Another film critic down

Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, who has been writing incisive film criticism for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, has been let go after 30 years, her articles replaced by wire service reviews. And so the death of local movie coverage -- and the relationship a critic can build with his or her readership -- dwindles further. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists kicks the story forward in thoughtful ways.

The point I sometimes ponder is whether a working critic even has much of a local readership anymore. Wesley and I cover movie releases in Boston; our reviews generally come out in the paper on Friday and presumably are read and digested by people in the greater New England area. I know that's true because I get e-mails from local readers Friday or Saturday, responding to what I've written with pleasure, vituperation, or just further comment.

Then the local emails stop, and those from readers around the country and around the world start coming in. As our reviews are posted online at and disseminated via Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and other websites, the audience becomes anyone with a computer, a love of movies, and a willingness to click through. A woman in Washington State wrote to tell me I'm her favorite movie reviewer. A guy from Somerville wrote to say my writing is "sludge" and he'll never come back. For which reader am I a "local" critic?

On the other hand, The New York Times national edition has made inroads in the Boston area. Many people I know here read both the Globe and the Times; some people read only the Times. Does that mean that A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are their local critics?

Yes, it does. In an era in which everyone's a critic and all reviews are instantly accessible, one's taste becomes one's neighborhood. The reviewer who articulates those tastes best and pushes them in provocative directions becomes your local voice, wherever he or she is and wherever you are. Cultural geography subsumes physical geography when distribution is moot. (The problem then is getting you to check out another "neighborhood" of taste.)

It's an interesting and not unrewarding new world, but what it doesn't promise is job security for the likes of Eleanor Ringel Gillespie (or Bob Ross or Jami Bernard or Mark Burger or many others).

Or me, really. Which is why Wesley and I have to -- and want to -- keep writing about the Coolidge and the Brattle and the series at the HFA and the guy in Malden pouring his heart and credit card balance into making a movie he hopes someone, anyone will see. If we don't connect the dots for readers in our physical sphere, a wire service certainly isn't going to. Cultural communities need entry points and talking points and as much connective tissue as possible. The local critic is valuable because he or she sits in the same theater you do -- and understands how and why that matters.

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