Contrarian Criticism in the Round

“What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism.”

~ Octavio Paz

What is the role or the function of the film critic today? At the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) several film critics discussed the roll of film criticism and, in particular, the contrarian roll (or possibilities) that can be a kind of stance one takes, or might take, as a critic. The most important topic in this discussion, however, is on authority. It is an old topic and it is just as relevant as it has always been. If this discussion suffers, which it does, it is from the problem that always arises in rountable discussions: lack of focus combined with insufficient time allotted to any one thought. Still, it is an interesting look into the interests and ideas which motivate some film critics today.

In this roundtable the idea of authority is most closely linked to expertise. Film critics should be experts in film; they should know the obvious and the arcane, the new and the historical, the depth and the breadth. However, there are other ways that one can be an authority. For example, I would rather a film critic be wise, knowing philosophical (yea even theological) issues that trouble humanity, than merely a fanatical film goer who has seen everything three times. I would rather a critic be able to draw connections between cinema, the other arts, politics, sociology, and home economics than give me tantalizing gossip or merely personal reflections. I thing these critics would agree. Still, authority is ultimately something given rather than taken, and film critics these days tend to live in a tenuous state of existence as our society continues the march away from the idea that cinema is truly important or that critiquing a film is anything more than gossip or personal reflections. In other words, one has to truly love being a professional film critic to be a professional film critic.

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