Phoenix feature writer Mark Taylor talks to Kenton Hall, writer, director and lecturer, about his new course, and why film criticism is fun.
There’s a line in a Dirty Harry film called Dead Pool in which the character suggests opinions are like a certain part of the human anatomy: “Everyone’s got one.”
It’s certainly true today, where the internet has made it possible for all of us to air our critical views of, well, just about anyone and anything.
But sadly that doesn’t make us all critics, something that Phoenix tutor Kenton Hall is going to be looking at in his lighthearted course, A History of Film Criticism, over four 90 minute sessions running from 20 Oct until 10 Nov.
“The main thing is that film criticism completely impacts on how we see film, through sites like Rotten Tomatoes. And it’s changed enormously over the years with the explosion of blogs.”
It seems a long way from the days when film criticism was the domain of people like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, whose reviews could strike fear into the hearts of studio chiefs and spark anger and hilarity in equal measure.
Roger Ebert, for example, become an icon in his own right – his reviews widely read as much for the entertaining way he wrote as for the opinions he gave. He became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize and his reviews were syndicated worldwide.
It was Ebert who described Pauline Kael – for many years film critic for New Yorker magazine – as the person who “had a more positive influence on the climate for film in America than any other single person over the last three decades.”
Nowadays, whilst the internet has opened up opportunities for us to find out more and more about about the films being made, sometimes it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“The rise of the bloggers has changed everything. We’ve moved into dark waters where people don’t know the difference between criticism and reasoned critique,” says Kenton.
So this course is going to put the record straight, but in an accessible, funny and lighthearted way, something that Ebert and Kael would probably have appreciated.
“There will be some visual clips and discussion. We’ll look at films that are classics now and go back to original criticism. And we’ll also look at the gossip, in-fighting and the trivia. It will appeal to all fans of film.”
A History of Film Criticism runs on Thursdays, 20 Oct to 10 Nov, 7pm – 8.30pm. Price £48 / £40 conc.