WBEZ | film criticism http://www.wbez.org/tags/film-criticism Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The female film critic: an endangered species? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-06/female-film-critic-endangered-species-107574 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/4957512965_14e1979696_z.jpg" title="The waning powers of the female film critic? (Flickr/Tancy Poker)" /></p><p>When I think of the people who first turned me onto talking and thinking about film, the list skews heavily female: Pauline Kael. Amy Taubin. Molly Haskell.</p><p>I even liked Libby Gelman-Waxner, who wrote the satiric column &ldquo;If You Ask Me&rdquo; for Premiere Magazine and, who by the way, was actually a nom de drag: comedic writer Paul Rudnick doing his best impersonation of a Manhattan housewife/career woman.</p><p>I&rsquo;m not sure why this was the case. Maybe I liked women writers because I was a woman who wanted to be a writer! As a film school student, maybe I just preferred &ldquo;serious&rdquo; critics. Most of these women, judged by either the length of their reviews or by their actual academic bona fides, seemed awfully serious to me.</p><p>Or maybe - <a href="http://chicagoist.com/2013/04/23/emanuel_bill_savage_weigh_in_on_rac.php" style="text-decoration:none;">and don&rsquo;t crucify me Chicagoans</a> - I just liked New Yorkers.</p><p>But I started rethinking my connection to film criticism after reading some depressing news. A <a href="http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/movie-criticism-more-male-dominated-ever-study-finds-93626" style="text-decoration:none;">two-month survey</a> conducted this past spring, of the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, found that 78 percent of their &ldquo;top critics&rdquo; were men. And those dudes accounted for 82% of the site&rsquo;s total film criticism.</p><p>So, bottom line, according to the survey&rsquo;s author Martha Lauzen? As she concluded in a <a href="http://awfj.org/hot-topic/thumbs-down-representation-of-women-film-critics-in-the-top-100-us-newspapers-a-study-by-dr-martha-lauzen/" style="text-decoration:none;"> previous study</a> of newspaper film critics: &ldquo;Men dominate the reviewing process of films primarily made by men featuring mostly males intended for a largely male audience.&rdquo;</p><p>Talk about the man snake eating its man snake tail!</p><p>For now, some have complicated Lauzen&rsquo;s bottom line, including the great Linda Holmes at <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/05/24/186458888/are-women-really-missing-from-film-criticism" style="text-decoration: none;">NPR.</a></p><p>But to me, Lauzen&rsquo;s findings really resonate. I still read lots of female film critics, from Manola Dargis to Farran Nehme. Great as they are, they&rsquo;re still <a href="http://www.film.com/movies/great-female-film-critics" style="text-decoration:none;">few and far between.</a></p><p>And when I look for women critics in Chicago, the picture only gets worse.</p><p>Take your pick: the Chicago Reader, the Tribune, the Sun Times, TimeOut Chicago, Gapers Block, Windy City Times, WBEZ&rsquo;s Filmspotting? Most of these oulets&rsquo; film critics &ndash; and certainly the &ldquo;top critics&rdquo; &ndash; are men. Or take a look at the Chicago Film Critics Assocation, whose <a href="http://www.chicagofilmcritics.org/members-list">membership</a> is mostly male.</p><p>Then recently, two national outlets with local ties upped the gender inequity ante. Pitchfork announced it&rsquo;s new film site <a href="http://pitchfork.com/news/50949-introducing-the-dissolve-a-new-film-site/" style="text-decoration:none;">The Dissolve</a>. Among the seven critics (most formerly of the A.V. Club), two are women: Tasha Robinson and Genevieve Koski.</p><p>Meanwhile, over at RogerEbert.com, <a href="http://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/meet-the-new-editor-of-rogerebertcom-matt-zoller-seitz" style="text-decoration:none;">newly appointed editor Matt Zoller Seitz</a> is not only a man, he&rsquo;s a New Yorker!</p><p>In announcing the pick, Chaz Ebert lauded Seitz&rsquo;s many talents, including his ability &ldquo;to spot and encourage talent in other journalists, critics and video essayists&rdquo; and to mentor &ldquo;with a benevolent style.&rdquo;</p><p>Seitz has certainly built some fine film criticism outlets, including <a href="http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/">Press Play</a>. But if the contributors there are any indication, Seitz has mainly mentored men: Out of 41 writers, 8 are women.</p><p>Lest I sound like a cranky and slightly obsessed accountant, toting up gender counts at various media outlets, I want to stress that there are of course women here writing about film: Nina Metz and Maureen Hart at the Trib, Ruth Ratney and Carrie Kaufman at <a href="http://www.reelchicago.com/" style="text-decoration:none;">Reel Chicago</a>, and many more at <a href="http://cine-file.info/index.htm" style="text-decoration:none;">CINE-FILE.info </a>including Christy LeMaster, Candace Wirt, Chloe McLaren among others.</p><p>Of course, any attempt at a list is most defined by what&rsquo;s left off it, so if I&rsquo;ve missed any local female film critics, please don&rsquo;t yell, just add their names in the comments section below.</p><p>Meanwhile, ponder this interesting silver lining: While women may not have achieved critical mass in local or national critical circles, they are a significant presence among film programmers and presenters.</p><p>In fact, as I started to compile this list, I was astonished by how many local film series and festivals are due in whole or part to women. Another interesting fact: many of these women got into programming by starting as filmmakers or projectionists, and many of them are still working the booth at various local cinemas.</p><p>Here then, is as comprehensive a list as I can muster, with some musings from local programmers about why women seem to gravitate toward programming over criticism, and why the lack of female critics matters.</p><p>One thing to note as you review this list, and add other names below, there is almost no diversity among local female programmers - most on this list are white.</p><p>1. Film Houses. Barbara Scharres, Programmer, <a href="http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/" style="text-decoration:none;">Gene Siskel Film Center</a>. Scharres started out by making films, then was hired as a projectionist by Siskel founder Camille Cook. After a stint as technical director she moved into programming. Scharres says that based on an annual gathering of North American film programmers, the male-female split is about 50-50. On the surface that makes the programming field more female friendly than criticism.</p><p>Scharres notes that women who present films tend to have more formal film educations or academic backgrounds, whereas much current criticism tends to favor &ldquo;Quentin Tarantino-types&rdquo;: Young, strongly opinionated male film fans who undergo a thorough and self-driven film education.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to put that down,&rdquo; says Scharres, &ldquo;But at the same time it does produce a more cowboy kind of field.&rdquo;</p><p>Scharres says maybe the people who hire film critics might be less disposed to a lack of female critics who don&rsquo;t come off as &ldquo;brash, enthusiastic fanboys.&rdquo; But she thinks their absence means we are missing something.</p><p>&ldquo;Women have a whole different take on things. just even the obvious bullshit detection when it comes to filjm&rsquo;s portrayal of women.&rdquo;</p><p>As an example, she cites the recent film at Cannes, François Ozon&rsquo;s &ldquo;Young and Beautiful&rdquo;, a movie about a rich young woman&rsquo;s random turn to prostitution. Scharres noticed a clear gender divide in the critical responses, saying it left most women saying &nbsp;&ldquo;what the f*&amp;k get out of here,&rdquo; while men seemed to find it &ldquo;so real, so beautiful, so plausible&rdquo;.</p><p>Scharres does write about film - she is one of the critics who covers Cannes for RogerEbert.com. Though I noticed that the site&rsquo;s recap of the festival followed the usual <a href="http://www.rogerebert.com/cannes/post-cannes-two-critics-look-back-over-this-years-festival" style="text-decoration:none;">two dudes talking format.</a></p><p>Others: Mimi Brody at Northwestern University&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/view/cinema/" style="text-decoration:none;">Block Cinema</a>. Julia Gibbs and Sabrina Craig at the <a href="http://filmstudiescenter.uchicago.edu/" style="text-decoration:none;">Film Studies Center</a> and Haley Markbreiter of student-run <a href="http://docfilms.uchicago.edu/dev/" style="text-decoration:none;">Doc Films</a>, both located at the University of Chicago.</p><p>2. Multi-taskers. Christy LeMaster runs micro-cinema <a href="http://nightingalecinema.org/" style="text-decoration:none;">The Nightingale</a>, previously contributed to CINE-FILE.info and for a time was a film critic for WBEZ&#39;s <em>Eight Forty-Eight.</em></p><p>Like many others I spoke with, she got into programming because she&rsquo;d rather show a film then tell someone about it. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s all sharing the movie, right?&rdquo; says LeMaster, &ldquo;But it&rsquo;s way more fun for me to watch it with everybody.&rdquo;</p><p>Though CINE-FILE includes a number of women critics, LeMaster says there&rsquo;s been lots of debate among contributors about the absence of film voices in local film criticism, and perceived sexism in some reviews by men.</p><p>Rebecca Hall said that was a concern for her, when she first started getting into film presentation. Hall started at Doc Films, taking tickets, projecting films and eventually tackling publicity and other administration duties because, she says, &ldquo;it was something no one else was bothering about.&rdquo;</p><p>But what most struck here was the &ldquo;weird culture&rdquo; of Doc, which involved a fairly regular group of guys debating films and showing off for one another.</p><p>&ldquo;Wow this is a guy thing,&rdquo; Hall remembers thinking. &ldquo;How can I even be friends with them? But of course I did end up being friends wih them.&rdquo;</p><p>Friends, and more. Together with Kyle Westphal and Julian Antos, Hall founded the nonprofit <a href="http://www.northwestchicagofilmsociety.org/" style="text-decoration:none;">Northwest Chicago Film Society</a>, which emerged out of the ashes of the former Saturday night screenings at the Bank of America cinema and had, until its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-05/community-groups-scramble-after-portage-theater-closes-107425" style="text-decoration:none;">recent and abrupt closure</a>, done a weekly series at the Portage Theatre. &nbsp;</p><p>Like LeMaster, Hall was most interested in creating a space where &ldquo;we put on a show and people come to see it.&rdquo; But her path there has been less through programming and more via administration and business building.</p><p>That&#39;s been the case for others as well. Hall told me Linda Stagner runs the business end of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.silentfilmchicago.com/index.html" style="text-decoration: none;">Silent Film Festiva</a>l, which is programmed by Stagner&rsquo;s husband Dennis Wolkowicz.</p><p>Others: Amy Beste programs the annual experimental media series <a href="http://blogs.saic.edu/cate/" style="text-decoration:none;">Conversations at the Edge</a> for the School of the Art Institute. Anne Wells and Nancy Watrous run the <a href="http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/" style="text-decoration:none;">Chicago Film Archives</a>, and regularly presents free film programming throughout the city (full disclosure, I&rsquo;m a member of the CFA&rsquo;s advisory board).&nbsp;</p><p>Lyra Hill, a projectionist and filmmaker, runs <a href="http://brainframe.tumblr.com/" style="text-decoration:none;">Brain Frame</a>, a performative comix event which includes a strong film component. Meanwhile Manual Cinema, which does shadow puppetry with &ldquo;cinematic motifs&rdquo; includes Julia Miller and Sarah Fornace among its members.</p><p>3. Film Festivals <a href="http://www.felkercommalori.com/" style="text-decoration:none;">Lori Felker</a> makes films, projects at the Siskel, and coordinates the <a href="http://cuff.org/" style="text-decoration:none;">Chicago Underground Film Festival</a>. <a href="http://gapersblock.com/ac/2011/10/03/interview-mimi-plauche-chicago-international-film-festival-programming-director/" style="text-decoration:none;">Mimi Plauché </a>has been Programming Director at the Chicago International Film Festival since 2006. Noha El Shareif is the Executive Director of the <a href="http://palestinefilmfest.com/" style="text-decoration:none;">Chicago Palestinian Film Festival.</a></p><p>That&rsquo;s all I&rsquo;ve got for now. Again, please add your favorite female film critics/programmers below. And let me know - does the lack of female film critics matter to you? Why or why not?</p><p><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Alison Cuddy is WBEZ&rsquo;s Arts and Culture reporter. Follow her<a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy" style="text-decoration:none;"><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> <span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); font-style: italic; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">@wbezacuddy</span></span></a><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">, on<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=tn_tnmn" style="text-decoration:none;"><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> <span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); font-style: italic; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Facebook</span></span></a><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> and on<span style="text-decoration: none; font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"><a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport" style="text-decoration:none;"> <span style="text-decoration: underline; font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Instagram</span></a></span></span></span></span></p></p> Thu, 06 Jun 2013 16:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-06/female-film-critic-endangered-species-107574 Roger Ebert draws young film buffs to Chicago http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2013-04/roger-ebert-draws-young-film-buffs-chicago-106465 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ap ebert_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><em>[Note: Nico Lang and Leah Pickett wrote these reflections on Roger Ebert&#39;s influence on them as writers, movie goers and people prior to the news Thursday that the legendary Chicago film critic <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/roger-ebert-dies-106498">has passed away</a>.]</em></strong></p><p>Yesterday Roger Ebert <a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/film/roger-ebert-cutting-back-workload-after-cancer-returns-106443">announced</a> that he was stepping down as the lead film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. I&rsquo;ve known this day would come since he first broke the news about his battle with cancer in 2006. Since then, each of his reviews has felt like a precious resource or an old letter, something you know you need to keep close to your heart.</p><p>I knew one day I would have to write him my own letter to tell him how much his work has meant to me &mdash; and inspired a generation of young critics. I wish that day weren&rsquo;t today.</p><p dir="ltr">The first time I read an Ebert review I was a lonely kid, living in the suburbs of Ohio. I couldn&rsquo;t get the other students in my school to talk to me or look at me, and one day, when I sat next to a girl I liked on the bus, the boy in front of us informed her she should move.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;He&rsquo;s the biggest loser in school,&rdquo; he bluntly reminded her.</p><p dir="ltr">Like many young film critics, I instead found my community in the movie theater among the people huddled in the light of the widescreen, illuminated by giant images of Brad Pitt and George Clooney.</p><p dir="ltr">These were my people, the compulsive cinephiles, the people who saw almost everything, even when it was trash. The summer of 2001 I saw almost everything that was out, including <em>Monkeybone</em>, which I saw twice. The film was widely dismissed and ignored by the critical community (because it was technically terrible), but annoying cartoon animals aside, I was enraptured by the depth of its art direction, the surreal world Henry Selick created with his sets and his swiss-army-knife imagination. No one else liked it. I felt like I could see something no else could, like a Magic Eye picture made for me.</p><p dir="ltr">Roger Ebert rightfully hated <em>Monkeybone</em>, but I started reading his reviews because he was unafraid to champion the films everyone else left behind, unabashed about the joy he found in watching something as silly and brainless as <em>Tomb Raider</em>.</p><p dir="ltr">He forced me to see the beauty in trash and to give films a chance I might have otherwise overlooked. He even has a film festival, <a href="http://www.ebertfest.com/">EbertFest</a>, devoted to it. Many of his readers decry the fact that he gave four stars to <em>Knowing</em> (where Jesus turns out to be an alien) or <em>Perfume</em>, because his opinions so fly in the face of consensus. But that&rsquo;s exactly why I&rsquo;ve loved him for so long:&nbsp;He told me it was okay to like the things I liked, simply because I liked them.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">I love Ebert because as a nerdy kid who needed heroes to look up to, he taught me the value of my own perspective and that people could cherish your contribution to the conversation, whether you agreed with others or not. He&rsquo;s not Armond White, who goes against the grain to make a statement.&nbsp;Ebert&#39;s a gentleman. He forces us to evaluate our own opinions and think about what a film truly says to us, and his critiques of <em>The Human Centipede</em> films have been particularly relevant at a time when we&#39;re increasingly taking violence for granted. Sometimes we have to wonder: Is this the movie we really asked for? Is this what we want?</p><p dir="ltr">He might champion the little guy, but he&rsquo;s not afraid to throw his share of shade &mdash;&nbsp;in the best possible way. For Ebert newbies, check out his&nbsp;<a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19940722/REVIEWS/407220302/1023">review of&nbsp;<em>North</em></a>&nbsp;for that.</p><p dir="ltr">When I came to Chicago, part of me came here to be closer to Ebert. I wanted to be able to pick up the Chicago Sun-Times and read him every Friday like my own personal weather forecast.</p><p dir="ltr">Ebert has been my compass, my personal totem and my guide. I know that I&rsquo;m not alone in feeling like his words have raised me. I find comfort in finding out that other people share in my devotion to his work. It&#39;s yet another community of people finding solace in the consolations of art.</p><p dir="ltr">I know that as long as his health allows him to write, every word will be incendiary and timeless, an eternal testament to the power of the page. But Ebert doesn&rsquo;t just belong to print, and his work will live as long as there are people gathered in the dark, looking for light. He belongs to the ages.</p><p style="text-align: right;"><em>&mdash; <a href="http://www.wbez.org/taxonomy/term/22440/" target="_blank">Nico Lang</a></em></p><h2 dir="ltr"><strong>&#39;A marvel of Herculean proportions&#39;</strong></h2><p dir="ltr">Roger Ebert is the reason that I decided, at the ripe old age of nine, that I wanted to be a film critic.</p><p dir="ltr">I was a very weird kid with crippling social anxiety; but thankfully, I discovered early on that the world of movies was my safe haven: a magical place where I could go to escape all of my problems, even if just for a little while.</p><p dir="ltr">So, on one particularly lonely Friday night (after watching <em>The Godfather</em> for the umpteenth time and imagining how sorry my bullies would be after I went back in time to marry Michael Corleone), I changed the channel and saw Roger Ebert on my TV screen, talking about a new film called <em>The Truman Show</em>.</p><p dir="ltr">As fate would have it, I was instantly captivated by this serious-looking man and his relentless verve for moving pictures. I shared his enthusiasm over every little cinematic detail; and when he began analyzing Truman&rsquo;s cultural impact with partner Gene Siskel, the electricity of their back-and-forth was as visceral as anything I&rsquo;d ever felt. I wanted to bottle up that energy and cherish it forever, so that even when I felt different from my family and friends, I&rsquo;d never have to feel lonely again.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, I didn&rsquo;t know then that 12 years later I&rsquo;d be on a plane to Chicago, inspired to attend the Ebert-approved Columbia College film school with a well-worn copy of <em>I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie</em> in my backpack. But as I watched <em>Siskel &amp; Ebert</em> on that life-changing night circa 1998, I discovered that my dream job had a name (film critic!) and, after reading every Chicago Sun-Times review that I could get my hands on, learned that Roger Ebert was more than just a kindred spirit: he was my cinephile spirit guide.</p><p dir="ltr">In many ways, Ebert has become a marvel of Herculean proportions. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrated author of more than 15 books, veteran TV personality, founder of a film festival, prolific writer of some of the best film criticism that I&rsquo;ve ever had the fortune to read and a survivor in every sense of the word. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Amazingly, Ebert&rsquo;s 11-year battle with thyroid cancer has failed to weaken his spirit, as he remains just as insatiably passionate and exceedingly talented today as when he first began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. And even though his cancer has returned this year, Ebert plans to &ldquo;slow down&rdquo; but by no means cease writing completely. According to his announcement, Ebert will continue to review films that interest him, raise funds via Kickstarter to reboot the TV show <em>At the Movies</em> and promote his Kartemquin Films bio-documentary due out next year: the Martin Scorsese-produced, Steve James-directed adaptation of his best-selling memoir, <em>Life Itself</em>.</p><p dir="ltr">I will miss reading Ebert&rsquo;s weekly reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, but I also take comfort in knowing that his archived works will live on for me to continually re-visit and enjoy. Every time I read his spot-on review of<em> Bonnie and Clyde</em> (his &ldquo;Best of the Year&rdquo; pick for 1967) or his top 10 list of favorite movies (<em>2001: A Space Odyssey, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, La Dolce Vita, The General, Raging Bull, Tokyo Story, The Tree of Life </em>and<em> Vertigo</em>), I get goosebump-memories of my nine-year-old self, watching his show and reading his reviews for the very first time.</p><p>Ebert&rsquo;s hiatus is undeniably sad news for those who love and support him, but his &ldquo;leave of presence&rdquo; also could not have been more beautifully stated. Whether he will grace his readers with a hundred more reviews or start an entirely new chapter on the other side of Life Itself, Roger Ebert&rsquo;s legacy is already written on our hearts; and as long we have his words to turn to, then he will never truly leave us.</p><p style="text-align: right;"><em>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/leah-pickett" target="_blank">Leah Pickett</a></em></p><p><em>Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago. You can follow Nico on <a href="http://achatwithnicolang.tumblr.com/">Tumblr</a> and Twitter @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/nico_lang">Nico_Lang</a> or find them on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/nicorlang">Facebook</a>. Leah Pickett covers Pop Culture for WBEZ. Connect with her on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/leahkristinepickett">Facebook</a> or Twitter @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/leahkpickett">leahkpickett</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 04 Apr 2013 09:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2013-04/roger-ebert-draws-young-film-buffs-chicago-106465