When I wrote movie reviews for about 15 years for a midsized (then) daily newspaper, I often heard the wisecrack, “I read reviews, then do the opposite of what they recommend.” The polite people would add, “Except for you, of course.”
Perhaps the best illustration of the gulf between popular and elite opinion was the 2008 Oscars which snubbed great movies like The Dark Knight and Wall-E in favor of Milk and The Reader.
We’ve covered Roger Ebert’s tweets and political columns that are aimed not just at conservative politicians, but directly insulting a large portion of his potential audience as well.
But it’s the political point of view in the actual reviews that really turned off audiences over the decades. The New York Times‘s long time critic Stephen Holden has contributed mightily to making his profession irrelevant to ordinary people with statements like this about South of the Border, Oliver Stone’s love letter movie to the cartoonish communist thug who runs Venezuela, Hugo Chavez:
Mr. Chávez comes across as a rough-hewn but good-hearted man of the people whose bullheaded determination is softened by a sense of humor.
Mr. Stone’s visit with Mr. Chávez is the movie’s longest interview with a Latin American statesman during what feels like a whirlwind tour of South American capitals. Instead of the saber-rattling, America-hating tyrants often depicted on American television (especially Fox News, several of whose extreme fulminations are excerpted for comic effect), Mr. Stone finds sensible, plain-spoken men (and one woman, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner). They are well aware of how power works in the global arena. Those who have it use it for their own advantage; it’s the way of the world….
Mr. Chávez, who receives the most screen time, offers a grandiose historical worldview. In his rejection of American imperialism, he sees himself as a successor to Simón Bolívar, whose 19th-century revolution against the Spanish empire was interrupted when “the American and British empires divided us in pieces.”
“We want to be ourselves,” he declares.
The film is seasoned with unsettling tales of overbearing imperialist ways.
You get the idea.
There have been myriad columns in the elite media of late bemoaning the loss of full-time critics at big city newspapers and the rise of the internet critic and barometer sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, which give equal value to both and assign a sort of batting average to films.
These columns tend to blame the public for its lowbrow tastes. I say blame Stephen Holden and A.O. Scott of the New York Times, and Roger Ebert.