Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Death Of The Old Film Critic and Rise Of The New

The old guard of films critics have been made redundant - long live the new democratic order! All opinions are valid! Suck on this Philip French!
   Yes, I speak as one of the three trillion bloggers who, like so many termites, have gnawed at the foundations of the House of Professional Criticism and now rejoice in its collapse.
   I doubt that directors care. Marty isn’t listening to me, or any other blogger. Unless one day when he’s really bored he Googles ‘Taxi Driver’, clicks through 53 pages and arrives at my opinion of his masterpiece. Perhaps 53 is a little optimistic since I doubt that IMO is that high on search engine hit parade.
   Now that the barbarians have stormed the city they bring with them the sweet perfume of popcorn, and stain the floor with spilt Coke. They jam the empty bucket-sized carton over the head of the Pauline Kael statue and floss their teeth with a reel of film containing ‘The Bicycle Thief’ – hah! David Thomson walks by and they chant football fan style ‘Who are yer?! ‘Who are yer?!’ C and K aren’t the initials of The Greatest Film Of All Time, they’re the brand of your pants and perfume.
   But hold on, do I talk of ‘them’ or ‘we’? Am I really part of the new order, or longing to belong to The Dead Critics Society? I’m neither, actually. That’s me, somewhere else, which is where I’ve always resided. I’m quite comfortable here, although it does have setbacks, and one of them is not belonging. Well, to hell with it.
   I like the fact that over the decades there have been lists of films made up by The Critics which, when combined, give us, say, 50 agreed-upon Classics. Without them I would not have discovered many great films and may have wasted a lot of time watching rubbish. Guidance is a good thing. Yes. And now Everyone is a guide, a critic. So, imagine a youngster with little viewing experience coming across an Amazon list, or a blog, extolling the virtues of ‘Pretty Woman’. Yes, he or she is off on the wrong track for starters. But, you may say, suppose they love ‘Pretty Woman?’. Well then, they get what they want and deserve. And they are lost forever. I recently came across some poor sap who actually went to see ‘Get Him To The Greek’ because it averages a 7-star rating on IMDb. He gave it one star. Can you imagine being so clueless as to use the opinions of those people as a guide?
   Don’t tell me ‘It’s all a matter of taste’. It is, but since when did you think that people packing cinemas to watch the latest blockbuster/crime/Rom Com crud were behaving wisely? Admit it, you have your own inner snob which calls them ‘wankers’ whilst the liberal, tolerant you happily allows other people to wallow in shit because you like to think you’re not a cultural fascist.
   Regarding this matter of Taste, there has to be the will to appreciate the finer things in life. Where that comes from I’ve no idea. Your parents, peers, or an inspirational teacher, perhaps (I’ve heard they exist, but never met one when I was shackled to a desk). Yet the sad fact remains, dear reader, that many will insist on believing ‘Four Weddings’ to be an All-Time Classic. The same people who buy McFly tracks, presumably. And today, if you’re not careful with the mouse, you’ll come across fan sites for Hugh Grant. It’s a dangerous world, this digital domain. You can stray into some awful places that will taint your view of humanity.
   But where does the rise of the New Democratic Order leave the Old Classics? Do they rot alongside their supporters, The Critics? Because this is about more than simply Everyone expressing their opinion here in Blogsville; it’s about the values the old guard treasured. They used such old-fashioned criteria as the standard of visual artistry, the literary merits of a script, acting, directing etc. And they could place a work in its historical, socio-political and cinematic context, of course, because they were clever, about film at least. And they knew, of course, that The People do not give a hoot about ‘The Bicycle Thief’ and Italian Realism, or the mise-en-scene, or any other fancy concepts (most haven’t grasped what ‘film noir’ is - the idiots!).
   Once those values become completely redundant, the sluice gates are opened and all that ‘art’ is washed away. That generation, the so-called baby-boomers, will be gone one day, and who will shape or influence opinion then? Who will guide the ignorant towards the heights of Great Cinema? ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic’ fans, probably. To some extent, they already do. It will be a sorry world then in which the remaining few with anything like discerning taste will be locked away in their little rooms, forming a weird cult which communicates in code via the internet whilst praying they don’t get caught and prosecuted for downloading stills from ‘8 1/2’. It could happen.
   Since I don’t believe in either/or scenarios I’m not advocating slavish adherence to the Old Critic’s list of Essential Cinema, god knows that would be dull and represent a sacrificing of all that makes us what we are as individuals. But, to throw it out in gleeful celebration of The Self Against Classicism seems to me to be just as bad. If your Self is anything like mine in this respect it can be a lazy bastard that likes nothing better than to be entertained without using a brain cell. That’s OK sometimes too, but the great, complex, deep and, dare I say, more profound things in culture (and life?) tend not to come so easily. Yes, a little, sometimes a lot, of effort is required.
   Primitive man didn’t face this conundrum, and if we hadn’t created what we call culture today, neither would we (never let it be said that this blog is not educational). Mind you, when you watch ‘One Million Years BC’ you see that he did have to contend with dinosaurs. Other than that he was content to fuck and forage for food. And travel, probably. That is the total extent of my anthropological knowledge right there. And yet, if we look around, like Attenborough creeping through the urban jungle, perhaps we may still see this man (and woman) the dark...transfixed by images on the screen...watching ‘Get Him To The Greek’...

Sight & Sound Poll 1992

1) Citizen Kane Orson Welles, 1941 (43 votes) US

2) The Rules of the Game Jean Renoir, 1939 (32) FR

3) Tokyo Story Yasujiro Ozu, 1953 (22) JP

4) Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (18) US

5) The Searchers John Ford, 1956 (17) US

6) L'Atalante Jean Vigo, 1934 (15) FR

7) The Passion of Joan of Arc Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928 (15) FR

8) Pather Panchali Satyajit Ray, 1955 (15) IN

9) Battleship Potemkin Sergei Eisenstein, 1925 (15) USSR

10) 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick, 1968 (14) UK

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