Film Criticism in Cyberspace, the Web

In recent years, the Internet has become more than merely a source of endless porn and spam hawking cheap Viagra and shady real-estate deals. Coverage of the arts–and film in particular–is thriving in cyberspace, and while web- based criticism will probably not supplant the print equivalent in the near future, cinephiles no longer make patronizing remarks concerning the resources available to intrepid surfers.
Bill Krohn, the Los Angeles correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma who occasionally cites Internet criticism in his reviews, in fact asserts that he “doesn’t see any difference between Internet sources and scholarly journals, except that Internet sources are more varied and frequently better.” Although it is certainly true that a plethora of misinformation is available on line (and even that enormously useful resource, the Internet Movie Database, includes its share of egregious errors), the same could be said for a surprising number of seemingly respectable film books, even those available from distinguished university presses. Nevertheless, the most reputable Internet film journals rival, and do indeed sometimes put to shame, the offerings available to erudite film buffs in print form. For example, the Australian webzine Senses of Cinema has in recent years featured impressive symposia on the relationship of film and media to the events of 9/11 and women’s cinema. In a feature entitled “Permanent Ghosts,” Senses also dissected a new form of cinephilia among young film buffs engendered by the advent of video, digital media and the age of the Internet. Otrocampo, a lively Argentinean Net ‘zine, provides extremely comprehensive coverage of Latin American cinema and reprints seminal articles by, among others, Truffaut, Godard, Pasolini, and Serge Daney. Cineaste Associate Adrian Martin’s Rouge, which promises articles on directors ranging from Alain Resnais to Tsai Ming-liang by a stellar array of critics, will soon join these worthy downloadable offerings.
While Internet film journals emulate their print brethren, the myriad cinephilic message boards that have sprung up within the last decade are thoroughly sui generis. It is possible to maintain a healthy skepticism concerning the (now perhaps dated) claims that a genuine form of “virtual community” will emerge on the Internet and still admire the zeal and knowledge that often surfaces in these highly specialized, and often quite entertaining, free-for-ails. In addition to amusing “threads” on the dubious merits of’ a panoply of B movies and the best places to obtain Asian DVDs, the somewhat misleadingly named Mobius Home Video Forum (which devotes an enormous amount of space to film as well as DVD and video) has recently spawned a heated debate on the advisability of the Fox Movie Channel’s decision to suddenly cancel their planned Charlie Chan retrospective. Other more focused message boards generously indulge their participants’ obsessions, magnificent or not: the long-running Frameworks is devoted to the rarefied pleasures of the avantgarde, A Film By invites die- hard auteurists to lovingly consider the careers of cherished directors such as Howard Hawks, Douglas Sirk, and Frank Borzage, and the more academically oriented “discussion salon,” Film-Philosophy, fortunately does not limit itself to assessing the relationship of cinema to the work of Heidegger or Derrida but imbues its scholarly concerns with a surprising amount of genuine passion for moviegoing.
Web sites created by individual film buffs (the Internet equivalents of personal ‘zines) are even more idiosyncratic and too numerous to list here given the brief space. Varying widely in quality, and incorporating everything from the musings of outright cranks to the collected reviews of professional critics, these sites perform a significant function. As critic Steve Erickson observes, given the fact that most mainstream writing on film is little more than an extension of the realm of advertising, Internet personal sites provide a useful training ground for young critics. Whether dispensing crackpot advice or sagacious insights, these sites are nothing if not antidotes to the blandness of the official film culture, which is more preoccupied with box office grosses than artistic excellence.

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