Film Critics and Flagrant Elision of Ellipses

Posted on June 19, 2006

New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood examines the growing trend of quoting film and theater critics' reviews wildly out of context.

SAW the show. Hated it, I'm afraid. Said as much, in 800 meticulously chosen words. But lo! Open the paper a few mornings later, and there, for the world to see, is an artful distillation of my review, all those paragraphs pared down to their essence. Well, their essence according to the advertising and marketing specialists hired by the producers. In big type liberally laced with exclamation points, readers would learn that, in fact, "I loved this play!!" Shocking, I know!

Yes, the art of selective quoting is one of the oldest games in the hype business, and readers are generally wise to it. Ellipses are not a good sign, and if an advertisement features quotes from critics pruned to just one word ("Brilliant!" - Joe Schmo; "Powerful!" - Betty Burns), chances are good the foliage surrounding them is less fragrant with affection.

*****

A new tactic seemingly on the rise is the Flagrant Elision of Ellipses. Last spring I reviewed a new play about Peggy Guggenheim called "Woman Before a Glass." The notice was markedly tepid. I called the show, among other things, "a big chunk of theatrical costume jewelry." Undaunted by my faintest of praise, the ad mavens scoured the review for positive - or even neutral - wording and strung together the following: "A trip to the Promenade Theater introduces us to the sensational history of Peggy Guggenheim, performed vigorously and meticulously by the formidable Mercedes Ruehl. Smoking, drinking, name-dropping, art, men and the men who make art. Some shindig, no? A trip to Venice! (Italics, and most punctuation, theirs.)

You know you're a desperate ad maven when you use a quote like A trip to Venice! to somehow indicate that the critic thought the play was as fun as a trip to Venice. Isherwood is right: the quote makes it sound as if he writes all his reviews in a Virginia Woolf-like stream of consciousness diabribe. How annoying.


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