Typing your name into Yahoo or Google or Bing or whatever the kids use to search the InterWebs these days isn’t simply a vainglorious way to waste time at work. It’s also a helpful tool to measure your worth in today’s post-Twitter world. Plus, it’s a good way to keep track of any crazy stalkers who are blogging about you and your sleep habits.
A recent trip around cyberspace courtesy of my name landed me at Movie City News and an article titled “The Last 120 Film Critics in America” (http://bit.ly/uEYRV). It was, as the title suggested, a table listing the last remaining full-time film critics in the United States. There was my name, wedged between Andrew O’Hehir from Salon.com and Milan Paurich at Cleveland Scene. Now, I’ve realized for a long time that film criticism is a dying art. But to find my name on this short list was a shocker.
When the list was first compiled in January of 2009, there were 126 names on it. As of March 2—the last time it was updated—the number was down to 121. A hundred and twenty-one film critics? I’m part of a seriously endangered species, apparently. For crying out loud, there are more white rhinos left in the world!
There are plenty of reasons for this, of course: the movie studios’ increasing desire to control publicity, the shrinking pool of daily newspapers, the explosive growth of amateur online pundits. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think my opinion is more valuable than that of the average person. It’s not that I’ve ever fooled myself into thinking anyone in Hollywood has ever taken a single word I’ve written to heart. Still, I think film criticism serves a valuable function. It causes people to think a little more seriously about the movies they consume. Sure, movies are there primarily for entertainment. But does that mean you can’t be an educated consumer?
When you buy a car, you ask your gearhead friends what they think. The same should hold for movies. Film critics aren’t just opinionated gas bags (not all of us, anyway). A good film critic is one who knows film history, understands how films are made, has memorized the résumés of everyone involved and can play a wicked game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” A professional film critic can tell you all kinds of useful information about a film, good or bad. Film critics aren’t just there to tell you “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” go see this movie or don’t go see this movie. They’re there to arm you with the sort of information that allows you to make up your own mind whether you want to see a movie or not. And then, if you do go see that movie, hopefully you’ll do so with a deeper appreciation than you would have walking in cold. Hell, do what I do—read tons of reviews after you see a film. They might give you a different perspective on what you just saw.
Maybe Movie City News’ article has got me feeling lonely. There are hardly enough of us movie critics left to offer decent breeding stock. (Heck, only 25 on the list are even female.) Or maybe it’s all just seasonal affective disorder. Either way, I’m drinking a toast this Christmas to Roger Ebert’s good health. Ben Lyons? He can go choke on a fruitcake.