Crap writing about mainstream movies

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

shitty article".

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?

Clichés galore.

  • "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

    $1 billion".

  • 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.

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crap writing about mainstream movies

  1. Jen says:

    This is the problem with the magazine industry today – there are no long points of view, everything is completely watered down. There MIGHT be reasons to buy magazines, but when they are filled with this dreck, there is no reason to pick them up – just turn to the Internet for the pure news and then websites for more commentary. Everything in the article is a carefully constructed soundbite – in fact, I think Warners’ publicity people wrote the stupid article themselves, it’s so awful. When articles about the terrible state of movies comes out in mainstream press, all it does is perpetuate

    Do any of the mainstream magazines and newspapers have editorial missions anymore? I had this argument about Entertainment Weekly. Eleven years ago, it was edgy and interesting, telling me things I didn’t know. Now, I dropped my subscription a few years ago since I can read EW in 5 minutes – 10 if I really want to pay attention. While its base is the Joe and Jane Public, I think that magazines with EW’s reach have the duty to lead, versus follow some studio’s publicist’s checklist.

    I will refrain from going on and on and on. But really great post, Felix. And not just because you call me great (awww…).

  2. hooljack says:

    The show was organized by the Pakistan Fashion Design Council and it saw the glitterati of Lahore applauding 32 designers from around the country who gathered to celebrate a glamorous event that organizers showcased as being representative of Pakistan’s rich culture, and burgeoning fashion industry.

    Seats were filled almost immediately for the eight shows every day, forcing many to stand amid mad screams, applause, boisterous cheering and blaring music as 30 models sashayed down the aisle. There was enough of a display of cleavage, navel and skin to infuriate the country’s conservative mullahs.

Comments are closed.