Morpheus on… Film Critiques

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studios controlled ALL publicity regarding their business, resources and products. As a journalist, you played things their way – or you’d Never Work In This Town Again.

In other words, if you went off-message, you would never again be granted an interview, preview or ANYTHING that allowed you to WORK. You were frozen OUT.

In fact the only journalists who managed to make Hollywood moguls wet themselves were a couple of old crones named Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Hedda was a failed actress, so was fêted with cameos – but Louella was totally unbribable.

These two columnists wielded serious power, but even they knew their limits.

Then in ’52 (coincidentally, this author’s birth year) along came Confidential Magazine. Originally intended to be an exposer of Mob activities, they decided Hollywood would be a safer target. So they began using the LITTLE people in The Business – waiters, hookers, grips, chauffeurs, etc. – to obtain the dirt on the BIG people.

Of course, they were constantly being sued. In an age when being gay got you LOCKED UP (with a bunch of blokes – did they think that through?) people like Rock Hudson and Liberace had no option. But with low costs and a high circulation, they prevailed – and were soon joined by other “scandal sheets”.

Thus, during the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, it became open season on Hollywood. ANYONE could voice their opinions on the personalities AND products.

But film production budgets always include obscene amounts of money, which are earmarked for “publicity”. Thus, SUBTLE bribes – in the form of lavish junkets and other “perks” – were freely handed out to the more important columnists and TV film critics.

However, all of that was to CHANGE in THIS decade, with the boom in mobile-phone texting – and this media.

For years, blockbusters had prospered by “opening big” – which meant hyping the bejesus out of a movie, then releasing it EVERYWHERE over a holiday weekend, thus ensuring the all-important “word-of-mouth” could not take effect until the movie had done four days of business. By which time, many turkeys had managed to cover their costs.

But suddenly, those who had seen a movie on its opening day could become FILM-CRITICS. Within hours of a film’s first showing, people could Google the film – and view HUNDREDS of crits from “ordinary people”. Furthermore, people walking out of a cinema, having just viewed a turkey, would send simultaneous TEXTS all their friends, to WARN them. Power To The People!

And now we have Twitter. A World-wide Notice Board.

Its first victim appears to have been “Brüno”. Sasha Baron Cohen’s last outing, “Borat”, made a fortune all through its opening weekend – but while his latest effort did boffo business on the Friday, by Saturday the box-office had dropped SHARPLY. Thanks to adverse comments on Twitter.

However, before calling this a victory for free speech, let us step back for a minute. Say the people watching Brüno divided into three groups: 50% LOVED it, 30% liked it and 20% HATED it – for whatever reason. Which of those people would feel MOVED to send out Tweets?

I remember a number of (premium rate) telephone “polls” being conducted by a certain British publication, on all sorts of issues. But every now and then, they would ask, “If a General Election were held tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” And since the publication had a largely right-wing demographic, the results would be LAUGHABLY off from the TRUE figures, which were compiled by the legitimate polling organisations.

And therein lies the problem with this new “freedom”. When The People are allowed to shape available information, since it is impossible to know who those people ARE – one cannot know whether they represent the majority.

For decades, the “silent majority” have dictated things like censorship, whilst not representing the REAL majority at all.

Which is how it is with Tweets. Only those who feel STRONGLY about a film they have just seen are likely to bother expressing their views, while those who merely ENJOYED it – will simply head for the nearest McDonalds.

The thing is, at least PROFESSIONAL film critics know what they are DOING (to a degree) and will attempt to provide considered, BALANCED reviews. And with time, most people find critics who think the way THEY do – and know they can trust their evaluations.

So by all means read Tweets about current movies, etc. But then go and make up YOUR OWN mind.


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