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From the Wire: Times Editor Quotes Times Critics On Subject of Times Review

From the Wire: Times Editor Quotes Times Critics On Subject of Times Review

Over the weekend, the New York Times officially addressed the reaction to Times food critic Pete Wells’ brutal review of Guy Fieri’s new Times Square restaurant, in a piece by public editor Margaret Sullivan. I tried reaching out to Wells to see if he’d do an interview with me the day after his review was published — can you believe he didn’t get back to me?!? — so I was interested to see his comments in the piece, along with some quotes from Times film critic Manohla Dargis about her feelings on the subject of very negative reviews. Wells insists he didn’t go to Guy’s American Kitchen looking to pan the place (“I would have liked to write the ‘man-bites-dog’ review,” he said) and added that negative reviews like his should be done “sparingly.” Those comments were echoed by Dargis:

“‘Most movies are middling,’ she said. ‘They’re fine, but they’re not transporting you.’ Ms. Dargis is acutely aware of how a bad review can hurt — not only feelings, but also commercial success. This is especially true for critics at The Times; a great deal rides on the judgment of the paper of record. Some blockbuster movies, though, are ‘practically critic-proof,’ she said. When the subject is vulnerable, one solution may be to not review at all. But sometimes that’s not practical. The Times can pass on reviewing, for example, an independent filmmaker’s fledgling effort or an art exhibit in a small gallery, but it is committed to reviewing major concerts, films and theater productions, whatever their quality.”

That could get us into a whole discussion about whether certain movies really are “critic-proof,” but that’s a topic probably best saved another time. I’m still interested what readers think about this subject: was the original review going too far? Should negative reviews be used sparingly? Should critics feel responsible about how their reviews impact movies’ box office receipts? Let me know what you think below.

Read more of “Reviews With ‘All Guns Blazing.'”

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Nina Seavey

Matt – Your comments about negative reviews is spot on. Several years ago I had a documentary released theatrically by Emerging Pictures, THE BALLAD OF BERING STRAIT. The film followed seven Russian teenagers in their quest to become country music stars. Before the film was released, Jill Abramson (now the editor of the NYT's) did a full-page Arts and Leisure cover story about the band, the film, etc. It was an auspicious start to what we assumed would be a substantial theatrical run.

Not so. The NYT Movies editor assigned the review to Elvis Mitchell who decimated the film, and attacked me personally. His assessment was so full of vitriol that Ira Deutchman, President of Emerging Pictures, received an e-mail from a colleague with the subject line: "Die Elvis Die." Needless to say that review killed the film theatrically, it closed in two days.

Turns out, Elvis Mitchell hates country music and should never have been assigned the film to begin with. Also, why he would vent his bile on an independent documentary and an independent documentarian was beyond the imagination of anyone who read his scathing assessment.

Ultimately, though, the film did well. Viacom picked it up for broadcast, I was nominated for an Emmy for Best Director, and the film is still out in distribution in many forms. Elvis also eventually lost his job at the Times, obviously unrelated events.

But that review stands out as what is probably the low point in a long filmmaking career and as a matter of professionalism on the part of the Times should never have been written in the style and tone that it was.

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