Posted by · 7:00 pm · November 27th, 2008

Roger Ebert has written an eloquent and impassioned response to what he sees as the demise of film criticism as an artform, prompted by the depressing news that the Associated Press has posed a 500-word limit on all entertainment-related articles, including all reviews and think pieces:

Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should “reflect the taste of the readers.” My friend said, “Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald’s?” The editor: “Absolutely.” I don’t believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, “You are correct, sir!” A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged.

Exactly, sir. And 500 words just doesn’t cut it. Hell, the reviews I write here are twice that, more often than not. 500 words is an exam question answer. 500 words is an eight-grade book report. 500 words is not usually an adequate space in which to stimulatingly engage with, dissect, and reassimilate a work of art. Chances are anyone who finds longer pieces too challenging doesn’t read reviews anyway.

I don’t need critics to tell me whether to see a film or not. I have my own instincts for that. I need critics (good ones, at any rate) to test and expand my understanding of the film after the fact. A great critic, be it Pauline Kael, David Denby or Ryan Gilbey, offers an interpretation that, whether it contradicts or consolidates my own, reveals alternative possibilities within the work at hand. If you limit their imaginations to a paltry word limit, you limit those of their readers too.

Of course, if all you want from a film review is a star rating, you’re probably not reading this. If you are, I encourage you to read Ebert’s full piece here.

→ 2 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

2 responses so far

  • 1 11-28-2008 at 3:02 am

    Chris said...

    The reviews I write for my uni newspaper are supposed to be 500 words. And my reviews are basically always structured in the same way, because I can’t expand on anything…

    This is really a shame.

  • 2 11-28-2008 at 11:04 am

    Anthony Breznican said...

    This is depressing news. Nothing wrong with tightly written entertainment stories, and everyone can agree that bloated navel-gazing pieces are awful. But a solid, colorful interview or review is like a really satisfying meal, no matter the length. It grieves me that my beloved AP is turning good journalism into a tapas bar. I could even kinda, sorta, maybe understand why a newswire would put an emphasis on getting MORE short stories. But to say they’ll ONLY do briefs? It’s an insult to readers, and a sure way to drive away those who still enjoy a good read. It’s like a sickening real-life manifestation of that old parody of The New York Times line — “All the news that fits, we print.” Here’s hoping it doesn’t last — and doesn’t spread.