Why study for an MA in film when you could avoid all those years of school (and all that student debt) by signing up for a Twitter account instead? Especially now that the film industry’s public relations people are increasingly drawn to advertising their films using the 140 character musings of social media users, eschewing the measured, informed, and perhaps somewhat less effusive opinions of seasoned critics.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian‘s film critic, believes that this is the way the industry winds are blowing. “It has long been movie distributors’ practice to slather their posters with adoring quotes from reviewers, along with the traditional migraine-rash of stars. But now the trend is just to use praise from regular cinemagoers on Twitter,” writes Bradshaw. In his piece, he cites a recent press release for last year’s tsunami disaster dramatization, The Impossible. The ad likely hit close to home for the critic, since it juxtaposed a quote pulled from his own review of the film with praise from hashtag-wielding Twitter users. “One of the best films I’ve seen #incredible #lovedit” typed @Browning_33. “Such a great movie, makes you look at what is actually important in life” mused @katie_m_kelly.
“Why use critics… when you can just cherry-pick the best quotes from Twitter?” asks Bradshaw. It may seem like a silly, frivolous thing to worry about—what harm, after all, can come from a studio’s PR team broadcasting @AlohaCat02?s (not his real name) already publicly stated love for This is 40 to a wider audience? A tweet proclaiming that the “This is 40‘s best part was when the emotional roller coaster came to a halt because wow what a ride” is easier to digest than A.O. Scott’s summation (“You are brought into a state of intimacy, of complicity, with characters you may find it difficult to like but who, at the same time, require constant affirmation of their goodness.”), right?
But what we’re giving up in exchange for this simplicity (because what’s simpler than someone telling you a movie that you already want to see is unequivocally “good”?) is the knowledge that there’s a real person behind the handle (a byline, an email address, a… headshot!) who’s opinion we can put some amount of trust in. “What’s to stop [PR firms] in the future setting up a few friendly Twitter accounts if praise is thin on the ground?” wonders Bradshaw, gently reminding us about Sony Columbia’s close relationship with friendly (and fictitious) reviewer David Manning. And while Bradshaw is taking this opportunity to justify his own existence as a critic here, I’d say he’s right to do so.