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"Another winner!"

Recently I was reading the article “The Cobra” by Tad Friend in the  January 19 “New Yorker” and stopped dead in my tracks at this quote from Sony Screen Gems’ Clint Culpepper : “Most critics are not the target audience for most of the films being made today, so they’re not going to respond to them. How a fifty-six-year-old man feels about a movie aimed at teen-age girls is irrelevant.”

My first reaction was, holy shit, how did this guy know how old I was? Did he have my social security number, too? Then I calmed down, suppressed my solipsistic paranoia, and pondered the statement. I had to agree with Culpepper that as a 56-year-old critic I probably didn’t know what teen-age girls wanted. Heck, I didn’t know what they wanted when I was teenager myself. But who does? Probably not even teenage girls themselves. Culpepper, though,  apparently knows what they want. More importantly, he TELLS them what they want, spending $40 million or so on each movie on advertising and marketing to convince them that they absolutely must see “Made of Honor” or “The House Bunny.”

No, movies are not made for  film critics, who regard their role as tiresomely explaining why they think a film is good or bad, regardless of the age or gender of whomever is watching it. They are indeed irrelevant, unless, of course, they are fictitious, like David Manning,  an imaginary reviewer made up by the marketing department of Culpepper’s own Sony Studios in 2001, who despite his non-existence was blurbed for such films as “Hollow Man”  (“One hell of a scary ride!”) and “The Animal”(“Another winner!”). Unlike those of his real-life counterparts, however, Manning’s pronouncements turned out to have clout, so much so that when those who attended movies based on the figment’s recommendations learned about the deception, they successfully brought a class action suit against Sony and were awarded $5 apiece.

And not only are critics irrelevant when it comes to the movie business, but so, too, apparently, are adult women. “Particularly once they reach thirty,” writes Friend, “these women are the most ‘review-sensitive’: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.”   Unless, once again, they are themselves inventions of the studio market department, as when Sony in 2000 put one of its own 30+ female employees in a TV ad  for “The Patriot” and had her gush that it was “the perfect date movie!” And she should know.

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