Thursday, August 28, 2008


At 55, the human need to create false dichotomies and false hierarchies has become an inescapable fact of existence. As a form of critical judgment, rank-and-file is as important to choosing one tomato over another in Safeway's produce department as it is—it seems—to ranking print press over online press. Some years back when I passed through the vaulted gates of publicity as one of the first online journalists granted festival accreditation, I joyously celebrated the democratization of the press. It was a short-lived ill-conceived celebration.

A few years later, I am reminded that every democracy is—indeed—more democratic for some than others; such is the nature of the unwieldy beast, bipartisan conventions notwithstanding. Recently, pitching to get an interview with a director coming to San Francisco with his new film, I was advised by the film's publicist (I name no names) that all she could do for me was to put me into a roundtable with other online journalists because—you know—she couldn't grant a one-on-one to a blog. She said it like she had regurgitated a rather slimey black frog onto the table between us. Nevermind that I've interviewed hundreds of people in recent years. I'm fully aware that blog rhymes with frog; but, it only took a few seconds for me to rally and admit a sudden disinterest in both the publicist, her film and—sadly and unfairly—the film's director. Because I might have actually asked some good questions and given the film some decent exposure. Ah well. Little cattle, little care as they say.

An online journalist—i.e., a blogger (shudder)—can't take these things personally. You have to develop a skin as thick as—well—an amphibian. The publicists are, after all, subject to rank and file themselves; they're gatekeepers for the studios. But it is interesting to consider what the studios are so frightened of that they enforce a divide-and-conquer policy among filmwriters. If you're not there to fill the auditorium for that first weekend rather than—let's say—writing as intuitively as you can about a film and appreciating it on its intricate merits, then to hell with you. That line through the S of the dollar sign is a telling if not perhaps a necessary skewer after all.

Truth is, I'm just as guilty as anyone of creating false dichotomies and hierarchies. I'm only human, albeit a blogger. There are some publicists I prefer working with over others because they grant me intelligence and trust my being of service to the film. Let's hear it for Karen Larsen of Larsen Associates for being a consummate professional and a stellar example to all those wanna-be publicists who call themselves publicists but are really studio lackeys driven insane by false power. Insane, I tell you! First and foremost, she's there for the film. Imagine.

Now, before I'm accused of ingraciously biting the hand that feeds me, I will get to the point. Which is to mention in passing a pleasingly acerbic piece written by Markus Keuschnigg for Senses of Cinema; his report from the 61st annual Cannes Film Festival, which he unabashedly describes as "an anachronistic bastard." I really like this piece, more for its unbridled editorial than the reviews themselves. Check it out. As incentive, though this is an online report, it is written by a journalist who writes for the daily newspaper Die Presse as well as film-editor-in-chief of the magazine thegap. How unfortunate that he's tainted his credentials by venturing online. Apparently even print journalists have some gripes. Irregardless, it's a fun read over black, black coffee. And let's count our blessings that—though a false hierarchy has been established by certain Bay Area publicists between print and online journalists—they haven't gone so far as to assign us colors. Yet. Be on the lookout.


Sachin said...

Bad to hear about this experience. If one day you happen to actually see the film in question and like it, then it might become harder to put this experience behind and judge the film for what it is.

There are some who discount all web related film material and glorify printed articles. It is a frustrating attitude by some who I think are still a wee bit afraid of the web blog universe, even though it has been around for a while.

If it is any consolation Michael, I rather read your interviews any day compared to stuff that gets printed in the written media :)

Michael Guillen said...

So kind of you to say, Sachin. Thank you. I'm actually fine. It's just important to rant and vent now and then, and to keep the issue in vigilant focus.

I think a person just has to keep in mind what their objectives are and hold true to them, despite the static interference. Your words certainly help. Thanks again.

Pacze Moj said...

If you were in print, I'd never have found you.


Michael Guillen said...

Long live the pixellated opinion!! HAIL PIXELS!! Heh.