(Full disclosure: current Cinematical Managing Editor Scott Weinberg and Cinematical co-founder Karina Longworth, now editor of Spout.com, make brief appearances in this film.)
Some documentaries demand to be seen on the big screen; others are best discovered while channel surfing. Gerald Peary's For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism falls into the latter category.
On the film's official site, Peary declares his doc to be "an unapologetic defense of a profession under siege." It's filled with talking head interviews with critics whose bylines are more familiar than their faces: A.O. Scott, J. Hoberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Owen Gleiberman, Kenneth Turan, and many others. It's a treat to see the best-known film critic on the planet, Roger Ebert, give a never-before-seen interview. The sound bites are distinctive, the insider's perspective is refreshing, the historical overview is welcome, and the overall impression is positive.
Here's the sticking point: For the Love of Movies features an academic approach to the subject. Unless you have a great interest in film criticism, it feels like you're watching a term paper. Peary is both a long-time film studies professor at Suffolk University and a film critic for The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly, and is obviously not the first film critic to direct a movie.
Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were critics before they made movies; so were fellow French New Wave directors Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. The difference is that they were younger men in rebellion; Peary is an older man more interested in defending his longtime colleagues from charges that film criticism is no longer relevant or needed.