Perhaps the compelling, erudite discussion I have heard recently was not at a New Year’s Eve cocktail party, rather it took place online in Slate’s Movie Club. For seven years, Slate’s film critic David Edelstein ,has asked three or four of the most respected film critics to engage in a running discussion on the year in cinema. Joining Edelstein are Scott Foundas, film editor and a critic for LA Weekly, Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic for the Chicago Reader, and A.O. Scott, the film critic for the New York Times.
In few other places will you read such a brilliant discussion of, not just the movies, but a wide range of topics, including the nature of artistic criticism, the entire entertainment system, even global politics.
Still, the focus of the Movie Club is, well, movies. And if you are a cinephile like myself, you will find enormous pleasure in Edelstein and Co.’s discussion. With each critic providing their own list of The Ten Best Movies, the direction of their discussion ends up addressing the economics of Hollywood, the burden of providing film criticism that balances the need to remember who the writers are actually writing for, while still remaining true to the artistic importance of their commentary.
It is rather long, but I want you just to read the following paragraph (which I will shrink to the smallest font, so as to not take up too much space) — this one paragraph is just one example of why I think the Slate Movie Club 2005 is a must read:
I’d like to say something about the future (or imminent obsolescence) of exhibition, which I think is tied to Scott’s earlier complaint about the neglect of foreign and genuinely independent American art films, and also to my earlier suggestion that DVD and other technologies have, potentially and in fact, liberated cinephilia from the parochial confines of New York and a scattering of college towns. We are approaching an almost Borgesian situation in which a global, virtual cinematheque will be available at the spin of an iPod wheel or the click of a mouse. The softness of the domestic box office and the looming possibility of “day and date” home video and theatrical releases have been discussed mostly in terms of potential effects on the movie industry. A corollary question that has not been raised sufficiently is what effect the eclipse of theatrical exhibition and the proliferation of available titles for home consumption will have on film culture. I don’t see the signs as all bad, by any means. The vigor and seriousness of Internet film discussionÂfrom which I learn a great deal, including about my own lapses in intelligence, taste, and dress (though I sometimes wish the lessons were delivered with more civility)Âhas helped to make this an exciting time to be a critic (by which I mean someone who cares enough about movies to argue about them, professionally or otherwise), as has the sheer volume and variety of excellent movies coming from every corner of the world. The accompanying worry, to which both Jonathan and Scott give voice, is that the appreciation of movies will become a marginal, specialized cultural activity. Cinema will become, in effect, another variety of attenuated high culture, to be taught in schools and confined to ever smaller and more exclusive coteries.