The infotainment industry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 20 08:42:08 MST 2000

[Exerpted from Jonathan Rosenbaum's Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media
Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See, which is being published by A
Cappella Books this month]

Junkets and what they produce have never been a secret, but even as
sophisticated a writer as Time art critic Robert Hughes was shocked when he
went to see Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace with his
girlfriend's kids in 1999 and discovered that it wasn't what the hoopla had
promised. He complained in the New York Daily News that George Lucas had
"managed to broker, or more exactly, enforce, a situation by which hundreds
of thousands of promotional words have been churned out and published about
The Phantom Menace by writers who were specifically forbidden by Lucas to
see it; and the said writers went right along with it, because, in the end,
the tail of Hollywood was wagging the ass, if not the whole dog, of
journalism." What's surprising about Hughes's outrage is the implication
that if all these journalists had seen The Phantom Menace weeks in advance
they might not have written the same sort of promotional blather. But Lucas
had the entertainment press on its knees, proving that a critical reading
of the movie was irrelevant to what the mass media saw as its duty.

To my mind, the fawning over The Phantom Menace was no more egregious or
grotesque than the front-page coverage accorded to, say, Oliver Stone's JFK
or the American Film Institute's "One Hundred Best American Films" in the
New York Times, or the kind of promotional reviews Schindler's List and
Saving Private Ryan received almost everywhere in the U.S. when they came
out. Media overkill of this kind was fully operational well before The
Phantom Menace was a gleam in Lucas's eye, though his movie may have made
it more obvious. Newsweek ran a cover story on it complaining about the
media overkill, though it fully acknowledged that it was part of it --
unlike Time, which simply went along with the drift.

If you've ever wondered where all the enthusiastic superlatives from
reviewers in movie ads come from, you might be surprised to learn that many
of these quotes aren't extracts from longer reviews but blurbs supplied by
professional blurb writers. Some of them go to the trouble of writing their
own blurbs, but others commission blurbs from writers who attend press
screenings. Studios reportedly often suggest several possible blurbs to
these writers and invite them to select one. If such practices lower the
credibility of film criticism as a whole, I'm inclined to regard this as a
healthy development, if only because it encourages more skepticism toward
infotainment -- an industry that, realistically speaking, includes most
film reviewing as well as most so-called film journalism.

It also includes such things as TV coverage of film festivals. I've never
attended Telluride, but I'll never forget a national TV report on that
event a few years back that showed members of the cast and crew of Oliver
Stone's U-Turn, including Stone, seated outdoors hawking their movie -- and
incidentally commenting on how pleasant the festival was because you didn't
have to "do" press there. I had a flashback to my teen years in Alabama
when I was paging through an issue of Photoplay and came across a photo
spread devoted to Fabian's very first date as a star without the
interference or presence of any press or photographers. The infotainment
industry has been around as long as movies and was fully in place back in
the 50s, even if it didn't have a label back then.

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Louis Proyect
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