For years Eric Childress has run a neat website entitled Criticwatch, which exposes reviewers whom he castigates as “quote whores,” tireless cheerleaders for the Hollywood studios.
He tallies those critics whose purple prose most frequently is trumpeted in movie ads. By his reckoning, the top “quote whore” in 2009 was Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, who scored 79 media mentions, a personal best.
Childress mocked Travers' effusive comments on movies such as Nine (“Dazzling”), Every Little Step (“A thrilling dazzler!”), Away We Go (“Don't let anyone spoil the secrets in this delicate dazzler”), Public Enemies (“Depp, one of the most exciting and original actors this country has ever produced, dazzles”), Duplicity (“Fun! Elegant”), and Cheri (“Elegant and witty”).
Australian critic Paul Fischer, who has often figured in Childress' infamous lists, has been exposed as an alleged plagiarist, and paid a heavy price. Fischer was 'outed' not by Childress but by Chris Parry of the Vancouver Sun.
Parry forensically examined Fischer's reviews from the Sundance festival and found that he'd lifted passages, almost word for word, from the fest's guide book. Parry pointed to the similarities in Fischer's reviews of Australian film Animal Kingdom, It's a Wonderful Afterlife and Welcome to the Rileys, which ran on Dark Horizons, and 3 Backyards, which was posted on Moviehole.
Parry sought a response from Fischer via his Twitter account but says he offered no comment and subsequently closed his account to public viewing. But Parry's report did spark a reaction from Dark Horizons' Garth Franklin, who told him: "I take charges of plagiarism very seriously and thank you for bringing this to my attention. All Paul's festival reviews have been removed from the site. After a long chat and weighing options, Fischer has decided to no longer continue press junketing and I will abide by his wishes. A few already penned interviews from Mr. Fischer are already committed to run on the site this month and will do so. Otherwise Paul has effectively retired from the junket circuit."
Parry adds that Moviehole has removed his reviews from its site. At a time when newspapers, magazines and other media outlets around the world are shedding film critics, I don't like to see anyone lose his job. But it's hard to mount a defence for what Paul did.
“There's no denying the grand old days of film criticism are long gone,” Parry observes. “Perhaps the first casualty of a newspaper industry turned on its ear by the internet, the trusty old critic, with his or her in-depth knowledge of a century of cinema, has often been seen as disposable by cost-cutting accountants thrust into positions of newsroom power.
“In their place has emerged a new kind of critic; one who is often accused of exchanging high praise for access. A flight to a film set, a buffet breakfast, a bag of swag and a photo with Tom Cruise became an easy road to a quote for the trailer, with some studio types becoming so cocky about the death of criticism that they even – infamously – created their own critics out of whole cloth, quoting people who didn't exist on TV ads.”
Sadly, he's right, and I'm suspect that as a result, many people are cynical about the quotes they see on movie ads.