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The Critic Experience: Two Movies About Reviewers

Yesterday I saw two films about critics.

The first, Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience," is ostensibly about a high-priced Manhattan call girl (played by Sasha Grey, a real life porn actress). To promote her business the woman agrees to meet with an "erotic connoiseur" (played by Glenn Kenny, a real life film critic, in a creepily hilarious break-out performance) who arranges to sample  her wares for free in exchange for a rave review on his web site -- I guess it's kind of a Rotten Tomatoes for the sex industry. [SPOILER] It turns out he doesn't keep his end of the bargain.

So, what do you think Soderbergh is saying about film critics?

Later, that evening, I saw "Phoenix"  film critic Gerald Peary's "For the Love of Movies" at its New England premiere as part of the Independent Film Festival of Boston. It's a long in the making (8 years) labor of love --  he made it with his wife Amy Geller -- that attempts to tell the story of the past, present and future (if there is one) of the critical profession. The finished work is informative, insightful, sometimes funny (Harlan Jacobson has only two lines, but they alone are worth the price of admission) but more often grim and elegiacal. Maybe the dark tone settled in for me with the opening image: Harry Knowles. He's the founder and chief voice of the fanboy review websight "Ain't it Cool News." Because of his huge influence Knowles has been courted by studios, flown to special screenings, wined and dined. In short, he gets freebies like the critic in "The Girlfriend Experience," but unlike in that film, he comes through with gushing reviews ready-made for the studios' promotional and a marketing departments. 

So who is the real prostitute in that situation? In the real world, not many "critics" would refuse to provide satisfaction in such a transaction and risk earning the studio's disfavor. I think in his movie Soderbergh might have gotten things backwards.

  • moritheil said:

    That's really a confusing argument.  It's true that in the movie Kenny doesn't keep his end of the bargain, but fundamentally the ethical code he has broken is not the code of the critic, but rather the code of the shill.  To criticize him for having second thoughts about the matter is to imply that the role of critics can rise no higher than that of paid shills.

    April 28, 2009 10:19 PM
  • Peter Keough said:

    My argument is that Soderbergh depicts the critic as the john that doesn't pay for satisfaction, but acts as a parasite with false pretensions and gets a freebie from the Hollywood whore. In reality, though, the critics are more often the prostitutes, eager to deliver the goods (such as they are) for whatever Hollywood is willing to exchange for them. Ideally, the critic would be above such temptation and corruption and deliver his or her criticism based only on their own taste and understanding and knowledge of the medium without such ulterior motives. But such criticism seems to be a commodity not so highly regarded these days.

    Sorry for the confusion and thanks for the comment.

    April 29, 2009 1:16 PM

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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