Tuesday, March 18, 2008

MORE MOVIE REVIEWERS GETTING THE KNIFE

Sad times in the entertainment press, ladies and gentlemen. Noticed they were all morose over the death of director Anthony Minghella, who directed The English Patient, and Truly, Madly, Deeply, and other films. Age 54.

Meanwhile, the ranks of the film critics have thinned considerably. Defamer is reporting there was a bloodbath over at Newsday the other day. Movie editor Pat Wiedenkeller and veteran critics Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour all got bought out, so they're gone.

Speculation is now on about who is next to go at Tribune. The Hot Blog speculates on who else could be ready for the chop. And Risky Biz Blog muses over the future of newspaper critics in midsized markets.

Me, I think this is more downright depressing news about the newspaper business. I ranted about this before and I will rant about it again: I think it's suicidal for these papers to get out of the film review business. These people who run these newspapers think people only read it so they can follow the freaking news, or freaking politics!!! Well, it makes for a depressing, lifeless newspaper if that's all you get. Who will want to actually buy the paper if this is all they see? People will just turn online to get the kind of stuff they want, whether it's movie reviews, coverage of the TV industry, the theater, the world of sports -- you name it.

Of course, film criticism is alive and well on the Internet, that's where the future of the business is. Some people say film criticism is dying, which is nonsense. It isn't dying at all, except at these bleeping newspapers! The complaint from traditionalists, though, is that they think that online reviewers are all idiots. They whine that a lot of online reviews are written by 25-year-olds who don't know what they are talking about. (Check out this typical reaction here.) I think this is a silly elitist attitude, because lots of 25-year olds are geeks about movies.

As well, many online sites are successful because they provide a service that many arthouse-obsessed newspaper critics refuse to provide: populist coverage of mainstream movies. These sites are generally run by people who actually like to go to the movies (unlike some newspaper critics)! So they are better able to give the regular movie fans what they want-- you can't beat that. Maybe that's why these newspapers are in trouble: instead of beefing up their film coverage and adding more diverse and populist voices, they are just cutting staff all the time. Terrible move.

I think there's also more of a future for general entertainment reporting as opposed to film criticism, but again, not necessarily with newspapers. Instead, I see more TV and magazine coverage, not to mention online sites getting in on the act. And of course, BLOGS. But these newspapers seem bent on cost-cutting, concentrating instead on "metro" local news. Sure, this "metro" stuff is important, but it bores and/or depresses the heck out of a lot of people. Cut enough "costs" and readers will walk away completely, that's my prediction.

What's really sad is that daily newspapers are traditionally where the more serious film coverage is done. The Internet is great, but sometimes you really do want something more than the latest superhero-movie coverage. You would think "legacy media" would realize what an advantage they have over online media in its ability to provide that sort of serious perspective. Problem is, too many ashcanned veterans are being replaced by no one. And more and more online sites are devoting themselves to serious coverage of the movies, not just this fanboy-type superhero stuff. Some of these sites are being run by these same critics who'd just been knifed.

What serious feature film fan will want to buy a newspaper, then, if they know that the arts section is being cut or is no longer any good? Not too many of them, that's my opinion.

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