Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist


I’m not arguing with my reviews for Contraption in any specific way, but I did want to bring something up because I noticed it in the TOC review and have noticed it elsewhere as well:

“You’re a narrative archetype!” one of the actors declares to another, and Dempsey’s roles literally come with a business card.

I want to shine a spotlight on that exclamation point.


Recently, TOC critic Kris Vire (who did not review Contraption, so I’m not picking on him here) mentioned that he’d received his first contextomy–an instance of a theater company taking a phrase of negative criticism and seemingly removing the context to use it as a selling point. Now, in Kris’ case, the phrase wasn’t doctored with an ellipsis or implication brackets; it’s not as if he wrote “There are no words to describe how good Hamlet is and how truly terrible this parody production manages to be” only to see it show up on posters as “There are no words to describe how good…[Spermlet!]…manages to be.” Kris wrote a negative comment that the company decided would be considered positive by the sort of audience they wished to attract, and I personally believe that it is the company’s prerogative to do as much.

I have to ask, however if something similar yet opposite occurs when a critic completely misrepresents a line of spoken dialogue by misrepresenting its punctuation.

As I recall, the first time I saw this happen was in Salon’s review of the film 300:

Spartan he-men spout declarative sentences like “Only Spartan women give birth to real men!” and sneer at their fellow city-staters…

I’ve seen this other times since, and now it’s happened to me.

There is no exclamation point in the script for Contraption during the above-quoted line. It’s not there, and Dina does not deliver this line with an exclamation point at the end of it. It’s not written that way, and it’s not delivered that way, because it would be over-the-top and obnoxious to be written and delivered that way. I knew that. That’s why it doesn’t exist that way.

The same holds true for the line quoted in the 300 review (and is in fact spoken by Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo, not any of the “Spartan he-men,” but never mind)…the line is delivered quietly, with a steely dignity and a touch of wry smirk. It is not “declared” in the bombastic manner that the exclamation point suggests.

So I have to ask where this practice comes from. I understand that critics miss small details all the time–it’s frustrating, but I understand–but to completely mishear a line delivery seems shockingly inattentive for somebody whose job is to in fact “pay attention.” It’s either inattentive, or it’s vindictive, the action of somebody trying to make something they disliked look even worse in the eyes of their readers. Neither option speaks well of the critic in question.

Does it sell more papers to have more exclamation points peppered throughout the magazine? Is that what it is?

Sidenote: I will say that it’s perhaps the best three-star review I’ve ever read in TOC. I’ve seen four-star shows get hammered more significantly than this show did. And just when I thought I’d figured out the magazine’s mildly pretentious six-star system, in which perhaps only a production of Death of a Salesman adapted by Shakespeare, directed by Orson Welles, and starring Lionel Barrymore as Willy could ever be considered a six-star production.

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2008 by in Language, Marketing, Movies, Neo-Futurists, Society, Theatre, Writing.
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