New Media – New Film Criticism?
In regard to the new media boom and the increasing crosslinking of different media it seems that classic film criticism (which takes place in newspapers and magazines, and sometimes on radio and television) has lost some of its influence in our media society. Why?
For many years the relevance of film critics consisted not only in evaluating a movie according to classical criteria like visual and dramatic aspects but also in being an information source for the audience and acting as a link between the film industry and the audience.
Not to forget that film reviews were often the only way to present and promote new films to the public. At that time many film distributers and film companies did not have an own marketing or PR department.
In former years film critics also influenced film makers and developed their production. Their works contained social and political statements which were the basis for discussions.
Since the mid 90’s the New (Mass) Media have become part of our daily business and private life. With its advantages (actuality, speed, and interactivity) especially the Internet has changed the way we get informed and deal with information. Information has become a valuable product which is consumed during work or other daily activities.
Especially younger people (which are the main target group for the film economy) use more and more the internet, software or special TV programmes to get informed about films. Therefore the variety of information sources is much wider and content is more up to date than e.g. in a monthly filmmagazine.
However, we shouldn’t ignore that this information is often superficial and commercially intended. For instance promo documentaries for US-blockbusters are regularly broadcast on television, and official websites and fansites provide consumers with trailers and merchandising products. And: via file sharing software it’s possible to download a film weeks before it reaches the cinemas.
On the other hand film criticism itself seems to have overlooked the technological developments of the last decade. Especially online media published by film critics still don’t have the same acceptance in the business as newspapers and magazines – although they are often pursued by experienced journalists and critics. Despite high visit rates and additional features like movie databases with search functions and/or interactive platforms, websites have to overcome a certain distrust in the business. There are still voices that film websites keep users from going to the cinema because of their tendency to disclose every movie secret or media regarding them as fun projects of unprofessionals freaks.
The technological developments have also changed the challenges on film critics. The questions are: Have the new media reduced the influence of film criticism on the audience? Is film criticism losing its opinion leadership? How should film criticism react to technological and commercial changes?
Studies show that film reviews have less effect than ever on the commercial success of a movie. Their promotional function is to be neglected or has been adopted by other media and film distributors and producers. The increasing press coverage on the occasion of a movie launch also reduces the importance of serious film criticism.
Therefore in my point of view film criticism has to redefine its tasks for the future:
In one way film criticism has to turn to the audience again. Especially young cinemagoers using TV and Internet as their main information sources should rediscover newspapers, magazines and serious websites to look under the surface of a film and to get across orientation through the large offer of new movies. In order to reach this target film reviews should withdraw from a sometimes discouraging teaching level. This does not mean that film essays should not be intellectual – do not underestimate the readers’s intelligence! – however they must not exclude the main part of the moviegoers and consumers. Only if film criticism avoids ignorance and elitarism it could be the starting point of a public social, political and cultural discussion about the film’s subject and the filmmaker’s intentions. And – of course – in this way film criticism can also make available new film genres and landscapes – like the East European cinema that we see here in Cottbus – to an audience which considers Hollywood as the only film industry in the world.
Secondly in a new media era film criticism has to become much more an individual art form which is not only a form of film reception but also a special form of literature. Like Pauline Kael said, “In the process (of film criticism) you can pep up what you’re doing by letting go with a little savagery”, movie reviews have to oscillate between humour and seriousness, deepness and superficialty.
Nevertheless film criticism must become more controversial and provocative. Like a filmmaker a film critic has to take a firm stand on subject and form. In this way the film critic can become an opinion leader again.
Last but not least film criticism should make more use of the new media, especially of the Internet and profit from its advantages. For instance: an online film review written in English can reach millions of readers all over the world.
Film websites will have an increasing relevance in the future as online media might restrict the influence of traditional media. It’s essential that we should not only integrate the Internet in our work but also accept it as a new kind of media and a new platform, especially for young critics.
In this way film and criticism will motivate people understanding and estimating films.
© FIPRESCI 2003