For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Film criticism has been with us almost since the dawn of movies. This intellectual art form has gone through many changes over the last century but is now an endangered species – at least for those garnering a paycheck from it. Critic Gerald Peary makes his feature film debut to provide a chronology of the past changes and evolution of print criticism and its suspect future in “For the Love of Movies.”

Robin:
First-time documentary filmmaker Peary has selected a subject near and dear to his heart – film criticism and its fate. For his debut feature, he has assembled a host of names that is the who’s who of film journalism, including Richard Corliss, Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, A.O. Scott and Richard Schickel. These notables, and others, talk about the history of print film criticism, the pioneers of the trade, how it evolved and how the advent of cyberspace may mean the end of the era of real film critique.

I found the historical lineage of film criticism to be the most enlightening and interesting part of “For the Love of Movies.” Peary chronicles its birth in 1907 with Frank E. Wood (collaborator of D.W. Griffith) writing the first critiques, Life Magazine’s first film critic, Robert Sherwood, hired in 1920, Aleister Crowley, who added film critique in the 1930’s to his long resume of notorious accomplishments and scandals, and the works and words of James Agee, Bosley Crowther, Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby. The lives and influences of these legendary critics are discussed by a bevy of film reviewers who inherited their mantles in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, including Owen Gleiberman and the Boston Globe’s own Wesley Morris.

Peary packs a lot of talking head interview material, too much as the multitude of critics’ opinions scatters the film’s focus. It is telling, though, that “For the Love of Movies” begins with an interview with Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, the keystone player in the modern controversy facing classic film criticism. The fear is that Knowles and other cyberspace critics (and there are many) are watering down the art form with their no accountable reviews. The facelessness of this crowd and their shoot-from-the-hip critiques may seem democratic to some, but their anonymous pandering dilutes the true nature of honest film review.

Gerald Peary indulges himself and his fellow film journalists and the result is a documentary that panders to those working in the field. Film buffs will find the movie entertaining and sometimes enlightening. For the masses, though, it is information overload on a subject that appeals only to a small niche of viewers. I give it a C+.

Laura:
Long time Boston Phoenix film critic Gerald Peary spent years interviewing his colleagues in their homes and at the worldwide film festivals where they meet to document the history of film criticism in his writing/directing debut "For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism."

How I wished to be able to champion a documentary on a subject so dear to my heart made by a hometown film critic, so it is with some confusion that after having seen the film I wonder just who this film was made for.  Certainly, "For the Love of Movies" has only a 70 minute run time, but the film skates over its subject matter presenting the obvious touchstones - the sudden irrelevancy of long time New York Times critic Bosley Crowther when he failed to recognize the merits of "Bonnie and Clyde;" the battle lines drawn between auteurist Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, who rebutted the theory even as she championed the likes of DePalma, Scorcese and Coppola; the rise of the internet making 'everyone a critic.'  Peary traces criticism back to film's infancy, citing Frank E. Woods as the first journalist to write about film and Robert E. Sherwood the first to be courted by studios, but film criticism didn't begin to become an art form until the rise of critics like James Agee and Manny Farber and the quotes Peary uses to distinguish these men do not go far enough to explain their importance.

The film also has a rambling quality, with intertitles that attempt but do not always succeed in outlining the subject matter ('Who Speaks for Film Critics' is followed by interviews with directors Sarah Polley, John Waters and Doug Liman discussing what they take away from reviews, but they're not necessarily speaking for anybody) and non sequiturs that just hang on the screen uncomfortably.  The black fades between segments are held too long, calling attention to the editing.

There are all kinds of talking heads from the aforementioned to the likes of Roger Ebert, Molly Haskell, Rex Reed and "At the Movies" new cohost A.O. Scott, but many, such as Variety's chief critic Todd McCarthy to name one are missing.  We learn that there are really no credentials necessary to become a film critic and that Lisa Schwartzbaum really likes to go hiking.  A brief segment on Boston, Peary's native land, is nicely assembled with clips from "Between the Lines," a 1977 film based on Boston's underground The Real Paper which folded a few years later, and defines the city as a breeding ground for critics.  Notably, only one of the city's current critics, The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, makes an appearance in Peary's film.

"For the Love of Movies" didn't tell me anything new and I can't imagine anyone but a film critic really being all that interested in it.  Furthermore, is Peary being ironic featuring Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles as the first voice we hear?  It's a pity such a passion project fails to instill any.

C
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