THE invitation to join a panel asking "What is a film critic in this day and age?" has left me pondering the role. What's not to like? You watch films before they're released, for free, and get to tell other people what you thought of them. A lucky few even get paid to do it. Except that the combined effects of piracy and the internet mean that nearly anyone so inclined can do the former, and that those lucky few are becoming fewer by the day.
By that overly simple definition, once a film is released anywhere in the world, in the age of social media everyone is a film critic. Before the credits have rolled, 140 characters praising or panning any film will be tapped out and disseminated by that new collective noun, a cinema of critics. There is a world of difference between an opinion and a review, though; between being critical and providing criticism. A rant, no matter how long, loud or widely read, is still a rant.
What is missing? It's not writing style or quality. For many that already exists or comes with time. Rather it is perspective and explanation. The latter is that vital, rare quality in an excellent film critic, those not just brave enough to declare a film objectively good or bad, but with the capacity to explain why, such that someone who hasn't seen it can understand. A good film reviewer, on the other hand - to draw a personal distinction - goes one step further. He or she uses perspective to assess, regardless of objective quality and without patronising or lecturing (as I am now), what sort of audience might like a film; whether the target audience will approve.
The audience is key for film critics. They are more informed and aware. In fact, those who want to find out about a film online can drown themselves in content - interviews, trailers, behind-the-scenes featurettes and, yes, reviews from around the world - to the point where they can almost recite a film the first time they see it. Then afterwards they can discuss it with countless others online.
Yet audiences also know that if they don't want to know the plot going in, they can't trust trailers. Studios gave up any pretence of withholding key plot points. Film critics must take up that baton, forgoing the lazy review style of recounting story to assist in analysis. A spoiler-free, well-argued and audience-focused criticism is harder to find now among the noise.
There is a counter-culture, those seeking a surprising cinema experience, wanting to take in a film untainted by spoilers and hype. They go into Facebook lockdown and #TwitterOff for days before a big film release. For those audiences, one good reviewer is worth a thousand tweets and may well be the one outlet they will check before deciding to spend money. A trusted critic is a sacred friend.
The panel discussion ''Where and what is a film critic in this day and age?'' is at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Moore Park, today at 6.30pm, free.