Wednesday, March 09, 2005

CHARLES TAYLOR CUT LOOSE FROM "SALON"

As Matt Zoller Seitz reported in his column in the New York Press yesterday, Charles Taylor, senior film critic for the online magazine Salon, has been fired. Seitz writes:

"What the fuck was Salon thinking when it fired Charles Taylor, intellectually serious film critic and one of the finest, funniest wordsmiths in American journalism? Will Salon, a haven for provocative criticism and fresh cultural commentary, now become yet another unpaid arm of the entertainment business, serving up "features" that are actually long, snarky ads for the latest movies?"

Good, provocative questions for a magazine that prides itself, and advertises itself, on its independent voice, on being beholden to no special interests or agendas. A quick Google search provides no information on the situation, and several questions remain unanswered. What kind of further changes does this firing signal for the tone and depth of Salon's Arts and Entertainment coverage? Can Stephanie Zacharek's similar seriousness as Salon's remaining senior film critic suddenly be interpreted as a big red target on her back? And can Taylor, whose ideas I've sparred with on this site more than once, but who clearly belongs to a rich and thinning tradition of intellectually challenging yet accessible American film criticism, find a place that will regularly allow him the creative freedom and the simple opportunity to provide the kind of top-notch criticism both cineastes and serious filmgoers can appreciate? I've taken issue with Taylor's opinions and approaches to recent films such as Sideways and Million Dollar Baby. But he's also one of the only critics who wrote seriously and thoughtfully about such films as Femme Fatale, Out of Time and Shanghai Knights, honestly assessing their pleasures and their particular artistries when other writers clearly couldn't be bothered. And though I haven't yet revisited the movie myself, his passionate argument in favor of Showgirls, upon the release of its deluxe DVD edition earlier this year, was a provocative, old-school dust-'em-up, a challenge to smug tastemakers and weary audiences to be open to the possibilities in reevaluating an almost universally reviled specimen of trashy cinema. Whether he's right or wrong about Showgirls is almost beside the point. It was just nice to have someone with that sort of forum even pose the argument, and pose it in such a vital, readable and entertaining fashion.

If anyone has any information on the Taylor firing, I'd love to be linked to some resources that I could pass along. When good, even great writers get dumped by newspapers and high-profile Internet magazines in favor of syndicated "reviewers" and other dumbed-down entertainment press operatives, it's cause for alarm, one more membrane of the critic's independent voice that separates filmgoers from studio-generated publicity masquerading as journalism peeled away and discarded. Wherever Taylor surfaces, and my kneejerk hope is that he quickly will, that publication will be lucky to have him within their pages. I only hope that if they're smart enough to hire him, they'll be smart enough to resist the pressures of the culture and the marketplace and let him do the valuable work that he does alongside the best of American film critics.

17 comments:

stooge1970 said...

Hey, when I was let go, I didn't get a big write-up on your blog! I see how it is.

Thom McGregor said...

Stoogie, first of all, Charles Taylor never exposed himself on a regular basis to said blogger's wife, and second of all, you're coming back, remember? And, blogger, I agree that stimulating, intellectually satisfying film criticism seems to be dying a slow death officially, but I can still get the best-written reviews and essays here at your site. I'm biased, but it's the truth, and you know it. Salon only wishes it were as well-written and interesting as this site.

Anonymous said...

Not "fired." "Laid off." As in, we'll be asking Charles to come back once the criticism work picks up a little. Maybe. 'Course, we ain't about to go looking for any films to review, but if some should happen to drop in our laps and our current staff of critics can't handle the editorial load, we may possibly be asking Charles or one of our other "laid off" critics to drop whatever he's doing and lay a bit o' criticism on us. 'Course, we ain't promising anything full-time for Charles, y'understand...

-- Slate management

Anonymous said...

Hey, Dennis, in case you didn't see this from Roger Ebert's website:


Q. Do you have any idea why, after finally tottering into the black, Salon.com's new editors would fire Charles Taylor, whose thoughtful, beautifully articulated film reviews have been the gold standard for online magazines since 1998? Have to admit, my heart sank after reading editor Joan Walsh's "welcoming" letter. She described the new music download column; promised an innovative new guide to political weblogs; swore they'd continue "the best television coverage around," and said "she wouldn't apologize for loving 'America's Next Top Model.'" Not a word about their film coverage.

Sheila Benson, Seattle


A. Ms. Benson, like Charles Taylor and me, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics, which has sent e-mails racing around its membership expressing concern about the loss of Taylor and the trend toward de-emphasizing criticism in favor of inane pop "news."

I spoke with new Salon editor Joan Walsh, who said Salon has only 22 editorial employees and could not justify three film critics (the others are Stephanie Zacharek and Andrew O'Hehir).

Film criticism is being swamped these days, not so much on Salon as everywhere else, by idiotic celebrity coverage, gossip, hype, and any possible way to discuss a movie without actually saying whether it is any good or not. Most of the entertainment-oriented TV shows are all foreplay: weeks of gushing and hype, "exclusive" interviews," "first looks" at trailers, and then, when the movie comes out, no critical opinion at all -- just a box-office report.

Walsh said Salon does not plan to go that route, and I hope she's right. I know I didn't subscribe to the site to read about "America's Next Top Model." (Editorial tip: Given the nature of the modeling business, a much more interesting article could probably be written about "America's Former Top Model.")


xoxo
Jen

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jen: Thanks for the pull from Ebert's site. I had not seen it. Perhaps when I Googled for information, it had not yet been posted. Ebert's description of these entertainment shows and magazines is spot on, and I really hope, for the sake of its readership, but also for the continued livelihood of Stephanie Zacharek's forum, that Salon doesn't completely dumb itself down. And I'm wondering, if Salon intends to avoid that route, as Ebert suggests Walsh has said, and if she could not justify three critics on staff, why she chose to let Taylor go instead of O'Hehir? Taylor's writing is serious, yet accessible, whereas O'Hehir's style more closely resembles the snarky "Entertainment Weekly" style that Salon, despite their claims otherwise, seems poised to pursue. We can draw our own conclusions, I guess, while we wait to see how the immediate future of Salon pans out. I continue to hope Taylor finds another home post haste.

Eric said...

If Charles Taylor is out there reading all of this, I sincerely hope he sends a shout-out to his concerned readership, via this site or Ebert or whoever, and lets us know he still intends to fight the good fight. I once dropped him an e-mail & told him he was the best since Pauline Kael. I still believe it. Kael fell to illness; Taylor can still rock on ...

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