Craig Skinner posted an article the other day about film critics at craigskinner.wordpress.com, and what it means to be one, or indeed not be one. It’s a very good article, and you should go read it here. This is not meant as a rebuttal to his article, nor as a supporting statement. I think when an interesting subject gets raised, it is important to explore different aspects of it. The rise in popularity of blogging, and with it online movie writing, has brought with it much consternation amongst print journalists, and there is also now seemingly a divide opening amongst those who do their writing online, between the ‘serious journalists’ and the trashy news writers.
I am not a film critic, nor do I have any pretensions of ever being one. I have not studied film, other than watching them in my leisure time, and whilst I have written reviews for Heyuguys.co.uk, I would not necessarily expect anyone to put any stock in them. I try my best to explain why i think a film is good or bad, but I’m certainly not as eloquent as many online writers. The number of film writers, people who right about film, or whatever ‘pc’ term you prefer to use, has been on a steady increase since the internet became as common in our homes as the sandwich toaster and power shower.
Those who write about film for a living, whether it be in print or online, are rightly becoming concerned. Film writing pays their mortgages, and with the market becoming saturated, their value is diminishing. There is the argument that quality will win over quantity, and that the cream will rise to the top. If you believe this, go and speak to high-end fashion retailers. Ask them how they feel the rise of economy outlets like Matalan, Primark and even Tesco have affected their income.
As one of the low-end film writers, I won’t explore at length the question of where film writer ends and film critic starts. For every writer that tells you a 1000 word review discussing technical aspects of the production, plot structure and acting performances is film criticism there’ll be another that refutes that, and instead preaches 5000 word plus dissections exploring every aspect of the art form. I think it is probably fair to say that 90% of people who write about film online on a regular basis are well beyond the basic ‘it’s really good’ two paragraph reviews, and well short of insightful analysis of filmic techniques and story structure.
My take on the subject of online ‘film criticism’ is that it is probably going to one day reach a tipping point, that time when the number of movie blogs exceeds the volume of readers that they draw. The mainstream audience, that audience that will go and see Transformers 3 regardless of the travesty that was the 2nd installment, are already immune to reviews. The movie blogs that draw the most hits are news sites. This is because most people who read about film online are really just looking for pictures and news about the movies they have already decided they are going to see. A Harry Potter poster with a 50 word cut and paste synopsis will beat out a thoughtfully written 1000 word review for hits every time. For the most part, these readers will only read reviews of the films they are already interested in, and will take issue with a review that has a negative take on the film in question, despite the fact they have not yet seen the film themselves.
Anyone with a much deeper interest in film, that is likely to consider film reviews with any amount of regard for their merit, is probably already writing about film on their own blog. You have to question the value of articles extolling the virtues of a great film like Moon or Monsters when it is mostly the people who are writing these articles that will go and see it. The ability of any movie blog to convince readers to go and see a film they would not have otherwise is questionable at best anyway, and if everyone with more than a passing interest in the business or the art form is writing for a website anyway, who is left to read their thoughts? I can see why the more experienced film journalists are starting to sweat. I used to have a subscription to Total Film, read sites like Aintitcool.com and listened to the Slashfilm podcast. Now I have a film blog myself, I do none of these things. I know enough about any film that is released to decide if I am interested in watching it, and can tell by a glance at Rottentomatoes.com if said film is truly awful.
The movie blog world is getting bigger, and as a result the movie world is getting smaller. When 50 big movie blogs become 5000, their readership will be diluted exponentially. I know myself that the handful of people who will read this article already have their own film sites, and that the impact this article, or any that I write, will have on the film world is non-existent.
So why do I do it? Why do I spend my time writing articles that few will read, even less will value, with no chance of a paycheck at the end of it? I could claim, like others, that I do it for myself. That I just love film, and love writing about it. If, however, it was that simple, I would scribble my thoughts into a diary. I would not wrestle with WordPress with the rest, and pay out for a domain name. The truth is, I want people to read what I write. Everyone does. Unfortunately, the more people who take my attitude, the smaller our share of the readership will become. I myself am killing ‘film criticism’. So why don’t I stop?
Baz_mann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann