Provoking the Critic

by James Haro

I, along with a good chunk of the Twitter-sphere, follow the ceaselessly intriguing, entrepreneurial, polarizing, and long winded personality that is Kevin Smith. Being a teenage boy once (the one I pretend that I am not anymore) I was very attracted to the “inappropriate,” crude, potty humor usually displayed in Smith’s films. Still a fan of the dirty stuff, I find myself ever satiated by Smith’s films to this day for the big empathetic heart which beats within all of his projects. I’m a big fan of the guy, but there is a slew of people in the movie biz (mostly the tangential ones who have blogs) that get rubbed the wrong way by Smith. Critics have been brutal in recent years, so much so that Smith has stated wanting to not allow critics screenings of his movies, saying that if they want to review it, they have to pay admission.

How Smith handles his detractors is his business. His feelings about how the movie industry operates and the loyalty of his fan base is such that he has opted to distribute his newest flick “Red State” himself . Of course this won’t stop people from reviewing his movies, but he’s taken a little bit of the power back as far as how his newest films will be released and seen by the public.

Thinking of Smith’s dissatisfaction with critics reminded me of how an artistic director here in Pennsylvania conducted himself on one less than banner night for the fellow last October. Jim Rutter, a critic for the Broadstreet Review, described the situation thusly :

“I didn’t intend to write about the Media Theatre’s production of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s musical, Jekyll and Hyde. Instead, on opening night I tagged along with my colleague Wendy Rosenfield, who went to cover the show for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Media Theatre had asked the (Inquirer) to send another critic. The theater’s complaint: Rosenfield doesn’t like melodrama, has said as much in her past articles, and the Media’s current show— as the company put it in the program—is “pure melodrama.” However, when confronted with the choice of a Rosenfield review or no review at all, well….

Unfortunately, the evening’s melodrama extended beyond the final curtain. As the actors took their bows, Media’s visibly distraught artistic director, Jesse Cline, went on stage. Grabbing a microphone from one of the performers, he advised the crowd that there was a reviewer in the audience who was “probably going to trash the show” (judge for yourself, here). If those present liked what they saw, Cline asked, would they please go out and tell a friend?”‘

But wait, it gets even LESS professional:

“Then Cline marched down the aisle to the spot where Wendy and I were seated. After admonishing Wendy for even showing up, he noticed me for the first time and expressed his disappointment that I was there as well. Wagging his finger at me, he said— exact words— “No review from you.” Then he spent five minutes berating both of us about our past reviews of his company. Waving his arm toward the now-empty stage, he wailed, “Why would you want to harm them?”

An Indiana Congressman once observed, “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Note to theatrical directors: These days ink is irrelevant. Never argue with someone who has access to the Internet— which could be just about anyone.”

Let’s play a game. Pretend you have the ability to draw a perfect circle. It took a lot of practice but finally you discover that you can do it, and you want to show someone because you are so proud of it. You find someone to share your work with. They take the piece of paper you drew on and look it up and down, taking the time to analyze all of its aspects, enjoying the symmetry and beauty of it. The person returns the paper to you with no expression. You’re curious, you ask, “What do you think?” The person says nothing else than, “This is not perfect,” and walks away. You’re incensed! “How dare he?! I oughta give him a piece of my mind.” As you start to follow after him to call him out for his obvious lack of taste and vision you look down at the paper and notice something. There is a huge smudge disrupting the line of the circle. It seems that as you handed off your perfect circle you flubbed your line, so to speak. So really, you had no one to blame but yourself.

Not any one person has the same world view, people are affected by different things in different ways. Neither critic nor producer nor artist is God sent. Critics are allowed to not see what you see, to notice the smudges. If the success of Jesse Cline’s company was hinged solely on the review of the Philadelphia Inquirer than maybe, MAYBE, there’d be just cause for his irrational rampaging. Truth is, however, that he did more damage doing what he did than just putting on the show and resigning his behavior to the professional industry standard that the rest of us endure. Do all artists and producers dream of doing this to their critics? I don’t imagine so, and the ones that do probably don’t receive very many good reviews.

Will I come out to defend all critics? No, some people are just jerks with a blog and it’s my right, as a critic of their character, to write them off as such. It’s a publication’s right to hire a professional to opine about performing arts events. It’s the right of a theatre company to refuse critics at the door, but in this dance that’s been established between critics and producing companies, that would be akin to stepping on your own two feet.  Just ask the producers of Spider-Man and the critics who have paid to review it (in it’s prior manifestation).

As far as Jesse goes, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that it was just a bad night. I don’t know the guy, I’ve never seen a Media Theatre production. We’ll see if he gives me that internship I applied for (kidding).

Kevin Smith has had it out with critics on Twitter, but never has he pulled anything quite like that.

James Haro is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking a BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog at

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