How are the film critics paid

The film reviews in the daily press

When the film review still claimed the rank of a literary text genre

From Claudia Lenssen


Film criticism as a professional journalistic section in daily newspapers is about to become an endangered species. The guarantee for their quality and journalistic substance, their status in the features editors and, in a broader sense, the cultural significance and appreciation of criticism in general are subject to rapid change, if not decline. Economically increasingly dried up, subject to profound structural competition and changed audience expectations due to the Internet and also massively controlled by the increasingly influential PR industry, the classic genre of film criticism is losing its profile in the print media.

The newspaper houses are amalgamating editorial offices, saving editorial positions, feeding independent film critics with catastrophically low line fees and reducing the number and scope of film articles in the newspaper. In many regions of Germany, the small cinemas with advanced programs have disappeared, so that film critics there have to be content with the same blockbuster offers, the individual discussion of which is hardly worthwhile, and is often even replaced by the local large cinema with a quiz game with free tickets.

At the same time, however, paradoxically, the symbolic value of film reviews is growing in the narrowing market for German and small international films. A long-term and well-researched critical background reporting on film-political problems is hardly possible for freelance film journalists, since the newspapers do not pay any expenses. Instead, the pressure of expectations on glamor and "people" reporting grows, from which the newspapers attract more readers, the film PR for their part promise greater advertising effects.

The media make names, they replace the pure ranking list according to cinema tickets sold in the subsidized film landscape in Germany and therefore this mechanism of instrumentalization indirectly decides on the success of an individual film, independently of the film reviews. The public attention that is measured in published reviews - increasingly also in talk show appearances and TV film tips - does not simply reflect the success, festival invitations and awards of a film, in many cases it is what evokes such appreciations. It also latently influences the funding decisions of the committees and television editors for follow-up projects, and it is not uncommon for such a discourse career to secure a livelihood for film artists at one of the countless German film schools.

The poorly paid small group of film critics, for example, does not watch without sympathy as their work is carefully read and used in the camp of filmmakers struggling for every funding euro, while established directors and producers such as Dany Levy and Stefan Arndt from X-Films , Günter Rohrbach and the recently deceased Bernd Eichinger have liked to play the emotional card in recent years, revealing their offense in the face of bad reviews and defaming a negative attitude towards their films as "typical criticism's disapproval" in principle.

The hard times are still to come for the film critics: The competition of the "old" print media against their own online editions overloaded with photos and films, against the event reports on television and, overall, against the confusing marketplaces on the Internet has more than just one settlement The result is extensive, serious, culturally critical film journalism interested in non-established aesthetics, the dilemma also affects the changes in the audience and the young writers themselves.

In contrast to the classic reception of a newspaper review, the Internet film review offers a seemingly immediate offer of interaction, which is not always answered qualitatively on an equal footing, but has long been part of the communication habit of the young film audience. In view of the complaints about the deficits in the media skills of young people, it is often suppressed that we are now dealing with a generation that hardly reads newspapers, but has access to films, film history and internationally networked information - not least of all also completed a large number of film studies courses that have been expanded in Germany for thirty years. Quite a few of them are now active on Internet platforms and in blogs as critics whose texts are worth reading.

The traditional film review is a well-formulated, convincingly justified cinema recommendation or a stimulating negative assessment, in any case a personal author's text supported by (film) education, which is put into the paper at the beginning of the cinema's program week - usually on Thursdays - and thus the current ones , locally oriented information needs of the readers. This definition is derived from the tradition of a self-confident press that saw itself as the leading cultural medium.

Among the educated middle class literary, theater and art critics, the film critics were colorful dogs who dedicated themselves to trivial mass entertainment. People fought for the film, some even drew film theories from their reviews (Béla Bálázs, Siegfried Kracauer, André Bazin and many others). Even in the post-war period and later in the era of New German Cinema, critics functioned as brilliant rhetoricians who helped establish new films, new film languages ​​and film artists in the cultural arena.

Recommendations such as Verrisse were seen as contributions to an independent quasi-literary text genre, as part of a historical-political discourse in which aesthetic forms were deciphered, explosive diagnoses of the time were made and the repressed in the collective mentality was "exposed". The German film critics worked on helping the medium to gain artistic standing among all film despisers and to contribute to the writing of film history - sharp debates were considered a necessary intellectual tool.

Today there is hardly any trace of this independent energy. The more powerful the advertising for a blockbuster, the more prominent its place in the features section. Feuilleton bosses who act as opinion makers and hype writers use films as an opportunity for their own large-scale comments, as most recently on the occasion of “The Downfall” or “The Lives of Others”. These sham debates in a culture of consensus that are used to criticism are countered by the texts of a new generation of writers on the Internet who argue for themselves and their friends - both phenomena are signs that the profession of paid film criticism based on journalistic training is nearing its end.