Contemporary Film Criticism: A Decline in Standards?
The expansion of social media and other user-friendly online content means film criticism has moved away from written text in newspapers and cinema journals. As Chuck Tryon recently stated 1 “changes that are taking place within the realm of media distribution and consumption, especially as we seek to make sense of an emerging on-demand culture”. As vast quantities of people browse online, film critics both professional and amateur engage with online content to attain large audiences. This is unsurprising since social media sites like YouTube have over a billion users and is available in seventy-five countries 2, attracting far more range than any newspaper or cinema journal. Yet, it raises questions as to which film critics should be respected. Does the professional film critic with their academic education and formal cinematic knowledge have the upper hand over the creative amateur?
Professional Film Critics and Online Content
Mark Kermode has a long history in film criticism, beginning in print journalism and contributing to film magazines such as Sight & Sound. Kermode recently became chief film critic for the British newspaper The Observer, reflecting his professional expertise and consolidating Kermode as a “passionate film enthusiast” 3. Kermode also regularly appears online on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio Five program, where videos are posted on YouTube. Below is Kermode’s review of Fifty Shades of Grey:
Throughout Kermode’s review, he shows detailed knowledge of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s history to inform his audience what all the hype is about, a vital requirement for any film critic. Kermode then describes Fifty Shades of Grey‘s narrative in a literal and subjective manner. For example, Kermode criticises Anastasia’s tone of speech in relation to the dialogue that he describes as “parodically bad”. Kermode’s ability to take a section of a character’s speech to emphasise his criticism of the dialogue makes audiences understand his opinion, reflecting Kermode’s professionalism. Kermode continues to show his professionalism by using his extensive cinematic knowledge to compare and contrast, referring to the 1986 film 9 1/2 weeks to show how Fifty Shades of Grey can be seen as ‘mainstream, middle of the road, standard sexist anxiety about displays of male nudity’. Kermode is able to create an impression upon audiences regarding their expectations of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Kermode continues to show his ability to recite detailed cinematic knowledge when discussing Chappie. Firstly Kermode discusses Neill Blomkamp’s (Chappie‘s Director) previous work to indicate Chappie’s aesthetic and thematic style. Kermode then describes Chappie‘s narrative, noting how the theme of innocence and societies’ use of artificial intelligence raises questions for its audience. Kermode compares Chappie to earlier sci-fi films such as Robocop, once again having the ability to indicate a film’s thematic and aesthetic style.
Michael Phillips, like Kermode, is a professional film critic who has worked in print journalism. He currently works for the Chicago Tribune. Phillips regards professionalism within film criticism as extremely important. In reference to contemporary film critics, “finding them and encouraging them isn’t easy” 4. Phillips’ desire for professionalism is evident in the Chicago Tribune‘s YouTube videos, where he debates aspects of film culture.
Phillips’ use of formal and informative language not only shows his professionalism, but also his ability to critique. When discussing Vertigo, he describes it as a “troubling film, even today”, indicating his knowledge of Vertigo‘s themes and how they transcend towards contemporary audiences. Phillips’ ability to discuss all the films mentioned, particularly his knowledge of the silent films on the list, shows his vivid cinematic knowledge that helps his audience understand why these films are so important.
Phillips’ competence regarding the film industry continues to show in the above video. When Phillips discusses Christoph Waltz’ Oscar win, he is able to reflect over Waltz’ acting career without fault. This ability shows Phillips’ professionalism as he is able to reflect upon why Waltz was able to win an Oscar based upon past career highlights, informing his audience of Waltz’ calibre. Phillips’ ability to understand how Waltz’ career has been defined towards his Oscar win shows his critical judgement that all professional film critics contain.
Amateur Film Critics and Online Content
Doug Walker, better known as Nostalgia Critic, began uploading satirical film reviews on YouTube as a pass-time. Yet his creative content, where Walker occasionally uses comedic sketches and fast-paced one liners, gained a huge following and now has his own website. In comparison to Kermode and Phillips, Walker engages his audience informally as if in discussion with a friend. Although it is a contrast to the professionalism of traditional film critics, is it really a decline in standards?
Nostalgia Critic’s Daredevil review shares technical similarities to Kermode’s and Phillips’ film reviews. The Daredevil review uses clips to visualise what Nostalgia Critic is critiquing and makes his presence known towards the camera. Yet, Nostalgia Critic takes a more informal approach not only in use of language (“yep, it’s that kind of movie kids”) but also contains a looser, creative approach. Instead of simply reviewing Daredevil with the use of clips, Nostalgia Critic empathises his critique with comedy sketches. The comedy sketch within this review is Nostalgia Critic talking to a stereotypical superhero, whose personality elaborates why Daredevil contains a clichéd narrative. Some could argue that using comedy sketches may distract audiences into only being amused rather than contemplating Nostalgia Critic’s stance on Daredevil. If this argument is to be believed, then it can be said that amateur film critics cannot reach the levels of professionalism as Kermode and Phillips. However, Nostalgia Critic’s Daredevil review contains an analytical depth where he demonstrates his cinematic knowledge. He is able to describe Daredevil‘s pros and cons, noting how the protagonist’s calling card is not only cliché but ridiculously illogical from a heroes’ viewpoint. Nostalgia Critic is also able to refer to other superhero films and explain why Daredevil is cliché.
Jeremy Jahns’ rising popularity is similar to Nostalgia Critic, using YouTube as a platform to present himself. Jahns is another film critic who takes a comedic approach in critiquing films, yet does Jahns have enough critical technique for his film reviews to have merit? Those who prefer professional film critics might feel that this review is lacking due to Jahns’ informative style. Instead of using film clips, Jahns mimics the characters in scenes he mentions to contemplate his critique. This may be an annoying distraction for some, however it has to be understood that Jahns’ film reviews are only accessible on social media. The accessibility creates an informative atmosphere where Jahns talks to his audience as if he is with friends. Jahns’ Star Wars knowledge shows his expertise on the franchise, an important aspect to a serious film review. Jahns refers to an Attack of The Clones plot point where Jedis are not allowed to marry does not appear in the earlier Star Wars films, resulting in a contradictory issues for dedicated Star Wars fans. Jahns’ Star Wars knowledge means that he can refer back to how Attack of The Clones failed in keeping with particular franchise motifs, along with articulating what works within the narrative.
So Is There a Decline in Film Criticism?
Now that film criticism has become more dominant through various forms of social media in video format, as oppose to written text, does it mean film criticism is on the decline or does it still contain critical depth? Despite the fact that many online contemporary film critics are technically amateurs who only have a popular following thanks to the internet, they are still able to show detailed critical judgement. Either through informal language or comedy sketches for humorous effect, amateur film critics like Nostalgia Critic and Jeremy Jahns are still able to reach the same critical judgement as the formal, professional film critics. Film criticism has not declined, rather it has reinvented itself through our contemporary online culture so that it receives attention of the internet masses.
- Tryon., C. 2013. On-Demand Culture: Digital Delivery and the Future of Movies. Rutgers University Press. ↩
- Anonymous. 2015. ”Statistics – YouTube”. YouTube.com. [Online][Available From] – https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/en-GB/statistics.html ↩
- Self., W. 2013. ”Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode – review ”. The Guardian.com. [Online][Available From] – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/hatchet-job-mark-kermode-review ↩
- Yamato., J. 2007. ”Meet a Critic: Michael Phillips”. Rottentomatoes.com. [Online][Available From] – http://www.rottentomatoes.com/news/1696574/meet_a_critic_michael_phillips ↩
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