"The Critic" was a mid-1990s prime-time animated series from some of the creative minds behind "The Simpsons," with Jon Lovitz voicing the lead character, Manhattan film critic Jay Sherman (a poor man's Siskel or Ebert). It lasted only about two seasons, though it was written well and had its moments.
Since Jay hasn't been around for about a decade and a half, we have no idea how he'd react to the phenomenon of people writing blogs about films. (The Internet was around in those days, but relatively few used it -- or knew how to.) However, many of Jay's real-life, flesh-and-blood counterparts have made their opinions known on the subject, and to paraphrase a queen's fictional comment, many of them are not amused.
Time magazine's Richard Schickel:
"What I see of Internet reviewing is people of just surpassing ignorance about the medium expressing themselves on the medium.”
Cultural historian Thomas Doherty referred to online critics as “young punks who still [get] carded at the multiplex,” “man-boy[s] of the people, visceral and emotional,” and “semi-literate troglodytes who prowl the viral field grunting out expletives.”
And Rex Reed of the New York Observer once labeled online film critics as "these people.”
In other words, gang, writing about film is literary brain surgery; leave it to the professionals.
But, as Paul Brunick adroitly pointed out in a recent essay on film criticism (http://www.filmlinc.com/fcm/ja10/onlinecriticism.htm), some of the best, most perceptive writing on the topic, including key works by two of the greats -- Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris -- were done for free, as labors of love. Both would reach the point where they were paid handsomely for their writing, but both had to walk before they ran.
And in today's blogosphere, we have many worthy followers in the Kael-Sarris tradition -- not necessarily in their philosophical approach to film, but in crisp, knowledgeable and passionate writing. Two of them who come to mind are Farran Smith Nehme, the Alabama native who now lives in Brooklyn and is known in the online world as the "Self-Styled Siren," and Dennis Cozzalio, a Glendale, Calif., resident whose blog has the intriguing (and unforgettable) title, "Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule." Both have operated their blogs for more than half a decade, which in baseball terms makes them a veritable online Jamie Moyer. (He's the Phillies pitcher who's been in the majors since June 1986, has won more than 250 games, and is still pretty reliable.)
About half a century ago, Duke Ellington guested on a recording session with Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars, and the meeting of these two jazz legends was dubbed "The Great Summit." On May 31, Nehme and Cozzalio got together for a "summit" of their own, and thankfully, it has been recorded for posterity through Skype, in two parts.
In part one (http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2010/08/movie-blogger-summit-part-1-siren-and_16.html) whose lead-in photo shows Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in "His Girl Friday," they discuss how they came to be fans of classic film (we learn that Nehme's father had a crush of Cyd Charisse), what drove them to become bloggers, how their sites evolved, and how younger generations are reacting to classic Hollywood. Cozzalio notes his pre-teen daughter has become a regular partner of his for classic film forays at the New Beverly Cinema:
"Maybe she just likes the time with Dad (I hope so!), but she doesn’t even question me anymore if I say, 'Oh, let’s go see Kansas City Confidential or The Lady Eve.' 'Oh, okay. Is it funny? Who’s in it?' Over the last couple of years she’s really gotten to know the Preston Sturges stock company. She recognizes William Demarest and Franklin Pangborn, by face if not by name. And she doesn’t seem to be put off by black and white the way a lot of young kids are either. So if this is happening in my family, I have to believe it’s happening in other families where film and film history is important, and I think that translates into something to be cheerful about when it comes to thinking about the future of the audience for classic movies. And Turner has everything in the world to do with that."
Nehme then says of TCM, "Oh, yeah. They’re doing the Lord’s work." (And I concur.)
Part two (http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2010/08/movie-blogger-summit-pt-2-siren-and.html), which features a lead-in photo of Carole Lombard kicking John Barrymore in "Twentieth Century," the Siren's work with TCM on its "Shadows Of Russia" series is discussed, along with how their tastes in films diverge, the personal nature of film criticism and more. Nehme had this to say about traffic on her blog:
"I have this thing called Stat Counter, and if I star getting uppity all I have to do is just click on it. It’s certainly much higher than it was even two years ago, but it’s not a high-traffic blog. Realistically, it’s never going to be. What I do really enjoy and appreciate is the kindness and respect that I get from fellow film writers. I gather that the blog is fairly widely read by other people who write about film, and that gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. And also I have a fairly consistent group of very knowledgeable, articulate commenters that come back time after time, and also people who prefer not to comment who occasionally just e-mail me -— 'Hey, I liked this,' or 'I really liked that,' which is also extremely nice. I have a lot of people who have sent me DVDs of hard-to-find movies over the years. That’s also really great. And I also now have a group of personal friends that I’ve met through the blog. So all of that has been extremely rewarding."
(I should also note she said her biggest reward was the film preservation blogathom she helped create in February. It raised nearly $14,000 to preserve films, and the funds are sponsoring the restoration of two of the 75 silent films previously thought lost, but found in New Zealand earlier this year.)
I can relate to her comments about traffic and readership. Not that I'm putting myself in the same pantheon as the Siren or Cozzalio -- the aim of "Carole & Co.," a potpourri of information about classic Hollywood, generally with a perspective on Lombard's life and times, is certainly more specialized than their blogs -- but I do share their passion for film, for knowledge, for the sheer joy of discovery. (Through this blog, I've exponentially increased my knowledge about, and appreciation of, films of the '20s and '30s.) Your comments have certainly contributed towards that end as well, and I thank you for them.
And I thank these two bloggers for getting together and providing a new perspective on blogs about movies and the people who write them. Heck, perhaps even Richard Schickel will change his mind. Check out their comments, and make their sites -- http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/ and http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/ -- part of your daily blogging diet.
Something to think about whether you're at Cozzalio's beloved New Beverly; the Siren's fave, the Film Forum; or whether you're in "flyover country" with TCM as your repertory house.