REVIEWERS REVERED | March 5th 2008
The internet has introduced a glut of critics. How do we find the best ones? Tim de Lisle, deputy editor of Intelligent Life magazine, asks a group of writers and editors to choose their favourites ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Spring 2008
Critics often get a bad press. They tend to be seen as show-offs and assassins--not for nothing was the withering food writer in "Ratatouille" called Anton Ego (pictured). They get asked, "How can you be so cruel?" Well, they reply, any opinion has to be honest, and a bad review gives the good ones more force, and does the paying customer a service. But criticism isn't really about giving a thumbs-up or down, or handing out star ratings: it's about capturing a piece of work and making sense of it. Reviewing is closer than you might think to being a branch of reporting.
The internet has diluted the critic's power but widened his reach. It has brought forth many more of them: the days when the New York Times theatre critic could close a show, or make a career, have gone. Hundreds are now at our fingertips. Where to begin?
Metacritic is where you can find critics fast, but it only covers America, and it leaves you to separate the wheat from the chaff (a search for reviews of "There Will Be Blood" yields a daunting stack of reviews, one from every major city). So Intelligent Life magazine set out to find the best critics: the ones who are worth hunting down late at night when you get back from seeing "Atonement" and want to know if anybody else was annoyed by the rug-pulled-out-from-under-you ending.
We asked 24 well-established writers and editors--people who consume a lot of criticism--which critics they turn to, in any medium, covering any field. Intelligent Life is in a position to be impartial, as we do cover the arts but don't run straight reviews, and our colleagues upstairs at The Economist don't put bylines on theirs. We drew up a few rules: they couldn't choose members of their family, or ours; no employees or employers. They could name friends or colleagues, but few did; we asked them to declare the interest to us, to keep them honest. We invited each of them to name one, two or three critics, and to give their reasons.
The aim wasn't so much to pick winners (although one critic did get the most votes), as to pinpoint treats you may be missing. Criticism attracts some top-class writers: over the next few days we will be presenting about 30 of them, field by field. You'll see that some art forms have many more representatives than others. We had to work hard to get anyone to name an art or dance critic, whereas there were plenty of nominations from the film and rock worlds (strangely few from television, too...Come back, Clive James--we need you). Most of those chosen are working in either New York or London, on newspapers or magazines, but there are a sprinkling from further afield, including a blogger, a radio presenter and a moonlighting rock star.
It's not a scientific survey, but it does involve peer-reviewing. And the peers who are invited to review it include you. If you think we've got it wrong (or right) let us know.
NICHOLAS BARBER is a film critic on the Independent on Sunday.
EMILY BOBROW edits our website, moreintelligentlife.com.
MICK BROWN is a feature writer on the Telegraph magazine and a former rock critic.
ROBERT BUTLER is an ex-theatre critic of the Independent on Sunday.
NICK COLEMAN is a former arts editor of the Independent.
SARAH DALLAS edits The Economist Cities Guide.
TIM DE LISLE is deputy editor of Intelligent Life and rock critic of the Mail on Sunday.
AIDA EDEMARIAM is a feature writer on the Guardian.
JON FASMAN is a novelist and editor on Economist.com.
SIMON GARFIELD is a feature writer on the Observer and radio critic of the Mail on Sunday. His new book is "The Error World: An Affair with Stamps" (Faber, April).
JO GLANVILLE is editor of Index on Censorship.
IAN JACK is a Guardian columnist and former editor of Granta and the Independent on Sunday.
JULIE KAVANAGH is a former London editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Her latest book is "Rudolf Nureyev: The Life" (Fig Tree).
ISABEL LLOYD is commissioning editor of Intelligent Life.
BLAKE MORRISON, author of "And When Did You Last See Your Father?", is an ex-literary editor of the Independent on Sunday.
SIMON O'HAGAN is deputy comment editor of the Independent and ex-arts editor of the Independent on Sunday.
JASPER REES is an arts interviewer for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times.
CHRISTIAN RYAN is a former editor of the Monthly, where he launched Robert Forster's column.
TIM ROSTRON is a publisher, ex-arts editor of the National Post and ex-rock writer on the Daily Telegraph.
TOM SHONE is a former film critic of the Sunday Times and author of "Blockbuster" (Simon & Schuster).
TOM STANDAGE edits The Economist's Technology Quarterly.
MATTHEW SWEET presents "Night Waves" on BBC Radio 3.
ROD WILLIAMS is a film-maker who wrote about Joyce Hatto in our autumn issue.
REBECCA WILLIS is associate editor of Intelligent Life.