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A fake film reviewer? Now that's entertainment!

Nobody should complain about the high price of movies so long as Hollywood continues to offer the public an abundance of compelling comedies and melodramas with no admission fees. Newsweek lifted the curtain on the latest pro bono extravaganza earlier this month when the magazine revealed that some recent advertisements touting films from Sony Pictures contained quotes from a reviewer who doesn't really exist.

"David Manning" supposedly worked for the Ridgefield Press in Connecticut (a real paper), and had good things to say about several Sony releases, including "A Knight's Tale" and "Hollow Man." Newsweek deserves a standing ovation for exposing the duplicity. But anyone who claims to be shocked and outraged by such movie marketing antics should be hooted off the stage. In the words of William Shakespeare, thou "doth protest too much."

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A class-action lawsuit has already been filed in Los Angeles. Attorney Norman Blumenthal, whose firm is playing a key role, has said the purpose of the suit is to make sure Sony doesn't profit from the alleged trickery. Sounds like a laudable goal, standing up for all those innocent, trusting patrons who believe that accuracy, sincerity, and unbiased opinions are standard operating procedure in the blurb production factories.

However, if Mr. Blumenthal is truly serious about battling show-biz dishonesty, I wonder why he hasn't gone after other high-profile miscreants like the Washington Generals basketball team? After all, those guys spent years trying to deceive us into thinking they really had a chance to win each time they took the floor against the Harlem Globetrotters.

I'm not trying to sound cynical, but let's get real. Tinseltown has a long tradition of regarding the truth as a pesky impediment to the creative and promotional forces within the movie business. Script writers routinely distort historical facts to make stories more dramatic. Fake names aren't new, either. Sometimes the closing credits read "Directed by Alan Smithee," a pseudonym that allows real directors to distance themselves from celluloid turkeys.

Some of the best material about the freewheeling attitudes of past studio executives can be found in a wonderful 1986 book called "City of Nets," by Otto Friedrich. Howard Hughes would have felt right at home amid the current uproar. Instead of apologizing, I think he would have found a way to make the David Manning incident seem like business as usual. Hughes could have made a convincing case that his movies were getting so many great reviews that it was necessary to create a composite reviewer to condense the massive flow of positive stories into a manageable format.

While the film industry now lacks such colorful personalities, the endless pursuit of greed, power, and ego gratification continues to generate a steady supply of free entertainment. Watching Hollywood squirm under the glaring spotlight of bad publicity is one of the greatest shows on earth.

And you can quote me on that.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor


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