Have film influencers killed off insightful film critique?
3 August 2023
If the internet has paved the way for the devaluation of cinema via streaming platforms, it has also done the same for film criticism. The democratising effect is undeniable, but so is the cheapening one, literally and figuratively. With so many more people writing about cinema online, fees for reviews have fallen to shockingly low levels and the expertise supposedly required of film critics has been forgotten – knowledge of the film history and good writing skills are less and less valued.
Once, many years ago, during a regrettable stint working in the corporate sector, I was called into division wide meeting by my boss. The CEO, whom my boss reported to directly, wanted to conduct a staff survey. The CEO was — so he said — keen to learn what people thought about working at the company. My boss was clearly terrified at what might be said, and sought to steer our thinking.
“I think it’s great of the CEO to offer us this opportunity to speak our minds, and accordingly, I think we should be positive,” he said, trying, but failing, to sound as matter-of-fact as possible. Whether he missed my colleagues and I side-eyeing each other, or only pretended to, I don’t know. My frazzled boss though was able to rest easy. A few days later it was announced the survey was being delayed, and that was the last anyone heard of it.
But the takeaway was clear. When asked to offer honest feedback, always be complimentary.
Ten years ago, I was being invited to film preview screenings left, right, and centre. I was, according to a marketer at one of the promotions agencies I was “partnering” with, an influencer. But I wasn’t an influencer, and I certainly wasn’t a film critic, even though I wrote a bit about some of the films I saw. What I did have though was a website, the content of which, at the time, ranked quickly and well, on certain search engines.
There it was: I was an asset. If I were to write about a film, chances were the review would be near the top of the search results. Now if only I could write positively about that film. Perhaps the excitement, the extravaganza, of being at the local premiere, where food was abundant, the alcohol flowed, and the stars were in attendance, would entice me to say something nice. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the hoopla of it all.
Generally though, I heard little back from the agencies, regardless of what I wrote. It was apparent, from my web stats reports, that some of them looked, but that was all. A bad write up didn’t see me struck off the invite list. But times have changed it seems. All a would-be influencer cum film critic can expect today when being asked to review a film, is a free ticket to the show. Gone is the red carpet, the bubbly, and the assorted “free” gifts. Gone also are tickets to the next event, if a favourable social media post is not forthcoming.
An incentive, if ever there were one, to be complimentary, and positive.
And that’s it. That’s the way film reviews roll in the third decade of the twenty-first century, particularly where the big budget blockbusters are concerned. Experienced film critics seem to no longer be part of the process, or if they are, their thoughts are relegated to the fringes where few paying cinema-goers venture. Social media, and influencers, and a world where negative reviews never see the light of day: what a boon that’s been for the blockbuster film industry.