Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do Film Critics Still Matter?

When was the last time you based your decision to see a new film on the work of a newspaper film critic?

Be honest.

After all, what makes their opinion any more important than the opinion of the people you know?
For the most part it seems that professional film critics have gone the way of the dinosaur. In a matter of seconds you can see multiple film reviews from everyday people, just like you, or post a query on your Facebook page and find out who you know who has seen the film and what they thought of it.

Once upon a time film critics mattered because it was a much more difficult thing to know whether or not a movie was worth going to see. People relied upon the opinions of newspaper film critics before they shelled out their hard-earned cash on a ticket.

Personally, I think the death knell for film critics came with the Internet. before social media was even conceived people were flocking to sites like Rotten Tomatoes to share their film-going experiences. You could log-in and know whether or not a film was worth seeing in a matter of minutes--no subscription to a newspaper required.

This new biography of Pauline Kael hearkens back to a time when film critics were nearly as famous as the film stars they wrote about. Today they are mostly famous in the same way the Bengal Tiger is--as an endangered species.

THR: Has there ever been a biography of a film critic before? What about critics in other fields? What made writing about a critic, someone who by nature is a reactor, different from the other subjects you've tackled?

Kellow: I don't know that there has been a biography of a movie critic until now. There have been biographies of theater critics -- Kathleen Tynan wrote a wonderful one about her husband, Kenneth. One of my favorite aspects of working on Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark was the chance to track the influences that helped form her taste and style. Also, writing this book gave me a great opportunity to delve into the film history of the 1960s and '70s. It was exciting to show how what was happening on the screen really was, to a great extent, Pauline's life.

THR: Other than Pauline's published writing, what other material existed in archives or her personal collection for you to draw upon? Letters, diaries, datebooks, etc.?

Kellow: I had great luck in having access to Pauline's extensive archive at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. It's a treasure trove. There are very few letters from Pauline herself, but she seems to have saved nearly every letter she received -- even letters from fans and readers. She always said she didn't want a biography written, but she certainly saw to it that her life was meticulously catalogued, so I'm not sure I believe her.

Click here to read more of this interview.

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