For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (France/UK; 70 min.)

directed by:Gerald Peary
For the Love of Movies!:  The Story of American Film Criticism

Michael says: "FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES: THE STORY OF AMERICAN FILM CRITICISM – What a joy to attend the New England premiere of friend and long-time Chlotrudis supporters Gerry Peary and Amy Geller’s film, FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES: THE STORY OF AMERICAN FILM CRITICISM.  Years in the making, Peary interviews a host of film critics to present a fairly comprehensive look at the study of movies; while also, amazingly, manages to be the first film on the subject. FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES certainly provides an excellent history of film criticism, starting as far back as the first decade of the 20th century and moving all the way through to today’s rampant Internet film critics.  He spends a lot of time on the Pauline Kael/Andrew Harris rivalry… in fact, he spends a lot of time on Kael in general, and while at first I thought that perhaps there was a little too much time spent on this portion of film criticism’s history, in context, it was certainly a major period of its history. 

"Not surprisingly, this group of people who make a living out of examining film and writing intelligently about it generally make for good interviewees.  They are overall, funny, insightful, thought-provoking and intelligent.  Peary does a good job finding a great diversity of sex, location, race, and age.  He found a great narrator in Patricia Clarkson.  For any film enthusiast, there is little fault to be found in FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES.  Some have criticized the film for being too academic, but that’s rather the point.  Peary is a professor, and he looks at film criticism as something educational as well as entertaining.  While it isn’t discussed specifically in the film, I feel there is an important difference between film reviewing and film criticism.  Most of the critics featured in this film are both, but the content and mission of each are very different.  I would have liked a clearer differentiation of the two art forms.  Still, with the hours and hours of footage that Gerry shot over seven years, much credit must also go to producer Amy Geller for shaping the film, and editors Sabrina Zanella-Foresi and Aleksandr Lekic for paring it down to a serviceable 70 minutes.  And of course, kudos to Gerry Peary for his directorial debut in a medium he so clearly loves and has worked in for so many years.  4 cats"


Jason says: "FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES: THE STORY OF AMERICAN FILM CRITICISM takes on a century of its subject in less than ninety minutes, and as is almost inevitable, feels a little uneven.  There are places where seems to do little more than scratch the surface, and even when filmmaker Geary Peary does dig a little deeper, it often doesn't seem deep enough.  Whether this means the movie should have had a tighter focus on some specific thread or been expanded (and then, perhaps, broken into six half-hour chunks, as a PBS series), I'm not sure.

"Aside from being a film critic for the Boston Phoenix, Peary is also a college professor, and he structures his film like a college course.  'Dawn (1907-1929)' focuses on the early days of cinema, with particular attention paid to Frank E. Woods, the first critic of note who went on to co-write Birth of a Nation.  'Cult Critics and Crowther (1930-1953)' shows film reviewing evolving into the form we recognize today, with star ratings and the championing of worthy independent and foreign films.  'Auteurism and After (1954-1967)' introduces us to the rivalry between Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, which carries over into 'When Criticism Mattered (1968-1980).'  That time period overlaps with 'TV, Fans, and Videotape (1975-1995),' which covers the rise of the fanzine.  Finally, the film finishes up with 'Digital Rebellion (1996+).'

"With a scant ten or fifteen minutes with which to cover each of these segments, there's some limitations on what Peary can include.  Some are right up there in the title - this is the story of American film criticism, so the groundbreaking work being done in France is mostly excluded, except in terms of how it pitted Sarris and Kael against each other.  Perhaps a more subtle selection bias is how much time is how focused the film is on newspapers' reviews of new releases.  Criticism that emerges from academia gets very short shrift, and while 'TV, Fans, and Videotape' mentions Siskel & Ebert and how video led to the revisiting of older films by enthusiasts as much as professionals, it doesn't do much more than that, even though these are factors which would have a major influence on the film's concluding chapter.

"Give Peary credit where it's due - 'Digital Rebellion' is far less antagonistic toward the internet than one might expect of a movie by someone who has spent his life in print (and I don't say this because the site I write for appears in both its eFilmCritic and Hollywood Bitch-slap brands).  Sure, we do get the usual cliched bits from a newspaper writer who seems perversely proud that he doesn't know how to find his reviews on the internet and the blogger who looks just out of college (if that) saying that, like, all our opinions are worth the same.  Still, he doesn't dismiss the medium as many newspaper writers facing unemployment by papers closing or downsizing does, although he clearly has more affection (and time) for the writers who wound up on the internet because their print outlets closed down than those who started out here.

"The relatively narrow focus isn't exactly a bad thing; I got a couple pages worth of interesting facts written down, and the film is mostly populated by genial figures. There are a couple of interesting stories, particularly Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris and the rise of amateur online criticism versus paid print.  Either of these could easily have been expanded to be the focus of the entire film, with a little fleshing out.

"I kind of wish Peary had gone that way.  FOR THE LOVE OF MOVIES is not bad as a high-level overview, and more general knowledge is always nice to have.  The film is fine as a collection of facts, but never describes what a critic's purpose is, especially if you separate those reviewing the weekly new releases from those looking at the medium as a whole.  The film also doesn't make a strong case for film criticism's value, even as it spends the last act lamenting the disappearance of the traditional film critic.  Given that the film's audience is likely to be festival-goers and, maybe, boutique-house patrons who are predisposed to finding them valuable, maybe he doesn't have to.

"Obviously, I think it has some value, or I wouldn't be writing this.  Since you're reading it, you likely do, too.  If you'd like to know more about the history of this activity, For the Love of Movies is a good place to start.  It won't make the subject interesting otherwise, but for most watching the film, it doesn't have to. 3 cats

"Seen 27 April 2009 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Independent Film Festival of Boston)"