One of 'The Best Articles of 2010'
Simon Pitt |
Saturday 20th February
A new year is rather like a new slate. Everything has been wiped clean and it's time to start concocting lists of "the best million elbows of the year" and "the best films about crippled children of the decade". I was somewhat surprised, then, when I boarded a train in January to come across the advert for A Prophet, describing it as: "The Movie of the Year".
I've wondered for a long time who it is that writes film posters. Those of us with long memories will remember James Silver tracking down the origin of the quotation "brilliant": Guy Ritchie back to his best" on the poster for universally-hated Revolver. The quotation, it turned out, originated from a piece of The Sun's website, written by the PR company behind the film.
I doubt anything that nefarious has happened behind the scenes here, nevertheless, who, in their right mind, could make a poster in January calling the film "the movie of the year"? Did they not see that as even faintly ridiculous? And, even more so, who would write that in the first place? Surely they would have couched that with some degree of cynicism or caution?
Since the poster gives (albeit in tiny letters) both the critic, Toby Young, and the newspaper, The Times, I imagined this would be quite an easy quotation to track down. Toby Young, after all, is relatively famous; he is the author of How To Lose Friends and Alienate People which was itself made into a film (and, subsequently, into a poster advertising the film).
Strangely, although the quotation appears on the poster for A Prophet, it's not on the official website anywhere.
A Google search for "Toby Young" and "Movie of the Year" finds 1,250 results, making me wonder how impressive a compliment that really is.
Searching just The Times website cuts the number of results down to 4, but none of them are about A Prophet.
Searching the whole Internet and adding "A Prophet" finds 8 results. But none of them is from The Times, and, in fact, one of them is the advert itself.
Stumped, I went to Rotten Tomatoes, and looked through reviews by Toby Young, but, there are no reviews of A Prophet.
Back on The Times website, I found a list of The Best Films of 2010 but the list was written by Michael Moran, and he doesn't even include A Prophet.
Perhaps, I thought, the "year", Toby was referring to was 2009. On The Times site, I found a retrospect of the previous year's films, but that didn't include A Prophet either. A final trip to Toby Young's own website suggests he's never even written a review of A Prophet let alone called it "The Movie of the Year".
The closest I could find was a review on The Times website, not by Toby Young, but by Wendy Ide that says:
It's perhaps a little early in the year to be making such bold claims, but A Prophet, Jacques Audiard's masterful prison saga, will undoubtedly be considered to be one of the great films of 2010, if not the coming decade.
I was so bemused that in the end I contacted Toby Young, and asked him if he knew the quotation had come from. He wrote back and explained:
When I saw the film I was The Times's acting chief film critic. So the distribution company emailed me to ask me what I thought of it and I emailed them back to say, "Movie of the year." This was in December, 2009.
So the film was from 2009, and the poster has implied something different. The strange thing about this is that A Prophet has had largely positive reviews. As Young pointed out:
The Prophet [sic] is a genuinely good movie -- and I haven't seen anything better in 2010 ... yet.
It has for example, a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When a film is that well reviewed, I have to wonder why the poster makers picked such a dubious and obscure quotation for the poster. In this case, my suspicion is that it was more the result of last minute panic than cynical PR manipulation.
Still pondering about this, I then stumbled across a poster for The Lovely Bones, which proudly announced that it is "One of the Best Films of 2010".
The origin of this quotation was much easier to track down. It comes from The Sneak, the preview section of The Sun, and runs:
LAST night The Sneak saw one of the best films of ... 2010.
Obviously, one could complain that the original quotation contains an ellipsis, and is clearly being intentionally over the top in a way that the poster does not reflect, but, largely, the meaning is the same.
Sure, it is only November 2009, but your critic doubts he will see anything more astonishing, emotionally draining and life affirming than The Lovely Bones in the next year.
However, you do have to wonder what The Sun is playing at here with this fawning appreciation of the film. Of course, The Sun is fairly free to say whatever they want about the film. The article is published anonymously, by "The Sneak" so no single person can be held responsible, and, as they point out, the film isn't coming out until January 29th 2010, by which time who is going to remember a preview written in The Sun two months previously? Anyone with a memory that long and that sort of attention to detail probably isn't the sort of person they want reading The Sun anyway.
Indeed, the preview in The Sun sounds like someone trying to cosy up to a large movie corporation. There had been an embargo on The Lovely Bones for some months, and The Sun was one of the first few newspapers to provide details of the movie (along with The Guardian, which had a slightly less positive take on it).
The Lovely Bones had a budget of $70 million (most of which must have gone on tea and coffee because it certainly didn't go on the script or special effects), which isn't particularly special for a Hollywood film. But the budget for marketing, on the other hand, was $85 million.
The sort of people who have that much power and influence aren't the sort you want to fall out with, especially since they're giving you advance previews of films, and so, it seems, The Sun dutifully provided them with a quotation they could stick on the poster.
Strangely, newer posters for the film have changed the quotation, so that "One of the best" is in large letters, and then, in much smaller letters underneath it says "films of 2010".
They realized, it seems that the praise was so over the top that it reduced credibility. You're left now, when glancing at the poster, wonder what it is that the poster is "one of the best" of.
The title of this article, as some of you may be wondering contains the quotation "best articles of 2010". This quotation comes from a conversation I had with myself earlier on this week: "Well," I said, "it's probably one of the best articles of 2010 about quotations on the posters of A Prophet and The Lovely Bones that I've seen so far." Obviously I tidied that up a bit for the title.