Saturday, I covered the deadCenter Film Festival in downtown Oklahoma City, and I talked for a bit with Elvis Mitchell, former film critic for the New York Times and host of radio program The Treatment and Turner Classic Movies show Under the Influence.
Mitchell was at the festival to be a part of a panel on film criticism, which followed a screening of “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism,” which I reviewed here.
As a current/aspiring critic myself, I was eager to talk to Mitchell and get his perspective on the profession, which is steadily becoming a less viable source of income, thanks both to newspapers’ financial struggles and the egalitarian nature of criticism on the Web.
Mitchell was equal parts optimistic and glum. On the one hand, the ability for almost anyone to become a critic online opens up the playing field.
“The great thing about now is that criticism isn’t monolithic anymore,” he said.
On the other hand, with alternative weeklies increasingly becoming a part of larger corporations and with newspapers struggling to keep staff — especially critics who can be easily replaced by wire services — the ranks of employed critics are dwindling.
“The idea that a market like Detroit doesn’t have a film critic is kind of terrifying,” Mitchell said.
Although it’s becoming harder and harder to make money doing it, criticism has always been a risky financial source, Mitchell said, and if you love it, it’s more likely you’ll be good at it.
And, “If you’re any good at it, people will notice you,” Mitchell said.
Now that’s encouraging, even if there are plenty of other things to not feel so positive about.