In his workshop on film criticism in Athens on the 22nd of January, 2016, Jean-Michel Frodon, who was an editor in chief of Cahiers du cinema, argued that film reviews are facts in society; they are academic materials but also (potential) works of art. In his ‘negative’ approach to film criticism, however, Frodon identified four bad masters of film criticism; merchants, leisure organisers, journalists and professors, all of whom have different demands from and understandings of film critics. For Frodon, in the academic film criticism, the object of knowledge is shaped according to academic purposes, which is not the purpose of film criticism. In my experience of Frodon’s thought-provoking master-class, what stroke me the most was the relationship between film criticism and academia. Are professors necessarily one of the bad masters? Or to put it differently; is academia incompatible with film criticism?
First, film reviews, which are written for academic journals are usually too theoretical to such an extent that the general audiences might not be able to engage with them easily or they would not want to engage with them anyway. Secondly, academic journals are usually not open access, which means only a few people within academic circles/universities can reach them. Being informed about the next volume of these journals even requires subscription to certain exclusive email groups or membership to university networks. Thirdly, film criticism is definitely not a tool for explicating film theories. Although film critics are usually at an advantage of having previous knowledge of film theories (as they are usually graduates of film/media/cultural studies courses), film reviews do not have to rest on/be informed by these theories.
From another side of the coin, film criticism enables academics (i.e. academic film critics) to reach beyond the confines of the academia as they express their views on films in different platforms outside the classes of universities and somehow exclusive academic journals and books. Furthermore it helps film theories to extend beyond the limits of academic journals, thus a wider reach for these concepts. It also prompts general audiences to engage with film theories (of course on top of the films themselves), which might create further curiosities in film and media studies.
However, film reviews are not facilitators of film and media theories or they are not there for academics to go beyond their habitats. As rightly pointed out by Frodon, film reviews might even be defined as artworks; they exist in their own right. In sum, the relationship between academia and film criticism is quite complex, especially in the digital era, which does not only imply a transition from print-based format to free-to-access online publication, but also that film, video, and television cannot be differentiated by exhibition platform anymore. However, film criticism and academia are still in harmony with and compliment each other and they will always be. For the very nature of film reviews, without depending on the format of the media outlet or the exhibition platform of the films, allows a reader to engage with, compile, and compare films from a different level even when it is written for academic purposes and informed by a theoretical perspective.