Monday, December 5th, 2011

David Denby Does Something Relevant

Over the weekend, Sony freaked out when they heard David Denby's review of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was coming out in the New Yorker today, sending out a dramatic "please respect our embaaaaaargo" email to all and sundry. (The "embargo" date is December 13. Forced to define the rationale for embargoes, their reasoning is tepid, at best: "[E]mbargo dates level the playing field and enable reviews to run within the films’ primary release window, when audiences are most interested." But, you know, trailers should come out four months before the film. Mmm hmm.) Then producer Scott Rudin wrote an email to Denby, which was so clearly for public consumption, as it was immediately "leaked," because you have never, ever seen such a calm and polite communication from Rudin. What Scott Rudin is this and where is the real one? Denby's points in debate with Rudin are decent, if not particularly relevant: he's definitely right that critics (and even movie-goers) are pretty hosed that Oscar movie season is like a few weeks long and also over the holidays. (And then, the February – April movie season assaults our intelligence.) People break embargoes all the time; but because this is an Oscar movie, the studio is treating it like the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

In the end it's not an issue for anyone else but the small number of people who actually both read magazines and go see movies, and Denby's review (LOL, subscription-only) is boring, not revealing, hasty and just not very good. (He's my least-favorite movie critic anyway, but c'mon.) It's 50% plot explanation and 25% praise for its star; it's without any kind of utility for movie-goers, and it actually seems weird and wrong—elaborating on how the titular full-time batteree Lisbeth Salander is a sex goddess, basically, which is like… gross? Makes you wish Andrea Dworkin was alive to handle that one! So it's tough to be on Denby's side. But mostly this whole episode reads like the studio and producers capitalizing on a moment for publicity.

17 Comments / Post A Comment

max bread (#5,970)

The best part of the whole episode was learning that David Denby is Nikki Finke's favorite critic. Just, you know, of course.

Brenda@twitter (#22,020)

I can't even deal with the part where Denby makes fun of We Bought a Zoo – didn't he write a whole book about the evils of Snark?

NeonTrotsky (#2,249)

@Brenda@twitter Now, now, we all know the definition of snark is "Saying mean things about people or institutions that David Denby likes."

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Brenda@twitter We Bought A Zoo… Just To Watch It Burn.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

Considering that this movie is a remake of a popular film that came out only two years ago and based on a bestselling novel, it is hard to imagine what exactly could be leaked by this review.

Leon Tchotchke (#14,331)

@Lockheed Ventura I think the real issue that breaking embargoes presents from the POV of a PR person is that it can damage relationships with media outlets. If you're a publication that does movie reviews and you and your ten biggest competitors all get the same screening under the same terms, then a competing publication breaks the embargo and releases its review a week ahead of time, it sort of leaves you and every other publication holding the bag – you can rush to publish yours, but whatever buzz the release of reviews might have held will be already partly diminished now that other reviews are out in the wild.

PR people usually come down really hard on this to soften the blow somewhat, lest they give the impression that certain publications are getting different terms than others or that they're looking the other way while other people are breaking the rules. Even though this totally does happen, make no mistake – I used to write for a very small niche tech magazine and we'd routinely get embargoed information from big companies, which would then be leaked a week or two beforehand by a more established publication which assuredly was given the exact same info as us with the same embargo. Since the other pub would be a big-name blog or what-have-you they'd still get more embargoed info in the future, since they were an essential part of any PR campaign, whereas if we'd broken embargoes we'd be screwed for future pre-release info.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

@Megapol Tchotchke first, i just don't think studios are going to stop letting new yorker writers get early peaks. second, as noted in the write-up, all of this matters for such a tiny percentage of the public overall. more than anything, this says to me that people think their jobs are way too important.

Also, oscar buzz for this? for real?

Leon Tchotchke (#14,331)

@turd_sandwich No, you're right, they're not – but that's part of the point I was trying to make. PR efforts need more than just the New Yorker to promote a movie, so they're going to act way more pissed than they actually are to maintain the illusion that everyone gets treated equally by them.

laluchita (#167,632)

Ugh, David Denby is the WORST. His reviews are always point by point recitations of the plot of the movie he's reviewing, occasionally coupled with complaints that kids today with their newfangled technology can't make good movies anymore. Even though I should have learned to expect it, whenever I get to the end of the issue and it's him and not Anthony Lane, I'm so irritated!

Mr. B (#10,093)

So Choire, you're saying you like Armond White better than Denby?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Mr. B Oh no you DIDN'T

rj77 (#210)

@Mr. B At least White's contrarianism and over-all batshit-craziness is moderately entertaining. With Denby there's no there there.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@rj77 Totally agree! It's just Monday and I was trying to get a rise out of Choire.

sigerson (#179)

Wait, Andrea Dworkin is dead? WTF?

KarlLaFong (#3,568)

Who is Denby blowing to keep his plum position? If there were a competition for Boring, he wouldn't even make the semi's, because he is so boring.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Remnick (Princeton '81) keeps Denby (Columbia '65) around to bolster the (false) claim that the Jersey ivy produces better writers.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

My favorite embargos to ignore are the ones I never agreed to observe.

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