April 11, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #11


My college years arrived just as the Internet was picking up steam in the mid-‘90s. However, the ancient technology of slow dial-up left me with few opportunities to even use it away from campus. During those struggles, I found that a text-only format allowed me to read film reviews from Entertainment Weekly. Checking in with Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum spurred my interest in writing about films. Their reviews were much longer than today’s version of the magazine and delved into more than the basics. That inspiration is what makes it even rougher to watch the demise of that publication’s film writing. Gleiberman’s firing last week followed the announcement of a community of unpaid writers, and that combination is unfortunate. The issues contain less substantial content and often pile up on the shelves at home, and that trend won’t change anytime soon.

Matt Zoller Seitz’s piece for RogerEbert.com last Thursday on this issue and the larger ramifications for this practice offers a sobering take on the current trends. His final line that “it’s still not right” says it all, and the results are a shame for Gleiberman and so many other skilled writers. Film criticism is an art that takes years of practice, and reducing it to unpaid writers hoping to get “exposure” is just sad. On a related note, there’s an interesting comparison from the Listen Eggroll blog of Entertainment Weekly issues from 1998 and today. It’s hardly a shock to see a lot more text, but the difference is still pretty striking.


Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Friday was the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s passing, and his site included some amazing and heartfelt writing from his team of writers. First of all, his wife Chaz posted the “Leave of Presence” that Roger wrote one day before he died. It shows a dedicated guy who’s involved in so much and passionate about his work despite the health difficulties. It’s easy to get sidetracked by the smallest challenges in life, and he kept the faith after losing his voice and enduring so much over his final years.

I could recommend any of the dedications to Roger on his site. One that struck me came from film student Jamie Tyberg, who never met him. There are so many examples of aspiring writers and filmmakers who learned so much from him. I never met Roger, yet it seems like I know him after watching him on television and reading his reviews for so many years. His legacy continues beyond the individual reviews, and he still inspires many of us today.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody is not a fan of television. While I disagree with his points about the “five-minute rule” when it comes to serialized TV, he makes an interesting case. Essentially, he believes that a great film should inspire you with any random five minutes of its screen time. While this may be the case for classics, I’m not sure it applies to every movie. It also doesn’t take into account the extended running time when you look at television. It’s a simplified concept but still raises thought-provoking points about what constitutes art and how we view and enjoy each visual medium.


I don’t talk enough about the greatness of Matt Singer and Alison Wilmore on their podcast Filmspotting SVU. They have such a laid-back charm that combines perfectly with intelligent film discussions. I’ve been focusing more on streaming and video on demand lately, and their show is an excellent way to learn about major films and hidden gems available online. Their latest episode includes a review of Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and covers the sword-fighting genre. Matt and Alison are also accomplished writers, and they bring those same skills to the audio world. Their discussions move smoothly between high art and lowbrow cinema, and we learn plenty about the movie world.

Sam Fragoso is carving quite a niche for himself through his site Movie Mezzanine and his work at Rogerebert.com. This week, he added another publication to the list with his post for The Week about ignoring the online trolls. It’s a thoughtful piece that makes good points about the damage of focusing on terrible reviews instead of the best writing. I’ll admit that it’s easy to get sucked into looking at the weaker parts of this practice, but it does little good. You can follow all of Sam’s work through his new personal site at Sam Fragaso.com. Let’s close with a quote from his piece that exemplifies the key points:

As anyone who has ever put pen to paper can attest, producing an intelligent and incisive piece of writing on any subject matter is difficult — but highlighting quality writing shouldn't be. If you care about good film criticism, please, pay attention to good film criticism.

4 comments:

  1. An extremely interesting post, Dan! This truly feels like a double edged sword, but it's really nice to take the time to single out writing that is worth your time.

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    1. Thanks! I find that it's a fun way to recognize some great writing, and it keeps me engaged in looking for it at the same time.

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  2. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is probably my favorite Jarmusch movie, so I should give that podcast a listen, thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    I do agree somewhat with Sam Fragaso, that the payed critics are important and should keep their jobs. Though for me I do feel the negative reviews generally do tend to be more critical than the positive ones. Though obviously I don't want to read a review if the writer is just calling attention to themselves with controversial opinions and inaccurate observations.

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    1. Chris, I also liked Ghost Dog, though I'm not sure that I've seen it since the theaters. I think you'll find it to be an interesting podcast. I think what Sam's calling attention to are more the awful reviews and poor examples of the craft than just negative posts in general.

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