EARL DITTMAN EXPOSED – Film Criticism’s Greatest Shame
By Chris Parry and Erik Childress
Posted 03/28/03 10:25:53
For years he’s been a name that was used in place of the words “hack” and “whore” by film journalists worldwide. His blurbs included in the advertising of a movie generally indicate that the film has been resoundingly trashed by all others. And some of his video-box quotes are so obviously a work-for-hire deal that you can’t help but shake your head. His name is Earl Dittman, and in our humble opinion, his profession is 'whore'. No, he doesn’t sell his sexual prowess for money, but he certainly sells his soul, having given countless quotes to the marketing departments of Hollywood film studios, and having been continually publicized and showered in gifts in return. One of only four critics in the world that didn’t despise Serving Sara (he managed to get three different quotes in the advertising campaign), and a man who claimed that The Legend of Bagger Vance was “as perfect as any film could get,” Earl Dittman is the shame of the entire film industry. And we’ve got the goods on him.
Hang in there, this article's going to be a long one.
"Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal are outrageously hilarious! Their performances are what comedic legends are made of." - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines, on Analyze That
”Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley make an irresistible screen team in this sexy, zany and over the top road movie that breaks all the rules!" – Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines, on Serving Sara
These are samples of Earl Dittman’s legacy to the movie-goers of the world. While some may strive to pull an ‘Ebert’ and win a Pulitzer for their film criticism, and others look to simply build a readership and give honest opinions to the film-going public, Dittman’s high comes from getting his name in the press of whatever upcoming movie needs a little help. And credit where it’s due, he’s really good at what he does.
"White Oleander has Oscar written all over it." - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine
"K-19: The Widowmaker is a cinematic triumph that has Academy Awards written all over it." - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
Okay, maybe his Oscar predicting needs a little help, but as far as getting his name in the trades is concerned, Dittman is peerless. Sure, a few other writers get quoted more often than Dittman (Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was quoted for 55 different films in the Chicago market through 2002, while Dittman claimed just over half that number), but for a guy who doesn’t actually have a fulltime outlet, Dittman gets a whole lot of press.
“Now that you've exhaled, it's time to groove." - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines, on How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
“Doesn’t have a fulltime outlet?” I hear you ask, “What about this ‘Wireless Magazine’?” Oh yeah, Wireless Magazine. It’s a funny thing, you know, because when we tried to find a copy of Wireless Magazine, we came up short. Couldn’t find a copy. Couldn’t find a phone listing for an office. Couldn’t find a website. In fact, when we thought about it, the concept of a movie magazine being called Wireless seemed very odd. Doesn’t the phrase ‘wireless’ generally refer to cell phone technology, or old transistor radios? Where’s the connection to movies? Doesn’t it take MANY wires to make a movie, and many more to project one?
"My main feeling about ... critics is, I would like to know where in the hell Earl Dittman from Wireless Magazine comes from!" says [CNN critic] Paul Tatara, talking about an active plugger in movie ads. "I've researched it, and I can't find [the magazine]! And Mark S. Allen of UPN? He's never met a piece of shit he didn't like! And I wish I was as positive as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone!" - Flak Magazine, October 2002
General suspicion around educated circles is that Dittman’s mag is one of those video store puff-mags that give capsule reviews about movies in a desperate effort to encourage people to rent them. You know the kind, they have eight pages, five of which are ads, and they’re printed on recycled paper and left on the counter for people to grab when they’re desperate.
This suspicion seems to be backed up when you find out that Dittman’s writing has been seen in such prizewinning media outlets as ‘Famous Magazine’ – the Canadian movie magazine sold by the Famous Players movie theaters, and Satellite Direct Magazine, the puff-rag given out to DirectTV subscribers. Here’s one of Earl’s fabulous pieces for Direct (actually the only one we could find), a yawn-worthy look back at 75 years of Oscar highlights: http://www.directmagazine.com/dirf2.htm
Now, ignore for a second that an article like this is the kind of thing you’d normally get an intern to crank out when the local hardware store pulls its 1/4-page ad half an hour before you’re due to go to print. Apparently this piece was so well received that Earl decided to reuse it - in Orbit Magazine, another piece of toilet seat reading that goes out to satellite subscribers: http://www.orbitmagazine.com/orbf1.htm
Which all brings us no closer to discovering whether Wireless Magazine actually exists. Well, maybe a little.
RoughCut's David Poland said, as far back as 1999, “This guy Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine is giving Wunder & Brewington a run for their quote crunching money. I'm told by multiple studios that Wireless Magazine is an independent magazine out of Houston, Texas. However, I can't get a phone number for any such magazine via directory assistance. There are only a couple of references to Dittman on the Web. One is a quote for One True Thing and the other is a bio he did for some music magazine. Whoever he is, he seems to like Paramount a lot these days. He is the lead quote whore for Superstar... at least I think he is. He shares the page with Lloyd Gite of Fox-TV and the way the page is designed, it is unclear which genius actually coughed up "You'll Laugh, You'll Cheer!" and "A New Queen of Comedy Is Born!" But Dittman is clearly in charge of "A warm, engaging, wildly hilarious comedy like no other." And it seems that his specialty is the multi-adjective blurb. For Double Jeopardy, it's "A nail-biter that will leave you breathless and begging for more. Stylish, Sexy, Suspenseful." There he used some really complex alliteration. Just the kind that copy writers love. But seriously, if anyone knows who the hell this guy is or if you have ever seen a copy of Wireless Magazine, let me know. After all, every dog deserves his day.”
Now, that’s some good stuff. Poland’s got his rage on and he managed to deduce the following info: Wireless is an ‘independent magazine’. Dittman is from Houston. Dittman formerly wrote for a music magazine (we checked, it was Teenage Magazine, the year was 1988, and in those days Earl Dittman was Earl Dittman Jr.). So we’re getting closer – surely Poland would have found more information about Dittman in the time since… right?
Wrong. Poland wrote this, a few weeks later: “First, I want to tell you that I met Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine this weekend. And he was charming. He was also able to answer the Quote Whore pop quiz from last week about the "More chill than The Exorcist..." blah blah blah for [the End of Days quote], because it was him. In fact, he suggested that he would have written in had a prize been offered. A classy response to a difficult position. So, hats off to Earl. Unlike certain others, he has some real perspective -- at least when talking to me -- about what his work is about.”
Translated: “I met Dittman while I was on a junket and he didn’t chew me out too much for calling him on his shit, so I’m putting my sword down. Phew!”
Talk about disappointing. Poland realizes he’s as much a junket whore as Dittman when it comes right down to it and opts against taking a stand. What a crock. And it’s just the kind of back down that film journalists are becoming famous for. At a panel discussion called “Writing The Wrongs” at the SXSW Film Festival this month, a gathering of esteemed film journalists were supposed to be put in the hot seat as to the state of film criticism today. Panel host Chris Gore, of Film Threat, started proceedings by asking for each panelist’s ‘most embarrassing moment’, then after they umm’ed and aah’ed through that tester, Gore announced he had to leave so he could interview a filmmaker. What followed was a good 45 minutes of backslapping and blame-shifting as folks like the New York Times Elvis Mitchell admitted that “the Times has no power anymore” and Joe Leydon admitted “I’m a whore and I’m proud of it.” When this writer asked when the journalists who DO have pride in their work would start policing their own industry rather than just shrugging and accepting fraud as a given, there was nervous laughter for a few seconds. Then a writer form the Houston Chonicle claimed he once wrote an piece about a junket he attended where the critics were lining up for free gifts and pictures with the stars, but that the people he named in the article wrote him ‘nasty letters’, so he doesn’t bother anymore. That was it – seven of the best known film journalists in the nation had nothing else to say on the matter, but to announce the panel was over.
I sure hope Gore got a good interview.
“Earl Dittman apparently thinks [Serving Sara] is the greatest thing since sliced bread and says so in BOTH of his quotes, subtlety separated so as to appear as two different people, on the advertisement. Who is Earl Dittman, you ask? The ad attributes his work to Wireless Magazines, whatever that is. I’m tempted to see the movie just to investigate whether or not his moniker appears in the closing credits.” - Michael J. Tittinger - Santa Monica Daily Press
Wireless Magazine had become our great white whale. A legend that some take seriously and some chortle at. We were going to end our search when we stumbled upon this… Could THIS be Earl Dittman’s Wireless Magazazine? (http://wirelessdealers.com/WIRELESS/index.htm)
No movie reviews there, in fact there’s really not anything at all bar a few articles about cell phones from 1997, but the magazine (which is basically one page on the Wireless Dealers Association’s website) gives a Houston office address. We’ve figured out that Dittman is a Houston-based writer, and surely there couldn’t be TWO Wireless Magazines in Houston? THIS IS IT! WE’VE FOUND THE WHITE WHALE!
Even if there is a print edition of the magazine SOMEWHERE in Texas (rumor has it that it does exist on paper, perhaps in Dallas), we can be damn sure of one thing – Earl Dittman is either the dumbest movie critic on the planet, or he quite honestly has the worst taste of any person you’re ever likely to meet.
”End of Days didn't get any good reviews at all. Well, actually there was one. On the poster. ‘More chilling than The Exorcist... More haunting than The Sixth Sense! It will scare the hell out of you.’ (It bored the hell back into me.) This feverish, preposterously upbeat assessment was written by, or at least typed by, or perhaps even dictated to, someone styling himself Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine.” - Excerpt of End of Days review by the London Guardian newspaper.
Let’s get this straight… End of Days is more chilling than The Exorcist? More haunting than The Sixth Sense? Come on, it’s not even close to plausible that anyone actually thinks that. Surely even the DIRECTOR of End of Days doesn’t think that.
Even dumber than Perry's ‘Three to Tango,’ this latest sit-commy exercise is sporadically funny in spite of itself - and not quite as dreadful as you would suspect from the trailers and ads that feature no fewer than three pull-quotes from Earl Dittman of ‘Wireless Magazine,’ reigning king of the quote whores.” - The New York Post
Okay, everyone has an opinion and bad taste isn’t illegal, I’ll grant you that. But Earl Dittman’s taste is SO bad, his motives SO transparent, that he was actually listed in a class action lawsuit filed against the Hollywood studios for buying favor from critics through junkets and favors.
Four individuals and a group calling itself Citizens for Truth in Movie Advertising filed complaints in the Los Angeles Superior Court a few years back, alleging that “the studios use endorsements by film critics that were given such perquisites as the focus of advertisements for the film.”
Translated: The studios buy these guys gifts and trips and they give the studios fake blurbs.
Defendants named in the lawsuit were Sony, Viacom, Artisan, AOL Time Warner, The Walt Disney Co., Vivendi Universal, DreamWorks SKG, Lions Gate Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Fox. Named as examples of this kind of junket whoring were Maria Salas of Telemundo/Gems Television, Jim Ferguson of The Dish Network/Fox TV, Jeff Craig of Sixty Second Preview, Mark Allen of UPN, Ron Brewington of American Urban Radio Network, and Earl Dittman at Wireless.
Since then, Brewington has allegedly given up the quote game altogether and Salas is no longer employed by Telemundo. Mark Allen is still going strong however, and Jeff Craig… well, there’s some question as to whether he even exists.
Apparently Roger Ebert once asked in one of his columns, “Has anyone ever actually seen Jeff Craig of 'Sixty Second Previews' at a movie? For that matter, does anyone know what 'Sixty Second Previews' is? I ask in all sincerity." In reply to that question, a former Little Rock AK radio station employee stated that his old employer used to air “Sixty Second Previews,” a daily modular program that ran for one minute. He said, “Jeff Craig is the host of the thing, but since the program comes on CD, a month at a time, he apparently hasn't actually seen most of the movies -- thus ‘previews,’ not ‘reviews.’ Still, his gushing about an upcoming movie he hasn't yet seen ends up being used as blurbs in movie ads.”
Ebert answered back by reporting that “in a magazine profile, Craig said he has employees who attend some of the movies for him, since he's too busy to see all of them himself.”
It goes on, people. Let’s take another example, that of SSG Syndicate. You might see SSG Syndicate quoted for movies from time to time (certainly not as often as Dittman) and wonder what exactly SSG Syndicate is. Well as you can see for yourself right here (http://www.susangranger.com) SSG Syndicate is actually a home-made website with some movie reviews on it. That’s all. Some old bird put up a website and that’s good enough to get quoted nationwide for a bad movie.
And it goes on – right now there’s a TV commercial for the Chevy Trailblazer – an SUV – which features a prominent quote from EPINIONS.COM! For those who’ve never heard of http://www.epinions.com, it’s a place where anyone – you, me, a ten-year-old, or a marketing department intern – can register and post a review of anything. So a random guy says the Trailblazer “burns the SUV competition” on a website that anyone can write for and that goes into a national advertising campaign? Who the heck is this guy?
His name is Bryan Carey. He lives in Kettering Ohio. He’s a software support consultant. He says of himself, “I like to travel and I am an avid lover of beer. I estimate that I have tasted around 1000 to 1200 different beers.” This apparently means he’s an authority on SUV’s. Though, to be fair to Carey, he wrote that review in August 2001, about the 2002 Trailblazer. The ad that is using his quote right now is for the 2003 model, an action that could be seen as a blatant act of dishonesty in advertising. For the proof, take a look for yourself at Carey’s review (http://www.epinions.com/content_34517913220).
But I digress. We’re here to pick on Earl Dittman, and we haven’t even started yet.
"When I see a film like Moulin Rouge and enjoy it, and people see my name on an ad and they then go see it and enjoy it as much as I did, I feel good about that," [Dittman] says. "I'm not going to be ashamed if I love a movie more than someone else." - USA Today
Sure, love Moulin Rouge all you like, Earl, that film won Oscars. But what about these pieces of crap?
MAID IN MANHATTAN: “The funniest romantic comedy of the year!”
40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS: “A sexy, fresh and wildly hip comedy!”
TOMB RAIDER: “With eye-popping action and electrifying thrills, Tomb Raider will have you screaming, laughing and cheering from beginning to end!"
WE WERE SOLDIERS: “A modern-day classic. Truly magnificent and absolutely unforgettable! Mel Gibson’s most stunning and mesmerizing performance to date.”
SERVING SARA: “Matthew Perry is delightful and outrageously hilarious. Reginald Hudlin has directed another wild and outrageous comedy.”
BOAT TRIP: “One crazy and daring romantic comedy… Vivica A. Fox absolutely sizzles.”
THE FOUR FEATHERS: “The Four Feathers is an exquisite, breathtaking epic! ****! An astounding, unforgettable motion picture which is both heroic and remarkably passionate. It is a phenomenal cinematic achievement! You will feel compelled to see it over and over again.”
SCOOBY-DOO: “You’ll howl with laughter.”
Dittman has been asked to defend himself in the past, and has even admitted that about half of the junkets he goes on are paid for by studios, but he insists that his reviews aren't influenced by this special treatment. "I love movies, and I've always loved movies," he says. "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?!?!
WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: THEY: ”A flawless, breathtaking, terror-filled thriller…A must see!”
Benefit of the doubt indeed! Remarkably, Dittman doesn’t only give quotable blurbs to movies. Check out this beauty amongst the reader’s responses to an article on Salon.Com on the dumbing down of movie critics...
“Great essay! One of the best of the year!” - Dittman, Wireless magazine
Are you KIDDING ME?!
Now around this point of the piece you might be feeling a little sorry for Earl. You might say something like “okay, the guy has no taste, but he’s just trying to get by in this big bad world. Sure, he goes to junkets, but that doesn’t mean he writes his quotes to suit the movie company… does it?”
Oh yes it does. As Erik Childress of this very site has discovered and previously written, Paramount released eighteen films in 2002. Two names show up in their film ads repeatedly - Earl Dittman and the aforementioned Mark S. Allen. Dittman was quoted for eight of those films – namely We Were Soldiers, Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears, Hey Arnold!: The Movie, K-19: The Widowmaker, The Four Feathers, Narc and Serving Sara. Allen covered seven, including Crossroads, Star Trek: Nemesis and The Wild Thornberrys.
It's important to note that we've only found four critics on the planet that didn’t hate Serving Sara, yet Earl loved it so much he got three quotes in the ad for the film. K-19 featured two quotes; a long, adulatory review from Dittman including sentences like “Harrison Ford is an extraordinary actor who gives a passionate, Oscar-caliber performance in a magnificently moving motion picture,” and the one-word blurb of “masterful” from aging CNN host Larry King. Perhaps an indicator of how lowly Dittman is valued by distributors, the poster featured only King’s quote.
Dittman also raved about how great Four Feathers was, as well as We Were Soldiers. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who loved those movies as much as our Earl – or even close to as much - yet he managed to once more find positives for the Paramount gang and they in turn hyped him to the world as an authority.
Also on Paramount’s pet list are Guy Farris (Northwest Cable News), Diana Jordan (FOX-TV) and Amy Longsdorf (Allentown Morning Call/Camden Courier Post) who were only quoted 7 times between them in 2002 - oddly, all were for Paramount titles.
So what is Earl’s game? Does he just like meeting stars and will do anything to get those free trips? Is he actively paid by the studios for his blurbs (which don’t seem to ever come from actual reviews)? And why is he so in love with Paramount films – does Paramount send him on a lot of junkets? Why can nobody find a copy of Wireless Magazine? Is it really a single webpage on the back of the Houston Wireless Dealers Association website that hasn’t featured a movie review - ever?
"Formula 51 is a high-octane, adrenaline-pumped action comedy packed with wit and style!" - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine
”How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – An endearing and witty romantic comedy packed with so much charisma the laughs never quit. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are a match made in movie heaven. Falling in love never looked so fun and exciting. - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
Men In Black II – An electrifying, laugh-filled, hi-energy experience. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are sensational! - Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazines
No, we’re not just being paranoid. Earl Dittman is a fraud. A hack. A whore. He’s in Paramount’s pocket, he’s selling quotes for gifts, and if he wants to sue us for saying so he can just go ahead and file a lawsuit. We’d welcome the exposure to what it is we have to say.
A few years ago MGM was embarrassed when a marketing memo was leaked to the press with a list of suggested quotes for journalists, among them: "In three words, funny, funny, funny," and "4 big fat stars." Some of the quotes later turned up in advertising for the Bill Murray elephant flop, "Larger Than Life." Chicago critic and President of the Chicago Film Critics Association Dan Gire alleged to this outlet last year that he once received a similar list from MGM for the 007 film Goldeneye. Gire was allegedly told that he couldn't have "The best Bond of them all" because some other ‘journalist’ had already snared it.
So why Dittman, why now? Because it’s time. Dittman is starting to get his name into glossy magazines, presumably outlets which employ editors that don’t know (or don’t care) that Dittman is a critic for sale, and we need to stamp out his brand of fraud before it becomes accepted and his fame outweighs his disgrace. In Shift Magazine (http://www.shift.com/content/11.1/459/1.html) Earl asks Vin Diesel about video games – or rather, he drops four quotes that he’d gathered on a Vin Diesel press junket into a pseudo-article that allows the outlet to announce that they have a Vin Diesel exclusive. You’ll also find him in Controversy Magazine – a Maxim-wannabe that doesn’t seem to care who writes for them, pulling the same stunt.
There’ll always be an Earl Dittman out there, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it. It’s time for the studios to be held accountable when they use an obvious whore in their press campaigns. And we aim to make it happen. Watch this space.
UPDATE! Pete Howell of the Toronto Star (http://www.dailystar.com) has run a further story on the elusive Mr Dittman, and found some interesting info. According to Howell's piece, Dittman's editor at Famous Magazine, Marni Weisz, said of the quotewhore, "I've read the criticisms about him. They're certainly not without merit, but my impression is that he's just the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. When I talk to him about movies, he obviously really likes a lot of them... It seems to come from an honest place."
This is interesting (and hilarious), but it raises more questions than it answers:
1. If Dittman really is the easiest to please film critic in the world today, doesn't that really disqualify him as being a man whose opinion can be valued? If everything is great in his eyes, then a Dittman quote truly does mean nothing, does it not?
2. Why doesn't Dittman list himself as coming from Famous Magazine? Why does he elect to go instead as the public face of Wireless Magazine, which clearly doesn't actually exist? Could Famous maybe have told him that they don't want their name associated with blurbs that tell the world how awesome the latest Matthew Perry movie is?
3. Famous, as anyone who has read it will attest, is NOTHING but complimentary chatter about whatever movie is coming out and whatever stars are in those movies. It seems apt that Dittman would get work from Famous, but when even the editor of a magazine that is clearly all about the promotion, not criticism, of the latest releases is saying that our claims against Dittman "are not without merit", then who on earth could actually defend him? If his own editor is hedging her bets, doesn't this mean Earl's not long for this business?
Now, maybe Earl Dittman is just a kind, sweet buffoon of a man who wishes he could make movies and geuninely thinks that Matthew Perry is just great. Maybe that's all there is to the situation. Maybe the guy just can't find a negative thing to say about anything showing on a shiny white screen. Maybe we'd all really like Earl if we met him on the Twister mat at a party...
Well, tough shit because he deserves our scorn.
Earl Dittman has his own press agent. He goes on studio junkets. He has quotes from his reviews included in studio advertising without actually ever publishing a review. He never says a nasty thing in the public eye about any film - ever.
And that's why, nice guy or not, he needs a career kneecapping.
Earl Dittman, like Mose Persico and Harry Knowles and Jules Asner and Joel Seigel and Larry King and Kevin Thomas and Peter Travers and Bill Zwecker and Paul Fischer, exists almost entirely to promote Hollywood movies. Any Hollywood movie. Doesn't have to be good, he just needs to get sent on a junket, and then his press agent will phone in the blurb and the paying public will be duly duped.
We know you're reading this, Earl, and just so you know, it's not going to stop any time soon. Either explain yourself to us, sue us (we'd LOVE that), or we'll just keep digging and talking and accusing and pointing.
It's not going to get any easier, Earl. The free ride is nearly over.
For more on the Earl Dittman scandal, see http://www.usatoday.com, http://www.thehotbutton.com and http://www.moviepoopshoot.com - as well as the fine piece by Pete Howell of the Toronto Star, at http://www.thestar.com