichols from Neil Simon Biloxi Blues (1988), the film’s producer Ray Stark, without access to social media, sent an angry letter calling the duo “a critical version of Laurel and Hardy.”)
Rising to the top for nearly two decades, American scientific researchers have created a huge wobble among moviegoers. They can’t make or break a movie – that’s always been the case – but they can support pet directors’ lives and turn to marginal releases. A well-aimed murder shot can also have a terrifying effect. Documentary Biography of Rob Garver What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018) offers an extraordinary example. Director David Lean – grandfather of Bridge over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, etc. – was so shaken by a knock-out word Kael at a New York Film Critics Circle meeting that he stopped making films. Repeat: David Lean stopped making movies.
In 1996, the cozy video and print-based hierarchy was dropped when a little-known fanboy named Harry Knowles launched a website called Ain’t It Cool News. Knowles pointed out that all an aspiring film critic needs to do is post a website and get traffic. You know the rest: a free matrix for all websites, blogs, YouTube channels, Substacks, and Twitter threads, outraged by film critics, untangled in a print dock, and without information accuracy. Big plus: variety of voices in conversation, voices can include, as with Don’t look up, feedback from the filmmakers themselves. The big minus: not all of the voices have a movie setting that stretches back to mid-era Tarantino.
In fact, the sheer number of movie review options now equals the number of streaming options they guide us through. In 1954, Diversity an estimated 350 film critics hit the deadlines of newspapers across the United States Today, Rotten Tomatoes counts around 3,000 newly certified film critics to give its figures, but not many in Some of them earn a weekly wage with a living wage. (Film critics hustling for free work have the right to criticize the word “elite.”)
Perhaps a meta-site that ranks individual film critics with a percentage next to a tomato or popcorn icon would provide some helpful guidance on the quality of their work. Meanwhile, I can always judge a film critic’s super-intelligent intelligence and sparkling erudition by how often they agree with me.