For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism

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For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism charts the evolution of film criticism as a means of discussing its changing face and potential non-future. Using historical context, the film offers, in particular, its opinion on the downfall of the print critic. Most of the biggest names in popular film criticism make an appearance here, and there are few rocks left unturned.

If the Internet is responsible for the destruction of so many careers in this field, it is also the place of its future. Those willing to embrace this new venue will be able to find a new community, and perhaps, a new way of discussing cinema. Cinema has never been an individual experience. More than ever the idea is being supported- and affronted, as studios try to sell “event”-based film experiences, while more and more audiences are turning to increasingly smaller screens within the privacy of their own worlds.

The perception of the Internet reviewer/commentator as being a creepy nerd in his mother’s basement has long faded. The opportunity of instantaneous discourse over many miles, many generations and many backgrounds is a social act meant to enrich the opportunity for personal discovery through cinema. One only has to look at the countless film podcasts and video-blogs emerging all over the web to understand that the role of a critic is no longer a solitary venture. Siskel & Ebert may have made this “talk” cinema a possibility, but the Internet is offering new and improved voices. There is still room for reviews; it’s just that they are now the beginning, not the end of a critical evaluation.

Aside from being forward-thinking in embracing the concept of the Internet, this documentary similarly explores and embraces the artistic value of film criticism. At one point, there is a discussion of the inherent contradictions in Pauline Kael’s work. This is not meant to be an affront on her character or even her ability to review; instead it becomes a poetic statement on the human element of criticism.  Similarly, the film explores the stylistic prose of some notable reviewers, discussing how their individual voice was able to inspire in their readers a unique sense of space and offer an entirely new perspective and appreciation of the film’s in question.

Though hardly a polished film, For the Love of Movies is a heartfelt and thoughtful exploration of the state of film criticism in America today. As easy as it would have been to take a negative and bleak view of what the future has to hold, writer-director, Gerald Peary, is able to see the silver lining in the major overhaul happening in the industry today. For all the problems that exist in film criticism, there are just as many new venues and opportunities that promise an interesting future for it and for those willing to take some risks.

Justine Smith

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