When did it become a critic's responsibility to provide the screening venue? It's bad enough that 30% of the films I cover are shipped to me on a shiny disc to be viewed in my living room. I refuse to review another movie based on a laptop 'screening.'
Part of the reason I took a shine to movies in the first place was because I liked my Hayley Mills 70 feet tall. Movies are meant to be larger than life and as such need to be viewed on a device that's larger than my head.
Home video is perfectly suited for repeat viewings, but as a critic it's important that I see a film in the same manner that my readers will. (Guess it's time to buy an iPhone.) Theatrical screenings of smaller films are cost prohibitive. I understand and have begrudgingly succumbed to DVD screeners, frequently defaced by cautionary brands. "FOR REVIEW PURPOSE ONLY!" "PROPERTY OF MAGNOLIA FILMS." "DO NOT DUPLICATE." "COPY AND WE'LL KILL YOUR CHILDREN!"
What galls me most is the implication that critics are somehow the culprits responsible for the current wave of video piracy. I want to forget 80% of the crap that passes for film nowadays, not commemorate it by peddling bootleg copies on the streets of South Park.
A friend's brother travels to China on business several times a year and always returns with a suitcase brimming with new DVD releases that he bought from a street vendor. The packaging is almost identical to what you'd find on a shelf at Fry's; in some cases there are even trailers, featurettes, and second audio commentary.
You might be able to convince me that some shmuck with a camcorder could pirate a copy of The Internship at a local multiplex, but it's doubtful that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson agreed to provide the color commentary. Wake up! The criminals work from within studio walls. Your time and money would be better spent hiring security goons to pat down colorists and editors when the 5 o'clock whistle blows rather than the press and other assorted prize pigs who show up for promotional screenings.
A request arrived with a link to review a documentary set to play for a week at Reading Cinemas Town Square. The rep was kind enough to send out a hard copy after my feelings about streaming screeners were made clear. What I received was a DVD copy that had this stamped across the anamorphic frame throughout the entire feature:
With all due respect, how much cash do you think I would have pocketed had I chose to market bootleg copies of a specialty film that very few people have any interest in viewing in the first place? More money would be spent in pressing and packaging the discs than ever would have been netted through bootleg sales.
If a distributor can afford to hire a PR firm to hype their film, then surely they can shell out the 50-cents it would cost to press a disc. Don't bitch about the cost of pressing a DVD and then drop $20 at FedEx to ship it overnight. Just glue a stamp on the envelope and stick it in your local mailbox. I'll get it in time for my deadline.
And please don't lecture me on keeping up with advances in technology. I own a good-sized flatscreen and a PlayStation with WiFi that allows me to watch the computer through my TV. 8 out of 10 streaming screeners look as if they were filmed through mud on a barber shop floor.
At the time I took the following screencaps, I had no idea they were going to be used as evidence. Please forgive the lack of synchronicity. I never did have the teeth needed to make it as a DVD Beaver. The first was taken from a streaming link, the second a DVD copy.
To makes matters worse, the streaming screener wasn't even mastered in HD, reducing the image on my 15-inch laptop to half the size. Suddenly I'm watching a film shot in Band-Aid-Vision!
Once upon a time the other 3 screening facilities at the University of Chicago's Doc Films were occupied, forcing me to project a dye transfer 16mm rental print of Donovan's Reef on the back of the office door. I'd go to hell and back to watch a movie, but I'll be goddamned if I'm going to look at another one on my laptop. Not only does it show a tremendous lack of respect for the critic, what does it say about a filmmaker so proud of their work they want it reviewed in such a cheap, shoddy manner?
I am not a publicist. If the studios want puff pieces, have them put me on their payrolls. The Reader provides more thorough film coverage than all other print and online outlets in this town combined. Duncan Shepherd started what Matthew and I consider to be a tradition in excellence by reviewing every film that gets a commercial run. While Matthew and I occasionally drop the ball, we intend on doing the best we can in order to keep that glorious tradition alive.
This boycott holds true for Allied, Landmark, Reading, Edwards, AMC, Digiplex, the Digital Gym, and even film festivals. I'm a film critic, not a laptop critic. If you want coverage you're going to have to meet me halfway by either setting up a screening or sending a DVD. No more online streaming screeners.
I put the idea of a streaming screeners boycott up for a vote at a meeting of the San Diego Film Critics Society where it was shot down by a narrow margin. The reason for the decision stemmed from not wanting the group to come across as being behind the times. If placing excellence and pride in presentation at the forefront makes me old fashioned, may I continue on in my delusional daydreams and remain forever outmoded. And so far as streaming screeners go, in the words of Ethan Edwards, "Don't ever ask me! Long as you live, don't ever ask me more."