Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TDK, Emerson and Cinema Blend

So I was reading this disagreement between Jim Emerson, a talented critic best known for work on Roger Ebert's web site, and Josh Tyler, a Dallas based guy who run Cinema Blend. Here's the post sparking the disagreement. I find Emerson to be way off base. Here was my response.

The Dark Knight asks this question:

To what lengths can a "civilized" society go to fight the most destructive threats and still look itself in the mirror?

If a critic or a viewer doesn't appreciate that this is one of the central questions of our time, I can't help.

It is also a film of unusual scale and ambition, as well as the best film in its genre by a significant margin, a genre of which I am not a particular fan and certainly not a fanboy. In fact, I didn't think much of Batman Begins.

It clandestinely touches on generational issues, which makes it and its predecessor a favorite of those who follow generational theory. It's also a neat diagnosis of the Bush administration, which led to some of the most interesting film conversations I've had this year.

For these reasons in my little Top Ten list, nine out of ten will be indies and docs. And the tenth will be The Dark Knight.

I think some critics have difficulty appreciating that public taste has as much say in determining classics as critical support. There's a reason for this - often the public has its finger on the pulse of what's going on in society. For that reason, I think a critic ignores popularity at his or her own peril. You're an excellent critic, Jim, but I think it would behoove you to appreciate this, if you don't. Unless you sit around on holidays watching My Dinner With Andre rather than The Terminator.

As to Josh, I know him a little bit, from screenings and his work. Maybe he doesn't currently write for The New York Times, but he's hardly the death of film criticism. I find him a conscientious viewer and writer, and a guy who likes good films for the right reasons.

In fact, the real threat to film criticism comes not from its democratization but from the reactive desire on the part of the best critics to retreat into a cinematic monastery. The fact that common people love the medium enough to regularly sit in the dark for two hours and write about their experience is a sign of health, not sickness. If there isn't a space for the Josh Tylers at the film writing table, then film criticism deserves to die.

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