Andy Horbal is hosting a blog-a-thon on film criticism, which seems to be enlisting a wide and engaging variety of participant posts. Most of them talk about journalistic or other nonacademic critics, but I started thinking about film criticism as an academic practice. From what I understand, there used to be a recognizable division of the discipline of film studies into three distinct subfields: film theory, film history, and film criticism. The latter took place in (naturally enough) Film Criticism, Literature Film Quarterly, and oftentimes Film Form, Jump Cut, or Film Quarterly. Whereas film theory used specific textual study to reflect more broadly on representation, society, and culture, film criticism, at least it was thought, was a distinct practice of textual interpretation.
Something changed, of course. The tripartate distinction only held while textual study - based on models of literary study - was the predominant model for what film studies did. As cultural studies, industrial history, and reception theory have challenged textual-interpretive assumptions and as television, film culture, and new media formats have suggested supertexts that defy discrete interpretation, the disciplinary division of labor itself has shifted. Film Criticism continues on, of course, and university curricula still include courses in Film Criticism. And occasional edited volumes, such as Peter Lehman's Close Viewings or John Gibbs and Douglas Pye's Style and Meaning, try to champion close reading as a middle-level critical practice. But I'm not sure that the discipline still sees criticism as an ongoing concern in the way it once did.
What does remain is film criticism done in nonacademic and quasiacademic contexts by amateurs and professionals alike. On one hand, journalistic critics have become even more professionalized and aligned with academic film studies (in some form) than ever before. On the other hand, the internet has encouraged many to challenge the monopoly : let a thousand film critics bloom!
But as we are speeding forth to a new cultural configuration placing film criticism, I keep looking back, hoping for a solid historical study of film criticism as cultural practice in the twentieth century. When writing my dissertation - and trying to explain the place of popular critics of the social problem film - I had to rely on a couple of dusty Scarecrow press books (Myron Loundsbury's history of early criticism and Frank Beaver's book on Bosley Crowther), both of which are dated at best, and on Raymond Haberski's It's Only a Movie! which still doesn't do the full social history of journalistic criticism that I would like.
Homunculus and his friends
3 days ago