Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Depredations of Roger Ebert

Armond White of the New York Press, detractors have noted, seems to think he is the only real film critic in America. They may well be right, but probably so is he, and the Press’ house contrarian deserves thanks from all self-respecting cinephiles for doing the one thing most (perhaps all) other American film critics either refuse to do or are incapable of doing. Whether one disagrees with White or not, and almost everybody does at one point or another, there is no question that, whatever he writes, he is always thinking about cinema. What it is. What is can do. What it means. This is not much in the tradition of American film criticism, which has mostly been the domain of frustrated literary or theater critics, and sometimes simply the cub reporter nobody knows what to do with. It is far more in line with the extraordinary legacy of French film criticism, especially the avatars of the nouvelle vague like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who later became groundbreaking filmmakers in their own right.

The great insight of the French film critics was that all cinema says something about cinema, even the usually dismissed movies like Hitchcock’s thrillers and Hollywood B-movies. But they did not hold simply that a B-movie could be great while an A-movie could be bad, but that all movies have something to say about cinema, and sometimes the B-movie can say something far more important and profound than an A-movie. White, it seems to me, writes according to this dictum, while most of his colleagues, if they ever encountered it, would probably have no idea what it means.

Foremost among these is unquestionably Chicago Sun-Times columnist, longtime television star, and all around face, voice, and personification of American film criticism, Roger Ebert.

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