Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: Jazz critic Ted Gioia recently lodged a complaint that “music criticism has degenerated into lifestyle reporting” because most most critics lack a musical background and theoretical tools. Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, RogerEbert.com
I’m sure there’ll be a lot of nitpicking over specific aspects of his piece, but his general point seems irrefutable to me: in criticism of every kind there is appallingly little careful consideration of form. I see a lot of writing that describes what a piece of art is about, not so much about how it is about it. As for his insinuation that most of the people writing about music have no idea how to describe music, I’m sure he’s right. A good many people don’t bother to describe, much less evaluate, filmmaking in film reviews, and in that case there are somewhat concrete visuals that you can grab hold of. Faced with the daunting prospect of describing the success or failure of a rhythm track, horn arrangement or three-part harmony, I’m sure a lot of music writers throw up their hands and reach for meaningless words like “shredding.” Co-sign on the idea that there was only one Lester Bangs, And only a fool would try to be the next one.
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Philadelphia Magazine
It’s one potentially important tool in a good-sized box of possibilities, I would say. It can be informative and useful to read a piece that uses theory as a context for a given film — or a filmmaking writer pointing out a particular point of technical brilliance that might have been lost on the uninitiated — but we also stand as human beings with emotional reactions to things. In the end, films are intended to elicit a response out of us, millions of dollars and thousands of man hours are devoted to producing a singular effect on our psyches, and as members of the human race, we are fully qualified to speak to the manner in which a film did or did not move us, within the context of the thousands of movies we have all seen with which to compare it. That can’t be all we do, unless we are so fantastically compelling we don’t need to bother with anything else, but I’m always interested to read what a critic I admire has to say about their emotional response to a given film, um, even if that might drastically change over repeated viewings.
Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope, the Globe and Mail
Every rule has its exceptions, and I’m sure there are a few film critics without any background in scholarship (be it film studies, literary studies, social studies, journalism studies, writing programs, whatever) who do their jobs well. But most of the film writers I admire, either as influences or colleagues (or, increasingly, both) have had some sort of directed education within the field, and it shows — not only in terms of terminology or a frame of reference, but also the palpable sense of humility that comes with knowing just how many brilliant, daring, dogged and intellectually rigorous people have come before you. The brashest and most arrogant (and often least useful) critics are the ones who don’t know (or care to know) the players and the playing field, and while a good prose style can paper over gaps in knowledge, I’ve found that sooner or later (usually sooner), ignorance will out. I know this because of how embarrassed I am by a lot of the things I wrote when I pretended I didn’t have certain blind spots. But then the only thing sillier than trying to write about an art form before you’ve learned about it is thinking you’re ever going to know it all in the end.
Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today
I’m not entirely sure that comparing music and film criticism isn’t a bit of an apples and oranges situation (I certainly have never been able to write music criticism). I’m appreciative of Gioia’s sense enough to think that some music theory would benefit music critics, and I think some film theory can, too. But it seems to me to be even more vital that film critics have grounding in some other theoretical field or area of practice, because the critics I like most help me situate a movie in its broader social and theoretical context, not just understand it as an object unto itself. So I think a background in history, or political theory, or even English can be just as helpful for good film critics. It may just be because I’m naturally not much of a detail person and think in terms of the big picture, but the film critics I most enjoy reading and from whom I’ve learned the most are those who write skillfully not just about film, but about culture at large.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter, Jigsaw Lounge
Do film critics “need to have a background in film theory or filmmaking to do their jobs well”? No, they obviously don’t need it. When I think of critics doing their “jobs well” either in 2014 or historically, hardly any of them had/have any experience as filmmakers either before or during their journalistic days. And if they were/are steeped in “film theory” this only very rarely surfaced/surfaces in their actual prose.
But this isn’t quite what Ted Gioia was getting at. His point was that instead of “smart, independent critics who know their stuff,” music journalism has become debased and bogged down in celebrity trivia. There’s never been a shortage of the latter when it comes to published words on cinema, of course, but intelligent writing on film can be found in abundance both in print form and online. We have plenty of “smart, independent critics who know their stuff” around, even if “their stuff” may not involve the kind of technical vocabulary deployed by those who’ve been through film-school and/or film studies at university.
Bemoaning the lack of technical knowledge among many music writers, Gioia first of all invites his readers to “imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays.” Football fans, including those who read journalism on football, are themselves usually au fait with “formations and plays” — this is evident from the way they talk about the sport. But film “fans,” even those who read relatively serious criticism, are in my experience nowhere near as savvy as their gridiron-fixated cousins when it comes to the technical or formal aspects. Even if I’m in conversation with a bunch of people who regularly read Sight & Sound, Cinema Scope and Film Comment, the discussions of how the film operates seldom evince much interest in or natural comfort with the kind of jargon one encounters in academic and practical film-courses. It’s my assumption that even the readers of these magazines, usually regarded as occupying the highbrow end of the scale, don’t demand or expect technical vocabulary to figure prominently in the articles, though they’ll be happy enough to encounter it provided it’s couched in an accessible fashion.
This suits me just fine, of course, as I’m a self-taught critic whose (relatively brief) period of journalistic training concentrated exclusively on old-fashioned news-reporting, and who came to film after an interim period of several years of almost solely writing about (British) football. I was never properly trained in the complex art of watching a film, and have always tended to opportunistically pick up technical terminology from more academically learned critics.
I did direct a couple of mid-length experimental documentaries in 2008 (turned down by all the best festivals) and this helped me understand framing and, especially, editing. But would I be a better critic if I knew more about lenses, axes, the rule of thirds, and so on? Perhaps. Probably. But whereas my conscience regularly prods me towards getting myself belatedly up to speed in film-theory, I’d always much rather pick up a collection of essays by Whitney Balliett (on jazz), A.J. Liebling (on boxing) or Robert Hughes (on art) in the hope that some of their sublime prose mastery magically osmoses its way up through my fingertips.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Theoretically-minded critics sometimes let out lots of hot air in an effort to get low enough to touch the ground — but practical-tempered ones may pile up rickety stacks of experience to lift their purview, like Yertle the Turtle’s, above the local to the general. Every inclination has its pitfall, and there’s no proper or assured method or formula for criticism, any more than there is for art. With music, so-called theory is actually scientific, mathematical, with a basis in physics — but it’s just a start. With movies, theory is just an idea about movies — about the cinema as such — and some ideas of this sort are present in most worthwhile criticism, not causally, but as a marker of an attitude toward movies, namely, that there’s something distinctive about the medium and the ways that artists work with it. The problem with film theory is that it tends to be prescriptive, a deductive affirmation of taste as truth; even the most discerning and dedicated of all critics, Andre Bazin, fell into this trap, which is unfortunately what he’s most often remembered (and praised) for. And those who think that they’re avoiding theory in favor of a purely heuristic, empirical, or personal view of movies are in the grip of an even more insidious, because unconscious and unexamined, dogma — the theory of no theory. As for the technical side, it’s very useful to know how things are done; if a movie reflects a filmmaker’s experience, the first sort of experience that it reflects is that of making the film, and it’s important for a critic to know the kinds of practices and tensions that are involved. That’s one reason why the best critics are artists, or future artists; that, plus the fact that their worldview is, to begin with, imaginative and creative. But some critics with technical and practical experience are, rather, ex-filmmakers or failed filmmakers, and they have another special pitfall to avoid, one which is filled with the deserved fires of hell: the inclination to judge other filmmakers’ work by the Procrustean measure of the movies that the critic dreamed of making but couldn’t.
Peter Labuza, The Cinephiliacs, Variety
There are really two questions at play here, and I’ll quickly anwser the latter one — “should critics have a knowledge of filmmaking” — with a positive “more than they do now.” Nothing shows the sign of weak criticism than a focus on acting that simply describes it as big, cinematography that describes it as gorgeous, or directing being relegated to simply “I noticed a tracking shot!” One need not know every means of production (nor forget the sensations these cinematic decisions create), but it wouldn’t hurt for a critic to pick up a copy of American Cinematographer every once in a while before writing .
The more interesting question for me is the “film theory” question. Film theory can be broken down into three questions: Munsterberg to Bazin asking “What is cinema?” Metz to Screen asking “How does cinema function?” and Deluze to other continental philosophy asking “Why cinema?” These theoretical questions are the basis for strong criticism, though often corrupted by misreading or complete ignorance. Questions that frame cinematic investigations regarding realism, gender, class, race phenomenology, stardom, auteurism, and experience all develop out of the basic canon of theoretical inquiry of cinema. Even when critics are not necessarily aware of Arnheim, Balazs, Mulvey, Heath, or Ranciere, you can often find the bastardized versions of their conceptions seeping into the less academic more popular film criticism. I’m not sure knowing these theorists necessarily leads toward better criticism, but when a critic describes a film as “realistic” or claims that a film is misogynist, it is sometimes important to think through how and why it are these things, and strong theoretical conceptions that actually describe how the film functions in relation to the concept, instead of claiming the concept, could lead to a stronger analysis of film.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com, Some Came Running
Didn’t Gioia mean something different when he brought up “theory”? Like, actual music theory which relates to the practice of writing music, as in say the different results available via tonal systems versus atonal ones? That’s kind of different thing from reading Christian Metz or whoever.
Anyway, Sam, why do you do this to me? I work so hard trying to rehabilitate my online image and be a nice guy and try to be of service to others and then you go and throw me this big slab of opportunity to go on about what an idiot everybody else is. And make no mistake about it: everybody else IS an idiot. (Except you. And David Fear. And Matt Seitz. And anyone else in a position to give me paying work.) HOWEVER. The thing that Gioia avoided in his piece — and which Jody was able to go after him for, correctly and profitably, I think — was giving actual examples of the problem. Naming names. (Which is weird because he’s actually in a professional position in which he could get away with it.) But the thing about naming names is that when you do it everyone thinks you’re a Bad Person, and Mean. That’s what always cracks me up about these occasional “is the Internet too nice?” articles you see every now and then, because most of them are in fact written by people who benefit from that “niceness,” people who you think could really use getting a new orifice torn for them. The thing is, it’s just not worth it. It’s not worth it for one’s emotional health, and it’s not worth it because it solves nothing. No film critic will ever lose his or her job for not being able to explain “invisible” editing. More likely they’ll lose their job for… oh for Christ’s sake don’t get me started.
Do your own work the best you can, don’t appoint yourself the Internet’s Critic Police, and when you see someone you think is a moron or an intellectual opportunist or morally/aesthetically reprehensible retweeted, don’t punch the nearest mirror or refrigerator. Kids, I know. I’ve been there. It’s not a fun place.
Embrace ‘Pataphysics, the science that acknowledges the ridiculous futility of all human endeavor. And/or Buddhism.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
Theory is a tool in the critical bag (or at least should be), but it's also fairly useless in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to write such that those theoretical concepts are accessible to readers. But the real issue is that "criticism" isn't a kind of writing that most people who are defined as "critics" are actually doing. Criticism, at its best, should be about an act of deep engagement with whatever art form is at hand -- film, music, literature, painting. It's not consumer advocacy, and it's not about "winning" some hypothetical public argument about the work in question. I wrote once that a critic's job isn't telling people what to watch, but telling them what to watch for -- that we should think of our job first and foremost as teachers in the art of how to "read" art. That means knowing that when you introduce jargon, you define it; when you make a point of reference, you build on it. If a reader isn't learning anything from your analysis except what you like and dislike ... well, then you probably deserve to be replaced by a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. James Quandt, the senior programmer for TIFF Cinematheque, is one of the smartest film minds I know. Few can touch him for the depth and breadth of his knowledge, or his critical acumen. Yet he didn’t go to film school, or even have a TV set growing up in Saskatchewan where he could watch old movies. He’s entirely self-taught. On the other hand, you have scholars like David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, who come from the academic realm yet who are able to transmit their cinema erudition to a vast and appreciative audience. My point is that while it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a degree or hands-on experience, there are other things more important to good arts criticism of any kind: intelligence, wit, enthusiasm, dedication and above all, a willingness to keep discovering and learning.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing
Maybe I’m bad at my job, but I’ve rarely utilized anything from my college Film Theory course while writing a review. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to have that information floating around in the back of my mind, but I don’t think it’s particularly essential. Maybe I’m wrong? Hell, I probably am, but at least for me, it hasn’t been an essential piece of the puzzle.
Sam Fragoso, Movie Mezzanine, RogerEbert.com
As far as I can tell, the only genuine prerequisite in film criticism is the ability to write, to express ideas, thoughts and theories about a particular piece of art eloquently, thoughtfully, honestly and incisively. That said, taking a class in film theory and reading Bazin, Sarris and Kael certainly doesn’t hurt. Having that knowledge will only strengthen the depth and breadth of the respective critic’s writing.
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times/Ashvegas
Yes, film critics need a background in the basics of filmmaking and film theory, but obtaining that knowledge isn’t as elitist or elusive as it may sound. Neither has to come from a traditional film school, dedicated program, or making one’s own film (though I’ll bet nearly all of us have attempted some sort of amateur filmmaking. Shout out to iMovie and iDVD!). Any combination of film classes, independent reading/study, conversations, lectures, DVD commentaries, hands-on experience, etc. will suffice. However one gets the basics is fine, as long as one actually gets them and is then able to express them in one’s writing.
Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online
I’d like to think most people who read film critics expect them to have at least some expertise in such things as film theory and technique in the first place in order to be able to productively add to one’s appreciation of a film through their criticism. So sure, a background in film theory and maybe even filmmaking would certainly not hurt. In the end, though, even the most technically, theoretically and historically knowledgeable/experienced of film critics wouldn’t necessarily be able to reach an audience without, say, an engaging writing style or infectious passion for the subject to actually reel them in. The ideal great critic would, of course, be able to balance both knowledge and passion in equal measure.
Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com
I would say background is less essential than understanding, and follow that up by saying that it is possible to understand something without direct experience. That said, music criticism in particular suffers (and has suffered for a very long time) from an excess of posturing that film criticism (even at its worst) has never had to bear. Any critic in any art form needs to understand that, although criticism is the act of preserving one individual’s experience with a work of art for posterity, the art is far more important than the critic. No critic should ever affect a perfect understanding of their given form, because that’s impossible. Instead, we all need to learn as much about the world and people as we can. Which is a good idea whether we intend to write arts criticism or not.
Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin
I’ve never made a film or taken a film theory class. I’d never want to make one after writing about them for 15 years. My motto is “I like to watch.” I don’t need the headaches even though, like everyone else, story ideas swim around in my head each day. I got into this by accident and have had few complaints about the work I do. I don’t think the average reader expects deep, deep thoughts on film reviews, rather “just the facts,” at least in the markets that I work in, which of course are not metro areas.
I also feel that most times critics have little effect on film attendance. We are just info sources, not “deciders,” hence if we go too deep, readers won’t read, especially in our micro attention span society.
Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist, Forbes
I don’t think critics need experience as filmmakers — and in my experience, that can actually be a hindrance, because I know a handful of filmmakers who are virtually incapable of watching movies, no matter how good, and not be distracted by a technical detail that quite frankly no one except a filmmaker would notice, and I’d argue is irrelevant to the storytelling, characterization or performances. I think it’s important to know about cinema, unquestionably, but I’d argue that an understanding of how something works or doesn’t work emotionally is more important than how it works or doesn’t technically. Sadly, film theory in its strictest sense seems to seldom apply to most filmmakers’ disciplines, much less critics’, so I don’t think it’s essential, even if it’s indisputably helpful. If Gioia has a point that’s really relevant it’s the general disinterest from readers in substantive, technical, and philosophical criticism, which has led to fewer outlets encouraging/ nurturing/ allowing their writers to dive into the level of analysis that film theory benefits. That said, all outlets were not designed to accomplish the same goals, and all critics are not aiming to offer the same criticism or even approach to criticism. And while my collegiate experience as a film student certainly provided me with a foundation for my film writing, because I tend to work backwards from how a movie made me feel to how it made me feel that, I use the exact technical execution and theoretical applications of film language in the service of contextualizing my feelings.
Michael Pattison, Sight & Sound, Fandor
Balance, please! It’s a discretionary thing, perhaps an organic thing, no? You can either write intelligently or you can’t. I think that comes before any consideration of ‘theory’. The hope is that one can adjust according to the outlet/readership; freelancers by nature might be in a better position to practice this. But the majority of my favorite writers on film didn’t study film, and I’ve seen and learned more from message boards than I have by formal, institutionalized education. Everything is “theory,” of course, but in terms of what’s meant by “theoretical tools,” or the “theorization of film,” if you like, you don’t want too much and you don’t want too little. Textual analysis is sexy, shot-to-shot breakdowns are sumptuous, frame-counting’s wonderful, but I’ve read stuff in the past by “unrepentant marxist” Louis Proyect or the World Socialist Web Site’s David Walsh and their approach to films as the products of social and historical phenomena has often been brilliant — all the more so for being appreciably devoid of polysyllabic terrorism. Then again, to what extent are their philosophies preceded by or dependent upon an understanding/experience of marxist theory? (Recommended reading, if I may: David Bordwell and Noel Carroll’s “Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies.”)
Lacanian lobsters and Baudrillardian cul-de-sacs should be left at the classroom door. (And sorry, but: no Zizek.) Talk about how a rightward traveling shot exemplifies a non-bourgeois filmic language all you want, but if you don’t convince me that you want also to change the world that conditions a bourgeois filmic language to begin with, you’ll forgive me if I scream “tl;dr.” Personally, I worry more about the opposite: there’s no question that writers untrained in film theory can file persuasive, entertaining, cogently analytical copy, but who among us so-called trained theoreticians is going to fight the fight that really matters, namely that against the world outside the theatre? Just because the cinema’s dark doesn’t mean it’s a vacuum.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
I suspect that one’s approach to this question is shaped by the path one has taken to criticism. As someone whose background is very firmly in the theory camp (I’ve got an MA in Film Theory and am currently prepping a PhD) I’m inclined to lean that way, but equally value well-thought out writing from the other side of the fence. While I don’t really use my platform to engage in the kind of “lifestyle” coverage that Mr. Gioia alludes to in his own notes, I know writers that do, and do it in an interesting manner. In many ways I’m actually quite envious of the way in which some can interact with an audience in that way, and partly blame my background in theory. I’d love to be able to knock out the occasional snappy 300 word review, or a sharp and pointed op-ed piece on a hot topic, but my inclination to over-think and dwell at research level means that such expeditious writing rarely leaves my fingertips (though Twitter is a Godsend for such ruminating). What can I say, brevity clearly isn’t my strong point, which is probably why it’s taken me this long to type out an answer that could be aptly surmised as “Not really.”
Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting
I’ve never regularly read music reviews, but based on what I do see, my feeling is that Gioia’s complaint is both valid and off the mark. Popular music criticism probably doesn’t contain enough technical talk, the same way popular film criticism definitely doesn’t (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone); but I seriously doubt most legit music writers out there are wasting their time on “lifestyle” nonsense.
The question is a provocative one though because, as a musician myself, I’ve wrestled a bit with my hypocritical gut feeling on the subject. If you’ve never played an instrument or studied any music theory — in other words, really have no sense of musical form (e.g. time signatures, scales, modes, chord changes, and so on) — then what insight into what the musicians are doing can you offer me, or anyone? You can dissect lyrics. You can put the band/performer’s legacy or impact in perspective. You can describe why you think they’re cool or not cool. How the songs make you feel. And there’s value in all of that. But any adjective you come up with to describe the drum part or bass line of a song — “pounding,” “thumping,” “dynamic” — that doesn’t take into account what the drums and bass are “actually” doing, seems pretty vapid to me. However, I certainly don’t expect every film critic to have made movies or have a degree in film theory, and there are probably some rational explanations for this position (beyond just being a hypocrite, although that is entirely possible), having to do with the differences in the art forms themselves and the way we, as individuals and as a culture, consume and evaluate a three-minute pop song versus a two-hour movie.
I guess what it really comes down to is that most film geeks I know, whether they ever pick up a camera or study film analysis, end up familiarizing themselves with tracking shots and 180 degree rules and jump cuts. Why wouldn’t someone who loves music want to understand and be able to discuss in detail the elements that make a song? Realizing I only answered the question in a roundabout way… No, film critics don’t need that background. Yes, I think readers/listeners would benefit if more film critics did.
Edward Douglas, Coming Soon
Film theory and filmmaking are things that can be learned and you don’t necessarily need to spend thousands to go to film school in order to do so. You can learn just as much from watching movies, visiting sets, talking to filmmakers, all of which I do regularly, so that when I watch a movie I think I have a pretty good idea, what works (at least for me), what doesn’t work, etc. I have to be honest I don’t read a lot of music reviews so I’m not sure I can outright disagree with Ted Gioia, but as someone who probably has more knowledge of music and making music (having been a recording engineer/producer for 20 years), I don’t see that as something that would make me an expert in writing about music. In fact, I may have too much knowledge of how music is made to be a good music critic, where I have a distance to movies that allows me to view them critically, while also enjoying the better ones.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
There are exceptions, of course, but I think most successful critics are fully equipped to do their jobs. The difference is that the majority are now self-taught. Instead of going to college specifically to learn film theory, many critics have learned by doing things such as reading a multitude of cinema-related books on their own, listening to the commentary tracks on DVDs, and watching the supplementary features on Criterion Collection discs. Is that as valid as a formal education in film theory? Sure, why not? Knowledge is knowledge, regardless of how it’s acquired.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
I want my mechanic to know how to fix cars. I want my doctor to have graduated closer to the top of the class. And I want film critics who know film. Who understand that film is a lifelong passion. I want an end to this collective phobia we have of expertise. I know more about film than the average person. My opinion is a well-informed one. Film books litter my living room and bedroom. I make short films that no one sees yet I will continue to make them. In my 30 years on this planet cinema has been the one constant, the art form that speaks to me, and I want all of it that I can get my hands on. I can only surmise that a critic who does not want to read theory, read the history, attempt a film on their own, submerge themselves in the medium, is a narcissist who just likes the look of their by-line. If you are one of these people then you should stop what you are doing and educate yourself. If you don’t want to then why the hell are you writing about movies? If your idea of criticism is to describe in detail everything that happened in a film then add a value judgment at the end then why the hell are you writing, or rather plagiarizing? If you don’t know what the hell it is you are talking about then why do you keep talking? You have to convince me with your ability, your talent and intelligence. If you do not possess these qualities or call them into question then you should have nothing to do with criticism of any kind. Go read a book.
Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
I have a B.A. in Film Studies and Literature and an MBA. I use cinematic terms such as diegetic sound and mise-en-scene when appropriate in my work. I write for alternative weeklies and popular websites, not academic journals. I think there is less expectation (and appreciation) from my readers for theorizing about a film/maker, but I’m not against doing it when required.
Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight
Being fair, lifestyle reporting is a problem with celebrity culture in general, not just music criticism. Still, I’d say that for film critics, having a background in film theory isn’t automatically necessary, but it helps. I think it often — not always — comes down to experience. Most of my favorite film writers have been working in the medium for a long time; their experience — not just in terms of what degree or degrees they might have, but in terms of the types and genres of films they’ve been discussing for decades — informs what they discuss in the present. Knowledge of film theory, or of filmmaking in general, can inform a critical argument equally as well. I don’t know that it’s required to appreciate a film or discuss it properly. What matters more to me, as a reader, is experience more than theory.
As someone who has written about both film and music over the
years, I feel I gotta chime in on this one. It’s always been my belief
that if you’re going to write about anything, you should at least know
what the hell you’re talking about. If you happen to have experience
making films (like Matt Zoller Seitz) or studying filmmaking (like the
recently retired — and already sorely missed — Sean Burns), then
that’s a bonus. But even if you’re not a filmmaker or a musician, you
still need an appreciation and/or a fine knowledge of the art you’re
discussing. I understand Gioia getting all tight in the jaws about what
passes for arts reporting/criticism these days. I get that way
occasionally as well. Thankfully, I know many critics and writers who,
through their writing, appear to be quite qualified enough to make me
ignore all the BuzzFeediness that’s out there. I also shout them out
quite often online. So, while it’s one thing to lament the absence of
intelligence in contemporary arts criticism, I feel it’s necessary to
point readers to where they can find it.
A film critic doesn’t need
to have a background in film theory to write about film, but it
certainly helps influence the way you approach art. For me, studying
film theory has made me reflect on what cinema actually is, what is
unique to the art form and the elements that make it work. With those
ideas in mind, it makes it much more compelling and substantive to
approach a particular film and watch how these elements are or are not
working together. It opens film up to worlds beyond the multiplex and
even beyond the narrative, and I think we could use more of that.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?
A: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”