Twilight’s Sulky Vampires

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

No, I haven’t seen any part of The Twilight saga and am not about to pass judgment about it sight unseen, but thought I would bring Charlie Brooker’s latest column for The Guardian, “Twilight’s sulky vampires are less frightening than a knitted cushion,” which notes in part:

The central theme, apparently, is abstinence; the heroine, Bella, is contemplating whether she wants to lose her virginity to a vampire or a werewolf. She’s not allowed to try them both out, or get to second base with one and third with the other. And she’s certainly not allowed to take them both on at once, although that would clearly make for a far better film.

Todd McCarthy

Variety logo

I read with regret on Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy blog on Thursday that Variety,

the trade journal once known as “the Bible of show business,” fired Todd McCarthy on Monday, after thirty-one years, it sent shock waves through the film industry.

Like Maltin, I grew up reading the weekly edition of Variety (being a New Yorker, Daily Variety wasn’t an option); in the 1950s, before cinema studies became established, it was a wonderful source of information for a neophyte cinephile ; and it became an ambition of mine to write for it, which alas never came to pass. (I tried twice, once in New York in 1961 and in the 1990s, in Los Angeles, but had to settle for gigs with The Hollywood Reporter, which I very much enjoyed.)

Maltin correctly frames how Variety expanded beyond being a paper of record for films (and TV and theater) starting in the 1960s:

For many years the paper’s critiques were dispassionate, focusing mainly on a new release’s commercial prospects. This began to change in the 1960s and 70s with the acquisition of younger staffers who cared about the medium of film and knew their oats. Some of those writers moved on (voluntarily or otherwise) over the years, but Todd McCarthy remained, and became not only the paper’s senior film critic but its film review editor, assigning more than 1,000 reviews every year to a staff of savvy stringers who attended far-flung film festivals around the world.

While, as I’ve written about before, the demise of the full-time newspaper film critics is nothing new, but the news of McCarthy’s dismissal  was especially shocking and was best reflected by the headline on Patrick Goldstein’s Los Angeles Times blog, which asks “What Were They Thinking?” He begins his piece by noting,

Variety’s decision to dump Todd McCarthy, the trade paper’s film critic for the last 31 years, has not gone without notice. In the last 36 hours, I’ve been deluged with phone calls and e-mails from industry insiders, who—with the exception of one director who’s still ticked off at McCarthy for giving his film a crummy review—have all been amazed and bewildered by the move, which now leaves Variety without a full-time film critic. I even had an industry mom take time out from heckling the umpires at our Little League game to register her astonishment. As one producer who called me Tuesday put it: “What were they thinking? Does the publisher really think we’re all reading the paper just to see our Oscar ads?”

I must admit I stopped reading Variety on a regular basis some time ago and only occasionally check the weekly edition at my local library. Like many others, I have increasingly turned to the internet for news, so I guess I’m part of the problem; in a real sense Variety is no longer what it used to be, but I do wish it luck in this brave new internet world.

Where Have All the Film Critics Gone?

Last week, in his “All about flicks” blog, The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean P. Means noted the dismissal of Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano. In so doing, he  says that this “makes 40 movie critics who have lost their jobs—through layoffs, buyouts, reassignments, forced retirements, etc.—at print publications since January 2006. She’s also the 19th this year.” This is followed by Means’ listing of the departed, who include two other L.A. Times critics: Kevin Thomas and Kevin Crust, as well as Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune), Jack Mathews (New York Daily News), David Ansen, (Newsweek). (Incidentally, Chocano’s dismissal leaves The Los Angeles Times with only one full-time film critic!)

It is no secret that newspapers and other publications have been in something of a death spiral due to the impact of the Internet, as evidenced by the recent announcement that:

In 2009, the [Christian Science] Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website; the 100 year-old news organization will also offer subscribers weekly print and daily e-mail editions.

Thus, the loss of film critics is being mirrored by their fellow journalists across the board, including book, theater and art critics. And the current economic downturn can only serve to accelerate this trend. A few national papers, such as The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, will probably survive better than most, but it’s obviously not going to be a pretty situation over the next few years.

While the web has provided a vibrant alternative source of news and opinion to more traditional print media, the experience is not the same. For instance, when I read the print version of The New York Times, I find myself reading a lot more than when I visit the paper’s website (which I do quite often), and enjoying it more. I am not exactly sure why this is so, but whatever the reason it does not help those journalists who have to scramble for jobs in a lousy economy.