Is it my imagination, or is the day of the film critic over?
I did movie reviews online for seven years. For seven years, I spent just about every weekend day in a darkened movie theatre, then went home and wrote about them. Then one day in 2005, after plodding my way through a review of the Jet Li film Unleashed
, it all just seemed just so trivial.
Back when I was in the Online Film Critics Society, and later on as a founding member of Cinemarati
, working towards gaining credibility for online film reviewing seemed like a worthy goal, if not necessarily an attainable one. Film festivals proliferated and for a while it seemed that everyone was reviewing movies. Some of those writing were better than others, but it seemed like a worthy endeavor. Then one day I just didn't want to do it anymore. To some degree, blogging is having the same trajectory, so far with better results. But with Roger Ebert being out of the picture due to illness, and now with the death of Joel Siegel, it seems that the quote whores have won the day -- and reading movie reviews has less impact than ever on people's decision to see a movie -- witness the success of Evan Almighty
Still, I can't help but feel that yet another door is closing on the art of film reviewing with Siegel's death. For one thing Siegel wasn't was a whore. Like Ebert, Siegel always seemed able to evaluate a movie not in terms of how it compared to some four-hour film about World War II filmed entirely with handheld cameras in the Czech Republic, but in terms of what it was trying to do -- and he managed to do it without Ebert's unfortunate tendency to filter Angelina Jolie movies through the filter of her two co-stars.
What I'll always remember about Joel Siegel is the way he convinced me that Titanic
was a film I should see. I had been a Rivethead ever since reading A Night to Remember
since the sixth grade, and when I'd heard that James Cameron was going to do this film with a painstaking re-creation of the ship, I was geeked -- until the reports of cost overruns and talk of "Waterworld II" begam seeping (so to speak) out.
But after seeing Siegel on Good Morning America
the day it opened, I knew it was someting I wanted to see.
Yes, I know, melodrama, crappy dialogue, propeller guy, and all of that. And the film has aged badly. But the first time in, it was magic -- and Siegel saw that.
It's easy for cinéastes to mock guys like Siegel; the kind of people who worship at the altar of Jonathan Rosenbaum and think Anthony Lane is a hack -- as if reviewing actors pretending to live lives is some kind of Great Cosmic Endeavor. And perhaps this is why I never really was cut out to be a film critic. But I couldn't help but feel sad upon hearing about Siegel's death, because it's just another sign that the art and the industry of movies is changing radically -- and we just don't really know where it's going.