Andy Horbal of No More Marriages! is running a blog-a-thon on film criticism, and certainly there is nothing that film critics like to talk about more than themselves and their chosen vocation (or avocation, in many cases). But I'm sort of sick of reading ponderous essays on the future or meaning of film criticism (not that there aren't many interesting such contributions to this blog-a-thon), and don't really have the time or patience to write one myself.
So instead I'm going to write briefly about one of my favorite critics: me. One of the subjects grappled with in some of the contributions is the struggle for critics to be successful within the mainstream media, to practice their craft as a profession and not just as a hobby. I'm lucky enough to have a good portion of my job involve writing movie reviews, but I'm still always striving for greater recognition and a higher-profile platform from which to spout my opinions. So when any opportunity comes up to promote myself and my reviews, I generally jump at it, figuring that any exposure could lead to someone learning about me and offering me the chance to advance my career as a film critic.
But I think that eagerness to sell out, in a way, has to be tempered. I'm glad, for example, that I was able to spend over a year chatting about movies each week with Canadian talk-radio host Charles Adler on his show, and I'm happy to appear on local station Area 108 each week these days for the same purpose (although I did wonder how serious of a critic I could consider myself when I uttered the phrase "I like boobies" in reference this week to Turistas). But I'm not sure it was in my best interest to agree to appear in the Jamie Kennedy documentary Heckler (which, as far as I know, still has no timetable for completion or release), and a couple of other opportunities lately have brought home the idea that I should be more picky.
A few months ago I got a call from a producer on VH1's The Surreal Life: Fame Games, a sort of all-star version of that show that was filming in Vegas. They were looking for a film critic to appear in a segment in which the contestants were creating fake "sex tapes" (the show involves the washed-up celebrities competing in various games mimicking things that famous people do) and sit on a panel of judges that would also include Rick Salomon (Paris Hilton's sex-tape co-star). I agreed right away because - hey, appearing on VH1 is high-profile, and maybe it would be fun. Eventually the producers decided to take a different approach to the segment, and I didn't end up appearing on the show.
I was sort of relieved about that, actually, and started to think that maybe agreeing to every opportunity for self-promotion wasn't the best tactic, that maybe fostering a career and a reputation has as much to do with cultivating authority and authenticity as it does with getting noticed. So when, more recently, I was contacted by a producer for the Rita Cosby show on MSNBC and asked to come on to provide counterpoint to the people who made the shitty horror movie Chaos, I didn't hesitate to decline, not only because I know that it would just be a pointless shouting match, but also because they specifically asked me to talk about how the movie was immoral and bad for society, and I didn't want to be the designated prude. (Also, if they had read my review, they would have learned that that wasn't even what I thought of it.)
What's my point here? I guess just that in this era of dwindling emphasis on film critics in traditional paid venues like newspapers and magazines, it's tempting to seize any opportunity to break into the ever-smaller cadre of people who review movies as a full-time job, and that just being a professional is not the same as being professional. Or maybe it's just me, and a lesson I had to learn and a naivete I had to overcome. Either way, don't look for me on Rita Cosby any time soon, but if Roeper gets far enough down the list for fill-ins for Ebert, I'll be there in a second.