There is a lot of interesting discussion of film criticism going on right now. In the posts and even more in the comments in posts like SILFR Forum: Critics on Critics, Scenes from the Cinematic Scorekeepers and Rica is Coming - Pinky Violence is Here!
I think we're coming to a crossroads in our examination of movies as an art form. Perhaps we've merely come to a place that we could choose to use as a crossroad. I think it's oddly reflected in the much maligned Online Film Community’s Top 100 Movies.
Traditionally, film criticism has been the purview of academics, so most of the factors have been accepted as "good" are the kinds of things that academics approve of. This has largely limited the accepted canon of great movies to things which academics approve of. More importantly, it has also ignored much of what academics explicitly disapprove of.
Mind you, some positive steps have been taken, Cahiers du cinéma made it impossible for even the most finicky critics to completely ignore film noir and westerns. Even with that advance, however, both of these genres have been, a chosen few exceptions aside, given only cursory examination in the years since.
A handful of exploitation filmmakers, Mario Bava, Roger Corman and Russ Meyer being notable examples, have made some headway into gaining a grudging respect among the respectable critical community, but again the list of their movies that have gotten a significant hearing is relatively small compared to their bodies of work.
The video and Internet revolutions have brought worlds of movies to our attention and into our homes. The potential to re-examine the thousands of forgotten movies, and entire movie genres, that have been lost or never discovered at all by critics and audiences. Perhaps, in some ways, too much potential.
And work has begun. There are any number of websites and blogs out there diligently discussing, examining and celebrating these movies, from nearly angle imaginable.
But too often all of this work is tied up in or overshadowed by the two largest spheres of Internet discussion. The first is largely just the old breed of academics with their rigid and often banal opinions, etched in stone. The second is the "Ain't It Cool" crowd. Mind you, in this instance, I don't mean a specific criticism of Harry Knowles, as he's merely a symptom of a problem that almost certainly would have existed without his specific presence.
The "Ain't It Cool" crowd, as a phenomenon, are the cinematic hedonists that stand in opposition to the puritan nature of the old breed of critics. Their philosophy seems too often to be that if the experience gave them pleasure than it's "cool" and thus worthy of celebration among the pantheon of great cinema.
Mind you, I've nothing against celebrating pure pleasures. I'm quite excited about Video Violence being near the top of my Netflix queue. There's a place for junk food cinema, just like there is for junk food. And when you finish a Quarter Pounder that particularly hits the spot, the proper response is still not to declare it among the greatest items of food ever produced. You can credit the marketing or even the design of it in terms of being easy to replicate in millions of locations and generally tasty. There's something brilliant in there somewhere, one must note, but it's not in the singular experience of consumption.
(Side note: How Teriyaki Became Seattle's Own Fast-Food Phenomenon by Jonathan Kauffman.)
Likewise, since the late '60s, Hollywood movies have been increasingly becoming a formula product, designed so that the equivalent of a minimum wage worker can make one without going too far off the spec sheet. For an interesting demonstration of a time before that became so ingrained, see Kansas City's 1973 Cinema.
If you want to convince me that one of them broke out of the Quarter Pounder zone, I expect some back up, which seems reasonable enough, but it seems to be something like their credo that fulfilling whatever expectations, however small, that they have set, is a great achievement.
Somewhere, a new standard needs to be set.
I think we're hammering away and listing movies and reinforcing both unworkable standards.
Mind you, I don't have an answer of even where to begin.
I think we've come to - long past, in fact - the point music came to when jazz could no longer be ignored. By the standards set down to judge European music, jazz indeed fails. Not to mention, the fact that it was born in juke joints where people came to drink, shake their asses and possibly even go home and have sex, all to the heavy beat.
We've come to a point where genre movies from all times and all places are judged by the same standards as were set up to judge art movies and middle-of-the-road Hollywood movies.
When it comes to judging the Pinky Violence movies discussed in the Cinebeats article or Gialli or Bollywood or any of another dozen peculiar genres, sub-genres and foreign delights that are slowly being discovered through the current revolutions, these standards fall vastly short in criticizing them, for better and for worse. They seem too often to simply miss the point altogether.
And while the two mainstream movie styles that criticism is set up to understand and criticize will occasionally croak up the cinematic equivalent of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, I become increasingly weary of it, and would frankly rather someone develop a new way of looking at it, just to make it more interesting... or perhaps to make it grow again, into something more interesting.