The decline of the critic.

Johann Hari explains why it’s a tragedy:

When something new and startling comes along, it often baffles us, and we are tempted to drop it, pained, for easier cultural lifting. A great critic can help us to figure out what it going on, and to appreciate it in a richer way. When I saw Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, I was sure I had seen something extraordinary, but I felt I had barely begun to understand it. It was reading the body of criticism by terrific writers, such as Dana Stevens and Peter Bradshaw that led me deeper in. As film critic Pauline Kael put it: “We read critics for the perceptions, for what they tell us that we didn’t fully grasp when we saw the work.”

Too true. And as he also notes, it’s bad enough that the modern greats like Bradshaw do well to get 700 words to express their thoughts on a film nowadays. If I pick my Kael collections off my shelf here, The New Yorker appears to have always given her 2,000 words at a minimum, and often oodles more. Those days are long gone, and our ability to appreciate the complexity and richness of films in the aftermath of a viewing is much the worse for it.


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