In his relaxed and witty conversational style, Kermode attempts to get to grips with the impact on his profession of the rise of the amateur film reviewer, whether they’re writers for blogs such as the one you are reading, cinema going tweeters, or Amazon reviewers. He is understandably somewhat dewy-eyed about the pre-internet era in which he first plied his trade, and it’s fair to say that many if not most of us who have worked in media or entertainment for many years are to some extent concerned about or affected by the changes that the internet has wrought.
The crux of the matter for Kermode is that while it appears that the dissemination of information/opinions is no longer controlled by corporate media entities and has been rendered more democratic by the accessibility of the internet, this is in fact something of a fallacy. For example, Amazon reviews and critical postings on social networks have been faked and manipulated by those with a vested interest (authors, producers, distributors) in spreading positive word of mouth for their products. There have also been widely publicised examples of reviewers fabricating reviews of films that they haven’t seen, all of which and more has no doubt contributed to a decline in critical standards and, perhaps most crucially, to the increasing lack of interest by the public in choosing whether or not to see films based on critical reaction.
One aspect of this that Kermode doesn’t really touch on, although he does discuss the ways in which the relationship between critics and distributors has traditionally worked well, is whether or not marketing and PR people really care about journalistic ethics or the integrity of the reviews they quote to sell their products. In 2005, Sony Pictures was found guilty by an American judge of fabricating a critic, one ‘David Manning of The Ridgefield Press’, and using his quotes on posters for films including A Knight’s Tale and Hollow Man. Sony was ordered to pay $1.5 million to be shared among those who saw any of the films that ‘Manning’ praised (I hope everyone kept their receipts!), and while someone at the company was undoubtedly made a scapegoat for the Manning incident, one would have to be very naïve to believe this to be an isolated example of quote fabrication. 8 years on from Sony’s mildly embarrassing slap on the wrist, the enormous number of blog and social network musings and tweets about film mean that it would be very difficult to get caught manufacturing positive support, if one was more diligent in covering one’s tracks.
So, with the realities of the communications blizzard that engulfs us, how much longer will the film companies even care about what’s left of the often troublesome professional critical establishment? People now glance at print and outdoor ads and TV spots festooned with rows of stars and superlatives with little contemplation about the sources of same, many of which are now taken from blog reviews.
As more and more blogs evolve from unpaid labours of love into commercial operations reliant on advertising and other revenue sources to enable the bloggers to make a living (thus becoming, by definition, professional reviewers), perhaps the passionate, arguably more malleable amateurs will be the only reviewers courted by film marketers seeking multiple starred reviews and blandly interchangeable accolades. The old guard professionals who are rooted in print may simply move entirely online and eventually become indistinguishable from the internet amateurs; this certainly seems a very likely outcome.
Kermode doesn’t conclude with any sort of predictions on the future of film criticism, but from his generally pessimistic, disgruntled tone throughout Hatchet Job, it’s quite obvious that he sees something of a grim future for the profession as it has existed, although he is probably excluded from that glum outlook. With his recent assumption of retiring critic Philip French’s slot at The Observer, his ongoing work for the BBC, and the success of his books, Kermode is doing just fine.
In light of that success, would you PLEASE drop the excessive self-deprecation in future Mark? It’s truly annoying and one of the only things that detracts from the book. Thanks.