Will anyone read this story? (It has too many words and not enough pictures.) Does anyone read this magazine? (Every article in it wants to be a meal, not a McNugget.) Is anyone reading film criticism? (It lacks the punch, the clips, the thumbs.) Can anyone still read? (These days, it’s more fun and less work just to watch.)
My mother saves movie ads in which my name appears and magnetizes them to the door of her refrigerator. She judges my success as a Time film critic by the size and frequency of the blurbs publicists choose to promote their wares. Mom always taught me that if you can’t say something nice about a picture, don’t say anything at all. So if a month or two passes and I’m not quoted, she gets to fretting. “That Jeffrey Lyons;’ she purrs, scanning the ads, “he must be a very nice man. He seems to like everything.” I have an image of Jeffrey Lyons’ mother’s refrigerator, festooned with rave quotes. It must be the size of a freezer at Hormel’s main plant.
Jeffrey Lyons isn’t a film critic, but he plays one on TV. The resident movie sage on PBS’s Sneak Previews and superstation WPIX, Lyons has no thoughts, no wit, no perspective worth sharing with his audience. To anyone knowledgeable about pictures , he is a figure of sour mirth. But the other week he stumbled upon a truth about film reviewing at the end of this enervating decade. Appraising the movie Internal Affairs, Lyons said, “Sometimes, as an old showbiz adage goes, less can be more.” No matter that the phrase was Robert Browning’s (popularized by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) and not Sam Goldwyn’s. In today’s movie criticism, less is more. Shorter is sweeter. Today’s busy consumers want just the clips, ma’am. And an opinion that can be codified in numbers, letters, or thumbs.
–Richard Corliss in Film Comment’s April/March 1990 issue.