Column Date 2007-07-07

Movie critics follow President’s lead: no more “harsh” judgments

NEW YORK, N.Y. The Society of New York Movie Critics announced a major change in policy today.

The group’s chairman, A.O. Scott of the N.Y. Times, said that they have set up a new category of movie reviews, called “Commuted Reviews.”
“We’ve been quite rough on many movies in the past few years, perhaps even a bit excessive,” he said, echoing the President’s words when he commuted the sentence of “Scooter” Libby.

These “commuted” reviews, described as “less harsh, even compassionate,” would be the only ones actually printed in New York newspapers and magazines. The original reviews – often biting and acerbic -- would be held in a secret archive and released in 50 years.

Highly placed officers of the Society told reporters of long, passionate debates before they agreed on the new policy.

One major critic recounted a lunch he had with a director whose movie he had trashed. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy...I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

"He's a man deeply committed to his craft and the best interests of the movie business and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue."

When asked for an example of how this new policy would work, Mr. Scott talked about his recent review of “License to Wed” in which he wrote: “As for myself, I will confess that the only thing that kept me watching “License to Wed” until the end (apart from being paid to do so) was the faith, perhaps misplaced, that I will not see a worse movie this year.”

Under the new policy, he said, this caustic review would go before a “Commutation Committee” and almost certainly be toned down a bit before being released. 

“There are some positive things about that particular movie that I could have mentioned,” Mr. Scott said. When pressed, he said he couldn’t think of any offhand and would have to see the movie again.

Another critic, speaking anonymously, said “Of course, 80-90% of all films are complete garbage aimed at semi-literate teenagers, and if the public catches on and stops going to the movies, we’ll all be out of work. It’s in our own interest to judge less harshly, like President Bush.”

Other groups, including restaurant reviewers, sports reporters, and even political commentators, were said to be considering whether their judgments also needed to be tempered.

A spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange said he hoped the “compassion” would spread to stock analysts who, some CEOs claim, are overly tough on their companies.

In fact, stocks on Wall St. soared when the initial news of Libby’s “commuted” sentence was announced.

Stocks retreated quickly, however, when many traders realized that “commuting” was a legal term referring to a shorter prison sentence, and had nothing to do with shorter train travel to Greenwich.

©2007 Peter Tannen