|Hyperbole For Sale: How Earl Dittman And The Studios Have Destroyed Film Criticism
|by Chris Parry
While the population has been focused on the ‘War on Terror’ over the last few years, another war has been taking place on the streets and in the moviehouses of North America. This war, while featuring far fewer casualties, has hurt Americans terribly, and moviegoers in particular, as it has taken the number one leisure activity of the western world and turned it into a boulevard of whores, frauds, shysters and criminals. I am speaking, of course, about the War on Film Criticism. And the Osama Bin Laden of the War on Film Criticism is Earl Dittman.
We have amassed first hand evidence that Earl Dittman, film critic for Wireless Magazines and oft-quoted name in the advertising for scores of terrible movies every year, has been engaging in an ongoing and blatant fraud of the American movie-going public, selling his name to the highest bidder – or indeed ANY bidder – in return for junket trips, smooch time with actors, and a spot at the feeding trough that is the Hollywood marketing machine. And the evidence against him is not only damning, but it cuts to the heart of the Hollywood system in ways that should disgust all movie fans, and outrage state attorneys general across the United States.
There are three very distinct, very different schools of thought when it comes to the business of film criticism, something that the casual moviegoer would have absolutely no idea about, but of which they should be made very aware, because a giant fraud is taking place in Hollywood right now, and the victims of that fraud are the moviegoing public.
School of thought #1 has traditionally been that film criticism is a public service, that the critic is a movie test-driver, and that their responsibility is to nobody but their editor and to the general public, as they help us avoid wasting eighty bucks taking our tribe to an awful movie like, let’s say, The Whole Ten Yards.
School of thought #2 is that film criticism is a job, and that it allows people who enjoy watching movies to get paid while doing so, with no social responsibility included. In layman’s terms, screw you, Bubba. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and I don’t care about yours.
School of thought #3 is that film criticism is a great way to meet actors, get your name on TV, be invited to junkets and free screenings, and be given free swag while allowing studios to exploit your name and reputation in a thoroughly criminal and fraudulent manner.
THE WAR ON FILM CRITICISM:
There was once a time where those that believed in the first school of thought were the dominant force in film criticism. Scribes like Pauline Kael used acres of column inches battling to get small, non-commercial films like Easy Rider and Taxi Driver seen by the masses, simply because they were films that deserved to be seen and someone, somewhere, needed to step up to fight the good fight. Today, the situation is very different, as the studios have realized that if they can just create their own film critics, who would write what they were told to write, and heap praise on any film that was short of a quote, that the real film critics would soon find themselves de-fanged, de-clawed, largely irrelevant, and eventually unemployable. That war, between good film critics and the studios, was fought several years ago, and though the studios lost the first few battles, they eventually outlasted their opponents and scored an overwhelming victory. Film criticism, as a relevant, important aspect of the business of North American entertainment, is lost.
The first salvo in the War on Film Criticism came when Sony Pictures invented a fake critic by the name of David Manning, and plastered his ‘quotes’ all over the advertising for their films. Once Sony was busted for engaging in this fraud, they apologized and pledged to not do such things again… Meanwhile, other studios were found to be using their own employees in ‘vox populi’ TV ads, where said employees pretended they were happy movie fans who had just come out of a film and just couldn’t stop saying good things about the experience. After that little fraud was exposed came the ‘street teams’ – fans, employees, and otherwise bored teenagers who were asked to hit internet chatrooms and messageboards, talking about the ‘awesome new film’ that they were ‘really excited about’, that we could ‘check out’ by going to ‘www.trailerhere.com’.
We at this very website broke that little racket up, if only temporarily, when we tracked IP addresses of such messageboard posts back to computers at Universal.com and NewLine.com. We forwarded that information to the LA Times, who did a nice big story about the scam and managed to get a ‘kinda’ apology from a Universal executive. At the same time, we found a whistleblower who had worked at Fox and Universal and told both our writers and The Times that it was standard practice to use office temp pools for such activities after regular office hours were done for the day. “Wanna earn some overtime? Here’s your script.”
But these scams were all small time compared to the greater scam that has played out behind the scenes to destroy film criticism. After all, it’s embarrassing to engage in a scam yourselves, be exposed, and then have to apologize, or fight lawsuits, when you can do a far more effective job of destroying film criticism by allowing critics to engage in fraud for you.
THE TRAVERS LEGACY:
Peter Travers from Rolling Stone inadvertently started the ball rolling when he was allegedly encouraged by editors to help his outlet get ‘mentioned in more ads’. Travers, a usually fine writer and one who has been around for several years, certainly long enough to realize that a national glossy magazine has many alternate staffing options, did just that, heaping praise on films left and right, and always managing to find at least one quoteworthy thing to say about almost every film, even if the rest of his review was negative. Travers’ year-long flirtation with the dark side culminated in one of the most overt pieces of journalist co-option seen in the history of the entertainment business when his ENTIRE review of A Knight’s Tale was quoted across half of a full page, full color magazine ad for the film, featuring a large-font Rolling Stone logo at the very top of the ad. There was no doubt about it – in return for his heaped praise, Rolling Stone was receiving a contra kickback – a half page, full color ad that promoted the magazine as much as it did the movie.
But Travers, it seemed, never felt entirely comfortable with his ‘critic for sale’ reputation, and with his new found name-recognition soon backed away from such grandiose exploitation of his reputation… but the die had been cast. The studios had learned from the Travers experience that it was easier to co-opt film critics than it was to compete with them.
Oh sure, there are a ton of quotewhores out there now – names like Shawn Edwards, Paul Fischer, Harry Knowles, Clay Smith, Mose Persico, Larry King, Jim Svejda, Jeffrey Lyons, Bill Zwecker – but Easy Earl took quotewhoring to the level of a martial art. To borrow from his own hyperbolic style, he’s “Blatant! Unapologetic! Flat out criminal! Easy Earl is the quotewhore that other quotewhores are judged against!”
Dittman, from the oft-mentioned but seldom seen Wireless Magazines (one wonders when magazines ever had wires, but I digress), hit the scene like a freight train, cranking out quote after quote in a fashion that left established critics giggling at his hyperbole, even as they watched his outrageous quotes shift their own words off the movie pages. He sprayed literary man-love all over such critical bombs as Domestic Disturbance, Along Came a Spider, and The Mummy Returns at a furious pace, and before long his outlet was known not for its journalistic integrity or wide circulation or witty content – it was known solely as the mysterious media outlet cited as the home of the most quoted ‘film critic’ in the nation.
Dittman first came to our attention back in 2002, when he said that about half of the junkets he regularly attends are paid for by studios, though he claimed that his reviews weren't influenced by that in any way. "I love movies,” he said, “and I've always loved movies. I've taken some film classes and maybe I am just a frustrated filmmaker at heart, and maybe that's why I give filmmakers the benefit of a doubt."
Benefit of the doubt indeed. Around the same time, Dittman said of the Tim Allen clunker, Joe Somebody, “Irresistible! Non-stop laughs,” while saying of Tomb Raider, “Will have you screaming, laughing and cheering from beginning to end! It's one unforgettable adventure of epic proportions, filled with unstoppable thrills and chills. Don't miss a second of this spectacular motion picture!" A Knight’s Tale? “Simply Irresistible! A clever, cool film that breaks all the rules.” Presumably he’s referring to the scene in which medieval peasants sing the Freddy Mercury rock anthem, We Will Rock You… during a jousting tournament.
Dittman followed 2002 with a bravura performance in 2003, which included the following highlights:
View from the Top – Incredibly hilarious! Laugh packed! Side-splitting!
Boat Trip – One crazy and daring romantic comedy
The Core – Strap yourself in for the ride of a lifetime. A breathtaking, white-knuckle voyage to the center of pure, unadulterated action and excitement. An electrifying, jaw-dropping action film that will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. The Core is packed with so much red hot star power it can’t help but sizzle.
Duplex - **** Hilarious! Smart and wildly funny…you’ll love this movie!
Radio – A triumph!...radio is one of those rare moviegoing experiences that will stir your humanity and steal your heart away.
Mona Lisa Smile - 'Mona Lisa Smile' is a powerfully moving and inspiring motion picture...
Beyond Borders – This is the quintessential love story for the new millennium. A daringly original film. A bold and courageous cinematic epic, Beyond Borders will restore your faith in the strength of the human spirit and the irrefutable power of love.
You get the idea. So what’s this incredible evidence of fraud and criminal behavior that we talked about at the beginning of this article?
THE EVIDENCE OF FRAUD:
Let’s play a little game. Read the following quotes for the film Robots, and see if you can pick which one was used by the studio behind the film:
"Hysterical, ingenious and whimsical 'Robots' is an even more spectacular, computer-animated film than 'The Incredibles' ... In fact, the term 'brilliant' fails to accurately describe how wondrously witty and innovative 'Robot' [sic] really is ... a hilariously clever and breathlessly innovative work of computer-animated entertainment, 'Robots' is a visually stunning and wildly hilarious comedy for intelligent, humor-starved movie-goers ready to laugh themselves silly."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"Magical, clever and innovative, 'Robots' is a hysterical comedy inhabited by a hilarious universe filled with the funniest and most witty group of mechanical 'bots you'll ever encounter ... If you thought the superheroes of 'The Incredibles' and the ocean-dwellers of 'Finding Nemo' were humorous, you haven't heard nothing yet. The side-splitting humor of the mechanical beings in 'Robots' is worthy of a capital 'H' ... Forget 'The Incredibles,' 'Robots' is one heck of a funny animated comedy ... 'Robots' is a hilariously awesome and breathlessly inventive work of entertaining animated brilliance"-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"The ultra-hilarious 'Robots' is so innovative and wily, it propels the animated action film to a whole new dimension ... it's a computer animated comedy like no other you've ever seen ... 'Robots' is an exciting and explosive technical marvel ... 'Robots' is a spectacular, eye-popping piece of master filmmaking... You can't afford to miss a single frame of this amazing, unforgettable animated classic."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"A sharp, clever and entertaining animated adventure, 'Robots' is easily one of the most hilarious and smartest comedies since 'The Incredibles' ... Exciting, witty, outlandish and unconditionally hilarious, 'Robots' is a gut-busting and side-splitting animated hi-tech comedy that will keep you laughing from beginning to end ... You've never laughed this much at a movie before ... It's absolutely one of the most hysterical and heart-warming comedies ever conceived."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
Okay, can you pick which of those was the actual Earl Dittman quote that he supplied to the studios?
Whichever one you picked, you were right. Because Easy Earl Dittman supplied ALL of the above quotes to the studio. And more besides:
"A spectacular, breathtaking and momentous hi-tech computer-generated adventure full of unstoppable thrills and chills, 'Robots' is an animated adrenaline rush that'll keep you laughing, clapping, and cheering with excitement throughout the entire movie ... You don't want to miss a single frame of this energizing and laugh-filled animated adventure of truly epic proportions."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"It's time to move over Incredibles, because the action-packed and hysterical 'Robots' proves there's a group of mechanical beings that's even more outrageous, clever, lovable and hilarious than a family of superheroes ... An exciting and explosive piece of cinematic technological marvel, 'Robots' is absolute perfection. You'll never laugh so much and so hard at a big screen comedy ever again!"-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"Ewan McGregor is remarkable ... He's cool, lovable and downright hilarious in 'Robots' ... McGregor delivers a splendidly spirited and seemingly effortless performance ... Based on his vocal performance, it's time to crown Ewan McGregor Hollywood's newest king of comedy ... In 'Robots', McGregor exposes his remarkably keen ability to make every single joke hilarious and unforgettable ... He's a natural born comedian."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"A sure-fire Oscar winner ... 'Robots' is an exciting and explosive big screen spectacle ... The Academy Awards were created expecially for original and thrilling animated motion pictures such as 'Robots'... Filmmaking at its best, next year it deserves every Oscar it qualifies for ... Place your bets early, because 'Robots' will be an indisputable winner on Oscar night 2006 ... in other words, it's going to clean up!" -- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"Robin Williams absolutely steals the show with his hilarious, over-the-top, slapstick performance in 'Robots' ... Possessing superb comedic timing and impeccable chemistry with his animated co-stars, 'Robots' finally bears out the fact we've all known for years -- that Robin is most hysterical human being and mechanical being in the universe [sic]... Wildly hilarious, Williams is magnificent ... His performance in 'Robin' [sic] is priceless."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
"Wow! 'Robots' is absolutely magnificent ... Although there's still nine months to go in 2005, 'Robots' is such a spectacular animated film that it already deserves the Number One spot on every critic's year-end Top Ten list ... if 'Robots' is any indication of the caliber of animated motion pictures we can expect from Hollywood from this day forward, audiences are in for the best movie-going years of their lives ... Count 'Robots' as one of the funniest and brilliantly conceived computer-generated animated films of the new millennium."-- Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
That’s TEN DIFFERENT QUOTES for a single (bad) film. Ten. Not two, not three, but TEN.
Dittman sent several pages of this hyperbole to the studio, which they then in turn sent to the editors that put together several versions of the Robots trailer. One such editor was so taken aback by this fraud that he leaked them to us, along with a whole lot of information about how the studios misuse quotes and rely on junket whores who, quite often, haven't yet seen the film they're so happy to hype.
But it doesn’t end there – the quote eventually attributed to Dittman on the trailer wasn’t even one of the options he so willingly supplied. The quote that went into ads under his name was actually created by one of the trailer company producers: "Robots is more incredible than The Incredibles."
So here we have a supposed film critic who writes for a magazine that few people have ever heard of, let alone seen. He sends TWO PAGES of quotes to the studio so they can use whichever one they like, and then he places that quote in his review. The studio then decides the supplied quotes aren’t good enough, so they make up their own, and Dittman allows them to put his name to it!
The studio gets its big loud piece of hyperbole, the ‘critic’ gets his name in some ads and, at the very least, a free junket trip to LA (if not a check), and the moviegoing public who believe what they read get bent over a barrel. This sort of behavior is nothing shy of disgraceful. It’s David Manning all over again, only this time the studios found a mook who was willing to BE David Manning for them.
Dittman’s fraud is so rampant that he was quoted for two films this year (Cursed and King’s Ransom) that WEREN’T EVEN SHOWN TO FILM CRITICS!
WHEN WHORES ATTACK:
Now, of course, this sort of thing isn’t restricted to Earl Dittman. While Dittman is the dumbest and most obvious shill in the game (I mean, seriously, BOAT TRIP?!), side players like Shawn Edwards and Mark S. Allen and Paul Fischer are guilty of exactly the same thing – they just seem a little better at hiding it. Fischer is the quintessential shill – his work is so bad that he offers it for free to any website that will take it (including ours), which leaves him often quoted as being not from the LA Times or The New Yorker, but from the Dark Horizons website, where he is given column inches alongside breathless 15 year olds who managed to get into a promo screening of Waiting. Look deeper and you find that Fischer doesn’t actually do reviews for Dark Horizons, which makes his pull-quotes all the more mysterious. Is he, like Dittman, supplying the quotes without having actually written the review first?
In a word, probably. In Fischer’s earlier days in his native Australia, Fischer was often seen walking out of a press screening while the end credits were still rolling, phoning his quotes in to the distributor before he had even made it out of the building. Fischer was eventually run out of Australia when an ‘exclusive set-visit interview’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger for The Sixth Day was sold to, and printed by, two competing daily newspapers in the same city... on the same day. Oops.
Shawn Edwards, who is given TV time in Kansas City on the local FOX affiliate, where he spits his homeboy hyperbole at a blinking and largely unbelieving audience, offers up his pull-quotes in return for flights and hotel rooms during press junkets, which his station could otherwise not afford to send him to, and which are valuable enough to Fox management that they keep him in a job despite a campaign by viewers to have him removed from the air, as well as several ‘junket incidents’ which for some time had him off studio invite lists. Yet, today he remains a force in film criticism hackery, having offered up the good words on 36 different films in 2006 - two every three weeks.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
Which studios engage in this sort of behavior? Well, Robots was a 20th Century Fox film, but it would be entirely wrong to claim that Fox has cornered the market in fake film criticism. A Knight’s Tale was a Columbia Tri-Star film (though Fox was involved in the distribution, as was Sony), and as mentioned earlier, New Line and Universal have found themselves soiled with earlier scams built around fakery, as has Paramount. Dreamworks is also in the mess, having recently been discovered to have ‘favorite critics’ that they go to for pull-quotes, including the hitherto unknown Bill Bregoli, who not only loved all eight of the films released by that company this year, he loved them so much that he got quoted in their advertising for every single one.
But really, the quotewhore game relies strongly on the names Earl Dittman and Shawn Edwards more than any other. Combined, the two of them were quoted for 72 different films this year – that’s three quotes every two weeks. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can barely recall 20 good films released all year, so how is it that these morons are quoted every four or five days?
And the more you think about it, the more blatant the abuse becomes - if a movie is outstanding, like say Capote or Good night and Good Luck, the advertising usually won’t use a Dittman quote, it’ll use an Ebert quote, or an A.O. Scott quote, or an Owen Glieberman quote. So what Dittman and Edwards are actually being quoted for aren’t the best movies of the year – they’re being quoted for the middling movies of the year, or the worst movies of the year – the films that nobody else liked.
Think about it now – 72 different films in 2005 featured blurbs from Dittman and Edwards, and those didn’t even include the best films of the year!
Stealth - Jamie Foxx is at his absolute best.
King's Ransom - A gut-busting and sidesplitting comedy!
Fever Pitch - Irresistible! The perfect date movie. Drew Barrymore is absolutely enchanting. The best romantic comedy since 50 First Dates!
Fun with Dick and Jane - The most hilarious comedy we’ve seen in years.
Mindhunters - The best thriller since Seven
The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl In 3-D - Spectacular! An eye-popping, action-packed masterpiece!
Shark Boy and Lava Girl is a masterpiece? Does Earl even know what the word means?
Unleashed - ****! Electrifying!
Hostage - Bruce Willis has never been better! More electrifying than Die Hard!
Constantine - Electrifying. Bone-chilling
Venom - A spine-tingling, bone-chilling thriller.
Hide and Seek - Bone-chilling. Heart-stopping. A provocative nail-biter! It'll raise your heart rate!
The Cave - Spine-tingling...Heart-stopping...Terrifying...
Into the Blue - A heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Jessica Alba gives a knockout performance. It will leave you breathless.
Derailed - A shocking nail-biting thriller! It will leave you breathless.
At this point, Earl Dittman is just taking the piss. He's not even trying to cover his tracks, he's just exploiting the situation for as long as he can before someone, somewhere, launches a(nother) class action lawsuit against him.
He knows he’s a sham, we know he’s a sham, but the people who DON’T know he’s a sham are, unfortunately, taken in by his routine every single weekend. Families. Parents looking for a good time for their kids. People who work hard all week, and on the one night of that week that they can afford the time and money to take their family to the cinema, they open the newspaper, see a Dittman quote, and plonk down $60-$80 on an experience that is the opposite of a good time.
Earl Dittman is defrauding American moviegoers, and he’s doing so for cheap fame, some economy airline tickets, a room at the Four Seasons, a promo T-shirt, and a hefty backslap from a couple of actors and his corporate masters. And so we at Hollywood Bitchslap make this vow:
ANY MOVIE THAT IS ADVERTISED WITH A QUOTE FROM EARL DITTMAN WILL BE ANNOUNCED AS THAT WEEK’S ‘MUST AVOID FILM’ ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THIS WEBSITE.
Hollywood studios – you’re on notice. Use Earl Dittman in your advertising ever again, and we’re coming after you. We can’t stop you from using Bregoli or Edwards or Fischer or Zwecker, but you can be damn sure, with 80 writers on our staff, over a dozen radio hosts, our own internet radio station, and a very functional fax machine that sends press releases to hundreds of other film critics – film critics that CARE about their craft - we’ll hurt you if you do not heed our demand.
DITTMAN IS DEAD. LONG LIVE HONESTY IN FILM CRITICISM.
NOTE: The bulk of this article was made possible by the excellent sleuthing, research and reporting of our own Erik Childress, custodian of the Criticwatch series, from which the majority of the information above has been pulled. Erik watches the trades and major dailies on a weekly basis and compiles stats that are unparalelled in terms of accuracy in the business. All I supplied was a hefty dose of outrage and vitriole.
If you have information about a film critic that is shaming the industry, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional note: We've heard from several more people within the studio marketing system that the people who really make these trailer quote decisions are in fact advertising companies, and that the studios themselves, while complicit, keep the entire business one degree of separation away from themselves so their asses are covered.
That, as far as we can work out, covers the studio in a very minimal way, but it opens the advertising companies in question up to a major potential legal problem, as it does Mr Dittman himself. If we can confirm that Dittman has provided quotes for films he has not seen in return for favors, trips, hotel rooms or even a signed T-shirt (and thus far, the evidence we possess is pretty damning), we will present that evidence to authorities and demand they take legal action against him as a fraud, and those that would fraudulently and knowingly use his 'quotes' as support material in their advertising will find themselves also having to answer for their crimes.
That means, every time Earl Dittman is quoted for a movie from here on in, we will investigate where he saw it, what his review said, when that review was posted and when it was submitted to the company in question. And if nothing else, this article has brought us a MULTITUDE of sources, from people at the studios to people in other trailer houses and even other junketeers who, while acknowledging that what they do isn't rocket science, at least have the decency to understand that fraud is unacceptable.
We're going through your trash, Dittman, and we won't be stopping until you fade back into the shadows and stop ruining our industry.
Oh, and as for our original source, we will wait to hear from him until we decide where next to go with this story. If his actions bring about positive change in the companies in question, we're more than happy to consider all wrongs righted. But if he faces retribution for being honest with the public, then we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those taking part in this scam are exposed.
Watch this space.
link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1678
originally posted: 01/06/06 13:01:41
last updated: 04/27/06 11:25:24