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Is Everyone Really A Critic?

by David Gura
Apr 30, 2008

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David Gura

In 2002, film critic Roger Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. Since then, he has undergone several surgeries. One of them, on his salivary gland, made it almost impossible for him to speak. Earlier this month, he penned a letter to his readers and viewers:

Are you as bored with my health as I am? I underwent a third surgery in January, this one in Houston, and once again there were complications. I am sorry to say that my ability to speak was not restored. That would require another surgery. But I still have all my other abilities, including the love of viewing movies and writing about them.

Ebert will continue to write reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, but he will no longer co-host At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper.

Two weeks ago, A.O. Scott, a chief film critic for The New York Times, tipped his hat to Ebert in a piece about the state of film criticism today: "For those who labor beside him in the vineyards of criticism [his retirement from At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper] is an incitement to quit grousing and pick up the pace."

That's a tall order. More and more newspapers, eager to cut costs, are cutting critics. In the last three years, 27 newspapers have said "goodbye" to their film reviewers. Yes, there are commercial constraints, but there is also new competition. Websites, like Rotten Tomatoes, aggregate reviews. Hundreds of amateur film critics post their thoughts on blogs. Nowadays, you don't need a master's degree in film criticism — or a thorough knowledge of La Nouvelle Vague — to be a movie critic. (You can look it up on Wikipedia, like I did.)

A.O. Scott will join us today, at the Newseum, to give us his thoughts on film criticism. Margo Mealey, alias DCMovieGirl, who blogs at, will be there too. And we'll talk to Ken Otterbourg, the managing editor of The Winston-Salem Journal. In 2006, the newspaper said "goodbye" to its movie critic.

Before you see a movie, do you read reviews? If so, who do you read? If you don't look at newspaper reviews, do you go to websites or blogs? What do they offer that print critics don't?

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