Friday, April 5, 2013
By Lars Trodson
There were four movie reviewers I paid attention to in the 1970s and 80s: Michael Janusonis, because he wrote for my local paper, the Providence Journal; Pauline Kael of The New Yorker and Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I think the other famous movie reviewers of the time were Gene Shalit and Judith Crist, but they were on a much, much lesser scale than those other four — at least to me. Now there are a million movie reviewers and nobody knows who they are. This may have more to do with the state of movies than the quality of the writing — movies are no longer at the center of the American cultural zeitgeist.
Roger Ebert had been around long enough to see the ebb and flow of cinema’s significance, and he, in the end, may have had more influence on how movies are reviewed than any other 20th century critic. That is very much a double-edged sword. What Ebert (and Siskel) realized is that there is no nuance to film criticism. It's either, quite literally, thumbs up or thumbs down.
It didn't start out that way. Ebert was a self-taught scholar of film, and he wrote abut film with an encyclopedic knowledge of what had come before. He knew his history, and he knew about the people who made the movies. He knew nuance.
Because he started so young, he was about the last critic, who was still reviewing in the 21st century, to have actually seen the movies made by the lions of the new cinema when they were first released – Coppola, Scorcese, Woody Allen, Brian DePalma, Speilberg, Monte Hellman and others, as well as European filmmakers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertollucci, Truffaut, and Goddard.