It is all fine and well for the critic to understand what I'm assuming LaSalle is referring to as formal features of a film (he uses the terms good and bad), but I was having a problem with the rhetorical positioning of the critic over the average viewer - as well as stating that there are 'good' formal features and 'bad' formal features. I'm not sure I understood why I was having a problem (gut reaction) with these features of his answer here, however, until I came to this passage from Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's Towards a Third Cinema:
Dear Mick LaSalle: Is it idiocy or sacrilege to watch "Casablanca" and think that it's really not such a great film? Having just seen it again, I found it rather awful - melodramatic, poorly scripted and acted, and bordering on boring.
Paul Holtz, San Francisco
Dear Paul Holtz: It's not sacrilege or idiocy, because you're not a critic. You're simply doing what 99.9 percent of the public does (and maybe 50 percent of critics do): You're mistaking a personal predilection for an aesthetic judgment. You don't like it, but that doesn't mean it isn't great. It means it's not your cup of tea. That's OK for a nonprofessional, but a critic should be able to tell you why a movie is good, even if he or she doesn't enjoy it. Or, conversely, a critic should be able to explain precisely why a script that has been loved and lauded for 70 years is actually lousy - and why no one else has figured that out until now.
The placing of the cinema within US models, even in the formal aspect, in language, leads to the adoption of the ideological forms that gave rise to precisely that language and no other. Even the appropriation of models which appear to be only technical, industrial, scientific, etc., leads to a conceptual dependency, due to the fact that the cinema is an industry, but differs from other industries in that it has been created and organised in order to generate certain ideologies. The 35mm camera, 24 frames per second, arc lights, and a commercial place of exhibition for audiences were conceived not to gratuitously transmit any ideology, but to satisfy, in the first place, the cultural and surplus value needs of a specific ideology, of a specific world-view: that of US finance capital.The critic, or at least the way that LaSalle is invoking the critic in his response, serves as an arm of this homogenizing apparatus. The entire goal of this apparatus is to divorce film from its social role in order to turn it into a consumer product by creating a subject that demands a particular (critically acclaimed) product. While this clearly damages the distribution of alternative films (foreign, independent, experimental, etc.) by crowding the market with a particular type of product, it is doubly-damaging in the sense that it creates a subject, an average film viewer, that cannot understand alternative, potentially political, products.
We can all think of someone that loves Hollywood action movies, but just can't understand the point of documentaries or 'art' films. This person has been cut off from a wealth of films, not to mention points of reference for understanding the world. This person has also become very valuable for the Hollywood film industry.
Now, I'm not saying that LaSalle is a tool of Hollywood - I haven't read nearly enough of his reviews to make a judgement like that (and it appears he certainly is not a tool of Hollywood, considering the articles on French and UK productions I posted above). But even this concept of the critic that appears as a refrain in his response to reader letters inherently carries with it values that pre-emptively oppress minor works of cinema, or even the idea that cinema could be a political tool (Solanas and Getino's militant cinema). Of course, if LaSalle did not include this refrain in his works, perhaps he wouldn't have the luxury of such an established place at the San Francisco Chronicle.