Thursday, 24 May 2007

An Essay on Criticism

Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.
Those half-learn'd Witlings, num'rous in our Isle,
As half-form'd Insects on the Banks of Nile:
Unfinish'd Things, one knows now what to call,
Their Generation's so equivocal:
To tell 'em, wou'd a hundred Tongues require,
Or one vain Wit's, that might a hundred tire.

An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope
Slacktivist links to a couple of articles, one, by Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times, very much against the idea of bloggers as critics and the other, by Kevin Drum in Washington Monthly, a rebuttal of the first article.

Fun reads if you like a little sneering thrown in with your opinions, and who doesn't?

For me there is a problem with every man and his blog reviewing any and every last damn thing they want —and it's one that touches slightly on elitism so I do find myself partly agreeing with Schickel— the problem is that the taste of the masses is safe and fairly predictable.

There are some great movies out there at the moment, right this second, and I don't really care what some kid from whereever thinks about Spiderman 3. What I like is positive recommendations from someone whose taste is roughly similar but, importantly, not the same as mine — like everyone else I'm also partial to the occasional excoriation of a really bad movie but let's not dwell on that. Given the size of the blogging public you are bound to find one or two bloggers that fit this criteria and that write well enough that you would read reviews of things you might not otherwise be interested in.

I regularly visit 3 movie opinion sites: Bright Lights Film Journal, which has recently had a good run of longer thoughtful pieces on Orson Welles, James Bond and Louise Brooks; Not Coming To A Theater Near You whose Screening Log is always interesting reading; and, of course, Vince Keenan who I've bigged up before.

What these sites have in common is that they've raved over a number of films that I've raved over, I've disagreed with their opinions from time to time, they have an enthusiasm for their subject that can be very compelling, they are very readable and, most importantly, I've bought or borrowed DVDs that I might not have heard of because of what they've said. I've used these site to expand my appreciation of movies out side of what I might have managed on my own. Which explains why my DVD collection starts somewhere around L'Atalante, passes through a couple of Bogart collections, a Kurosawa collecion, Nine Queens and Oldboy and ends up at Zatoichi, but also includes Galaxy Quest, Mission Impossible and the Big Lebowski.

Maybe others feel the same about Richard Schickel, I don't know, he just had to impress his editor so he's not had to deal with my fickle "unsubscribe" button. I've had other movie sites in my feeds and favourites, and I dropped them when they stopped meaning anything to me, I've looked at too many sites that think worshipping Bruce Campbell somehow makes them B-movies experts or that unironically loving trashy movies elevates those movies to art. I spent some time at Ain't It Cool News, too, but I showered thoroughly afterwards.

So, while I agree that much reviewing on the Internet is worthless, small shiny nugget in all those opinions is worth all the digging to get it. Part of reviewing should be promote the obscure gems and the difficult-but-rewarding as well as the just genuinely great and I like to think that I've found a handful of sites that have made it easy to get to the good stuff.

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