Thursday, December 31, 2009
Notes on Criticism
By Eric Jessen 12/31/09
When I think of my dream job, I think of Pauline Kael describing in her fifth book Reeling, a trip she took to the Broadway area with a young critic to see a hard-core movie. She describes the small theater, the crowd full of men, the live show that accompanied the movie – a young girl, around 17 or 18 doing a strip and then a dance naked. She describes the girl's eyes scaling the audience with a look of hatred, then staring at her. She describes being overcome by a feeling similar to one she got while watching many recent movies, those as she put it with a “mixture of nostalgia and parody” and a nihilistic atmosphere, as if “everything had turned to dung, oneself included.”
There's something about all this that I love. Maybe it's that the critic sees past the popular, the marketing, the stars, and the glittering lights. The critic can point out the excellence in a small or all but forgotten film, and at the same time point out when the movies have turned to dung. And maybe in some small way the critic makes film better.
I used to just watch movies, hundreds and hundreds. But it wasn't until I starting reading great criticism by my favorites, like Kael, Farber and Ferguson, Agee and Sarris, that I came to appreciate movies as trash and art, and directors as auteurists, frauds and hacks. I worry that with the demise of newspapers and magazines, where my favorite critics worked, that my generation won't benefit from great criticism.