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ranters and ravers

The Critic Is Dead, Says Critic

Courtesy of ABC

"The end of the critic?" by Patrick Goldstein. L.A. Times, April 8, 2008. Grade: Two and a half stars.

Is the critic truly dead? That's the question raised by film critic Patrick Goldstein in his provocative essay, "The end of the critic?," in today's Los Angeles Times. Certainly the scores of professional film critics who have recently lost their jobs might think so. In clear, forceful prose, Goldstein discusses the reasons why the notion of the critic as esteemed cultural arbiter has come crashing down in recent years. While Goldstein makes a number of excellent points about the changing role of criticism in American culture, he fails to suggest real solutions, and his essay suffers from its anticlimactic conclusion.

Goldstein astutely points out a number of the problems that critics face. To start with, magazines and papers — facing budget crunches — have shrunk their news holes for criticism, which force critics to cut thoughtful conclusions and supporting evidence from their reviews. "I reviewed 'Eastern Promises' in two sentences," People's Leah Rozen tells Goldstein. [cut for space —Ed.] More and more, critics are faced with pressures to add value to their reviews with service-y celebrity profiles. (To see our slideshow of movie stars and their opinions of critics, click here!) Goldstein also points out the pressure on writers to deliver positive reviews, and his discussion of the dangers of blurb whores is fantastic…a tour de force!

More than that, Goldstein makes a point that we haven't seen discussed much elsewhere: One reason that individual critics no longer exert nearly as much power as they used to is the existence of sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregate critical response, offering a snapshot of everyone's response to a movie or album, not just one critic's. "Even among savvy journalism students," Goldstein writes, "it's hard to find anyone who knows any critics by name." Though that's less true in New York — where critics from the Times, The New Yorker, and New York magazine (where, full disclosure, the author of this review works) still exert a significant level of critical power — than elsewhere in the country, it's hard to argue against Goldstein's point.

To be sure, Goldstein's essay has its weaknesses. Disappointingly, he doesn't have any real ideas on how to rescue critics from their impending doom. He offers a wan "critics…should pay more attention to their audience," but what does he mean? Should critics depersonalize their voices, attempting to capture a consensus view rather than put forth their own? Should critics review more populist work, as when the New Yorker's dance critic writes on Dancing With the Stars? What does Goldstein mean, exactly? It's unclear. Sadly, his inability to come up with a great ending makes an otherwise thoughtful essay feel like a bit of a disappointment. Here's hoping his next essay fulfills the promise of this one.

The end of the critic? [LAT]