Essay Question: What does the firing of Variety’s film critics mean for the future of criticism?

OFCS members answer the question:

What does the firing of Variety’s staff film critics, and the statement by Variety editor Tim Gray that “it doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers,” mean — if anything — for the future of film criticism?

(Background on the issue here and here.)

Answers after the jump.


Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant:

The film reviews were always my reason for looking at Variety as well. They’re collectively one of the best and most objective resources of film history, documenting how movies entered the exhibition market. As far as I’m concerned, the trade paper is dead now.


Cole Smithey, The Smartest Film Critic in the World:

I’m just surprised it didn’t happen a year ago.


Kevin A. Ranson, MovieCrypt.com:

It’s always interesting to hear someone suggest that you’re not a “real” critic because you’re not in “real” print or publication, suggesting that because trees aren’t cut down and permanently inked (prior to recycling, that is) to articulate an opinion somehow makes it worth less (or just worthless.)

By that justification, it seems to me that firing print critics (even when those same reviews are also online as opposed to print only) only lends more credibility to actual critique moving further away from traditional media as newspaper and periodicals continue to hemorrhage cash. If those film critics love critique, there’s a good chance they will find a way to continue to contribute. To them I say, “Welcome aboard.”


Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic:

It means precisely nothing for the future of film criticism. The future of film criticism printed on dead trees is another story. Variety, like every other magazine, is feeling the pinch. Perhaps more so because it’s essentially a niche publication, and not a cheap one, either.

But it’s like I keep saying: unless you’re Ebert or a handful of others, film criticism is not going to make you a living. This may be a good thing, as it might create more critics who do it for the love of it — even if they have to (gasp) pay to see movies — and fewer who burn themselves out trying to catch critics’ screenings of every crappy movie that comes out every week because it has become a job, not a calling. Film criticism is a calling, like any other writing. Pauline Kael didn’t score a good regular paying gig until she was in her fifties. Didn’t stop her from loving movies and loving to write about them. So the box-office-obsessed Variety can go the way of Premiere for all I care. Film criticism has survived aside from Variety for decades, and it will survive in one form or another without Variety‘s help. It’s too bad about Todd McCarthy, who by all accounts is a stand-up guy, but does anyone really think he won’t land on his feet?


Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat:

Although I personally think it sucks that Variety laid off their full time critics (especially the great Todd McCarthy), it only proves what so many naysayers have been reluctant to admit: the internet is where it’s at. For better or worse, the world of film criticism has changed, and it is only going to keep on changing. Consumer reliance on print media continues to shrink, with more people are getting movie information from the internet than from anyplace else. Any film critic whose primary presence is anywhere other than online is probably facing extinction. I’m not saying I agree with it (I actually prefer having reviews across all forms of media), but it certainly seems to be the reality of the situation. It wouldn’t be surprising if, in the future, all film criticism was on the internet only. When a publication as vital as Variety lays off its much-respected film critic, one can only assume that it’s the beginning of the end.


David Cornelius, eFilmCritic.com:

It means less for the future of criticism than it does for the future of print. After all, if VarietyVariety!!! — can’t afford to keep critics on the payroll, what chance do other print publications have? (Short answer: none.)


Wesley Lovell, Cinema Sight:

What they are saying is that they want to continue with their freelance work so they don’t have to pay benefits, salary or other “necessities” for employing someone. Despite the prominence of a critic like McCarthy, they don’t seem to understand that although they are reducing costs, they are also reducing the impetus to read their product. While a film critic may not be the most popular person in the world, nor someone who people traditionally read regularly, one who has established a name for himself or herself in the industry brings a certain amount of dedicated readership, which will readily and easily vacate a publication if they no longer have that individual to read. So, they may end up shooting themselves in the foot by releasing someone as noted as Todd McCarthy and encouraging him to write freelance elsewhere or even start up his own website on film criticism, thereby pulling his readers to his revenue stream and out of Variety‘s. I think it will end up hurting them more in the long run than it will help them in the short term.


Anton Bitel, Channel 4 Film:

It means less for the future of film criticism per se than it means for the future of Variety as a publication to be taken at all seriously. If you want quality, you have to be prepared to pay for it, and that goes (in different ways) as much for Variety‘s board as it does for Variety‘s readers — readers who may now prefer to spend their dollar elsewhere, rather than read film criticism that they suspect may be part of an insidious, Variety-brokered promotional campaign for the film in question…


A.J. Hakari, Passport Cinema:

In the grand scheme of things, it makes sense that a niche occuptation like film criticism becomes the victim of a worsening economy; it stinks, but if one had to pick between keeping a fireman or keeping a critic, I’d choose the former. But there still exists an audience and, for some, need for serious criticism, for more in-depth analysis than what DVD blurbs may offer. The firing of the Variety critics is further acknowledgment that this demographic is not of vital concern to the powers that be and, as alarmist as it may sound, a sign that a growing number of folks are sharing this mindset as well.

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