Gatekeeper Anguish


The NYT's A.O. Scott complains that there are just too many worthy movies around for a critic to pronounce on.

So many were screened recently at Toronto's film festival, writes Scott, that it produced "a free-floating anxiety verging on panic. To commit oneself to seeing a movie was also, of mathematical necessity, to skip about six others, a ratio that left a residue of nagging worry. What if, nestled somewhere in that neglected half-dozen, there was a life-changing masterpiece, or the kind of performance that heralds the arrival of a new star? Through bad judgment, inattention or sheer caprice, you could blow off your whole year-end top-10 list in a single morning …."

This problem isn't limited to festivals; it has flooded the world. "[M]any worthy films are lost in the shuffle," worries Scott, "failing not just to cross over to a mass audience, but even to find the self-selecting, appreciative cult they deserve."

Scott realizes that there are now many ways to keep movies visible longer, but that's no good either, because "their continued availability also contributes to the general cultural glut, as the DVD's and TiVo memory banks fill up with more and more stuff to watch."

What's a pair of eyes to do? Well, nothing. If you're not trying to play world gatekeeper, there's no problem to deal with. Cults, for example, are self-organizing and can take care of their own tastes. Furthermore, there's one "glut" that Scott overlooks: a plenitude of independent critical voices not associated with gatekeeper institutions, especially on the Internet. If there are too many movies to pronounce on, there are also more people pronouncing on them in many more places. Anyway, there are a lot fewer people waiting for the NYT's pronouncements. The NYT matters, but not like it used to. High-end critics and their audiences may not be a cult, but they're looking more like a subculture.

"The cultural glut is hardly limited to movies," observes Scott. "The response to growing markets (like those for film and for video games) and to shrinking markets (like those for books and for recorded music) seems to be the same: make more. But what are we supposed to do with it?" Ah, the anguish of gatekeeping.