Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Everyone Wants To Be A Critic

It's quite fun to know that my friend and fellow movie blogger in Singapore, the Nutshell Reviewer, will be part of a panel discussing film blogs at the upcoming Singapore Writers' Festival.

Coincidentally, last night I was directed to this piece in the Guardian, "When Joe Bloggs Became Joe Blogger." It's once again the age-old argument about the validity of film writing on the Internet, namely in blogs. Even though this is also a blog, I found myself inevitably asking the same questions about most movie blogs.

Print vs online?

In that respect, I have both worlds, not necessarily the best of though. I've been a print journalist for more than a decade now, and a print movie reviewer for almost a decade. The problem with blogs, and the only problem with blogs, is as the title of this entry says. And the openness and accessibility of the Internet means anyone can have their say and their way now.

But I think the most important question that should be asked is, why are movie blogs so popular? The most popular ones have hits that easily trounce the circulation of some major newspapers. This must mean that the blogs are on the pulse of things more than print does, with the immediacy of the Internet taken into account.

This ultimately links to another current problem or trend, that of the extinct film critic. Read here Dave Kehr's blog entry about the firing of a critic. It's terribly disturbing and depressing news. I've had firsthand experience of this when a very good critic here who's also an acquaintance, was told that his reviews aren't "reader-friendly" enough. Whatever that means!

There's been talk that the traditional film critic is a dying breed that's "out of touch" with current trends. The lousy argument is the one that uses the example that whatever panning critics had dished out to Transformers had not dampen its box-office momentum. Therefore no one's listening to the critics anymore. That silly argument has since been countered elsewhere, that throughout history there has been no critic so great as to influence box-office with a thumbs up or down.

Let's look at "reader-friendly." Are blogs like Ain't It Cool News more reader-friendly than say, the Chicago Reader film blog? (Frankly, I don't buy into anything that has "cool" or "awesome" in its title or name.) Do people prefer words like "awesome action" and "cool shit" to "mise en scene" and "visual aesthetics"? Is that what "reader-friendly" means?

The more extreme example is also how newspapers dedicate whole pages and covers to Lord Of The Rings and Transformers, but would be hesitant to give equal amount of coverage to say, a Hou Hsiao-hsien film, or even a Wes Anderson film (over here) for that matter.

Of the blogs out there, the most credible to me, are still the ones run by the print critics; that could be construed as a matter of personal taste or bias, but I'd rather take to heart a review that analyses a film rather than one which tells me it "awesomely rocks!". (Seriously, these are actual words I found on a movie review blog.)

At the end of the day, the adage that "the more, the merrier" appeases all and sunder. Ask a fellow journalist and a friend of mine, and he'll tell you "I've learned over the years not to try and change the world." A pessimistic view, you could say, but also one that's far-sighted too. In the business sense, it's more prudent to go for the popular rather than artistic integrity. Newspapers see the advent of blogs and their popularity, newspapers get nervous. Blogs are not restricted by house-styles and journo-speak. The language is different. Newspapers perceive it as advantageous to adopt that kind of language. Out go the old critic and his jargon!

This could well be the real situation, couldn't it? The view that the blogs are more in touch with the times also don't hold water simply for the fact that the way films are made today, and the way they speak to audiences, are not that much different from before. Or if there are any variances, they certainly are natural and do not reflect that difference between blogs and traditional criticism. We're seeing faster cuts in films, but do we see a similar reduction in attention span in blogs? Not really.

So, why are movie blogs so popular? For one, they're free and they're easily accessible. You don't have to go to a newsstand and buy a copy or wait for the delivery man to send it to your door. And secondly, you get the latest news almost instantly or as fast as it is humanly possible to type and upload. And most often, it's the latest news that people are looking for, the latest reviews. A hot item instantly gets repeated everywhere on the blogosphere; case in point, the latest excitement over the "secret" Joker/Heath Ledger cover of Empire, beans spilled by a certain JoBlo.

So, if you're getting everything at a one-stop centre called a blog, what's there not to like about its reviews too?

Of course, I'm speculating. Which brings us right back to that Guardian article. While it addresses the undeniable fact that there's more uninformed writing about films now, which I agree, it also claims that bloggers are just interested in their own ego trips. Which I disagree to a certain extent.

Film bloggers, at least the good ones, are driven by 90% passion and 10% ego trip. As for the rest, whether that passion drives the blogger to be more informed, or at least attempt to be informed, is another matter altogether.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts