Hours after the film industry had presented itself with a victory worth celebrating — Best Film and Best Director Oscars, among others, for The Hurt Locker and Kathryn Bigelow (total score on Sunday night: Six, on top of all those Baftas and critics' honors) — its top trade publication sent out a chilling Monday morning reminder that times are still tough. "Variety has laid off its longtime chief film critic Todd McCarthy," reports Ben Fritz for the Los Angeles Times. "Neil Stiles, publisher of the Hollywood trade paper, said that chief theater critic David Rooney is being let go as well. 'We are eliminating all full-time review staff for film and theater,' he said."
According to Fritz, Variety will carry on running as many reviews as ever, about 1200 a year, but rely exclusively on freelancers and "in-house staffers" to churn them out. The move follows the publication's decision to retreat behind a pay wall, which will likely reduce readership considerably and, by extension, influence, as well as the loss of Michael Fleming, a reporter who once broke stories for Variety on a regular basis, to Deadline Hollywood. For Glenn Kenny, McCarthy was "a representation of the paper's verities, which have been coming under some scrutiny in the wake of a missing-review debacle. McCarthy, aside from being a very fine and thoroughly knowledgeable critic, was kind of an axiom; this is a cost-cutting move that will likely backfire on the publication, because the more figures like McCarthy that Variety loses, the less claim the paper has in terms of actually standing for something.'"
The post-Oscar read of the day: "Despite all the snarky comments I've been getting, both about the film itself and about the director's two acceptance speeches, I remain unrepentetly thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director and Best Film Oscars for The Hurt Locker," writes Steven Shaviro. "There are just some times when, for me at least, rampant and delirious auteurism trumps everything. I have loved Bigelow's films ever since I first saw Near Dark in 1987. My book The Cinematic Body (1993) begins with a discussion of Bigelow's 1990 film Blue Steel; and I wrote a long article on Bigelow's Strange Days (1995) for this volume. There are just certain directors — not many — who captivate my gaze, and won't let it go. Bigelow and Abel Ferrara are the only two American directors of their (and my) generation to do so."
Update: Anne Thompson has updated her story on Variety's Monday Morning Massacre so that it's now one of the most detailed accounts so far; and David Poland and the LAT's Patrick Goldstein aren't seeing much of a future for the publication.
Updates, 3/9: "Todd McCarthy is not a man Variety should have lightly dismissed," writes Roger Ebert in a terrific appreciation. "He is the longest-serving and best-known member of the paper's staff, and if they made such a drastic decision, we are invited to wonder if Variety itself will long survive."
Sharon Waxman asks McCarthy how he's doing and, "Does Variety lose its identity through a move like this?" Answer: "Personally I think it does."
Update, 3/10: "The producers of Iron Cross sued Variety on Tuesday, claiming the trade lured the indie film into a $400,000 promotion campaign with promises of Oscar attention that would lead to a major distribution deal — then trashing it all with a scathing review." Sharon Waxman reports on an across-the-board breach of the sanity clause.
Updates, 3/11: For Time Out New York, Adam Feldman talks with ex-Variety theater critic David Rooney: "[W]e all have reason to be concerned about this ongoing erosion of arts coverage."
Meanwhile, McCarthy is "in talks to go to the Cannes International Film Festival as the newest member of the New York Film Festival selection committee," reports Anne Thompson. "An official announcement is expected shortly."
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