Film and theatre companies love any publicity. Just as long as it's good. But does cutting critics out of the loop do anyone any favours? Words: Mark Fisher
American film critics are complaining that distributors are sneaking mowes past them Without advanced screenings. The remake of Get Carter, With Sylvester Stallone in the role once played by Michael Caine, is the latest high-profile example of a film that regular cinemagoers got to see before the critics. By all reports it stinks. And the justification is simple: in bypassing the reViewers, the big film companies hope to maximise the profit on a turkey before the truth gets out.
It's not a phenomenon unique to America. It happens in Britain too. Most recently, they came close to domg it with Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch Project 2, or so our film editor was told. In that case, the press screening did go ahead at the last minute, but it was easy to see why the distributor was uncertain. The film is a dud.
Another common ploy is that if a film plays badly to the press in London — such as the adaptation of Iain Banks' Comp/icity — a distributor Will forego press screenings in Scotland and the English regions to av0id further bad publicity. In such cases The List's film reviewers have to queue up With everyone else. Usually they find they shouldn’t have bothered.
Neither is this phenomenon unique to film. Last year Perth Theatre stopped its first-night inVitations to Joy Waters, critic on the Dundee Courier, after she’d questioned the professionalism of one of its productions. She’s not the first critic to be banned by Perth and Perth lS not the only theatre to pursue such a policy. I'm told it nearly happened to me after I rattled one Edinburgh venue in my days as The List's theatre editor. It kind of goes With the territory.
Does it matter? Does it affect anyone bar a few disgruntled hacks? After all, shouldn’t producers do all they can to give their babies a trouble-free entry into the world? What good is a slagging — justified or unjustified — to them when all they want is an honest return on their money?
Well, that's just it, isn’t it? Money. The critic is happily free of the stuff. Films, plays, books, records can be good or bad, but how much they cost and how much they'll make is of no concern to the critic, an unworldly creature who doesn’t even pay the price of admisSion. That's the thing that bugs the artists. 'They’re parasites,’ they say, ’sucking the blood out of our hard work, threatening our livelihood, undermining our craft.’
But Surely that’s not the case either. Can it really be in the
Mogwai are fabulous as Baker’s boys
8 THE "ST 19 Oct—2 Nov 2000
film industry’s interests for bad films to proliferate and audiences to be disappomted? If there’s a short-term gain in a theatre SilenCing a critical reViewer, is it also a solution to long-term complacency? Rather than seeing critics as the enemy, as the irritants that prevent the smooth flow of goods from producer to consumer, the creative industries should recognise that reViewers are the ones who care most ab0ut their chosen genre. Cutting them out of the loop — not least in an internet age in which everyone is a critic — can only be self destructive.
For this reason, we should welcome Friends Or Foes?, a symposium organised by the Royal Society Of Edinburgh that promises to be a boundary-crossing opportunity to consider the relationship between artists and reViewers’ for practitioners, academics and media journalists. Like the man said, it's good to talk.
Friends Or Foes, Royal Society Of Edinburgh, Fri 20 Oct. Details 0131 240 5000.
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The Pipeline Coming quite soon...
The shimmery silence from Glasgow guitarrorists Mogwai is set to end with a vengeance next year with two major adventures. Firstly, they will be heavily involved in an Arthur Baker project which has taken three years to pull together. The 'Gwai are teaming up with the likes of Ash, Primal Scream, Pharoah Sanders and New Order with the band's cover of an ancient JeWish prayer marking its recorded debut having astonished live audiences over the last year. Meanwhile, their first release on new label Southpaw Recordings will also be due out in 2001. Speculation that they will mark the year with an album including EP track Stanley Kubrick is as yet unfounded . . . It may have taken a
While but BBC Scotland’s production of Donovan Quick should be meeting its public sometime in the early New Year. Colin Firth, Katy Murphy and Liz Smith are among the cast for a tale (very) loosely based on Don Quixote
. . . Scottish Opera will be singing for its supper again next March with names such as James MacMillan, Peter Howson, Dame Anne Evans and Richard Zeller all involved in their spring/summer programme . . . Rumour has it that Blair Witch 2 director Joe Berlinger is set to leave the woods behind and head for the hills with a re-make of scorching cult classic The Wicker Man. Altogether now: 'Oh, Jesus Christ. Christ, no!’