Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Intelligent! Tripe! Entertaining!

Interesting account here by the film critic James Berardinelli of how a DVD cover carried the following blurb attributed to him: “A masterpiece worthy of admiration.” The film in question was Alexander, which Berardinelli hadn’t exactly been very enthusiastic about, and there was clearly some tampering by the publicists.

Berardinelli writes, in the Reelthoughts section of his website:

The point is that publicists will jump on any quote and use it as they see fit. A review could slam a movie with this phrase: "Words like 'intelligent' and 'entertaining' would never describe this film." An intrepid publicist might then use: "Intelligent! Entertaining!" I'm not one to overanalyze word choice to avoid the possibility of a quote being used to misrepresent how I feel about a film. There are always going to be less ethical publicists out there who will do this sort of thing. It can't be stopped because... well... I did write that. I may not have meant what they are indicating I meant, but I typed the words into my computer.

Isn’t it amazing the things publicists can do with word arrangements if they’re creative and unethical enough? This kind of thing happens quite frequently on the Hollywood circuit at least; I remember once reading about another critic who’d used the following sentence (or a close variant) in one of his reviews:

“It’s extraordinary to think that this tripe has been inspired by the great French film ____”

A few days later he espied this endorsement on the movie poster, just above his own name:


(Think I might have mentioned this in an earlier post too.)

Incidentally, Berardinelli also goes on to talk about plagiarism, about his fear that his online reviews could quite possibly be “passed off as high school assignments”. Plagiarise me, he says, and “I’ll go after you with bared fangs”. Hope our own movie reviewers are still listening ;-[)

Here’s the Reelthoughts link again; it’s the generic link, so you might have to scroll down to the May 16 entry.


  1. Incredible.

    Anyway, I've gotten hypersensitive at parsing the ellipses because, if there are falsehoods, that's where they are hidden.

    Inspired tripe indeed.


  2. yes, kind of like the three and a half stars that our newspaper reviews give... to me, three and a half stars spells AVOID.

    Btw, has Ebert ever given a one-thumb up to a film? Or is he always as effusive as he's made out to be?

  3. Uma: to me, most of the reviews in our newspapers (at least the ones in Delhi) spell AVOID. Unless I’m yearning for a dose of unintentional humour, in which case nothing outdoes the Sunday Times of India.

    Ebert is usually quite effusive, and I think he’s become quite a softie in his old age, but I still rate him highly. And the few times he does really trash a film, the review is great fun to read.

  4. Uma,

    Ebert only gives one thumb, the other comes from Roeper. Obviously, only the films that get this double imprimatur use it on their promotional material.

    Before Roeper, Ebert's partner was the late Gene Siskel, and "Siskel and Ebert" had the same "two thumbs up" shtick.