To whom it may concern:
In his otherwise fine piece on the decade’s best films [December 24], Jonathan Rosenbaum pointedly attacked the Chicago Film Critics Association, referring to it in parenthetical as the “Chicago Film Publicists Association.” A stinging jab, to be sure, given the organization’s questionable intimacy with the city’s major PR firms, Hess Newmark Owens & Wolf and John Iltis Asso. But I think a certain amount of clarification is in order. The casual reader may infer–I hope mistakenly–that Rosenbaum’s substitution of the word “critic” for “publicist” casts all members of the CFCA as willing cogs in the studio machinery, while he (in a remarkably self-righteous pose) stands defiantly outside of it all. Does he really mean to imply that he’s the only real film critic in town, while others–including two of his colleagues at the Reader and all the main critics from the Tribune, Sun-Times, et al.–are merely PR shills? Dealing with publicists is one of the trickier aspects of the job and, by his own admission, Rosenbaum himself hasn’t always handled it with integrity (re: the New Jack City incident, as described in Placing Movies–pp. 138-9).
Perhaps he should cut the rest of us a little slack.
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
Perhaps it wasn’t clear from the context of my remarks that my objections were specifically to the voting rules of the Chicago Film Critics Association, which favor helping publicists to promote films before they open while going along with the ban on reviewing films before they open. These questionable practices played a major role in my decision not to renew my membership in the CFCA. The New Jack City incident happened almost almost nine years ago and involved a lunatic publicist (who’s no longer alive) who used to make things difficult for several Chicago film critics, and doesn’t seem relevant. (He took me off his screening list for about a year and a half because I refused to identify the colleague who’d told me about a secret screening–which I didn’t attend. My lack of integrity in this incident involved a petty fib that hurt no one but me.)