Friday, December 6, 2013


Here's a documentary, new to Netflix streaming, that fairly screams esoteric. Not so much about movies themselves as about the people who review them for a living (or, these days, more just because we love films and like to share this love with others), it will interest those movie buffs who've perhaps (or not) wondered who the hell these people are who have the nerve to tell us what to see -- and why they think they're qualified to do so. This is a hot topic only among the critics/reviewers themselves, but as someone who came late to the calling and got paid only for a couple of years before falling by the wayside, as have so many other critics over the past decade, I found it fascinating to watch, listen and learn really quite a bit of information about my peers and betters -- as well as those who actually began this endeavor back when movies were born.

Written and directed with energy and intelligence by Gerald Peary, shown above, right, and lovingly produced by Amy Geller (among others), shown above, left, and narrated very well by actress Patricia Clarkson, FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES: THE STORY OF AMERICAN FILM CRITICISM offers a quick but thoughtful look into the history of the field of film criticism, with a view to some of the (yes, all men) folk who -- long gone now -- began and continued it down several decades: Frank E. Woods, Otis Ferguson, Robert Sherwood (that famous playwright!), Vachel Lindsey and James Agee. Those more recently gone include Manny Farber, Bosley Crowther, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby, Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and the just-deceased Stanley Kaufmann.

The living/breathing critics -- low-, middle- and high-brow -- include Jami Bernard, David D’Arcy, Owen Gleiberman, Molly Haskell, J. Hoberman, Harlan Jacobson, Stanley Kauffmann (above, who has some wonderful things to say), Stuart Klawans, Harry Knowles,  Leonard Maltin, Janet Maslin, Elvis Mitchell (above, whom I never enjoyed much as a critic but who is fun to see and hear here), Wesley Morris, John Powers, Rex Reed, the always interesting B. Ruby Rich (shown at bottom), Jonathan Rosenbaum, Richard Schickel, Lisa Schwarzbaum (below, who tells would-be critics to do plenty of other things in life first), A.O. Scott, David Sterritt, Mike Szymanski, Kenneth Turan, Scott Weinberg, Lisa Nesselson, Karina Longworth, Richard Corliss, and Michael Wilmington. If the three groups above do not comprise the cream of the critic crop (this film was made some five years ago), you would, at very least, call this the fat-free half & half crowd.

What these people said and/or say about movies and why they do what they do is unfailingly interesting, sometimes quite lovely and meaningful (with some critics more so than others, of course) and occasionally funny, too. What the movie demonstrates, as much as anything else, is the genuine love for film (of all kinds) that so many of these critics feel and manage to communicate via their writing -- and speaking, too (the film details the coming and rise of the TV critic shows like Siskel & Ebert's).

Along the way we get the story of Ms Kael and Mr. Sarris (above) and the auteur theory, with (I think it was) Owen Gleiberman (below) pointing out that, despite appearing to be against this theory, Kael used it just as Sarris did -- only to promote her own favorite directors. We get competing views on James Cameron's Titanic, with the L.A. Times' Kenneth Turan telling a fine tale of how, when he first dissed the film, Cameron and the Fox studio tried to have him fired. Suddenly, after all the hate mail he received for disliking the movie in print, he was getting the reverse from people who seemingly didn't want their critics -- even if they didn't agree with their readers' taste -- "owned" by the studios and movie-makers. (For the real Titanic take-down, you must see the new Pervert's Guide to Ideology from Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes.)

This subject of the proximity of critic and filmmakers apparently goes back a long, long way -- to the very beginnings of the trade. We learn about this, too, as well as hearing at the film's end from movie-makers who actually appreciate us critics (that's kinda fun!). The movie, which, so far as I know, never got a theatrical release but hit the festival circuit in 2009, can only begin to count up the number of print critics lost to the rotten economy and excessive media conglomerization. Nor can it keep up with the past five years of web explosion. Even so, what was true five years ago, seems more so today.

Overall, I expect this documentary will appeal most of those of us already in this line of work/play, those who might someday hope to be doing it; and others (perhaps few) who just want to hear, see and learn more about us pompous few who deign to tell them what (and what not) to view. You can catch the movie now via Netflix streaming, and really nowhere else, so far as I know. (On Amazon, you can purchase only the movie's poster: see image at top).

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