Heh. A bunch of movie critics in the UK are whining that Disney used blurbs from real people in ads for the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Welcome to the future critics: We’re all critics now. It’s particularly funny to me that critics consider blurbspace theirs. How dare a movie studio quote the people who actually buy the tickets and watch the movies? How dare they give respect to the audience?
I will confess that when I was a critic, I got pissed when I was blurbed without mention of my name. But there was only one reason for that: ego.
(While I’m at it, another blurb story: I was TV critic at People and complained in my column about a “pinhead” at NBC who had taken my review quite out of context to turn a negative review into a positive blurb. It was something to the moral effect of this: I said the show as an incredible piece of crap and the blurb said, “Incredible!” Anyway, when my putative partner in the launch of Entertainment Weekly went to Hollywood to push the magazine before its launch, he met with an executive at NBC who announced that he was my “pinhead.” He was not amused. I was.)
I’m going to be on Howie Kurtz’s Reliable Sources this Sunday (about 1045a) talking about the death of critics. Fun part: I’ll be on with Gene Seymour, movie critic at Newsday, who just took a buyout there. I met Gene way back early in his career when I started Entertainment Weekly. A lot has happened to criticism since then.
Here’s my April 2006 column playing taps for critics. Here’s David Carr’s NY Times piece on the trend, which essentially gives voice to producers complaining that they’ll get less free publicity. (But one might point out that if they advertised more in newspapers, newspapers could better afford those critics.) And here’s a comprehensive post in Filmdetail.
What this really gets down to is:
* The dire economic situation newspapers and magazines face.
* The ecology of links that makes local coverage of national beats wasteful.
* The commodification of criticism. When I started EW, I stole an idea for a feature from the Berlin city magazines Tip and Zitty, creating a critical consensus chart that converted all the pundits’ opinions into a letter grade (our conceit). The opinions and their expression didn’t vary widely. The essential consumer service here is: what’s it about, who’s in it, how is it?
* The death of one-size-fits-all media and entertainment. Just because you like it doesn’t mean I have to, not anymore.
* Above all, I believe, this is driven by the fact that we do now and have always trusted the opinions of friends over those of alleged influencers, whether those influencers are newspaper critics, TV commentators, or unfamiliar bloggers.
I’ve said before that if I launched EW today, it would not be a magazine of critics but a site of viewers, a place for peers to compare notes and recommend entertainment to each other. Entertainment should have been the first realm of news coverage to become soclal.
Variety sums up the sorry state of the TV critic – and makes me damned glad I’m not one anymore. Gail Shister, who lost both her column and then her TV at the Philadelphia Inquirer, went so far as to hyperbolate: “If there’s one beat that’s sacrosanct, it should be TV.” Forget City Hall. It’s Regis updates we need!
TV as we knew it is exploding and so should the critics who cover it. There is no way — no way — that one critic can perform a one-size-fits-all service anymore. TV critics, like other critics, should become moderators and catalysts of discussion and criticism in the audience. They should be discoverers of hidden gems in the vast and overwhelming world of online video. Like TV itself, they must change or die. And many are just dying. The best example of a next-generation TV critic I know of remains Virgina Heffernan, who has used both her blog and her page to cover internet video with creativity and determination.
Sicko is near-great documentary that will and should have a profound impact on the election and on public policy. If no president can fix our health care and insurance mess in this country and no politician can coalesce public opinion, maybe he can.
Moore is — for Moore — practically deft and subtle as he exposes the hell we’re all in with our insurance coverage. I was impressed that, all in all, he let the stories tell themselves and he left his 2×4 in the closet. Of course, he can’t miss the opportunities to snicker and act incredulous; he has to ham. But he knows that he has a powerful message and that he doesn’t need to amp it up. And keep in mind that he’s attacking only one head of this hydra: insurance. There’s much else that’s a mess about our health care system.
I do think, though, that Sicko would have been stronger if it has been more journalistic — that is, more complete and, yes, balanced. Moore extols the virtues of the national health systems in Canada, the UK, France, and, as we all know by now, Cuba. Watching all those well-cared-for Canadians, I had a relapse of a recurrent urge to move north. Though he goes to waiting rooms and debunks some myths about the wait for care — at least in those rooms — no one would deny that these systems, too, have their problems; just read the British press about its National Health Service. On balance, his argument is still valid — all the more valid, I’d say, if he’d have dealt with those yes-buts we’re bound to hear. I know, Moore would say he isn’t making journalism, it’s advocacy. I say the line is blurred and whatever you call it, an argument will have more impact if it has the discipline to answer the hard questions.
I can think of many other movies that had an impact on the culture — you can list a dozen that affected American thinking about race — and that affected public opinion — name your anti-war movies from the Vietnam era — but I’m not sure I can think of a movie that tries to have such a direct effect on policy and legislation.
My suburban theater was jammed last night with plenty of people who surely vote Republican; I’m in a minority out here. They left sharing rave reviews. I’ll bet that Sicko will be a hit on two scales: gross and impact.
And Moore is using the web to extend that impact. A few weeks ago, he asked people to share their horror stories with us:
Here’s a guy who says he couldn’t get his broken hand fixed because he didn’t have insurance or $400 and so now it’s mangled — “waaaa, but I guess that’s the state of things in America.”
Here’s a very simple video from a woman who couldn’t get insurance, try as she might, and who reacts to the heart-rending stories of others responding to Moore (in particular, this woman with MS here and here):
At a screening for the 11 of 900 health care lobbyists who showed up, Moore says he wants the voters to demand universal health care from the candidates and he wants people to speak up and support Rep John Conyers’ universal health-care bill. The audio’s messed up but this is the essential Moore platform:
And here, Moore goes to testify on Capitol Hill. It’s more than a movie. It’s a campaign.