2004: The Year in Movies

A Positively Final Note on the State of Film Criticism
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 6 2005 11:53 AM

2004: The Year in Movies

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Dear Armond, Tony, David, Charley, and Chris,

Welcome, Chris! Your first letter got me thinking about something:

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The one thing that does worry me about the Movie Club—particularly this incarnation of it, as it existed through Wednesday, anyway—is that it does look a little insiderish, as we're all New York critics, and we all know and like one another. I lived in Boston for 15 years and remember what it was like to feel "out" of the New York circuit. The reality, though, is that while New York is a big city, its film critics practically constitute a small town. (You've seen The Village, right? It's kind of like that, with David E. in the William Hurt role, with the Olde New England diction and the hard-wearin' work clothes. We keep trying to get Charley to wear the creepy hedgehog Santa suit, but he just won't do it. Tony sometimes gets lost in the brambles outside Times Square, but he just gives a call on his cell and somebody comes and finds him.)

Anyway, so, yeah, we all do know one another—but the only other thing I have to compare it to is Boston, and it was true there, too. So, I guess I'd caution you against urging us to "look outside the New York City subway system"—first of all, because the Internet makes the world a very large place, and most of us do read critics from other parts of the country. Although, of course, New York is where we work, so the New York papers—not just the Times but the New York Press, the Voice, the Daily News, Newsday, etc.—would understandably be the ones we reach for first.

Also, I'm afraid our discussion of "young critics" may have put you on the defensive in a way that it shouldn't have. It's great that you're reviewing for a major newspaper at age 30—I don't know if you're full-time or freelance, but either way, it's really a terrific thing. But I wonder if there's some impression out there that any critic who works in New York is some kind of fat cat success story. Some of us have been working at this for a long time, at times for crummy outlets and for not much money—and I don't mean just in the first two or three years out of college, but well into our 30s. I don't really know how people in other parts of the country perceive us—I mean, OK, sometimes Armond does swing by in his Jaguar to take me for a spin, but … I think people look at us and think, "Oh, these hot NYC types with their big ideas and their big salaries—we'll show THEM." And the reality is … well, we're people who work hard for whatever money we earn, we love movies, we love criticism, we value the fact that we even have jobs. And we see our friends at other papers have space cut for their stories, or get laid off, or have their editors decide, "Oh, one critic is enough, we'll just use wire stuff." So, it DOES cause us to worry about the state of film criticism—but not because of "young people." I thought I made that clear in one of my earlier letters—that there ARE talented people out there, just not enough jobs for them—but I think my point may have been lost somewhere.

We really do have to get off the subject of the state of film criticism at large—it's much more interesting to talk about actual movies. But I just wanted to clarify some things that I thought might be a little murky.

Stephanie

David Edelstein isSlate's film critic. Scott Foundas is a film critic for LA Weekly. Christopher Kelly is a film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe. A.O. Scott is a film critic for the New York Times. Charles Taylor is a film critic for Salon. Armond White is the film critic for the New York Press. Stephanie Zacharek is a film critic for Salon.

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