‘Ah, critics, frightful people I know, but so necessary…’
So said a colleague when I raised the topic. But are critics really needed anymore, now that we can take an aggregate of opinions both biased and unbiased from online resources? Okay, I wouldn’t trust Tripadvisor with the purchase of a bag of nuts, let alone a holiday, but some sites are filled with knowledgeable, intelligent people who review for the pleasure of informing their readers. Ahem. So why do we read to need what the Evening Standard reviewer thinks of ‘Sleeping Beauty’? He’ll have already seen half a dozen other things this week, he’s jaded and has been doing the job too long and has now rather come to hate everything he sees.
Literary reviewers have their favourite writers. Film critics cling to glimmers of left or right wing polemic in the tawdriest films to justify some inner meaning and validate their pre-decided opinions. But online reviewers are quite happy to take the latest iPhone entirely to pieces to show you what’s good or bad about it, and before you buy a game online don’t you check to see if there’s a stack of one or five-star reviews? My rule of thumb is, if five people find the same flaw in something, it’s a flaw. If five people offer a mix of opinions, it’s just that; opinion.
I realise that as a reviewer for several newspapers I’m shooting myself in the foot here, but even I don’t think they’re of much use. The difference between a reviewer and a critic is that a reviewer chooses what to cover, so we look for excellence. A critic covers everything, and is therefore more prone to finding fault or drawing comparisons. But the public – especially the young – have no experience to draw on, and may find the most banal play or movie exciting and appealing to their age bracket.
British films were ignored for decades because elitist critics sought to reduce the visibility and importance of home-grown product, most of which was aimed at working class audiences, and routinely dismissed all those without socialist subtexts or auteur tics. French cinema, to which the general public had extremely limited access, received endless column inches in the highbrow press while popular releases were blanked.
I just checked through the Top 100 films for 2012 in the UK, and there’s not one single art film or indie that made it onto the list – ‘The Master’ comes in at 106 but received an insane amount of coverage in the broadsheet press. Those making art in a populist medium have their work cut out for them, and I’m thankful that they do it, but critical perspective is a tautology at best. If you want to read critics at their most insular and arrogant, check out Time Out New York for its film reviews.