20th Century Fox decided against having press screenings for "The Pink Panther" before opening the film in the UK, probably because of the lousy reviews the film generated in the US. While this practice is nothing new here (first there’s the marketing blitz for the movie that’s clearly terrible, people are intrigued enough to give it a decent opening weekend, there’s severe drop-off next weekend due to word-of-mouth, but by that time the next big title is on its way, and all the while we hapless film dorks clutch our Jonathan Rosenbaum reviews and our eBayed Hou Hsiao Hsien DVDs and fume at our own economic insignificance), it’s enough of a rarity in Britain to prompt at least two "what’s it all about?" pieces. David Thomson at the Independent takes the high road, deriding the fact that newspaper rely on advertising:
The real relationship between the movies and the press consists of advertising and listings – and listings are a hard-core version of advertising. Film distributors have never understood why newspapers run reviews and ads. Isn’t it inconsistent? And they are right. For if the papers want to keep on getting movie advertising, they need to subscribe to the overall lie that the movies are worth seeing. In many markets, film critics with high standards have simply lost their jobs because they didn’t like enough pictures.
Philip French at the Observer sees the opposite problem â€” he claims that critics have no pull anymore, and that the big film studios could really care less about what they write, if they write anything.
Sadly perhaps, there is no longer any serious antagonism between critics, film distributors and moviemakers. Long gone are the days when film companies tried to silence Milton Shulman by withdrawing advertising from the Evening Standard. Or MGM told the BBC that E Arnot Robertson was unfit to review their films. She lost a libel action because the BBC didn’t stop employing her and the appeal court judges thought MGM might be justified in thinking her unqualified by reason of her professed elitism. Tony Richardson told critics in 1968 that if they wanted to review "The Charge of the Light Brigade" they’d have to queue in Leicester Square like everyone else, and we did.
We’re not sure how we feel about this increasing disregard for critics from the studios â€” we feel like we should get all huffy and "blah blah should have a right to review everything! blah blah criticism blah art blah," but honestly, the economic reasons for not offering "The Pink Panther" to the press make perfect sense: why spend several hundred thousand on advance screenings that will result in the film being shredded in every broadsheet in the country when you could spend that money on advertising to reach more people, many of whom aren’t rushing to read the reviews each week anyway. We’d rather see the papers retaliate by not giving the films any coverage â€” if they won’t let anyone comment on the quality of the film, for chrissakes, why bother running the same old interview with star Steve Martin when there are plenty of other, better films to bring attention to?
Addendum: We put a link to this below but didn’t get around to mentioning it: the LA Times‘ Patrick Goldstein writes about "slivercasting" and the fact that services like Netflix, through the ease of putting things in one’s queue on a whim (as opposed to specifically picking something up at a video store) and sending recommendations to friends, is doing wonders for getting indie films seen. Power to the people, yo.
+ Film Studies: Lights, camera, ads – and no room for the critics (Independent)
+ Who hid the Pink Panther? (Observer)
+ Netflix Levels the Movie Rental Field (LA Times)