a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, December 16, 2005


So I'm watching TV last night (I know, mistake number one) and a commercial comes on for the new movie version of THE PRODUCERS.

In case you've been living in a bubble, the voiceover announcer helpfully informs you that it's based on "the most acclaimed Broadway show ever."

Wait... the most acclaimed Broadway show EVER?

Now, I haven't seen the Producers on-stage, and I've heard that it's funny. But it also has a lot to live up to, since the musical was based on a classic film (something that seems to have tripped up the LA Times reviewer, who gives the new film an underwhelming review in today's paper, mostly because he compares it to the previous version of the film, though he sort of forgets to mention along the way whether the new one is particularly worth seeing on its own merits. Okay, mini-rant over).

But saying that something is the "Most Acclaimed Broadway Show Ever" is quite a claim. It's also obviously hard to prove (or disprove, making it easier for them to stick it in the ad), since "acclaim" is extremely nebulous a concept.

My best dictionary pretty much defines acclaim as "applause" or "praise", which really doesn't help much, though it does focus the scope a bit. I guess you could confirm that a show was the most acclaimed ever if you could show that it got the most applause, but even then would it be on a per-show basis? Or cumulative applause over a long run? Loudness of applause, or endurance? Is 30 seconds of applause at 80 decibels better than 60 seconds of applause at 40 decibels?

Praise is a lot easier to define. But I have a hard time imagining that the movie studio actually hired someone to sift through the reviews that every Broadway show got over the past 100-odd years, looking for the one that got the most praise. Though given the rise of internet sites, it would probably be easy to claim that on sheer numbers, acclaim would be easier to get now than in 1922.

Of course, what I'm willing to bet is that the claim that it is "the most acclaimed Broadway show ever" is based solely on the fact that it won 12 Tony Awards a few years ago, which is a record. But really, all that that means is that in 2001, it was better in most categories than its rivals; stretching this to make it the "most acclaimed ever" just feels a bit like a cheat.

It's the same thing as claiming that "Ben Hur", "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" are the most acclaimed movies ever, just because they each won 11 Oscars. Are they good movies? Sure. Most acclaimed? That's more nebulous.

And as acclaim goes, one of the best pieces of acclamation is the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which rarely goes to a musical. In fact, only one musical in the last 20 years has won it, and it wasn't "The Producers". It was "Rent".

But then again, this is the work of film promotion people, who will do anything they can get away with. Nothing like claiming you are the "#1 thriller of the week", even though your movie is tanking and isn't even in the top ten; as long as none of the movies above you are thrillers, you're golden.

And even if just 3 out of 100 critics like your film, if those three critics are spread out in Minnesota, Maine and Arizona you can claim that "critics everywhere are raving".


At 4:40 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

"The Most Talked about film of the year." I've heard that before, can't remember what movie, but I know it sucked and was bombing. Maybe people were talking about how much it sucked and it was bombing.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous mh said...

Wait a minute ... you're saying a film campaign was ... dishonest?!!!! Get out of town, sir! Get OUT!

Let us not forget the Sony campaigns of last year-ish, wherein they FABRICATED A CRITIC to give their films positive reviews. Awesome.

Nowadays, film ads just make laugh with their ridiculousness. I check out Rotten Tomatoes to get a general sense of how critics are responding, and then I try to make up my own mind about movies.

Cause really, it's all about perspective.

By the way, I enjoy your blog. You have thoughtful remarks on many aspects of this silly industry we're in. Happy Holidays --

At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The decibel scale is a log scale, so 80 dB is 10,000 times louder than 40 dB, not 2 times. And 40 dB is the approximate noise level made by people sitting in a theatre, crinkling wrappers and munching popcorn.


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

personally I didn't care for the original film so maybe the update will strike my fancy

At 11:48 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, I am the most acclaimed unproduced screenwriter ever, so there!

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may come as a shocker, but it's pretty obvious to me that you, uh, can't believe what you hear/read in ads.

One thing I find amusing, along the lines of what mh was talking about, is the continued use of a particular critic named Earl Dittman. He writes for a paper or magazine that you can't actually get anywhere, and he's famous for saying great stuff about the most widely despised movies that come out. I think has plenty of info on him and guys like him. They're quote whores. Anyway, I still see advertising for movies, right there on my tv, that quote Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine (or whatever it is). For me, it is a sure sign that the movie will suck. It cracks me up, but they keep doing it. I guess not enough people are hip to it, 'cause they keep doing it.

Oh well, love the blog Scott. You are the most acclaimed scribospherian of your generation, and I mean that in the nicest, least provable way possible!

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, I'm just wondering if anyone is really monitoring them. Pretty soon (if it hasn't happened already) movie ads will become like Donald Trump, where you can't believe a word he says because he's always hyping himself and his shows as if they are the most successful things ever.

In my mind, Jeff Craig of "Sixty Second Preview" (whatever the hell that is) has always been the biggest quote whore out there.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I always noticed some guy, Ron or Rod Burlington or something, a writer of the Mumblefuck County Gazette, popping up saying shit like "Son Of The Mask" is the funniest movie in light years! !" Or "PHAT BEACH is hilarious fun!!!"

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

A common critic's quip that I've never really focused on or gave much thought until Paula Fox pointed it out in her story "Grace"-

"...he wrote three letters to the New York Times. The first was to a noted psychiatrist who had reviewed a study of child development, calling it an 'instant classic.' John wrote: 'An instant classic' is an oxymoron. A classic is established over time, not in an instant."


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