On Film Criticism and Blogging

I was charmed and grateful by a recent posting by my friend, colleague and fellow Ira voter Daryl Chin, who in his blog has characterized my recent writing as "energetic and insightful." I would be the last to argue with Daryl . . . unless he was wrong, of course. (This is what happens when you sit down to write in your blog after reading Steve Martin's book Born Standing Up.)

Is film writing done for a blog somehow significantly different from that done for print. After writing this blog for about two and a half years, I must confess that I'm not sure three is a simple or single answer; I suspect every blogger has a different relationship with his blog and with its readers. I'm not even sure what my own answer is, but Daryl's kind words set me to pondering.

Here is the basic gist of what I have come to believe. My writing here is at once less methodical and yet more personal than my writiing for various periodicals, and the difference from what I put between hardcovers is even more substantial. In a way, although newspaper and magazine writing are pretty ephemeral, blogging is by its very nature, almost always occasional writing in the literary sense (i.e., writing for a specific occasion or event). And this has its plusses and minuses. On the one hand, I can respond with greater immediacy to events and, with no set deadline -- although I generally try to post on Fridays, since that is when movies are opening in this town -- I can either wait until release day or jump in at my leisure on a topic. And because I have chosen not to tie the blog to whatever new films are opening, I have the luxury of writing on whatever grabs my fancy (like this post). Also, I have unlimited space in which to discuss a subject, so if I decide to devote 10,000 words to the new Sidney Lumet film (to name a favorite whipping boy), I can do so. Granted, that specific example will happen about the same time that Dubya admits that the war in Iraq was a bad idea. Finally and most importantly, although I look at my writing in those few venues that carry me regularly as a dialogue with long-time readers, I virtually never write in as casual or conversational a tone in print as I do here. (Ironically enough, there is probably more of that in my books than in my newspaper and magazine work.)

On the downside, at present my readership here is literally 1/1000th of my readership in Jewish Week. And I don't get paid for doing this, which is more of a disincentive that it ought to be, but when you write as often and as much as I do for pay, doing it for free sometimes seems like a misuse of time. Happily, the desire to write about films I can't cover for my print venues (i.e., films with no Jewish content) and the pleasure of writing in a more relaxed style generally outweigh the urge to make a buck. (Hell, if I really wanted to make a lot of money, I wouldn't be a film critic at all.)

How much meaning or importance does any of this have? Not much to you, perhaps, but a bit to me.

There is some minor irony in all this. When I was in my 20s and still new(ish) at this game, my favorite leisure reading (particularly in the bathroom) was other people's film criticism. I would read several film magazines religiously and eargerly awaited the new issues of those periodicals. On Wednesdays (which used to be the main opening day for new releases) and Fridays the first thing I would turn to in the Times was the film section. And on Wednesdays (or was it Thursdays, I no longer remember), I would dash to the newsstand to buy the Village Voice, whose pages were filled by the likes of Andrew Sarris, Molly Haskell, Bill Paul, Michael McKegney, George Morris and so on. Atlhough I hold J. Hoberman in high regard, I don't read the Voice any more; they fired a lot of people I know and have done real violence to the film section.

These days, there are very few English-language film magazines worth reading. The most notable exceptions, Vertigo and CinemaScope, are published in the UK and Canada, respectively. Cineaste has turned into the best US-based film periodical, a pleasing development. Film Comment and Sight and Sound always have something of interest, but they don't feel essential the way they used to. Film Quarterly has become too narrow, too academic in the worst sense. I read almost every issue of Cahiers and Positif, although the former has become disappointingly stodgy and they are both pretty expensive purchased here.

The bottom line for me is, I suppose, that I'm no longer that interested in reading film criticism for its own sake (not even my own). Is that bad? Good? A sign of disillusion with the field? A symbol of growing maturity?

I haven't the faintest idea.


Schubert Blon-Applegate said…
try reading this