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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

critic’s minifesto #2: I work for you, not for the studios

(In which I expound upon aspects of my critical philosophy that seem obvious to me but probably aren’t at all obvious to you.)

A small contretemps with a PR agency here in London today reminds me that this needs to be said: When I think about to whom I own my allegiance and my integrity, it is to you, the reader and the movie lover. Not to the movie studios and the public relations people.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t make every effort to maintain good relationships with publicists. I do. Of course I do. I couldn’t do what I do at the level I do it if I had to pay for every movie that I see. (It wouldn’t be feasible either timewise or moneywise.) If I didn’t get press releases sent to me, notifying me of everything that’s going on. I need to attend press screenings. I need to be kept in the loop on what’s going on from the people with the firsthand knowledge about it, much of which I would never know about at all if those folks didn’t tell me.

That doesn’t mean I feel as if I owe publicists positive reviews of movies. That doesn’t mean I feel as if I owe anyone who wants me to cover their stuff anything at all… including the coverage they want. (I wish I could review every movie I see. And I’m trying to review more. But that’s for your sake, not so that publicists will continue to like me.)

When I am pushed to choose between being faithful to readers and making nice with studios, I will always — always — choose you, my dear readers. I will never promise any PR representative anything I cannot honestly deliver. I will never choose to ignore a film simply because a PR department or agency wishes I would ignore it. (I vehemently disagree with George Hatza, the entertainment editor at ReadingEagle.com, a community newspaper in Berks County, Pennsylvania, who contends that the way for critics to “fight back” against the studios not screening films for critics is for critics to not review those films. I believe that the proper pushback against that is for a responsible, honest critic to catch the first public showing of such a film and reporting on its worthiness as soon as possible afterward. And for the record, it’s not unheard of for me to give positive reviews in such instances, such as for Crank: High Voltage.)

If, for some reason, all the studios suddenly stopped inviting me to advance press screenings, I wouldn’t stop reviewing their films out of spite. (When Disney in the U.S. banned me from screenings for being too outspoken about how they treat critics, it didn’t stop me from seeing their films at public showings, or from reviewing them positively if they deserved it.) I wouldn’t be able to see as many movies, and I wouldn’t be able to post many reviews on or before opening day, but it would not fundamentally change the way I work as a critic.

I may be biast. But my biases are my own, and nothing that comes from a desire to kiss corporate ass.

(If there’s some characteristic of my criticism that you think needs explicating, feel free to email me with a question.)



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