October 13, 2019

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Old-school film critic delivers old-school doc

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/11/2009 (3621 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GERALD Peary making a movie about the history of film criticism may seem like the ultimate insider documentary -- a movie about film criticism by a film critic for film critics.

But Boston Phoenix critic Peary delivers his film at a significant point in the history of the business. Critics across North America -- including a couple of friends of mine -- have lost their jobs, partially because of the downturn in the newspaper industry and partially because online reviewers have usurped and democratized the erstwhile exclusivity of the movie review.

For that reason, this succinct doc has the feel of an affectionate eulogy as Peary takes us back into the early history of the movie review with shout-outs to pioneers such as Frank E. Woods (who co-wrote Birth of a Nation with D.W Griffith) and mid-century practitioners such as Manny Farber, whose reviews often boasted higher artistic merit than the films he reviewed.

I especially enjoyed the segment of the film documenting the rivalry between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris based on Kael's philosophical (but spurious) rejection of the auteur theory Sarris so energetically espoused.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/11/2009 (3621 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For the Love of Movies is free of gimmickry and visual­-effects ballyhoo.

SUPPLIED PHOTO

For the Love of Movies is free of gimmickry and visual­-effects ballyhoo.

GERALD Peary making a movie about the history of film criticism may seem like the ultimate insider documentary — a movie about film criticism by a film critic for film critics.

But Boston Phoenix critic Peary delivers his film at a significant point in the history of the business. Critics across North America — including a couple of friends of mine — have lost their jobs, partially because of the downturn in the newspaper industry and partially because online reviewers have usurped and democratized the erstwhile exclusivity of the movie review.

For that reason, this succinct doc has the feel of an affectionate eulogy as Peary takes us back into the early history of the movie review with shout-outs to pioneers such as Frank E. Woods (who co-wrote Birth of a Nation with D.W Griffith) and mid-century practitioners such as Manny Farber, whose reviews often boasted higher artistic merit than the films he reviewed.

I especially enjoyed the segment of the film documenting the rivalry between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris based on Kael's philosophical (but spurious) rejection of the auteur theory Sarris so energetically espoused.

Apart from the colourful history, Peary gets a perspective of the current state of the reviewing biz from the likes of mainstream critics such as Roger Ebert, Richard Schickel, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, with more academic quarters represented by the likes of Molly Haskell and J. Hoberman, and Internet upstarts such as Harry Knowles (ainitcoolnews.com) and Karina Longworth (spout.com).

Narrated by the velvet-voiced Patricia Clarkson, Peary's film is entertaining for a talking-heads-type documentary, free of the gimmickry and visual-effects ballyhoo of many recent films in the non-fiction genre.

Trust an old-school film critic to deliver an old-school doc.

 

* * *

 

After the screening of the film on Friday at 7 p.m., filmmaker Sean Garrity will play host to a panel of critics — including myself, CBC Radio's Alison Gillmor, Robert Enright (Border Crossings) and Uptown's Aaron Graham, to discuss the issues raised in the film.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

 

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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