Do the Wrong Thing

It's always the quiet onesLet’s say you are a movie critic. And you do not like a certain movie, and you say so. We do this a lot, you understand.

This movie is, however, liked by many people who have been informed — through a very clever marketing campaign — that it is a wholesome and uplifting movie with a strong moral lesson. Even if they haven’t seen the movie themselves, they’ve heard people talk about it, using those phrases.

And these people, who do not like their assumptions challenged and have a habit of shouting down those who express viewpoints contradictory to their own, complain about your review in letters to the editor, and such.

E-mail is lovely for this sort of thing, because you can channel all of your incoherent rage into a message and send it off before you have the chance to cool off and think things over in a calmer frame of mind.

What happens then?

Well, in my experience, my editor forwards the letters to me, and I answer them myself, often using small words so my point can be more easily understood. (No offense to my more intelligent correspondents, but most of the people who write letters attacking me over movies they haven’t seen are pretty frackin’ dense.)

But I am lucky. I work with intelligent and supportive people who understand that film criticism is a subjective endeavor, and that people disagree with one another all the time, and that there is room for every opinion under the sun, so long as those opinions are articulated in a civil and adult manner.

I do not work for, like my colleague Shlomo Schwartzberg. Well, to be accurate, Shlomo doesn’t work for, either, after being shivved in a most unprofessional manner by his editor, Lyle Holmes, after a series of negative comments on Shlomo’s review of “Bella”.

Seee, Shlomo didn’t like it, and explained why; some churlish twits taunted him by suggesting he actually see the movie before reviewing it — a schoolyard insult that any professional would simply shrug off as sour grapes — and of all the things editor Lyle Holmes could say, he chose to say this:

I don’t know if Shlomo saw the film or not. I certainly hope he did. My problem with the review — aside from the grammatical error — is that it seems short on specifics. If you’re going to trash an award winner, please be specific. On the other hand, this bit of controversy has got me interested in seeing the film.Anyone interested in writing a counter-review? You write it and we’ll publish it…keep it under 500 words, please.

Lyle Holmes

I have two words for this man, and they ain’t “Happy Birthday”.

Shlomo resigned his position after that, and I don’t blame him. Kevin Courrier, a mutual friend and Shlomo’s colleague at the publication, has also resigned in protest. (Incidentally, if you’re an entertainment publication that needs a couple of stringers, I’ll vouch for both of them without hesitation; they’re good reporters, strong critics, and at this point their ethics should be beyond question.)

I make a pretty crappy rabble-rouser (though my gimlets are to die for), but if you find this situation as abhorrent as I do, feel free to leave a comment to that effect on the “Bella” page. Or you can just drop in and read the stuff that’s up there already, including two additional posts from Lyle Holmes, in which he kinda-sorta backs away from his initial non-defense of Shlomo, and kinda-sorta digs a different hole instead.

I know it’s a cliche, but were I to find this man engulfed in flames, I suspect I would decline to urinate upon him.

But gosh, I sure can’t wait to see “Bella”! You know, assuming it ever finds a Canadian distributor.

9 thoughts on “Do the Wrong Thing”

  1. Nobody’s ever paid me to write film criticism. I’m the first to admit that I know almost nothing about how the ‘biz’ works. Except for the knowledge that any editor worth his salt should NOT suck up to his readers at the expense of his staff. Sloppy. Unprofessional. Bad rubbish. Good riddence.

  2. I have commented on this situation on the Box Office blog and also written two letters to the magazine’s publisher, one of which provoked a defensive response that didn’t address the serious issues at hand, and another that elicited that all-time hollow brush-off: “I will consider your comments carefully.”

    At the risk of being unfair, I’m gonna say: “um, no he won’t.” It’s appalling that any magazine would allow a writer to be treated so shabbily. As I said in my letter to the publisher the conclusions that I must draw from the situation are that 1)Box Office doesn’t stand behind their critics and 2) the reviews on the site are essentially worthless, as the editors are willing to openly solicit comments in their place (and offer to pay for them!)

    The fact that I happen to know Shlomo (and Kevin) and respect both of them as critics and people is immaterial; if any editor did this to me, I would drop my mild-mannered act and go absolutely def-con 4 ballistic.

  3. Yes it was an appalling turn of events – every editor should back the writer, publicly at least – but that original review by Shlomo seems disdainful in its brevity, reading like it had been dashed off in five minutes. Disdainful to the reader, I mean. I see the point about specifics.

  4. Why none of these “so-called” reviewers has any sense of HOW to write a “REVIEW” is bloody well beyond me. This guy deserved what happened to him. A publication should BACK it’s writers? I feel there is no problem calling his methods of writing into question, PUBLICLY, if his review was that two paragraphs of uninspired trash that he wrote. You know what I discerned from his review of Bella? That he didn’t like it, that it was pedestrian…..WHY goddammit! It is REALLY not tough to actually formulate sentences that have coherent streams of thought about a subject is it? Why does he relegate the good bits to a little nod at the end? The fact that your vouch for him Wilner just makes my stance on you as a critic all the more solidified.

  5. What J, Scott W doesn’t realize is that Shlomo was assigned the movie by Boxoffice to be at a SPECIFIC word count of 150 words. Shlomo didn’t choose to be frugal with his comments. For example, when the Toronto critics at Boxoffice cover the Toronto International Film Festival, we are assigned to review close to 80 films with word counts that range from 150 to 300 words per review.

    As for supporting the idea of the editor-in-chief publically questioning the credentials of his own writer, I would have to think that J Scott W is so steamed at film critics in general that he misses the point. Suppose J Scott W’s boss began questioning the work habits of J Scott W on the company website without consulting with J Scott W, in fact, even doubting that he’d done an assignment that J Scott W knew was assigned to him in the first place? Perhaps J Scott W would be singing a different tune.

    I resigned my role as a film critic at Boxoffice in support of Shlomo Schwartzberg because I believe Lyle Holmes’s actions are (among other things) professionally unethical. In full response to J Scott W, and others who might applaud open season on film critics, here is part of what I wrote in my resignation letter:

    Dear Lyle Holmes/Peter Cane – I’m sending in my resignation to Box Office magazine in light of the deplorable and unethical manner that you both have treated Shlomo Schwartzberg, as a critic and a respected writer for the magazine. In 25 years of film journalism, I have never come across anything that violates journalistic integrity in the manner that this episode surrounding the film review of “Bella” has. Mr. Holmes seems to even lack the awareness to realize that an editor-in-chief is counted on by his writers to display professional conduct and critical support, not inviting his writers to be his personal sparring partner on the magazine website. If Mr. Holmes wishes to be a movie critic, perhaps he should let someone else take over the role of being the editor-in-chief. Otherwise, his actions are both an abuse of power and a breach of trust.

    Although Shlomo invited me to write for Box Office over ten years ago, my decision to resign was not encouraged, nor solicited, by him. I do this because an editor-in-chief should never publically question the credibility of one of his own writers. My view is that if it can be done to Shlomo, it can be done to any of us. The underlying attitude behind this is obviously to pander to the notion that ANYBODY can be a critic, making us perhaps self-conscious of what we might write, because Lyle might swoop in to speak for the mass audience gleefully dropping their blog bombs in the comment section. We have “reality” television which illustrates mass audience contempt for paid actors because they have been trained to act. Now we get in Box Office “reality” criticism which shows contempt for hard-working, paid critics who know their trade (and can write and spell, too).

    My biggest regret is that Box Office has been, until now, a wonderful magazine to contribute my reviews. Over the years, my editors have been extremely resourceful at helping me — especially covering the Toronto Film Festival…But this dubious effort by management to now undermine their own critics is something I can’t excuse, nor be party to. I’m deeply sorry that things have to end in this manner, but I would rather ply my trade with a publication that stands by its writers and honors the trust between writers and editors. It’s deeply tragic that Box Office has decided to abandon these valuable and integral attributes.

    Yours truly,

    Kevin Courrier

  6. Dude, K Courrier, I was with you until I got to “publically.” You really can’t defend the authority of professional critics on the grounds that they can “write and spell, too” just after you, a professional critic, use “publically” as a word in your argument.

  7. @Ten R

    if you had bothered to spellcheck your comment, you would have found that “publically” is spelled correctly (“publicly” is also acceptable). type it into any search engine and see you what you find.

  8. Wow, I wandered over there to take a look and it was like looking into a funhouse mirror. The “editor-in-chief” has appended his counter-review and has made several incredibly flippant comments. Meanwhile, two of his reviewers have quit, and the place is overrun with (mostly) anonymous cheerleaders for the film and a bunch of critics trying to wave banners. I just got scared and came back here. 🙂

  9. The original page at the website you linked to has been taken down or no longer works.

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