This Fucking David Denby/Scott Rudin Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review Embargo Thing

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12/06/2011 10:34 AM |

He gave his word. Gave his word to a [studio about a review embargo]. Its his word! That aint what counts. Its who you give it to!
  • “He gave his word.” “Gave his word to a [studio about a review embargo].” “It’s his word!” “That ain’t what counts. It’s who you give it to!”

In college, if I’m remembering correctly, I knew a guy who was paid by Scott Rudin’s production company to talk positively about movies of theirs on message boards, so I’m not really too sympathetic to the narrative he’s now pushing, that the David Denby somehow did something “deeply lousy and immoral” by breaking Sony’s review embargo on the Rudin-produced Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in this week’s New Yorker. Nor do I have particular patience for the movie people currently flaunting their sanity in re: the utility or at least necessity of review embargoes.

(If the internet was unable to convince you, yesterday, of why you should care: when the New York Film Critics Circle moved their annual awards vote up to late November this year, a special screening of the new David Fincher film was arranged for the evening prior; NYFCC members had to sign an agreement not to review in any format until 12/13.) (Denby didn’t want to rush to vote without seeing Stephen Daldry’s Foer adaptation, apparently, which is as good an example as you’ll ever find of his tragically goofily misdirected sense chivalry, except of course for this whole thing.) (Anyway, Denby reviewed the film anyway, and was called out by Sony Publicity, probably at Rudin’s urging.)

Yesterday, the jpegs-of-promotional-materials clearinghouse The Playlist somehow “exclusively acquired” an email exchange between Denby and Rudin about Denby’s review. (So either they hacked somebody’s email, which seems… unlikely, or the exchange was forwarded to them by one of the two parties involved. Probably the party who is determined to make this a story.) Denby’s review of the film, incidentally, was quite positive—last fall he gave Fincher’s Social Network a full-on Critic at Large beej—but in Rudin’s reply to Denby he wrote, “The fact that the review is good is immaterial, as I suspect you know.”

It’s immaterial that a critic for an influential weekly writes thoughtfully about a major movie in advance of its release because it’s no longer the studio controlling the message, though it’s of course ok to have Dan Craig and Rooney Mara on the cover of magazines for several months in advance (depending on how much power the director has over the postproduction schedule, the studio may hold “editorial consideration” screenings). Review embargoes are a way for studios to enlist film reviewers as accomplices in elaborate marketing plans.

Now. In this magazine, we review stuff when it comes out (as a biweekly that sometimes means a week before other places do, provided I can successfully beg studios to tell me about the many small long-lead screenings they hold prior to their all-media screenings, because I don’t assign celebrity profiles for a glossy monthly). The natural logical inclination is to do likewise.

Since this whole thing went down, though, there’s been a lot of tsk-tsking about the inclination to be first to file, and how Denby did readers a disservice by, I guess, forcing them to remember the movie for a whole fortnight before they can pay for it. (The utility of release-timed reviews is that they run when readers can see the movie; they also run as the ad campaign is climaxing, and add to the funnel of cultural noise drawing moviegoers towards the ticket window. You try to keep these two rationales separate, but so often in this business the directive to be relevant to readers means playing tagalong with a market someone else is controlling.)

Now, firsties is of course an appalling and anti-thought tendency, though it’s not necessarily one which the serious weeklies habitually engage in; anyway, there’s a grand tradition of influential critics occasionally leapfrogging the industry to start a productive discussion.

Denby seems to have decided that the embargo didn’t concern him, which is a position I’m sympathetic to though I can only imagine very occasional circumstances under which that’d come in to play. Like, if I wrote long, not always release-timed reviews in column format for a weekly, and we had a double issue coming up around Christmas, the time when the studios’ herdlike Oscarbaiting mentality had led them to concentrate all their interesting movies. (These are, indeed, the reasons Denby gave in the leaked email to Rudin, but they occurred to me before I read it so there.)

So now Rudin and Sony are going to fuck with us just to prove that there are consequences. There’s talk of Rudin barring Denby from upcoming screenings of his movies, which, despite the apoplectic blowback, the calling out of an actually prominent and respectable critic like he’s some child, isn’t really tenable. Somewhat more tenable, I guess, is multiple people at Sony not replying to my emails requesting information on this week’s Dragon Tattoo screenings. (I’m sometimes reminded, on the rare occasions when I scroll down to the comments on various movie blogs, or even during bursts of unconvincing populism from career profressionals, that it’s a privilege to get to see movies for free before they come out. Well, lots of people get to see movies for free before they come out, if it’s convenient for marketing purposes: in tomorrow’s issue of The L is a full-page ad for a free preview screening of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which 50 L readers who email us will get into; Sony checked in with the sales side of the office to set up the giveaway, though they still haven’t bothered to inform me.)

All of this could have been avoided, of course, if Anthony Lane hadn’t done a Critic at Large on John Le Carre. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes out this Friday! Denby could have just reviewed that.

3 Comment

  • Scott Rudin is the same guy who started the beef w/ Armond White over Greenberg, White mentioned this on his twitter, said Denby can’t properly defend himself.
    Now it looks like a brilliant move by New Yorker, their most read article today, would anyone really care if they waited until Dec 19 issue? (some might smell a conspiracy here? everybody benefits…)
    Also I think Lane did a much better job reviewing the original version than Denby did here, this review is like a tossed off job you do on your lunch break.

  • oops, if that was the “real” Armond White twitter, I’m not sure…

  • Yeah, @3xchair is the real Armond, can tell by the typos.

    UPDATE: Sony responded to my emails, easily aggrieved local film critic in attending press screening shocker.