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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

Buy A Christmas Caroline for $10! "for those who prefer their sentimentality seasoned with a dash of cynical wit. A quick, enjoyable read...straight out of Devil Wears Prada"--The Wall Street Journal

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    Criticism Is Dying! (So What?)

    By Kyle | April 3, 2010

    John Nolte has an insightful post about how critics are forever writing about the death of criticism. Nolte points out that he never goes to a movie because some critic liked it but he did enjoy listening to Siskel & Ebert argue because they were sharp, interesting guys. I was thinking much the same thing the other day when I (finally) read Anthony Lane’s review of “Shutter Island.” I thought Lane was “wrong” (i.e. I had a different opinion, so neither of us is really right or wrong) on the merits but his writing is so spirited, funny and entertaining that it’s a great review. Critics should, I think, place a higher premium on the quality of their writing because their “expert” opinions don’t matter. As Nolte points out, critics’ opinions actually matter less than ordinary people’s — because critics see so many films that they come to have different values than the rest of the audience. I’ve noticed that in music criticism, the critics seem to write exclusively for other critics, and to the extent that is true, or becomes true, of film critics, it will reduce our readership and relevance.

    Topics: Movies, Newspapers | 18 Comments »

    18 Responses to “Criticism Is Dying! (So What?)”

    1. K Says:
      April 3rd, 2010 at 12:37 pm

      Au contraire, Kyle. Elite prissy critics are de rigueur to the enjoyment of any movie. How could I impress the haut monde and maintain my rep as a pretentious, self important art geek at parties if I couldn’t steal or quote some witticism on the subtle nuances of some obscure and obtuse movie?

    2. yankeefan Says:
      April 3rd, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      I usually read reviews after I have seen a picture, for the writing, insights, and context, not (obviously) for the thumbs up/down. Though if critics I like all trash a picture, I’ll avoid it.

    3. Marlon M. Says:
      April 3rd, 2010 at 10:04 pm

      Criticism dying?? Not only is it not dying, it’s so endemic that criticism of criticism is a viable niche, with criticism^3 just around the corner.

      Wait, it’s here already, since that’s exactly what I’m doing. so, anyone care to critique my critique of Kyle’s commentary on Nolte’s critique of critics?

      Whoops, that puts me at Crit Level 4.

    4. Patrick Wahl Says:
      April 3rd, 2010 at 10:33 pm

      I actually read Kyle Smith a little more for your writing than whether or not you like a movie. You are a little tougher on movies than I am and you often dismiss movies that I find have at least some entertainment value, but the way you do it is often very entertaining reading.

      I disagree with Nolte a bit, I do sometimes decide to see a movie based on a critic if I might be on the fence about that movie. Kyle actually tipped the balance on “Watchmen”, which was getting mixed reviews, but got 4 stars from Kyle. And I thought it was very good, so there you go, one critic influenced one movie goer.

    5. Brian Russo Says:
      April 4th, 2010 at 8:15 am

      If criticism is dying it’s because of terrible ones such as yourself that are more concerned with their reputation and image than integrity and discriminating taste.

      So if you’re the options.. yes we’ll let you happily die out. I can ask my neighbour’s 6 year old what they think and get a more cogent response.

    6. JohnFNWayne Says:
      April 4th, 2010 at 9:33 am

      I read not for the criticism, but for the writer, which is why I would read Kurt Loder reviewing any film, even if it was one I wasn’t interested in seeing. As Nolte said, being interesting is important, being political, not so much.

    7. kishke Says:
      April 4th, 2010 at 11:12 am

      My movie-watching is definitely influenced by critics. I’m interested in what they think of movies and why. I don’t want to waste two hours on a lousy movie.

    8. James Frazier Says:
      April 4th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

      As far as I can tell, whether or not critics rave about a film can have considerable impact on whether or not it gets seen by a wider audience, so I’m not apt to believe critics have lost their relevance just yet.

    9. JohnFNWayne Says:
      April 4th, 2010 at 10:00 pm

      Critics as a whole maybe, critics individually, I think they are now just cogs in the Tomato-meter. The days of Ebert or Siskel making or breaking a film are over.

    10. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 10:01 am

      Will anyone who is planning to see the epic adventure ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, directed by Ridley Scott with a script by Oscar-winning William Monaghan, really going to bother reading a review first?

    11. Kyle Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Hunter, you sound like a press release. (Public Enemies had a similar pedigree.)

    12. Brian Moore Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      @Hunter What explains the atrocious “Kingdom of Heaven”?

      @Kyle Your point about the insularity of music criticism is spot on. I once asked a rock manager about record reviews, and his dismissive reply was “a People Magazine review is the _only_ one that can move a record.”

    13. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      @ Brian

      You obviously haven’t seen the directors cut of KINGDOM which is probably the best movie made in the last ten years. Fox chopped an hour out of the picture.

    14. Brian Moore Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 5:45 pm

      @Hunter I’ll give it a shot, though I don’t remember thinking that I wished the flick were longer.

    15. Nick Boyd Says:
      April 5th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

      Kyle, what do you mean that in music criticism, the critics seem to write exclusively for other critics?

    16. Jake Was Here Says:
      April 6th, 2010 at 5:29 am

      Nick: Far too many music critics write in an impenetrable jargon that only other critics or similarly well-read music fans can understand. It’s a problem in all criticism — there’s always a few terms, specific to the medium under study, that the public at large wouldn’t get, and critics tend to have an inordinate love for these.

      Especially music critics. They blather on about genres at great length (just what the hell is ‘post-rock’ anyway?), make comparisons between the band they’re reviewing — whom you’ve never heard of — and some other band whom you’ve again never heard of… and never quite get around to telling the reader whether the music in question is great, good, disappointing, or terrible. You’re just assumed to be capable of drawing that conclusion from all the fancy words they’ve thrown around in the rest of the article… which isn’t easy, considering we’re not all educated critics.

    17. Kyle Says:
      April 6th, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Jake is spot-on. Also, music critics are very fond of taking one band you’ve never heard of and comparing it to five other bands you’ve never heard of. This is to score points with other music critics who like obscure bands, not to communicate with any sort of public.

    18. Brian Moore Says:
      April 6th, 2010 at 9:39 am

      The problem is most pop music critics know almost nothing about music save for an ability to draw analogies that nobody cares about, as noted earlier.

      If you don’t understand something, how can you write about it credibly? You can’t, so you rely on jargon, esoterica and the other bane of music criticism, which is a bumbling “analysis” of lyrics.

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