The Playgoer: Good Riddance to Press Screenings?

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Good Riddance to Press Screenings?

Seattle Post-Intelligencer's William Arnold has an original and valuable dissent from the current complaints over Hollywood's increasing avoidance of press screenings and circumvention of formal criticism:

Before the mid-'80s, films usually opened on Wednesday, and reviews were spread out through the following week. Press screenings were less common: neither "The Godfather" nor "Chinatown" had one.

Drive-in and other exploitation movies were never screened and rarely reviewed. Films were not faced with a make-or-break opening weekend, and a landmark film like "Bonnie & Clyde" could be saved by an outbreak of enthusiastic reviews well into its run.

Movies had a chance to breathe, and build. Critics saw most films with paying audiences, outside the influence of its publicist. The newspaper entertainment magazines were as likely to give their covers to a Frank Capra revival or a Truffaut film as whatever Hollywood threw at them that week.

It was a saner system.

The worst thing about the current model is that it allows the highest-profile movies, regardless of quality, to hog all the prime space in the entertainment pages. Thus we have such absurdities as a giant opening-day spread for a negative review of "Mission Impossible 3."

An end of the paradigm would end some of this tyranny. As we all know, critics have no impact on the success or failure of big Hollywood movies, so all the covers and
feature reviews we heap on the Harry Potters and Spider-Men are just a waste of

If Hollywood stops screening its tent-pole sequels, vacuous star vehicles and brainless thrillers for critics, maybe we can stop being a tool of the Hollywood publicity machine and start giving our attention to the movies that really need or warrant it.

So we may see Friday tab covers on "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" or Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," while critically scorned biggies like "Pirates II" are relegated to brief reviews in the back of the Saturday papers, if reviewed at all.
Sounds good to me.

So I salute you, New Line Cinema, and your innovative decision to keep "Snakes on a Plane" from my sight until I can't give it the publicity it so clearly doesn't need. It surely wasn't your intention, but I suspect you've done the world of movies an enormous service.

For "Hollywood" read "Broadway"...? (For "MI:3" read "All Shook Up"?)

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