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Peter saw his first movie when he was just a little boy, and has never gotten over that experience.

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Editor | Peter Bowen

Critical Thinking

Posted September 22, 2008

A while back we asked Phillip Lopate, the editor of the Library of America’s wonderful volume American Movie Critics, which fondly remembers the history of film criticism and film critics, to give a historical assessment of the film critic as a profession. It turns out that the power and the glory (as well of the paycheck) of the film critic has never been a fact of life, but rather a recent career opportunity. This month the British film mag Sight and Sound has picked up the discussion with their special issue “Who Needs Critics.”

In his introduction, Nick James reviews the sad history of the Critic—yes, Critic with a capital “C”––and the fact it s/he don’t get no respect:

"Pity the poor professional critic, but of course hardly anyone does. Critics have long been the villains of the arts, loathed (usually) by the talent, and mistrusted by the public. Think of their depictions in cinema; the urbane schemer Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, or cold Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger's Laura. Prissy droppers of vitriol they may be, but at least they loom large. Who now makes films featuring critics - and why should they?"

While James keeps his focus on the British species, his piece amply demonstrates that the fate of the Critic raise important questions about fate of our culture and our self-governance through letters.

Much more positive is the accompanying piece “Critics on Critics” in which current Sight and Sound critics pay tribute to those discerning minds that have influenced them. The list, that stretches from Plato to David Thomson, and the critics’ explanation about why these thinkers matter provides a provocative and inspiring piece.