Roger Ebert makes a critical mistake

It's definitely been one of the media kerfuffles of the week: Roger Ebert's admission that he wrote an entire review of a new film after watching only eight minutes of the picture has inspired a storm of outrage.

It turns out that everybody's a critic, especially when it comes to judging movie critics. Now a clearly chastened Ebert has acknowledged on his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times that he was wrong, posting a follow-up post to his original explanation, admitting that he wished he had never published the review (of a small indie film called "Tru Loved") in the first place.

As he puts it: "It sent the wrong message. If I had seen the entire film, a review, however negative, would have been appropriate. But in reviewing the first eight minutes, I was guilty of too much affection for my prose. I have learned a great deal from the intelligent, opinionated, useful comments from all those readers ... I will never, ever again review a film I have not seen in its entirety. Never. Ever."

He adds: "I must apologize to writer-director Stewart Wade, his actors and his crew. They did nothing to deserve this. For them, it must have been like a drive-by shooting ... I feel like a jerk. In even my negative reviews, I try to give some sense of why you might want to see a film even if I didn't admire it. Here, I failed."

If there were ever an act that indelibly painted critics as elitist snobs, it would be America's best-known critic reviewing a movie after only bothering to watch for eight minutes. I remain a loyal fan of Ebert, who was a huge influence on me as a young writer and has sprung to my defense when I've been under attack. I also read critics religiously, looking to them for guidance and inspiration. But I am part of a vanishing breed.

The average newspaper reader has less and less use for critical opinion, increasingly preferring to rely on aggregated critical judgment from Web sites like Rotten Tomatoes over individual critics — or relying on recommendations from friends.

All critics have is their credibility. I'd be lying if I told you I've never walked out of a film. Like Ebert, I am convinced you can tell after 20 or 25 minutes, almost within the shadow of a doubt, that a movie has been directed by a clumsy amateur or a deluded auteur.

Trust me, it's why critics often sound so cranky — they knew the film was a dog right away, but had to stay to the bitter end just to make sure. I guess it's a lot like being a sportswriter. You have to stay to the last out.

Yogi Berra probably never read Pauline Kael, but he knew this much: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

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