Someone once said that everyone had two jobs : their own and that of film critic. And that was long before the Internet was even thought of. Now, every wannabe Pauline Kael or Barry Norman can project their views into cyberspace and sit back in the certain knowledge that surfers somewhere will hit their site some time.
And it wouldn't be so bad if it didn't seem as though most of these critics were my students. Keen to give an opinion but not so keen on working out how to write it, they often lift such phrases as (on 'Lake Placid'), "Monster thingy, some people want to capture it, others want to kill it" from sites such as www.geocities.com ("send all reviews to lucid_hotmail.com!"). Even if the film stinks, I tell them, your writing needn't.
But not all Net film criticism is so dire. Roger Ebert's at www.suntimes.com and some contributors at www.us.imdb.com are excellent.
But these are not as pleasingly offbeat as some of the verdicts in Haiku Movie Reviews at www.igs.netmtrhaiku-reviews. How about these for wit, truth and technical precision: "Scramble the titlefor 'Lie A Bit If Useful.'Dad's life-saving plan" ('Life is Beautiful') or, for 'The Sixth Sense', "Macaulay Culkineat your heart out. This is whatchild acting's about."
Watching a film with someone who points out narrative, continuity or other bloopers is a form of torture, so those seeking revenge should consult www.films.mvie-mistakes.comlinksfilms.htm, where obsessive freeze-framers expose such oversights as the workman munching a sandwich in a 'Quo Vadis' crowd scene, or the scene from 'Titanic' showing a camera crew going down with the ship. James Bond gets the same treatment on www.jbdiner.zorz.co.ukfaults from similar sad cases who complain, for example, that in 'Dr No' the tyres on Bond's car screech on gravel when they shouldn't.
The risk is to focus too much on the artifice rather than the art. Whether popular classics such as 'Gone With the Wind' count as art is worth debating, in which case event-dedicated sites such as www.franklymydear.com could prove handy. With clips, a first-rate pictorial production history of the film, spoof scenes written by the likes of Tarantino and Lynch there is some fun here.
Most people know who said, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", but, "To be on the wire is life - the rest is waiting" would test the most seasoned film buffs. It was Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon, the boozing, womanising choreographer in 'All That Jazz'; Try www.us. imdb.com, which has links to thousands more nuggets of wit and wisdom.
So as better to appreciate what we take for granted, go to www.dailyscript.com and download the screenplay from a good film that you haven't seen yet - 'Fargo', say, or 'Grosse Pointe Blank'. Read the screenplay and work out how you would shoot one or two key scenes. Then watch the film. Clearly, only real talent makes things look that easy.