Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Everyone's A Critic

Patrick Goldstein's article in today's LA Times about the diminished cultural currency of movie critics, and arts critics in general, is sad but true. However, I will not cry over my copy of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, nor will I blow my nose on Negative Space However much we want to believe that there was a golden era when critics called the shots and dictated the fortunes of films, the marginal influence of film critics has been ever thus. There has always been, and is now, an engaged cadre of the moviegoing audience that likes to think critically about film, that reads reviews and essays and argues them. These are the same fans that reconsidered Band of Outsiders after they read something Pauline Kael wrote, or started to pay attention to old John Ford films after Peter Bogdonovich championed him in the pages of Esquire.

The received wisdom now is that a few keystrokes on a Blackberry from one 14-year-old to another bears more critical weight than any A.O. Scott rave, and it's true, but word of mouth has always been the single most potent marketing driver for decades. The film audience for whom serious film critics write are conversely more inclined to take a flyer on a film based on a review or an essay they've read. And let's not forget about critical mass in the literal sense - when 100 newspaper critics told us that "Sideways" was a great film, it sent us to the theatres in droves - we only had to glance at that newspaper ad with countless blurby superlatives to know that it was something worth investigating.

So it's a matrix of factors that determines what filmgoers see or avoid. According to Goldstein's article, only 3 percent of film goers aged 18 to 24 said that movie reviews were the most important factor in determining what they might see. That's supposed to be a depressing stat, but 3 percent is a lot!

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