About ten years ago, a small and fiery magazine was started up in England by
Toby Young and Julie Burchill. Called the Modern Review, its slogan was "low
culture for highbrows", and it was a real breath of fresh air. Here was
an intelligent magazine which took Hollywood product seriously, running excellent
pieces by the likes of Ray Sawhill on films
which were more generally considered beneath contempt.
Unfortunately, it’s all gone downhills from there. Young and Burchill had a
huge fight; Young torched the magazine, ran off to New York, and managed to
seriously annoy just about everybody he met before throwing in the towel, moving
back to London, and writing a snarky
book about how crap American media types are.
In New York, meanwhile, Sawhill remained at Newsweek, but has evidently failed
to exercise any control over the magazine’s coverage of popular movies.
Big films are always surrounded by vast amounts of hype and anticipation, and
so it’s all well and good that Newsweek should run a long
on-set feature about the making of the next Harry Potter movie. Gothamist
the meta-story today, and it didn’t take long for a consensus to coalesce
in the comments section: in the words of the great Jen Chung, "It’s a totally
There is, of course, no reason why stories about Harry Potter should be worse
than stories about art-house films, or stories
about international geopolitics. I know that not all of Newsweek’s writers
can be stars like Fareed Zakaria. But surely they can do better than this. Running
through the article, what do we find?
- "Every fan of the franchise has torn through the thunderous new book".
- "Cuaron doesn’t have full run of the joint."
- "Cuaron hops on his bicycle."
Innacuracy and exaggeration.
- The Dandy Warhols (formed in 1994) are an "edgy new act".
- The second film’s worldwide box-office gross of $869 million is "nearly
- The director, Alfonso Cuaron, "got an Oscar nomination last year for
the teen-sex romp Y Tu Mama Tambien."
Really? Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. It’s a bit like those film trailers
which talk about "Oscar winner Ben Affleck": while technically true,
it conveniently elides the fact that the Oscar in question was for screenwriting,
not for directing or acting. Besides, Y Tu Mama just isn’t
a "teen-sex romp".
Simply bad writing.
- "Cuaron notes that his teenage cast is coming of age just as the characters
are, and that there’s, uh, pollen in the air."
I think this is meant to be some kind of double-entendre: that’s presumably
what the "uh" signifies. But pollen?
- "Potter fans have grown used to a movie every Thanksgiving, but “Azkaban”
will arrive in the teeth of the summer movie season on June 4, 2004."
It seems that Newsweek has taken to heart the maxim that "two=trend".
The second Harry Potter film happens to be released exactly a year after the
first one, and suddenly there’s a new episode "every Thanksgiving"?
And what on earth does "in the teeth of the summer movie season"
Finally, there’s this completely inexplicable sentence, which comes at the
end of a passage about Cuaron’s anti-war politics. Voldemort is a little bit
like Bush, he says, and Blair reminds him of Fudge, another character in the
book. What do we conclude from these outspoken opinions?
"Cuaron’s scrappiness is either refreshing or worrying, depending
on your stock portfolio."
Depending on your what? I guess the views expressed could be construed
as being refreshing if you were anti-war, or worrying if you were pro-war. But
in what bizarre parallel universe does that have anything whatsoever to do with
the stock market?
Amazingly, it took two different writers to come up with this garbage. It reads
like it was tossed off as quickly as possible, on the grounds, perhaps, that
the subject matter didn’t merit any more serious effort. That’s profoundly depressing:
we’re living in a world where truly excellent popular films like Catch
Me If You Can or Pirates of the Caribbean have to compete
with dreck like Charlie’s
Angels: Full Throttle.
Newsweek can and should provide a service to its millions of readers. These
are people who are interested in Hollywood and who want to know about what’s
going on there. Articles like this only serve to increase cynicism about films
as entertainment industry Product, backed up by brainless hype, and certainly
not anything to be taken seriously.
James Surowiecki this week has an
article about how films might open with enormous box-office success on their
opening weekend, but that beyond that first week, success is all about word
of mouth and how much people actually like the film. In other words, the first
weekend is the triumph of hype, while the size of the rest of the theatrical
run is much more correlated to popular and critical reaction. Newsweek should
be concentrating on the latter, but seems to have been dragooned instead into
supporting the former. Once again, the interests of the advertisers have won
out over the interests of the reader.