Is film criticsm dead? Thomas Doherty weighs in.

“‘It sucks,’ decrees an Internet movie critic, sharing the most common aesthetic reaction in contemporary film criticism. In the viral salon of bloggers and chat-roomers, the finely tuned turns of phrase crafted by an earlier generation of sharp-eyed cinema scribes have been winnowed to a curt kiss-off. In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream. Just log on, vent, and hit send.”—Thomas Doherty, “The Death of Film Criticism”

In a just-published article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Thomas Doherty, most recently the author of Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration, describes the changing world of film criticism brought on by the rise of the blogosphere and Internet-based reviewers and critics.

Doherty suggests,

“The ballast of traditional credentials—whereby film critics earned their bones through university degrees or years at metropolitan dailies—has been thrown overboard by the judgment calls of anonymous upstarts without portfolio but very much with a DSL hotline to Hollywood’s prime moviegoing demographic. In film criticism, the blogosphere is the true sphere of influence.”

Doherty outlines the history of film writing, recalling a time when critics like Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael wrote film criticism that generated discussion and offering serious perspectives on film. In describing this era, Doherty writes:

“Of course the gauzy flashbacks to a time when voracious moviegoers devoured erudite essays by equally passionate critics is as romantic a conceit as any released by MGM. But the box-office returns accrued by offbeat hits suggest a symbiotic relationship. Cheek-to-cheek, film and film criticism thrived.”

Doherty acknowledges that the Internet offers new opportunities to film scholars but just as the openness and freedom of the Internet jeopardizes traditional film criticism, it also will change the way film scholarship is assessed and judged.

Needless to say, Doherty’s provocative essay is already generating discussion. See the various comments on the Chronicle site, including responses from noted critic and scholar Johnathan Rosenbaum and a response to the article by Chuck Tryon on his blog The Chutry Experiment.

Leave a Reply