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IT IS CERTAINLY NO NEW phenomenon that the practice of art/film criticism gets a bad rap, but John Wanczycki’s letter (The Mail, 10/14) is just another piece of evidence that the situation is not improving. He claims that it is your film staff’s “carping pedantry” that has turned him (and friends) from Washington City Paper‘s film section. After all, he is a man for whom “leisure time is a scarce commodity,” and apparently either doesn’t have time to waste reading the section or following its advice. (Actually, as the reviews are seldom uncategorically favorable, it seems that only seeing the pick of the crop would be a perfect way for Wanczycki to free up some spare time.)
The problem is that for some of us, myself included, film may not be a practice relegated merely to our leisure time (on a par with swimming, model airplanes, and masturbation). In fact, I would go so far as to say that reading a thoughtful piece of criticism is almost as important to me as seeing a thoughtful reel of film. While some may feel that City Paper‘s film reviews are unjustly negative, one does not have to look far in this town for critics who tailor their reviews to the needs of the public. The City Paper staff is the only I know that approaches film with any critical depth, thus being a necessity for those of us who favor that and don’t want to wait for the next bimonthly film periodical to come out and read about what was in town.
As for Wanczycki’s unsubstantiated claim that “the reviews betray a lack of empathy for, let alone firsthand experience in, the creative process,” the statement reveals his own ignorance about both the creative and critical processes. Critics are often people who have no interest in firsthand experience of the creative process, as it really isn’t in their line of work. The common myth is that all critics are unsuccessful artists (a negative stereotype, for sure). While some critics are artists, and vice-versa, the two are really quite different intellectual games. It is for this reason that many artists often look to critics for feedback and inspiration, which may explain why a creative critic is always appreciated.
Meanwhile, the age-old clash of agendas between critics, artists, and their public will indubitably carry on ad infinitum. I am left to lament these sad times, when hard-nosed criticism is not regarded as “useful to the community,” as provoking us to think about those things that we view as mere entertainment, but is unjustly condemned as “carping pedantry.” My response: Long live the art of criticism!