The power of PR

The Critics Circle has just published a glossy supplement celebrating its centenary. Who knows if there’ll be such a thing as critics or arts journalists in another ten years, let alone a century from now? It goes without saying that the Internet has changed the rules of the game.  And then there’s the problem of how to fend off the ever more manipulative public relations machine. Things aren’t too bad in my end of the business — mainly, I suppose, because the financial stakes aren’t so high. But as William Russell points out in his closing essay (which isn’t online, as far as I can tell) the control freakery is definitely getting out of hand elsewhere:

Going through our records I was struck by how accessible people once were to the likes of us. Everyone who interviews as well as reviews is accustomed to the controlling diktats of the press office personnel, and even worse the vagaries of the personal publicist who sits in on the interview and lays down the law about what questions can and cannot be asked. 

Screen International was disturbed by the fact that, at a screening for UK film reviewers recently, on the document critics have to sign to be allowed to watch the following was added to the usual caveats about not running a review until the opening date: “discussion of such matters must be avoided in public places such as elevators, restaurants and restrooms, as these conversations may be overheard”. Trying to control what people do in their private lives is pushing the goal posts beyond reason.

Yes, ridiculous.

PS: Years ago, when “Pulp Fiction” came out, I found myself sitting in a press screening off Times Square, waiting for the lights to go down. (I’d been asked, at short notice, to  interview Tarantino and Travolta for a paper back home.) Then a door flew open, and a young PR strolled in and announced, in a magnificently pompous voice, that we would have to pay special attention to the dialogue, because that was where the film’s magic lay. The idea of a publicist telling me how to watch a film struck me as almost funny. But perhaps that was because I wasn’t a regular screen journalist.

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Chief theatre critic for The Times. Twitter: CliveDavisUK Facebook: Instagram: clivephotos
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