June 17, 2003

Theater Versus Film Criticism

Often the interests and styles of theater critics and film critics overlap, but in a good way, so that practitioners of both disciplines can learn from each other. Cinecultist grew up, like many current critics, reading Pauline Kael in the New Yorker but also voraciously consumed the theater reviews by Dorothy Parker. Catty and witty queens can be appreciated all around for their ability to entertain and persuade whether they're writing about the stage or screen.

In this interview on mediabistro today, the Times's chief theater critic Ben Brantley touches on the intersection between film and theater writing. He has particular experience in this, having written about film for Elle (yes, fashion mags also can have good critics on their staffs) before writing for the New Yorker and then the Times. Bentley makes an interesting comment about the way that people lament the loss of a "golden age" of an art form, but really we remember things selectively. Arts industries usually put out crud and genius at the same time. It is all business as usual. This is equally true of filmmaking and theater productions. (But that still doesn't mean that CC has any plans to go see Hairspray.)

"Broadway of late has certainly pandered out of a sense of desperation more than it used to, but if you look back to the theater reviews of the turn of the 20th century, you'll find a lot of the complaints made about Broadway then that are also being made today—that the shows we see are basically circuses or mere displays of technology. The so-called golden era of Broadway was actually pretty short-lived. We are always lamenting its decline and saying it is no good now, but I don't necessarily think that is anything new. Theater in general is certainly less glamorous than when I first came to New York as a kid, but I am also looking at it through adult eyes. I sit through some bad stuff, but when I get to sit through some of the good stuff, it is still rewarding like nothing else."

Posted by karen at June 17, 2003 12:35 PM