In 2005, we wrote the following as the lede graf of an S&F entry commenting on our experience attending a screening of the hit movie Batman Begins titled "ACD Goes To The Movies" (which entry can be read in full here).
In 1977, after two decades of ardent and involved devotion to the cinema, I attended a screening of the original Star Wars movie drawn there against all my best instincts by the phenomena of the huge adult crowds lining up at the box office to see this putative kiddie flick, and by the largely positive reviews from certain film reviewers who ordinarily would dismiss such a movie almost out of hand. An hour or so after it began I left the movie theater mid-show disgusted and angered so simpleminded and cartoonish were the story and dopey dialogue, the high-school-production acting Alec Guinness's performance excepted (what in God's name was Guinness doing in such a movie(!)?), and the special effects which looked as if they were lifted from some video game, and with but two exceptions (Schindler's List, and the showing of a print of the newly restored Lawrence of Arabia), haven't entered a movie theater since as I sensed that this movie and its enthusiastic reception by adults and professional film reviewers marked the beginning of the end for serious cinema in America and the beginning of a blockbuster mentality among filmmakers that's incompatible with the creation of works of cinematic art.And with the single and singular exception of the aforementioned 2005 experience, so has it remained to this day. There is today an ancillary experience: We cannot today find so much as a single movie reviewer (forget about critic), online or in print, in whose writings we can place any aesthetic trust, or who writes with the panache, eloquence, grace, and intelligence of film reviewers and critics of days past. Gone are the likes of Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, Bosley Crowther, and John Simon. (Mr. Simon is still alive but no longer regularly reviews movies in print. He does, however, have an online blog — Uncensored John Simon — but which blog is, unhappily, not devoted to reviewing anything.) Much of the blame for the debased quality of today's critical writing on movies can be laid squarely at the feet of TV's Dynamic Duo, the late Gene Siskel and his late partner in crime Roger Ebert, the modern-day originators of the thumbs-up-thumbs-down school of movie reviewing. One can readily understand the appeal of such reviews both for reviewers and their audiences. They're relatively easy and quick to write, and for their audiences, infinitely easier to assimilate and understand than are the deeper-thought-out, more deeply examined and researched criticism of the best movie reviewers and critics of yesteryear. But that's hardly a justification of the practice. Merely an attempt at a partial explanation, superficial and true though it may be. Oh!, where have all today's true movie reviewers and critics gone? Are they all hibernating, awaiting a more propitious cultural time to make their reappearance? Or is it the case that the species has simply outlived its appeal and usefulness and consequently gone irretrievably extinct? O tempora! O mores!