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NOWHERE TO GO, AND NOTHING MUCH TO SAY October 12, 2011

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, That's Entertainment.
19 comments

A cartoon in a recent New Yorker, reproduced below, mercilessly sums up the motives of those who scribble on the internet. Or at least mine and, I suspect, the majority of others. There is however a minority who actually get paid to regularly promote or pontificate online, but I bet it’s a tiny one. After all, if a digital monster like the Huffington Post can get away with paying zilch to the hundreds if not thousands of writers whose work it aggregates, then I suspect only the p.r. arms of large commercial and political institutions do actually reward their bloggers financially.

(C) The New Yorker – so sue me why don't you?

Sometimes this angers me, not least because as little as four years ago I had seven paid monthly columns in various magazines, plus regular feature commissions from most of them, all of which amounted to earning a modest living. Now I have but two such columns, at reduced rates, very little feature work and two of those magazines have closed. The rest have imposed greater workloads on their permanent staff with, I maintain, a subsequent reduction in quality which will in turn likely lose them readers… but I would say that, wouldn’t I?  Crocodile tears I can live without, but it’s a measure of how the print publishing landscape has changed so radically in just a few years that many journalists who genuinely love to write – and I count myself amongst them – largely if not only are able to do so, and only for free, in a medium that has confiscated large chunks of their income. Irony overload.

One of the other paradoxes of this is that in response to the rolling but often superficial news formats prevalent on radio, t.v and most especially the internet, the newspapers which we used to rely on for news and investigative journalism have reduced such content considerably, replacing it with columns, criticism, commentary pieces and general interest features. Which we used, and to an extent still get, in the dwindling cohort of magazines.

Much of this I no longer bother to read because it is simply anodyne, or in shameless thrall to the entertainment and fashion industries. For example, most of what we once called the quality press is full of puff pieces promoting a new film, album, t..v. programme or, just occasionally, a book via an up-their-arse profile of its star or creator, especially at weekends which is when I (sometimes) have time to sit down and read them.

Which might – just – be alright if the standard of critical reviewing and editorial oversight counterbalanced such fawning prose, but increasingly it doesn’t.

One example of this which particularly irked me concerned a new film by newish Danish director, Nicholas Winding Refn, with star du jour, Ryan Gosling leadenly playing a virtually mute getaway driver. Admittedly with its taut if spare plot, lots of gratuitous violence and some decent performances from Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks (about time too), Ron Perlman and a neat cameo against type from Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Drive isn’t a bad film. So far, so okay. But not one, not one single reviewer in any of the ‘papers I read – and after the first two or three I made a point of seeking out five or six others (my local newsagent loves me) mentioned that Drive is a hugely derivative rip of The Driver, a far superior film by Walter Hill. Released in 1978, it features Ryan O’Neal in the eponymous title role and the witheringly beautiful Isabel Adjani as the femme fatale he hooks up with. (If you haven’t seen it, read a brilliant critique in my seminal 1981 tome, Road Movies, which is rarely available via dusty secondhand bookshops, oh and Amazon, for about tuppence).

Even The Observer’s Philip French, who generally knows his way around cinema’s back catalogue and often references obscure foreign language flics to make his point in a showy-offy way, even he failed to point out the plagiarism. It underlines the poor standard of film criticism which ill-informed, perhaps willfully ill-informed journalists are allowed to get away with these days, journalists who a year ago might’ve been restaurant, motoring or music critic or op-ed columnists or some fashion editor’s favoured off-spring – yes believe it or not, even in the morally unimpeachable world of print, nepotism happens. And so the media merry-go-round continues its ever-decreasing circle around and around and eventually up its own bum.

Except, of course in the New Yorker where although they may be what is politely called ‘seasoned’, the same old meticulous but largely brilliant and knowledgeable journalists ply their trade untrammeled by the disruptive and coarsening predations of the interweb. Needless to say, the only critic who had the gumption and perhaps, given the power that Hollywood wields  in this economically-strapped medium, the courage to establish in considerable detail that Drive is simply a flashy reproduction of The Driver was the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane.

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