Stephen Hart raises some old, but still vexing questions with regard
to the confidence we place in 'critics' -- though I believe he is
referring, in the main, to 'reviewers.'
Trivial? A distinction without a difference? No. Siskel and Ebert
are clearly 'reviewers,' providing a service to consumers, a sort of
'consumer report.' Stanley Kaufmann, by contrast, I consider a 'critic,'
for even when he 'reviews' films, he is providing a context, making
connections, and expanding the discussion of the film to include other
issues and concerns.
In any event, Prof. Hart, whether or not a critic can "make a film" is
beside the point; we trust their wealth of experience, their supposedly
more refined sensibilities, their ability to make subtle distinctions
and judgments which not be readily apparent to the rest of us, etc....
In this sense, critics are like connoisseurs, or the judges at a
figure-skating competition. They are thought to possess subtle
powers of discernment and judgment -- COMPETENCE (in the Chomskian sense),
rather than skill at PERFORMANCE. We have never demanded that the
judges in skating or gymnastics competitions be the best 'performers'
themselves, or that umpires also be great pitchers in order to tell
a ball from a strike, or that wine connoisseurs also be master vintners,
or that the ability to recognize a good ale depend on being able
to brew one. Really, it's a moot point.
Still, why do we 'trust' certain critic/reviewers?
I'd have to say 'track record,' but then, there is the irresistible WIT
of Tom Shales's reviews on NPR's Morning Edition -- something
Siskel and Ebert will never have.
-- Derek Bouse