On Saturday, when it doesn’t, frankly, have much else to do, the Internet was abuzz with the fact that that CBS Films, the distributor of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times consisting of a single tweet by critic A.O. Scott, as well as a ton of white space. Not even a whole tweet, in fact, but a version that was shortened considerably. Scott’s original tweet read as follows:
You all keep fighting about Wolf of Wall St. and Am Hustle. I’m gonna listen to the Llewyn Davis album again. Fare thee well, my honeys.
As the Times‘ public editor Margaret Sullivan explained in a post, Llewyn producer Scott Rudin wanted to avoid the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ prohibitions against criticizing other films in contention for Oscar nominations. So Rudin, through publicist Cynthia Swartz, asked for permission to shorten the tweet. Scott’s answer was short and to the point:
Well this is a new one. I’d prefer though that my tweets not be used in advertisements. That seems like a slippery slope and contrary to the ad hoc and informal nature of the medium.
And changing the tweet is basically manufacturing a quote, something I avoid.
So I’m afraid the answer is no.
Rudin, obviously, ran the ad anyway, which was followed today by a two-page spread featuring the names of more than 400 critics who have placed Llewyn Davis on their year-end lists. (Or so it claims, anyway — to my knowledge, no one has stepped up to fact-check it.) Rudin’s not known for treading lightly, and he was unrepentant when Sullivan contacted him. “If a critic is going to tweet it, we’re free to use it,” he said. ”We’re free to edit any review. We pull out what we want.”
This, along with Rudin’s assertion that “The paper running the ad is a tacit approval of the content of the ad” is about five different kinds of horsepuckey. A tweet, though public speech, is not a review, and though studios have been known to override a critic’s objections to having her or his quote modified for an ad, it doesn’t happen often, for the obvious reason that antagonizing major critics is not widely regarded as a good idea.
Given that Llewyn is at the top of Scott’s Top 10 list, his support for the film is not in question, but it’s odd that the studio would turn to an indirect endorsement of the film when he’s already written so many words in praise of it. But perhaps it’s a way to cut through the familiar language of a formal review, to which viewers — and Academy members — may have been inoculated in favor of a more approachable endorsement.