There’s no tomorrow

Bacurau: by now who hasn’t?Bacurau: by now who hasn’t?

My votes in the year’s Sight & Sound best films poll were for:

I should have included 6 Underground for the above reasons and others. I did include Portrait of a Lady on Fire, until it was ruled out for having appeared on 2019’s list. Ineligible, in a UK magazine poll in the year that the film was released in the UK and made its way onto a UK streaming platform to benefit from the influence of UK critics. Meanwhile the film at number three has had no UK presence of any kind, not even at a festival, and currently has none scheduled for next year either. It is, from the perspective of a UK reader paying to be more informed after reading the list than when they started, simply a non-thing. Hard to see that as arts criticism functioning flawlessly.

This would have been a good year to rediscover an old function or create a new one. But asking about the commercial value of film reviews was already a dicey move undertaken only by the daredevil wing of the trade while going over waterfalls in barrels—especially if you happen to ask this from left of centre somewhere—even before the removal of the actual films from people’s lives. If that of all conceivable eventualities didn’t urgently raise the question of who will pay film critics and why, then what would? The massed reviews of Tenet were a pile of rhubarb visible from the Moon, a criticism non-event that was over five minutes after it started, a gravity wave from something very small happening very far away.

Nick Pinkerton, in the course of ten thousand words about the current war, said that income from his paying Substack subscribers had done what it needed to do,” although that income model still looks a lot like the same $4.99 sloshing back and forth in the cultural sump. Because that is what happens when a plan has no demand-side dimension worth the label.

I was more interested in his mention of a scrappy print zine from the Chicago Film Society about their travails. The failure of film criticism to retrench instinctively into zine culture in the way that other beleaguered sectors have done remains the obvious symptom of some deep and well incubated trouble, some aversion on the part of writers to write and agitators to agitate, a shift away from the idea of film reviews having any real Business To Be About at all.

11 December 2020 Films


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