Friday, September 08, 2017

the ruse

While watching one of the unrelenting TV ads for "Home Again," the new Reese Witherspoon film, I kept thinking of someone named Manning. It was annoying because the name kept coming into my head but I couldn't connect it to a person. But I'll get to that later. Back to "Home Again."

If "Home Again" ("from Nancy Meyers" but not really) is as funny as its ads, it could be another one-week wonder, box office-wise. It's not the highlighted scenes from the movie that are funny (they aren't), it's the ravings that punctuate each scene. The ads have these hyperventilating quotes but, at first glance, there seems to be no attribution at all.

If you squint real hard and get up-close to your 50" TV screen, however, you detect a blur under each quote that apparently gives the name of the critic in question. It's a safe guess that the critic is not from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times or Rolling Stone because, in such a case, the name of the publication would be larger than the quote itself.

No, these "critics" are nobodies from the internet.

Which brings me back to Manning. I couldn't connect the name to a person because there is no person. Sixteen years ago, in one of its 2001 June editions, Newsweek magazine exposed a critic named David Manning who, up until that point, was a star of sorts in television spots and also in display ads that ran more frequently in daily newspapers back in those days.

David seemingly came out of nowhere. According to the ads, he wrote for the Ridgefield Press, a small Connecticut weekly. But no one knew who he was, including the Ridgefield Press. The new Kilroy. David liked the right movies. He was the only critic on planet earth who actually liked Rob Schneider's "The Animal," a film not screened in advance for any critic.

"Another winner!," David gasped nevertheless.

Newsweek pursued the story when reporter John Horn noticed that "David Manning of the Ridgefield Press" was quoted in ads for movies released by Sony Entertainment exclusively (that would include Columbia Pictures, TriStar and Screen Gems) and became suspicious. The story broke.

There is no David Manning and there never was. He was a PR concoction.

The two Sony advertising flacks, who created the fictional critic and wrote the quotes for Sony ads themselves, were suspended. David Manning was gone. He never made the National Society of Film Critics, although I hear that there were serious plans to court him. If only he could be located.

David was invented because the good old days of studios threatening and co-opting critics were fading. There was a time when gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were only too happy to supply the studios with money quotes. The new breed of movie critic would not be controlled or compromised. All that was left were the die-hard Junketeers, those celebrity-obsessed interviewers who are wined and dined and put up in hotels by the studios (and, if everything works as planned, have their picture taken with the celeb!) and who are expected to produce fawning pieces from which a planted quote could be conveniently extracted.

A quote from a critic who isn't a critic - and from a review that doesn't exist. These days, this is the new normal, thanks to the internet.

In the 16 years since David Manning perished and went to critics' heaven, everything has changed. The world is now full of  self-proclaimed "movie critics" - wannabes  and amateurs. These professional jokes seem to forget that one really isn't a critic unless a media source actually pays you.

But the point is, there's no need in 2017 to invent someone like David. He's back, multiplied many times over. I've never counted (who has the time or the patience?) but there seems to be thousands of so-called movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes, a place where someone who works as a shoe clerk and writes reviews in his bedroom is put on the same plane as Roger Ebert. Great, just great. Wait a minute! "Great, just great"? That's it!

Hey, taken out of context, that's a hell of a money quote, the kind studios love. But please don't attribute it to me. Instead, sign it ... David Manning.

* * * * *

~What David Manning might look like if he existed


Mike Schlesinger said...

I recently watched a trailer with several quotes, all attributed...except I went back and looked closely--and they were all from the same critic!

While I was at Sony, we had a dreadful movie called "The Master of Disguise." Even the quote whores wouldn't get onboard, so my genius boss simply put in the ad, "See the movie all the critics are talking about!" Ya gotta admit, 100% honest!

joe baltake said...

Mike: I have only one word: Oy. -J

Brian Lucas said...

My message is to Mike Schlesinger: "Quote Whores." I love it!

Kevin Barry said...

I miss the days when I would look forward to what critics like Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Stanley Kauffmann, Dwight Macdonald and John Simon would have to say about a new movie because I enjoyed the style of their writing and their distinctive voice. Film criticism is more about the craft of structure and polished sentences than it is about expressing an opinion. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but, unfortunately, it gives as much credence to the know-nothings as it does to the experts. Like Andy Warhol's prediction of fifteen minutes of fame for everybody, posting an opinion on the Internet is an easy way for attention seekers to feed their vanity.

joe baltake said...

Amen, Kevin. When I was a working critic, I tried to avoid reading other reviewers for the obvious reason - I didn't want to be subconsciously influenced or tarnished by someone else's views and opinions. While I wasn't always successful, I was selective. As a reader of reviews, I was/am interested in only those from which I learn something. But most critics simply write a synopsis of the storyline and string adjectives together. Lazy reviewing, worthless. There were (and still are) precious few movie critics who educate with their reviews and who are unpredictable, a reviewing quality that's extremely important to me. I always learned something from Kael, whether we agreed or not on a title, and from Sarris and Kauffmann and, I should add, Carrie Rickey and Dave Kehr (who, alas, don't review regularly anymore) and Mick LaSalle. That quality of reviewing - or of writing, as you put it - is certainly in very scant supply on the internet, if available there at all.

Bill from Philly said...

I give David Manning and his current successors two thumbs down!

Vanessa said...

I find it absurd that a studio would have to invent a critic to endorse its films because there's always some idiot writer out there who likes something. One can even find an approving quote in an unfavorable review, much to the chagrin (I assume) of the critic who wrote the review.

Franny said...

I don't think it matters to the average moviegoer who endorses a film in a newspaper or TV ad. The logic is, if someone recommends it, it must be good. I think the movie companies are depending on that logic.

Tim K. said...

I remember this incident. I think Manning's name was attached in ads to a few small papers and I remember the management of one of those papers saying that the paper never heard of David Manning and that a David Manning never worked for the paper. Amazing. I guess we now have critics endorsing movies who don't work for anyone but themselves. Really bizarre.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Brian: Thanks, but "quote whore" has been around for quite a while, so I can take no credit for it.