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Screen (2013) - The Critical Question: Sight and Sound's Postwar Consolidation of Liberal Taste




The aims and status of arts and culture criticism are currently up for revision and under attack, according to a whole host of indicators. It is clear that the reasons for the current situation include the worldwide recession, the recent drop in print advertising revenues and, more fundamentally, the declining circulations attributable to reluctant consumers of print media. These developments have brought forth ontological, if not existential, questions about the purpose and worth of criticism in the age of WordPress blogospheres and a perceived democratization of criticism. Despite the 'brave new world' rhetoric underpinning the debate, precedents and some of the solutions to these 'new media' problems are to be found in old historical lessons. This article focuses one such case study. Examining "Sight and Sound's" 1960 'Critical Question', a reaction to "Cahiers du cinéma" but, more importantly, an intervention into a key debate on the purpose of criticism instructs us about the construction of particular, Lionel Trilling-inspired kind of 'liberal' taste that would come to define "Sight and Sound's" part in the establishment of a 'broad church' national film culture, a role it plays to this day. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]