When the news came out that longtime critic J. Hoberman had been fired from the Village Voice, the Twitter feeds and film blogs immediately went aflutter with praise for Hoberman and fury at the weekly paper. While it’s a damn shame that readers won’t be able to read Hoberman’s critical and deeply informed historical perspective on movies on a weekly basis, the major story here is that the indie film industry has lost another one of its most important champions. Without critics like Hoberman, they’ve lost their best advocates. And as anyone in the specialized industry will tell you, taste-makers are key to the survival of their business.
The conventional wisdom may be that individual critics don’t matter, or aggregation review sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Flickster, have replaced them. But distribution executives are constantly lamenting the loss of local critics–who have established a rapport with audiences, who, in turn, trust these reviewers and, in fact, go to see movies because of them. And in New York, the most important art-house market in the world, Hoberman was among the most respected.
The fact is indie film exhibitors and distributors need film critics just as much or more so than readers of film criticism. It’s so hard to raise an indie film’s profile, and it’s established critics like Hoberman–or any number of former Voice critics, such as Amy Taubin, Dennis Lim and Jessica Winter–that can shed light on a film in new ways, forcing others to reconsider it, or champion something that audiences wouldn’t otherwise seek out.
I’ll never forgot an experience at the Cannes Film Festival where I ran into J. Hoberman and Amy Taubin after seeing “Southland Tales.” I hated it. They loved it. And I couldn’t for the life of me see what they saw in it. But I went back to the movie and gave it a serious second look. And that’s what good critics can do. And without them, the indie film business is fucked.
In the meantime, do your part to support Hoberman’s freelance career and buy any one of his most illuminating books on Amazon.