Two things in Tuesday's NY Times that got me to wanting to climb on the soapbox.
First, there's an actual bona fide full-color full-page ad for The Hurt Locker in the arts section. Years ago, right after the Golden Globes you could see the difference between the early edition and late edition NY Times, as all the film studios took out placeholder ads for all of their movies, and then would quickly swap in something more appropriate for the late edition to tout their winners. Same thing after Oscar nominations were announced, or after the Oscars themselves. Film ads in the Times have been steadily declining for years and years now, to the point where it's an actual surprising thing to see studios actually taking ads in size or quantity. And in fact, that rather "wow, what's that doing here" ad for The Hurt Locker today was the only film ad in the NY Times for any of the Oscar-winning movies. The total balance of the film ads was less than one third of a page.
And then there's the very sad news that Variety has given the heave-ho to its chief film critic Todd McCarthy and to its chief theater critic, David Rooney. It's all about the money, of course. The advertising in Variety is as sparse as it is in other print media, and the amount of award-related advertising was a tenth that I can remember seeing not all that many years ago. But this move by Variety is in my opinion a major bush league mistake. McCarthy was an excellent and learned film critic. He gave major reviews to the major releases of the last 31 years. He was rarely wildly off target in his reviews. He was himself a filmmaker whose documentary Visions of Light is an excellent film about cinematography. This where I'll cede the microphone a bit to Roger Ebert, who says far more and better in this blog post about Todd McCarthy than I really could.
Having been at Variety for 31 years, and with the title of Chief Film Critic, no doubt McCarthy did not come cheap on the salary front. And as noted above, Variety isn't rolling in the dough right now. But Roger Ebert ends his post by saying "if Variety no longer requires its chief film critic, it no longer requires me as a reader." And on that sentiment, I entirely agree. I've been reading Variety fairly regularly for a good 30 years right now. In my teenage years, after I first discovered the charms of Variety for myself, if I went to New York City for some reason, I put down my dollar. If my parents were going to NYC, they knew there was a standing order for them to please come back with that week's issue. When I started my own business and could then write off the cost of a subscription, going from buying the NY Times and Variety to subscribing were among the first checks on the JABberwocky accounts. And I read Variety in no small part for its serious reviews, for the belief when I read a Todd McCarthy review that I'm becoming part of a serious industry discussion. In dumping a Todd McCarthy, Variety is, to me, saying that it no longer cares to be a serious part of the industry discussion. And if Variety doesn't want to be a serious part of the industry discussion -- no, we don't need Variety.
And it ain't cheap to subscribe to Variety, for a thinning paper that takes less and less time to read and has migrated more and more of its content to the internet where it's vastly less pleasant to read.
One of McCarthy's last reviews is for this week's opener Remember Me. This is likely one of the longest and most serious reviews you'll find for a teen romantic comedy with Robert Pattinson. I don't know if McCarthy is "right" in his review or not, but I know that he gave this kind of serious critical attention to every film he reviewed.
I can't raise quite the same passion for David Rooney. Rooney had very big shoes to fill when his predecessor Charles Isherwood was lured away by the NY Times as part of a major upgrade in its arts coverage several years back. Isherwood is a great critic, and I was upset because he's the #2 theatre critic at the Times and thus reviewing fewer of the major Broadway shows than he did at Variety. Rooney is no Charles Isherwood. But it's the same basic thing. Covering theatre has been an important part of the Variety DNA since the paper was founded, and how exactly do you cover theatre when you don't have a dedicated solid critical voice you can count on.
How long does Variety have to live? This week's news is like watching someone with a termina disease who's been managing to cover it up, compensate, bring the belt in a little tighter or something, and all of a sudden it's progressed too far to keep it hidden, and you look at the wan face and thinning waist and wispier voice and suddenly realize the end is really coming.