cartoon by Hugh@gapingvoid

Is film criticism dead? After I flew down to Austin for the SXSW Film Festival last week, I strangely found myself spending more time talking about the (apparently sorry) state of criticism than I did actually practicing it.

Surely, you remember that article in the New York Post, a couple of weeks back? The one in which that Lionsgate exec announced that he and his compadres were no longer willing to shell out "$50,000 for the privilege of negative reviews"? I'm not saying Mr. Marketing put any ideas into any heads, but have you noticed a certain thinness to the Friday film sections, the past few months? I personally rationalized the no-screening epidemic as part and parcel of the late-winter doldrums – everybody knows there's nothing new worth seeing this time of year, so it's almost a blessing that the studios aren't asking critics to pretend.

But evidence mounted, whilst I was in Austin, that the situation is much more dire than I had previously perceived. In their banality-padded chat on Saturday morning Peter Bart told Christy Lemire that, though the Oscars still matter, critics really don't. He admitted that most studios fall just short of making their poster quotes up. Thanks to an ever-widening stable of "blurb whores" who will attach their names to any prevarication the market departments suggest, a-list critics like A.O. Scott and Kenneth Turan have become, as far as the studios are concerned, entirely superfluous. Bart himself had nothing but grumbles for the critical establishment, lambasting "New York media types" for seemingly basing their advocacy on obscurity (Variety's critics are different, he said, because they're required to estimate each film's commercial prospects – Bart called this "a good exercise"). Then, on Monday, Cinematical's own Christopher Campbell sent me an email. Chris, it seems, contacted a studio about reviewing an upcoming cheapie horror film, and was told by a publicist, point blank, that the studio in question is no longer screening horror films. No exceptions. Lose our phone number. We don't need you.