The price of Variety

Posted by · 3:11 pm · February 26th, 2010

Roy Scheider in Iron CrossEver heard of “Iron Cross?” Don’t blame yourself if you haven’t: a Nazi revenge drama from freshman director Joshua Newton, opening in theaters next week, it appears to be notable principally for being the last film of the late Roy Scheider.

Newton, however, had such high hopes for the film that he talked investors into a $400,000 ad campaign in Variety, enough to buy daily For Your Consideration ads in the trade paper from November to the end of nomination voting in January. Following this, Variety itself selected the film for its screening series aimed at Academy members, alongside far more illustrious awards contenders.

Must be good, right? Well, Variety’s own critic Robert Koehler didn’t think so in his damning review of the film, which he denounced as “preposterous” and “hackneyed,” among other choice adjectives. A slightly embarrassing result for a film the paper had previously boosted, but as Gawker’s John Cook reports, Variety solved the problem quite easily — by removing Koehler’s review from their website altogether, after “Iron Cross”‘s producers complained.

The moral of the story appears to be that $400,000, plus a little nagging, can buy you a clean critical slate from one of the industry’s foremost tastemakers.

I don’t call myself a full-time critic, but as someone who takes the task of reviewing films seriously, I don’t see any way in which Variety can be excused on this incident. No individual can claim to speak for an entire organization, but when a publication approves a critic to review a certain film, they are putting their trust in that person’s point of view — whether it’s in or out of step with the critical majority, or the hopes of the film’s marketing team.

Joshua Newton is well within his rights to feel dissatisfied with Koehler’s review, but he cannot feel entitled to favorable treatment simply because of a publicity investment, as he clearly does in this stroppy email that Cook dug up — wherein he complains that the “sneaky” Koehler isn’t the “top staff journalist” originally assigned to write the Variety review, that “his actions were sneaky and he must have known that his review would compromise our Variety campaign.”

To state the obvious, reviews and advertising space are not related. They’re managed by different departments, and there’s no need for them to work in sync. “The Hurt Locker” was negatively reviewed in Variety back in September 2008, but somehow managed to cope with that and run ads in Variety to this day. One bad review doesn’t mean everyone at Variety is against your movie, just as a healthy publicity profile in the paper doesn’t automatically mean everyone is behind it. Shame on Variety for not standing by their critic in this instance.

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

11 responses so far

  • 1 2-26-2010 at 3:37 pm

    ScreenSavour said...

    Absolutely inexcusable. If I were Koehler, I’d resign in protest and take myself elsewhere (although it’s an understandably shitty situation he’s in, considering critics were the target of so many layoffs last year and simply having a job, let alone a critic’s position, is a true luxury).

    I will say that this attitude (“but we paid for something!”) is quite prevalent among advertisers. As a former journalist I can attest to the fact that local businesses often become upset when something didn’t go their way within the pages. Once a prominent pizza restaurant failed to land “Best Pizza In Town” in a reader poll and faulted our newspaper for not making them the “best” pizza in town after all the advertising dollars they’d spent with us.

  • 2 2-26-2010 at 3:59 pm

    Matthew Starr said...


    I attend the Variety Screening Series every year in NY. I missed this one but my friend saw it and did not like it. I was wondering what it was doing screening as part of this series.

  • 3 2-26-2010 at 4:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I just have to link to Devin’s story at CHUD, which has, quite frankly, the greatest headline of all time:

    “Variety Caught in Boffo Payola Scandal – Trade Ankles Ethics?”—TRADE-ANKLES-ETHICS/Page1.html

  • 4 2-26-2010 at 5:26 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    What really steams me is Joshua Newton’s assertion that Koehler was “sneaky” and “tricked” Variety into publishing the review. That is so cowardly and speaks volumes of his character.

  • 5 2-26-2010 at 5:27 pm

    Fitz said...

    Variety doesn’t have credibility? Shocker!

  • 6 2-26-2010 at 5:56 pm

    Jessica said...

    Now this incident, to me, is far worse than The Hurt Locker‘s “EmailGate.”

  • 7 2-26-2010 at 6:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...


  • 8 2-27-2010 at 12:07 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Nine was pretty awful too. I didn’t see anyone pull any reviews from that film.

  • 9 2-27-2010 at 5:21 am

    aspect ratio said...

    The most bizarre part about the whole thing has to be that they did it for a little piece of shit straight-to-video film. I could somewhat understand it if a director like James Cameron was making demands, or a big studio was threatening to stop advertising in Variety (not that it would make it any more okay), but why on earth would they bow to some hack director and a film no one gives a shit about? It’s not like this guy is so likely to be a big ad revenue in the future, and assuming the $400K was contractually agreed upon, there’s no reason for them to bow to any demands.

  • 10 2-27-2010 at 6:08 pm

    red_wine said...

    Positive reviews can be bought, I’ve definitely heard about these things. Specifically for a local paper where the critic also sometimes interviews actors and other people from the movie. Some of the actors complained that how could the critic interview them before the movie came out and then thrash their performance in his review.

    The paper published some positive reviews because the revenue generated by peddling some exclusive content relating to these “stars” was too much to piss them off with a negative review of their movie.