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Changing the Dialogue: How Digital Creators Are Reshaping Film Criticism

by | March 23, 2018 | Comments

This feature is by Rosemarie Alejandrino, the inaugural USC Annenberg-Rotten Tomatoes Digital Innovation and Entertainment Criticism fellow, a partnership with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Film criticism died at the birth of television.

At least, that’s what former Time movie critic and editor-in-chief of Film Comment Richard Corliss said in his 1990 column: “All Thumbs: Or, Is There a Future for Film Criticism?” The cause of his concern? Two new, flashy television personalities he felt were the disintegration of the pure, academic, poetic form of written film criticism — Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

That’s right. The guys who so many movie fans believe rejuvenated film criticism for the visual age got backlash from “traditional” written critics when their show began. It’s kind of funny to think that now — eight years after the show, featuring different hosts, went off the air — the rapidly changing digital media space might have Corliss begging for the days of At the Movies.

Now, the question of “All Thumbs?” has become “Fresh or Rotten?,” “What’s Trending?,” or a combination of those and more, thanks to the onslaught of online opinion, analysis and, yes, aggregation. Just as the ways we consume media have changed drastically in the last few decades, so have the ways to produce thoughtful criticism about the media we consume.

Across multimedia platforms — particularly online video and podcasts — a new class of critics has arisen, made up of people who view the world of film and entertainment criticism through a digital lens. Some don’t consider themselves critics at all. This new breed of content creators isn’t looking to compete with traditional print critics; in fact, they exist side-by-side in the same cinesphere, often using written reviews as a jumping off point for their discussions.

Where these video and audio critics are taking us represents an exciting chapter in the evolving narrative of film criticism. The ability to pause and zoom allows a crafty YouTuber to dive into a scene’s shot construction in minute detail. Access to streaming services lets a critic watch a movie over and over as to not miss a detail while dissecting the plot for easter eggs and hidden gems. The rise in podcasts and longform audio platforms connects the critic to the listener in an intimate setting, as if you’re listening in on a conversation between friends who love (or hate) a film as much as you do.

The key culture-shifting component of new media film criticism is the critics’ relationship with their audience. A critic’s specific interests and the cult of personality that sometimes surrounds them fosters a special, kinetic kind of fan-to-critic relationship. Are you interested in taking a revisionist look at classic Disney animated films? Passionate about fair representations of race and gender in films? Curious to see what your favorite directors might reveal about their next film after having a glass or two of champagne? There’s probably somebody out there who shares the same interests, no matter how niche or off-kilter. It’s just a matter of finding a voice that speaks to you.

According to a survey we conducted on YouTube of users on Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango channels, people overwhelmingly preferred movie-related video content over audio or text. (This is a result you might expect, given the medium on which the survey was conducted). But when asked where they preferred to get movie recommendations, a majority of respondents selected friends and family (60%) over video reviews (11%). It’s possible that the audience for video — and subsequently, longform audio — is seeking film content that dives deeper than reviews and recommendation, content that aims to start and extend the conversation in new ways.

Survey was conducted from 10/11/17-10/17/17 across Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango YouTube channels.

So what do those conversations look and sound like? We spoke to a variety of new media critics who produce thoughtful and thought-provoking content, strengthened by their distinct visual and tonal styles and unique points of view. We asked about their own roles in creating conversations around film, their relationships with their audiences, and whether or not they identify as critics at all. We thought it would be best to let the critics speak for themselves — that is, in fact, what they’re known for.

Here’s what we asked

Meet the critics

Hazel Hayes is a writer, director, and filmmaker who is best known for her YouTube series, Tipsy Talk, in which she interviews actors, directors, and filmmakers over a drink or two.
Chris Stuckmann is a YouTube movie reviewer with over 1.2 million subscribers. He is the author of The Film Buff’s Bucket List: The 50 Movies of the 2000s to See Before You Die. He is a Tomatometer-approved critic.
CinemaSins is a YouTube channel created by Chris Atkinson and Jeremy Scott. The channel has amassed over 2 billion views and is best known for their “Everything Wrong With…” series in which they point out the “sins” in popular movies.
Lindsay Ellis is a video essayist who takes weighty, academic concepts from film studies and applies them to popular movies in order to place them within a larger cultural context.
Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood) is a podcast hosted by comedians Jonathan Braylock, James III, and Jerah Milligan, where they review films featuring leading actors of color in the context of Hollywood’s race issue.
History Buffs is a YouTube channel in which host and creator Nick Hodges reviews popular films based on their historical accuracy.
Alachia Queen is a YouTube film critic who uses her reviews to start a dialogue about larger social issues. She is a Tomatometer-approved critic.
The Worst Idea of All Time Podcast is a film review podcast where comedians Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery review the same film every week for an entire year.

About the Author

Rosemarie Alejandrino is the inaugural USC Annenberg-Rotten Tomatoes Digital Innovation and Entertainment Criticism fellow. Learn more

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