Denby-Rudin Exchange

The Playlist has posted an e-mail exchange between New Yorker critic David Denby and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo producer Scott Rudin about the ethics and motives behind Denby and his editors breaking the 12.13 Tattoo embargo by posting Denby’s review today.

Denby says he regrets breaking his word but he and his editors felt they had to review Tattoo now because almost all of the good films are jammed into December, and to cover them all would necessitate mini-reviews in the New Yorker‘s year-end double issue. But he felt more or less okay with running it, he adds, because the review is positive.

Rudin tells Denby that breaking his word isn’t cool or honorable regardless of his review being thumbs-up or the practical considerations behind publishing it. He says he “could not in good conscience invite you to see another movie of mine again, [Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close] or otherwise”, and that Denby’s action “will now cause ALL of the other reviews to run a month before the release of the movie.”

Ethical matters aside, the core problem is the New Yorker‘s cumbersome publishing policies, particularly regarding the holiday double-issue. Weekly and every-other-week print editions are obviously unable to respond to the changing day-to-day, hour-to-hour nature of everything these days. If you’re in the 2011-2012 digi-stream you’re looking for a constant outpouring of pops and re-bops and rimshots and counter-tweets, which print obviously can’t and doesn’t provide. Print is the old woman rummaging around for for her subway card at the subway turnstile and making everyone else wait.

The solution, to paraphrase Nikki Finke, is to say “fuck it” and post film reviews in the New Yorker‘s digital edition on a timely, as-they’re-seen-and-written basis. New Yorker iPad and laptop subscribers can thereby consider Denby-Lane reviews in a much more timely fashion, and for those doddering souls who only read the dead-tree version the New Yorker editors can make them available in the usual late-to-the-party fashion of 20th Century technology. Will these people care that Denby-Lane reviews in their holiday issue are appearing one or two weeks after the release date? Maybe to some degree, but if they really cared about timeliness they wouldn’t be print-only readers. Let them find their own way.

Here’s the Denby-Rudin back and forth:

“—–Original Message—–

From: Scott Rudin

Sent: Sat 12/3/2011 12:08 AM

To: Denby, David

Subject:

You’re going to break the review embargo on Dragon Tattoo? I’m stunned that you of all people would even entertain doing this. It’s a very, very damaging move and a total contravention of what you agreed. You’re an honorable man.

From: Denby, David

Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 11:19 AM

To: Scott Rudin

Subject: RE:

Dear Scott:

Scott, I know Fincher was working on the picture up to the last minute, but the yearly schedule is gauged to have many big movies come out at the end of the year.

The system is destructive: Grown-ups are ignored for much of the year, cast out like downsized workers, and then given eight good movies all at once in the last five weeks of the year. A magazine like “The New Yorker” has to cope as best as it can with a nutty release schedule.

It was not my intention to break the embargo, and I never would have done it with a negative review. But since I liked the movie, we came reluctantly to the decision to go with early publication for the following reasons, which I have also sent to Seth Fradkoff:

1) The jam-up of important films makes it very hard on magazines. We don’t want to run a bunch of tiny reviews at Christmas. That’s not what “The New Yorker” is about. Anthony and I don’t want to write them that way, and our readers don’t want to read them that way.

2) Like many weeklies, we do a double issue at the end of the year, at this crucial time. This exacerbates the problem.

3) The New York Film Critics Circle, in its wisdom, decided to move up its voting meeting, as you well know, to November 29, something Owen Gleiberman and I furiously opposed, getting nowhere. We thought the early date was idiotic, and we’re in favor of returning it to something like December 8 next year. In any case, the early vote forced the early screening of “Dragon Tattoo.” So we had a dilemma: What to put in the magazine on December 5? Certainly not “We Bought the Zoo,” or whatever it’s called. If we held everything serious, we would be coming out on Christmas-season movies until mid-January. We had to get something serious in the magazine. So reluctantly, we went early with “Dragon,” which I called “mesmerizing.” I apologize for the breach of the embargo. It won’t happen again. But this was a special case brought on by year-end madness.

In any case, congratulations for producing another good movie. I look forward to the Daldry.

Best, David Denby

From: Scott Rudin

Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 13:04:32 -0500

To: David Denby

Subject: Re:

I appreciate all of this, David, but you simply have to be good for your word. Your seeing the movie was conditional on your honoring the embargo, which you agreed to do. The needs of the magazine cannot trump your word. The fact that the review is good is immaterial, as I suspect you know. You’ve very badly damaged the movie by doing this, and I could not in good conscience invite you to see another movie of mine again, Daldry or otherwise.

I can’t ignore this, and I expect that you wouldn’t either if the situation were reversed. I’m really not interested in why you did this except that you did — and you must at least own that, purely and simply, you broke your word to us and that that is a deeply lousy and immoral thing to have done. If you weren’t prepared to honor the embargo, you should have done the honorable thing and said so before you accepted the invitation. The glut of Christmas movies is not news to you, and to pretend otherwise is simply disingenuous.

You will now cause ALL of the other reviews to run a month before the release of the movie, and that is a deeply destructive thing to have done simply because you’re disdainful of We Bought a Zoo. Why am I meant to care about that??? Come on…that’s nonsense, and you know it.”

24 thoughts on “Denby-Rudin Exchange

  1. JR on said:

    Rudin doth protest too much. Studios want critics to see their movies so that they can land on year end best of lists, but they also want to micro manage the information flow from independent reviewers.

    I think Rudin’s argument gives way too much credit to the role of critics driving viewer interest and box office. If film makers don’t want early leaks of reviews, they should not show their films a month before release. Pretty simple, really.

    I mean, hell, didn’t they release a freaking 8 minute trailer? They want to have their cake and eat it, too, but I am not sympathetic. If you don’t want the reviews out there early, don’t show the movie early.

  2. I don’t think anybody’s asking for or expecting a pity party. But it’s pretty cut and dried; like the Guess Who sang, “You made a promise to me yeah/you broke it/you broke it.” At least Denby should have the ….what’s Lex G’s term?…showmanship to swagger a little bit, instead of this bullshit about “grown-ups” (Jesus) and “it won’t happen again” and “David Remnick made me.” BO-ring. Try the Schwarzenegger “remember when I said I was gonna honor your embargo? I lied” routine, or get all “embargoes ain’t shit” or something. Show some BACKBONE.

    And by the way, THIS particular mistaken-for-an-insider hasn’t even seen the damn thing yet.

    Anyway, what’s worst about situations like this is they REALLY bring out the self-important clod pomposity of the likes of Poland, Thompson, et.al. While poor Jeff gets to wax all “Thunderbirds are Go!” about how the iPad version of “The New Yorker” is THE FUTURE!!!!! Yeah, real exciting!

  3. By the way, whatever one thinks of the merits of Rudin’s response to this…it’s good for the film. There’s no traction in letting it slide.

  4. I’m used to opening my New Yorker and reading a three-week past due review. I’m amazed the current issue isn’t covering Skin I Live In and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Point is, I don’t look to them for timeliness, I’m just interested in their take. It’s interesting that Denby is actually battling against this.

  5. I hate to be all Team Rudin, but… I love the way he calls Denby on his pathetic attempt to suck up to Rudin by pretending he can’t even be bothered to know the name of “We Bought a Zoo.”

  6. Maybe Rudin could care to explain how Denbys positive review published one week early “very badly damages the movie”….

  7. The really interesting reveal to those who haven’t experienced a Scott Rudin dressing down is how astonishingly plug ignorant his mode of expressing himself is. You would think from his films that he would be a literate person. You would be wrong. Blowing off college certainly worked for him, given that he did the entry level jobs that most have to suffer through when he was a teenager and therefore accelerated his trajectory, but there’s a trade-off; he can’t formulate a simple sentence in English. It hadn’t really occurred to me that Denby and his ilk would be on such first-name-basis terms with Rudin and I wonder how much stone faced inner cringing is involved in that for Denby.

  8. The disingenuous dig at We Bought a Zoo exposes Denby’s namby pamby explanation for what it is. Instead of manning up and saying, look, it is 2011. Timeliness is next to godliness. We see and movie and we should be able to write about it. Instead, he whines — there are too many movies out there. Wah! Bull. Pure bull.

  9. Denby’s justifications, outside of wanting to give each year end release a full review, are silly and brown nosing. With that said, Rudin is totally over stating the damage, if any, that an out pouring of early reviews of Tattoo will have to the film. The only way early reviews hurt a film that everyone and their mother is going to see is if they’re god awful. That means worse than the The Davinci Code’s 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. The opening weekend is assured. The legs on the film will almost exclusively be determined by word of mouth with the reviews factoring in for a small electorate of upper crust filmgoers who aren’t totally psyched about the film, but who will see anything as long as it is supposedly good.

  10. I’m officially confused.

    The “War Horse” folks seem to have had no problem with the “glowing review that wasn’t really a review but was really a glowing review” that ran WAYYYYYYY before the “official reviews” so what’s the beef here?

    Note to the folks who run this corner of the film world: Don’t play footsie every day and complain about catching athletes foot.

  11. Re Gaydos post:

    “The glowing review that wasn’t really a review but was really a glowing review”–that game was played on Steven Spielberg’s behalf by Judy Brennan in 98 re SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

    So at least Spielberg’s still okay with that kind of advance word/hype.

  12. “Kit Sung, maybe you could care to explain where “Tattoo” opens next Monday.”

    Pretty sure that any reviews are embargoed until the week of Monday the 12th… one week from today.

  13. I think Denby is behaving badly, but I also think it’s pretty fair to point a finger at the bloggers who desperately try to see movies as early as possible and then turn around and drop spoilers. They’re the ones who’ve made it all about talking about (blank) on the record first.

  14. Couldn’t they have asked for permission first and Rudin could have given him special dispensation,etc. I’m curious why they bothered doing this knowing the reaction they’d get without some sort of prior approval.Cameron Crow must be pissed. He’s the loser in all this.

  15. Aren’t film critics, at least in part, journalists? And if so, isn’t agreeing to a review embargo tantamount to sitting on a scoop? By which I mean, how do any critics justify agreeing to these embargoes?

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