Critic Manifesto
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At one time, film critics were adventurers in the aesthetic, navigating Hollywood jungles for the buried treasure of foreign films and independents (before indy became a studio buzzword for anything released without blockbuster budget) that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. Now it’s attack of the clones with critics as cogs in the studio machine—hyperbolizing robot mouthpieces of the industry, generating reviews right from press releases.

At one time, critics enhanced a cinematic experience beyond the theater as chroniclers of the archetypal and cerebral explorers of society through the lenses of the silver screen. They functioned as analysts, dissecting a film as one would a work of literature or a theatrical production, within the social/ political climate of its release, helping to identify issues presented by the filmmakers or perhaps diagnose social ills reflected but not intended by the creators. Since the radicalization of the 1960s, a war has been waged in the halls of academia between those who want to reclaim the colonial heritage of anthropological study by exaggerating the exotic and those who are working within indigenous communities toward a sustainable future; between the experts of literature who want to leave the historical legacy of the canon unchallenged and those who look to rethink it with post modern theories and so on throughout the whole of the humanities. Film study has always been considered a stepchild of this broad discipline and therefore an easy casualty in the war.

At one time, critics were storytellers of behind-the-scenes pop-folklore, which, in many cases, enhanced the artistic value of the film—tales that featured method actors going to great lengths to put themselves in a part, stories of the inspiration that served as vision for a director, or urban legends that increased the mystique of a featured icon. Today, our celebrity-centric culture has created a separate franchise of sensationalism—extra access true Hollywood tabloid rags propagate frivolities, while DVDs beef up extraneous bonus footage to make a buck. Seven multimedia corporate conglomerates dominate the entertainment and news agencies—they are invested in making pop sensations become film superstars and making film superstars become hot news items, crowding out real reporting. No wonder so many reviewers become studio pandering PR hacks—they work for the same companies that released the schlock films they rave about.

If this sounds grandiose, that’s because it is larger than life. This is not a romanticized version of a reviewer, merely an image of what a reviewer can be. Consider what movies have meant to the shape of personal life. Sure, there are countless movies that barely register only moments after leaving the theater—but there are also a number that have, at some point, connected on the most intimate of levels. There are the films that triggered a cathartic response when it was most needed, bringing forth tears long since stifled at the back of the throat. There is the always-quotable-comedic-canon-of-classic-lines for any occasion that will never fail to bring a smile to the lips. There are the chills that still haunt, images of fear that can empower in the most vulnerable of moments. There are characters that resonate so deep within the psyche that they have become an aspect of one’s personality.

This is the function that stories have always played since the birth of culture—from the flickering firelight where shamans gave name to the growling shadows capturing the unknown in image-evoking words to the classic Greek tragedies that brought audiences into the depths of existential crisis. From the myths that provided a sense of control over the world’s unbridled chaos to the literature that instructed how to live a good life long before self-help was even a notion. Film owes this heritage.

More than the personal, film can serve as a call to action by creating awareness of social flaws. It can inspire an otherwise passive audience to mobilize. It can engage the political, shake the foundations of the system, and threaten the status quo. On the silver screen, our culture can be laid bare.

In a sense, the role of the critic can be an extension of these cinematic journeys—by revealing a film as an aspect of the culture it reflects, by sharing the personality that a film has acted upon, by illuminating the theoretical woven into its context. In a sense, the critic can help not just to bring in an audience but also to take a film beyond the screen.

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