2004 in review (III): They lost it at the movies

"Do We Need More Christian Movie Critics?" was the first question on Slate's teaser for this year's annual gabfest of the country's top film critics about the films of the previous year. The question was raised by Armond White, a reviewer for the New York Press, in response to the near-unanimous condemnation of The Passion of the Christ by his fellow symposiasts:

[H]aving spent the year outnumbered -- because it seems no mainstream publication will hire a Christian movie critic (and I'm not talking about me) -- I have found the discussion [of The Passion] too oppressively lopsided, if not totalitarian. I can only "discuss" this movie on home turf.

White explained that this situation "enrages me, because I have not read a single mainstream review that sought to appreciate Gibson's basic, powerful imagery on its own terms." He wondered aloud, "Does atheism rule? Does blindness rule criticism? To have this movie reviewed only by nonbelievers and half-thinkers is tantamount to fascism." Linking The Passion with Michael Moore's anti-war pic, he said, "also avoids the film's aesthetics," which is pretty much what the critic is there for. Ah, I'll let White tell it:

Many critics choose to do just that, but I can tell you there are millions of readers who, understandably, feel the lack. They aren't getting from criticism what they want/need to know about art, mythology, spirituality. They're only getting objections, recriminations, and remonstrations.

These comments came after fellow critics had damned The Passion as "anti-Semitic shit" and quarreled over who received the most (or best) death threats over their negative reviews of the movie. New York Times critic A.O. Scott explained that the problem was not "a lack of Christian film critics (though I grant that the underrepresentation you cite constricts the debate), but the status of criticism as a secular activity, one that of necessity touches only indirectly on ultimate matters."

I read (more or less) the entire run of the comments of this year's movie symposium and I have to say, whatever the problems in the wider world of movie criticism, a less New York, less liberal, less secular, less loopy mix for next year's critics sure would make it more readable. (Christopher Kelly argued that Shrek 2 was a pro-gay marriage blockbuster. Uh, OK, but if we accept that line of argument, it was also pro-bestiality.)

As far as I can tell, all of the contributors this time were political liberals. To the extent that any had religious ties, they were either lapsed or badly frayed. Armond White came off as the token conservative only because he works at an alt-weekly that used to value contrarianism in its writers, and because the other contributors bristled so easily at the slightest non-anti-bourgeoisie provocation.

If Slate needs to get hold of some conservative and/or Christian critics who aren't aesthetic Philistines, they might draft Terry Teachout (Crisis' critic) or have a look at Christianity Today's movie site. If they really want to spice things up, they could draft James "I hate everything" Bowman or the American Conservative's controversial film critic Steve Sailer.

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