On the Role of the Contemporary Film Critic

This week’s New Yorker profile of the film critic Pauline Kael prompts today’s post: what infuriates or inspires the film critic to critique? Nathan Heller’s profile persuasively contextualizes Kael’s impulses as a writer and public intellectual who blossomed in the 1960’s and 70’s, decades frequently heralded as the best in American cinema. In Heller’s view, Kael seized the moment at which the American film canon was just starting to be formalized and new and constraint-free modes of filmmaking were emerging. Her voice echoes those of her art critic contemporaries who in their respective fields were also looking for new ways to talk about what was happening culturally in a time of political upheaval.

Today, the landscape is much changed. Cinema is now available in different technological and distribution formats. The sheer size of Hollywood studios now means that films constitute a mere fraction of their overall business profile. Venture capitalists and real estate companies are funding films. Film festivals are now omnipresesent and ever-more frequent.

So, what prompts us today? What do we have to say beyond reviewing a film itself? What are our uses?