• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Are Bloggers Critics?

Is any profession less secure than film criticism? Really. I mean, I was depressed about the box office success of Transformers 2 as well and was disappointed no one heeded you, but I didn’t begin to doubt my very profession. Similarly I was upset that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was marketed around film critics, but I didn’t become openly petty about you guys not seeing the film for free. This time, it’s the fact that critics are being grouped with bloggers that has prompted a rather severe reaction from some quarters. Is there any point to be made?

The film critic on new media...

The film critic on new media...

The debate started over a simple attempt by indieWire to pull a “Rotten Tomatoes” on the Toronto International Film Festival – aggregating critics scores as a way of gaging the quality of the crop. It’s an interesting list you can read here. Anyway, they introduced their article with…

indieWIRE conducted survey of various critics in attendance at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.

And among the ‘critics’ surveyed included reputable publications like The New York Times and The LA Times, but also included websites like /Film. It was an index of 34 people who had seen a bunch of films, but the site decided to use the label ‘critic’ instead of the more cumbersome (and possibly accurate) ‘people who had seen a bunch of films’. Did somebody complain? You’re damn right they did.

Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily posted the list for her readers, but prefaced it with a remark which made clear her distaste at the method used:

What makes a film critic, one has to wonder. Nowadays, anyone with a blog who sees movies is called a “critic.” I really think that should be amended to use the term “blogger” or “industry columnist.” Not everyone is an actual film critic. I feel like I’m the only person in the known universe who cares about the difference but that’s because I come from a time when there was a difference; not just anyone could write about movies and be called a “critic.” Indiewire has a rundown of grades from the Toronto Film Fest and calls it a “Critics Poll”. In truth, it is a columnist/critic/blogger poll. I’m not dissing these guys at all. I’m just making the point that the line is invisible if no one notices it’s there. At any rate, you’ll find the grades of people like Anne Thompson (not a film critic), Jeff Wells (not a film critic), Peter Sciretta (not a film critic), etc. These opinions made by them are made as industry columnists and bloggers. I think it’s important to remember that (thus, the main difference between Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes).

I don’t think it’s unfair to observe that “I’m not dissing these guys at all” is followed by “I think it’s important to remember that [they aren’t critics]”, as if to imply that the quality of the list was somehow impaired by including these bloggers and columnists.

If inclusion is the issue, it seems that exclusion is the solution. Cut those guys off the list, because they are obviously not critics. Except if we start conducting business that way, we need some form of objective criteria for inclusion or exclusion on the film critic’s list or else it’s just including or excluding people based on personal opinion of whether they are a critic or not. So what links the three examples that she gives? Sciretta, Wells and Thompson? Jeffery Wells is a print journalist (writing for Entertainment Weekly), but he has never written as a print reviewer – he’s only reviewed on-line – but otherwise he has more than a decade of experience with movies, so he isn’t some wannabe (like myself) who has no idea what he’s talking about. Sciretta runs /Film and Thompson is the reviewer for indieWire, both on-line film resources. I would be ticked if my own publication didn’t include my own review in an aggregation.Anyway, it looks like how Stone defines a critic is “someone who writes reviews in print media” – if we can infer she believes that that they are not someone who writes reviews in new media.

In fairness, she may have a point, but I think she makes it in a terribly condescending way. I am not a film critic. But I am not not a film critic just because I comment on film in a tiny corner of cyberspace, I am not a film critic because I haven’t taken film on my shoulders as a vocation. I don’t mean getting a formal education in film studies or something pretentious like that, I just mean I haven’t devoted myself to cinema in a way that justifies referring to myself as a critic. I don’t think all bloggers are critics, but equally I don’t think that all reviewers are critics either.

I pick up a newspaper regularly and read some of the reviews – and they make me want to bash my head against a wall. A good film critic starts discussions on films and gets people thinking about cinema. They don’t just begin with five paragraphs of an introduction to the plot and the characters before offering a simple thumbs up or thumbs down (though they can do that too). Film is art, and critics need – above all – to devote themselves to that art to a reasonable extent. I don’t pretend all bloggers measure up, but I think some do. Jeffrey Wells does himself justice in his response to the post, discussing what makes a firm believer and devotee of the art of cinema:

But critics aren’t truly and finally critics unless they’re stone Catholics about movies, and I have always been that. I’ve been swimming in these waters for 30 years now and I don’t just skim across the surface of the pond when I see and write about a film. True Catholics put on the wetsuit and dive in each and every time. They swim to the bottom and search around and can identify and quantify the various fish and algae down there, not to mention the geological assessments of silt and sand and bedrock.

I do all that and then some. All my life I have felt and communed and wrestled with films as seriously and arduously as Martin Luther did with Catholicism before striking out with the Protestant Reformation.

He’s right. He also goes on to rubbish the notion that his views are invalid because he hasn’t seen everything ever made:

Okay, [I have not seen] not every last flick made and distributed on the planet earth but most of the ones worth seeing.

I think he’s right – there’s no formal minimum requirement in terms of films seen or facts known that bar a person from being a critic. It isn’t something you rote learn. Roger Ebert recently discussed about how movie trivia was the bane of film critics everywhere and he made a valid argument. He suggests that you don’t need knowledge of facts to be a film critic:

When people cheerfully tell me, “I have a trivia question” for you, I have a cheerful answer for them, but I rarely express it: “I’m a professional. Ask an amateur.” Why in the name of Buster would I want to clutter my memory with useless facts?

I don’t think being a film critic is a title you earn through useless facts (over the course of the above article Ebert even makes a joking mistake in a piece of Some Like It Hot trivia). I’d suggest that being a film critic is not determined about where you write or what you know.

I do agree with Stone that maybe we do throw the word ‘critic’ around too easily. It is an artform which has very few masters. And Armond White is right (sometimes) to suggest that criticism owes itself much more than what it offers at the moment, in any medium. I disagree with the inherent snobbishness of Stone’s classification and distinct between critics and bloggers (apparently solely on medium) – she makes no such attempt to distinguish reviewers and bloggers. No matter where one writes, if they show enough dedication, thought and consideration about their love of cinema, I feel that the word ‘critic’ is justified.

I’ll leave the last words to Wells’ very well-considered response:

What matters is whether or not you’re a life-long hairshirt Catholic and whether or not movies get to you in the same way that spiritual satori or lung cancer does.

34 Responses

  1. G.I Joe sucked. I’d rather play with my Action Men, as we called them here in the UK. http://doctorbeatnik.wordpress.com/

  2. Really good article, man. I haven’t been reviewing movies for all that long, but whatever, I consider myself a critic in my own right and I’m cool with that. I don’t see what all the griping is about. Cry me a river, Ms. Stone.

  3. i so like to read your post, but i am bad for english language. might please give a widget translator google on your side bar. thanks

    Indonesian blogger

  4. I don’t agree with Sasha. I don’t think the distinction should be critics vs bloggers. It should be professional critic as against amateur or novice critic. Just like there are professional dancers and singers and amateurs dancers and singers etc. Oh well. Good article.

    • Totally agree with you. The distinction shouldn’t be made between critic and blogger. It should be what kind of critic they are.

      Just because someone write so-called “reviews” for a living (as in they get paid to do it) and they write in published media doesn’t make the ‘critics’. I’ve seen these ”critics’ in Indonesian media and they’re just writing film reviews. While some blogger out there can write a proper in-depth review and write good blog entries on film theory.

      I’m sorry, I don’t get Sasha’s point. She sounds like she’s threatened by bloggers, like they’ll take her job away from her or something

      PS: I’ve never claimed to be a critic. I’m just a girl who writes film reviews in a blog.

  5. Everybody’s a critic, there’s always someone who wants to criticise ….

  6. Bloggers can be critics just as much as, say, the Arts staff at The Boston Globe. Being a critic isn’t really about where you publish your writing. It’s about having a working knowledge of film history and film/critical theory.

    The random guy on IMDB who posts “reviews” to various movies that simply amount to how “awesome” a movie is or how much it sucks, and can’t tell you what the 180 degree rule is, isn’t a critic. The bloggers and writers working for film sites who have seen the classics, read the theories, and strive to produce cogent critical thoughts on the films they see could easily be called critics.

    I mean, come on. I don’t think of myself as a true critic, but I’m more of a critic than some twit like Rex Reed.

  7. Really dont see why any of it matters anyway, either professional, amateur or for just plain fun, its all opinions…

  8. I thought the job of the critic was to critique, not to criticise.

    • How the hell does a person know to do BETTER if we dont have a CRITIC, or a person that CRITICIZES.

      When do people GROW UP and accept that not everyone likes their work, OR, some MAY like it.
      People need to GROW UP.

  9. Being a critic isn’t about qualification, because the last time I check, there was no bachelor’s degree in the art of critique. It’s about giving an opinion that is skilfully written, with heartfelt sentiment (preferably) and a certain knowledge of what works on-screen. That doesn’t have to be obtained in a lecture hall during the course of your film studies, it can very well be learned through years of watching movies, good and bad, and keeping an opinion about each one of those. Not an opinion of some columnist, but your own, which in turn over time forms into a belief, and after years of that you’d be the best film critic anyone ever knew because you’ll be able to see things from aside, and point them out to people, which I think is the best thing a critic can do.

  10. I don’t see any reason why bloggers can’t be film critics. It’s not like practicing medicine without a license. If you’ve seen a couple movies and you can write, why shouldn’t you write about movies? There’s no malpractice of critics. http://asad123.wordpress.com

  11. everyone can be a critic, but not everyone can write…and there lies the difference =)
    I can see and love/hate a movie like anyone in the world but i can´t put it all in words…

    • Elly, I am a TERRIBLE writer. 🙂 I ‘try’, but I am too emotional, & very passion filled person, so that it conflicts with things I write, but its fun 😉

      I just like getting mad, and here is the place I do it.

  12. i don’t really mind seeing a blogger become a critic.. its got nothing to do with domains you are in, what is ur background, ur writing perspective blah blah…

    what matters is if ur reviews are accepted by movie goers.. if they are then u are a critic.. if not.. then ur just a dilettante

  13. great article =)
    i think anyone can be a critic. It’s just how good the article is. Or how we present the review. Some just go straight to bashing the movie without any intro whatsoever -.- which, is pretty annoying. These critics shouldnt be paid attention to as it may be biased. So yeah, i guess any film lover can write a review…

  14. Maybe blogger critics ought to be called blitics?

  15. Word-of-mouth is stronger than professional criticism. Toxic reviews don’t always kill a movie, but bad word-of-mouth will. Even with Transformers 2 being critically panned, word-of-mouth was extremely positive in the days and weeks following (check Facebook and Twitter).

    Point being, this is a good thing. Blogs are closer to word-of-mouth than “real” journalistic criticism, considering that most blogs include a network of friends and relations — it’s just closer to the experience of getting an honest opinion from a friend.

  16. for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism

  17. This is unfortunate, but inevitable. With something as subjective as film reviews I think just about anyone capable of properly explaining their opinion on the matter in a relevant way would count as a critic. Give them access to a website and they’re doing something that, up until recently, a select few had been working their whole life towards.

    Someone who thinks that bloggers don’t count as critics isn’t a critic, they’re an elitist.

    In the end… the established critics still have their names, reputations and industry contacts. Oh, and competition. They have a lot more competition.

    Some of them will feel threatened by that and attempt to differentiate themselves from bloggers. Others will see how things are going and just keep trying to do their job to the best of their abilities.

  18. The first point when you write about a subject is that you must know it quite well. Otherwise you can be in trouble. I mean, if you write about movies, it is better to know the subject quite well. The problem with movie critics is that few of them (very few of them) have really studied the subject during enough time to be sure on what they are writing.
    The second point is: are the critics getting any advantadge in doing their jobs? If yes, then the evaluation fairness is over. Any good and fair evaluation must be imparcial. If it is not, what is the point in discussing the subject? The cinema industry is nowadays a multibillion US$ industry, and there are lots of peaople making money behind. Including critics, of course.
    Third. In the specific subject we are discussing, the personal feeling we have on a specific movie does have no relationship with the movie quality. Many times people watch a movie and like it because their personal feelings have been touched by the story or by one of the characters. But this has nothing to do with the movie quality, right?
    So, as a rule of thumb, I prefer to be conservative and not be critic on any subject I don’t know well. Specifically on movies, this is a very complex subject. When critics elect the best 100 movies ever, maybe 50% are of general consensus, Orson Wells’ Cytizen Kane almost always in the top. This is an old movie, but it is considered a masterpiece. Many people don’t like european movies, but the european cinema has a long tradition in movie schools of being very important. Fellini’s and Truffaut’s are only two examples. So, it is good to study the movie subject to get more information before to present a movie critic.
    But the discussion here is very nice. I think the post is of wide interest.
    Congratulations for your job.

  19. sure, “critics” have this elite sound to it. really, what makes a critic? just because you don’t have an everyday column on a newspaper or you’re not famous, you don’t deserve to be a “critic”?

    to be a critic is to know a lot about what your subject. so even if it’s your first time to talk about a movie as long as you know all about it, then i don’t have a problem with that.

    why are people so elitist? give me a break.

  20. The internet has blurred the lines between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ in many areas, most notably in the realm or media and journalism. Many people (mostly those still working in print media) hold fast to the idea of the internet as unprofessional, and only for amateurs. The rest of us, however, have come to realize, and even embrace, the internet as the successor to print media.

    What separates the amateurs from the professionals? I’d say it has to do with two things, heart, and a paycheck (yes, a knowledge of film is important, as is being a good writer, but if you have the heart, you’ll learn all this soon enough). The heart comes from the individuals love of film, and their desire to share it with others. The paycheck comes from the fact you probably can’t name five professionals in any field who don’t get paid. Be it right or wrong, if you earn a paycheck, you’re considered a professional, if you don’t, you’re considered an amateur.

    I’ll leave you with this thought. In 1995 Christopher Null started filmcritic.com. He’s been the head critic and CEO since it’s inception. Not only is he passionate about film, and gets paid for it (just as the critics in print media), but as CEO he’s spent a good portion of the last 14 years operating and overseeing the daily workings of the site. How many of the ‘professional’ critics in print media have put a similar amount of time and heart into film criticism?

  21. only some bloggers are critics

  22. In my mind I’ve always differentiated people who write about movies in two categories movie critics and movie reviewers.

    For me, the discerning factor is the depth of insight. A reviewer just says stuff like “the cinematography was good because of X, Y and Z.”

    A critic says “the cinematography takes cues from French New Wave cinematographer X and the director uses this style to reinforce the psychological fragmentation of the protagonist.”

    In other words the reviewer deconstructions the individual elements and says what is good and bad whereas the critic deconstructions the the film and then proceeds to reconstruct it from a background of movie knowledge.

  23. No most bloggers aren’t critics. But most critics are paid
    off. It’s a time between times.
    BE YOUR OWN CRITIC, and view the 35mm epic photographed
    for 5 years exclusively in Guatemala:


  24. i think thats true. It’s difficult to write something interesting if it’s not a criticism 🙂

  25. we are all different in our reviews of movies and i think that it has a lot to do with one’s age. as you get older, it gets easier to say why you like it or not. for example, we saw “burn after reading” and thought it was hilarious. we really liked brad pitt’s acting and george clooney too, but our son-in-law saw it and stated that it stunk. oh well , so much for our opinion on that movie. like i stated, it all depends on ages!

  26. I think it’s fascinating how film critics always criticise anything new/different/online regarding their profession. It’s like they’re hard wired just to criticise, when really there is SO MUCH to criticise about the ‘gaggle of film bloggers’ as I read a ‘pro’ critic calling us all some time back.

    • Is ‘gaggle’ our collective noun? 🙂

      • If it isn’t, it should be.

        In fairness to the print critics, there’s a lot to dislike about the gaggle of film bloggers out in the ether. Being frank, an astounding number of them don’t know what they’re talking about, but that’s the nature of the Internet– anyone, anywhere, can have an opinion on anything, however ill-founded. I find a number of “movie blogs” to be patently dissatisfying in their cogency, wit, and knowledge. (Not, of course, this one.) The worst, of course, are the gossip blogs that just rehash movie news of the day to generate hits.

        But with that said, print critics who don’t give the blogosphere gaggle of critics a fair shake should. Many of our blogs are worth taking the time to read.

      • Yep, I’m pretending that all bloggers are inherently masters of their craft (for example, I have a very long way to go), but I think the same could be said for some film reviewers. I pick up some papers or listen to some radio stations and I just want to smack the reviewer or commentator.

        I agree, though, Sturgeon’s Law is in effect – 90% of anything is crap. Since there are more bloggers than print critics, there are more crap bloggers than crap print critics. I just think that when a web-based critic is just that good, the term critic should be allowed to be applied – without excluding them because of their medium.

  27. I think you’re way too hard on yourself in terms of your ability as a film critic. I actually think you are one of the best critics I’ve read.

    What I really like about you is you tend not to rationalize your film criticism idiosyncrasies. Any critiques and criticisms tend to be backed up by actual arguments, rather than “I just didn’t like it, so there must be something wrong with it”.

    I think the worst are those who are excellent writers but terrible film critics. They essentially make their terrible opinions sound good.

  28. They reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: