10 août 2010

Junket Wars (Rosenbaum) (1)

Movie Wars. How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit what Films We Can See, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 2000

I wish America had read this book. I wish American film critics hadn't forgotten they have read this book. I wish this book had a lasting impact in American film culture, and hopefully had caused an introspection of the Hollywood industry (if not the collapse of its house of cards). I wish this book was, in the USA, the same turning point that caused, in France, a revolution in 1968 (in the milieu of cinema). I wish Jonathan Rosenbaum hadn't forgotten he's written this book and hadn't gotten back to his business routine, living off of the system.

excerpt (Chapt. 3) Some Vagaries of Promotion and Criticism

"A much more common and systematic method of obfuscating business practices in the film industry, especially in blurring the lines between journalism and publicity, is the movie junket. [..]
The stories that result are obviously meant to be read and enjoyed as news rather than as promotion, and most newspaper editors seem to have few qualms about fostering this false impression. It's often standard procedure, in fact, for publicists to work directly with editors and get particular journalists assigned to write particular pieces, which means in effect that the articles are commissioned by the studios (or distributors) and then whipped into the desired shape by the editors and writers. [..]
And for all the unusual amount of freedom I enjoy at the Chicago Reader, how long could I keep my job if I had nothing to recommend week after week? For just as Communist film critics were "free" to write whatever they wanted as long as they supported the Communist State, most capitalist film critics today are "free" to write anything as long as it promotes the products of multicorps; the minute they decide to step beyond this agreed-upon canon of "correct" items, they're likely to get in trouble with their editors and publishers.
This isn't to say that critics aren't free to express their dislike for certain expensive studio productions; what they aren't free to do, in most cases, is to ignore these releases entirely or focuse too much of their attention on films whose advertising budget automatically make them marginal in relation to the mainstream media.
I wonder if Daniel Kasman and Karina Longworth had forgotten having read this book (or did they ever?), when they hopped on the plane taking them to the Abu Dhabi junket (I'm anticipating a repeat this year)...
Did you see the budget Hollywood has to bribe film critics? How can you resist the temptation if you don't have strong resolve, if you deny responsibility, if you ignore what ethics are?
If they can pull the strings of the institutional press, we can easily imagine how young ambitious job-less bloggers would fall for the same specs that took down the seasoned critics with a stable job. The voice of blogs might have become as coveted by Hollywood studios as the one of the traditional media (because their target audience is shifting attention to the internet) but they are less prepared (or willing) to decline the invitation to share the bed.
What are the consequences of such connivance? Bad movies get an undeserved favorable buzz... Fine. It just destroys the film culture of a generation, before being re-evaluated and corrected in a better future. History corrects itself eventually, in the best case scenario... It happened in the past, and we laugh, now in retrospect, with 20/20 hindsight, at the deluded critics who got it all wrong in their time.
But that everyone (the writers, the readers, the young, the veterans, the creators and the consumers) would gladly endorse this "standard procedure" and proudly build their culture on shifting sands is really disturbing.

It's not me saying it, it's Jonathan Rosenbaum !
[..] The whole notion of expertise in film criticism is cripplingly tautological : according to current practice in the U.S., a 'film expert' is someone who writes or broadcasts about film, full stop, yet most 'film experts' are hired not on the basis of their knowledge about film but because of their capacity to reflect the existing tastes of the public. The late Serge Daney understood this phenomenon perfectly - and made it clear that it was far from exclusively American - when he remarked that the media 'ask those who know nothing to represent the ignorance of the public and, in so doing, to legitimize it'. [..]
Rosenbaum wrote that in 2000, before the recent lays-off, before the 2008 "identity-crisis"! Did anyone take a hint back then? Did the situation of editors and "commissioned writers" change since then? Did the industry try to mask its agenda better or to fix up its work ethics? Nah. It got worse, on the contrary... and his grimmest prediction came to be : "no film critics at all" left. I don't know if nobody listened, or if the powers-that-be didn't care, but the fact is that this book wasn't the spark to trigger a much needed cleansing revolution, wasn't the wake up call to focus the concerns of the film intelligentsia...
excerpt (last Chapt.) Conclusion

[..] We need to redefine film criticism. Limiting it to the evaluation of features that turn up in multiplexes is self-defeating for reasons I don't need to enumerate. What would our literary criticism be if it were restricted to paperbacks carried by K-Mart? If anything, the massive advertising campaigns of the multinationals need to be countered, not merely supplemented, and countered by a lot more than skeptical reviews. the waking assumption of the press now - that all interesting and important movies are uniformly available - is that the public is too stupid and impotent to think for itself about such matters, so that it becomes the job of publicists and reviewers to shoulder that responsibility. For that reason, I've argued elsewhere, in my collection Placing Movies, that we'd be much better off if we had no film critics at all. Banning that possibility, we could certainly use a few who respect the people who read them."
How could the institutional press keep standing on its feet after such self-contradiction being exposed in daylight, and continue to fake "criticism" for the self-conservation of an hegemonic industry that needs no aid.
I don't know how publicists, editors, writers, readers could continue to swallow these critical fallacies (deception, complacency, conflict of interest) every week, knowingly, without complaining, without asking for higher standards, without flinching... If spelling it out in front of your eyes can't do it, what will ever?

Maybe it's because only the prosperity of the American-centric movie industry matters, maybe because Film Criticism doesn't exist wherever you wave bank notes, maybe because movies are commodities that only need consumer guides. And that all is well in the best possible world... American fatalism. Or is it blindness at this point?


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