You know, in Europe, they value film critics so much that they just passed a law over there making it illegal to advertise movies with misleading blurbs that quote critics out of context. Meanwhile, over here, as this American Journalism Review article notes, newspapers are laying off critics as fast as they can. It doesn’t help that industry figures, like the freakin’ editor-in-chief of Variety (who employs more than a few critics himself) argues that critics are unnecessary most of the time (except at awards season) because moviegoers will go see well-marketed blockbuster fare no matter what the reviews say.
I understand the economic argument — why pay a local staffer to review movies that open simultaneously across the country when you can use a freelancer or syndicated reviews? But I think local film scenes will suffer without hometown champions. In Boston, for instance (where * disclosure alert * I am a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics), the BSFC scribes help program screenings at local repertory houses, give lectures, and tout local filmmaking talent. Also, I think papers will suffer if they can’t offer someone who’s responsive to area readers; it’s a lot easier to get some feedback from an e-mail of praise or complaint to a local critic than a nationally syndicated one. Finally, I reject the short-sighted expert quoted in the AJR article who says he gets all the review info he needs by reading the average scores at Metacritic — ignoring the fact that there’ll be no sample of reviews for Metacritic to average if all the local reviewers get downsized.
Sure, I’m arguing out of self-interest, but I think the overall conversation about film is enhanced by having more voices, not fewer. I also think local critics are your last line of defense against the Hollywood marketing machine (like The Critic’s Jay Sherman, pictured, someone has to be willing to say, “It stinks!”), and that newspapers will be doing you a disservice by taking that line of defense away and leaving you to depend on solitary, homogenized opinions by reviewers who don’t have a stake in your community. Tell me, PopWatchers, do you depend on your local movie critics, or will you not miss them when they’re sent packing?