Conference Surveys ‘Changing Landscape’ of Movie Reviews

News subtitle

“A Century of Filmkritik and Beyond” focuses on the past and future of film criticism.

Gerd Gemünden
Gerd Gemünden, the Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanities and professor of German studies, organized the conference. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

There have been film critics almost as long as there have been films, but the genre is changing as technology evolves. Before the advent of the internet, most arts reviews were written by professional journalists and published in newspapers. But these days, amateur movie buffs are chiming in via self-published blogs and social media. Critics, scholars, and archivists will gather next week at Dartmouth for what organizers expect will be lively conversations about the evolution and future prospects of film criticism.

The conference, “A Century of Filmkritik and Beyond,” is being organized by Gerd Gemünden, the Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanities and professor of film studies, and Noah Isenberg, a professor of culture and media and director of screen studies at the New School of Social Research. 

A.O. Scott, a New York Times film critic, will moderate a panel on Weimer film criticism, and participate in another one called “Better Living Through Criticism.” Independent film critic Molly Haskell, whose reviews have appeared in The Village Voice, New York Magazine, and Vogue, and whose books include Stephen Spielberg: A Life in Films, and From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, will participate in a roundtable on feminist film criticism.

Film criticism dates back to 1907, Gemünden says, when the first German-language film publications were established. But over the past century there have been sweeping changes in the way reviews are written and distributed. “Criticism of the arts has moved away from print journalism to blogging. These days, anyone can be an expert,” he says. He cites websites like Rotten Tomatoes, which rates movies based on the aggregated opinions of hundreds of film and television critics and also by audience responses. “And that connects to the larger question of what the humanities can contribute to our lives. We want to raise these issues and see what answers we get.”

Gemünden sees the migration of film criticism from the mainstream media to cyberspace as a mixed blessing. “There are only a few bastions of professional film criticism left, in major newspapers like the New York Times,” he says. “But there are online journalists who are really, really good, and they attract a following by the quality of their work. I wouldn’t call it a decline, just a shifting landscape, and that will continue.”

The conference features a prestigious roster but will depart from the typical academic format.

“Professors will not stand up and read papers. There’s a place for that, but here everything is public and we want to create a dialogue among various stakeholders in film criticism,” Gemünden says. Panelists include “academics who write about film, reviewers for major newspapers, bloggers, and also archivists, so it’s a broad spectrum.”

In addition to Gemünden, Dartmouth participants include: 

Sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty; the Leslie Center for the Humanities; the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), the German academic exchange service, and the Max Kade Foundation in New York City, the conference begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, with a screening of Hitchcock/Truffaut in the Loew Auditorium at the Black Family Visual Arts Center. Afterwards, Higgins and Noah Isenberg will lead a question-and-answer session. On Friday, there will be an 8 p.m. screening in Loew of Was heisst hier Ende? Der Filmkritiker Michael Althen (Who’s Talking About Ending? The Film Critic Michael Althen), a documentary in German with English subtitles.

All events and screenings are free and open to the public. The conference runs through Saturday. More information is available here.

Charlotte Albright