In the July issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott's column discusses the evaporation of the traditional print movie review. A skirmish between Salon.com contributor Andrew O'Hehir and a growing number of print reviewers who've recently lost their jobs has been waged in the blogosphere. O'Hehir wrote that whining about their plight made the canned critics look like a "bunch of ginormous great babies." Ouch. Apparently, the role of the print movie critic has become, if not quite obsolete, at least inconsequential. After all, deep down, don't we all consider ourselves competent movie critics? We go to the movies we want to see for whatever reason makes sense to us (and sometimes the reason can be pretty ridiculous and possibly embarrassing). Do we go just because a critic tells us we should? Probably not.
So should live-performance criticism suffer the same fate as film criticism appears to face? In a word, no.
A well-written, carefully-considered live-performance review not only tells its reader something about a once-in-a-lifetime experience (that exact performance is never going to happen, even with the same artists at the same theater in the same production, more than once) but ideally offers something more: background information on the piece and possibly its composer or creator, its production history and why the specific performance in question is special (or not).
I like to think I've learned something after reading a review, and I also like to think the reviewer has been to a lot more performances of the work (or at least studied it more closely and knows far more about it) than I. Theatrical experiences should be described, dissected and criticized (or praised) by the best writers we can find. How else will future generations know what they missed when we're no longer around to tell them how much better theater was in our day? Sure, YouTube is a gold mine, but isn't it really best for samba-dancing babies (ginormous or not) and well-informed beauty-pageant contestants educating us about international problems?
— Elizabeth Diggans