Due to an early distaste for any sort of media critiques -- an affliction I got over as soon as I realized that it could add value to the experience -- I never really followed film criticism. I'd occasionally watch Siskel and Ebert for the arguing, and I'd read newspaper reviews if I wanted to know the general plot of a film, but that was all. It wasn't until much later that I got into reading old-school reviews from the likes of Ebert himself and the venerable Pauline Kael.

When a friend gave me Kael's For Keeps, I was excited. I planned to use the thick tome as a guide to usher me through some of the older, classic flicks I hadn't seen. I opened to a random page and started reading. I cannot tell you what review I read, because after one page of text, I shut the book and spent the next five minutes trying to forget the spoilers. Luckily, it worked, and I have no idea what the film was and what the spoilers were.

This wasn't some random crappy critic spoiling the film. This was a review from Pauline Kael, one of the most revered, if not the most revered movie critic. She may have set high standards for cinematic criticism, but you have to read her reviews after the movie, as a discussion piece rather than a barometer for what you should see. Her comprehensive review of The Deer Hunter, for example, describes every major plot point from beginning to end.
Yet Kael is certainly not the only one. If you peruse Ebert's own decades-old reviews, they are also a lot more comprehensive, and spoilerific. Things were, obviously, different back then.

So, my question is: When did things change? These days, you can discuss something that happened in the first ten minutes of a film and get spoiler complaints. Write about a most-unlikely death rumor, and fans will revolt. In fact, moviegoers are so sensitive now that we've got the spoiler t-shirt for those who love to incite anger.

Some of the sensitivity is -- to be sure -- warranted. I don't want to know who lives and dies in a film before I see it. There's nothing quite as sweet as the element of surprise, and the electricity that accompanies a theater-wide gasp from hundreds of people at the same time.

But it wasn't always like this, since some great writers made their name writing spoiler-ridden reviews. So, what's changed and when did it change? What made us so sensitive to spoilers? Do we expect different things from film writing and criticism now? Is this just a growing sensitivity to the world at large? Thoughts?
categories Cinematical