Monday, July 2, 2007

Bell Tolls for Movie Magazines

By Gina Carbone

I wanted to be Tom Roston. Spend all day on the set of “The Lord of the Rings.” Follow up with lunch with the cast, then phone calls to other sources -- movie studios, directors, producers, writers, relatives. Then more chats with the stars. Drinking with hobbits. A road trip with Viggo Mortensen. All a preamble to multiple spreads in Premiere, my favorite movie magazine.
What could be better? Unless it’s writing incisive, witty columns like Edward Margulies’ “Bad Movies We Love” in Movieline, or reading that magazine’s in-depth profiles. If you love film, aren’t above celebrity worship and find yourself a writer, there’s something to aspire to.
And now the dream of longform movie journalism appears to be over.

Margulies died a long time ago and in my eyes Movieline never quite recovered, giving up completely in 2003 by renaming itself Hollywood Life and turning is attention to fashion and celebrity home spaces. Disappointing, but at least Premiere was still in my mailbox. The monthly jolt of cinema adrenaline I’d meet with a squeal of glee, then devour at Prescott Park or home on the couch. Intelligent, insightful, entertaining movie journalism.

In the process of one of my 100 moves in the last two years, I let my Premiere subscription lapse. About a month ago I decided I could afford to start it up again. I went to and looked everywhere for the “subscription” link, thinking they were foolish to hide it. Then lo and behold, I discover there is no more Premiere magazine. They printed their last cover this past April. A Variety article summed up the news best: “…the epitaph for longform movie journalism may well have been written. After all, in a world where movie fans can read about movies, see pictures, trailers and video, and find their theaters and showtimes online, who needs a movie magazine anymore?”

Well me, for one, but publishers act with their wallets and who’s going to pity the girl who stopped subscribing years ago?

I work at what used to be called a chain of newspapers but is now a media group. All of our talk is focused on the web site, though we currently only have a web staff of about three. It’s the future, we’re told while shaking our heads. We love to hold our news in our hands but they -- the nameless “they” we fear and desire -- are turning to the web for instant gratification and we must follow their wallets.

I sigh and complain and get wistful but have no practical defense for myself. I do still subscribe to Entertainment Weekly (the greatest beneficiary of Premiere’s print demise) but I visit virtually every day to read The Awful Truth and try to guess who is being dissed in the Blind Vice. (I don’t watch E! on TV.) The Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes have stolen the bulk of my film research time, when only a few years ago I circled calendar dates and reviews in Premiere when planning for the coming year. I’m sitting in front of my computer right now, looking up items with the help of Google, all to post a column on a blog instead of in the newspaper. But isn’t there enough room for magazines and newspapers and the internet? After all, the new iPhones aren’t going to make its owners ditch their computers.

I still have stacks of Premieres and Movielines in a box about 10 feet away from me, though I finally removed from my wall a 1990s Premiere cover photo of Ralph Fiennes. Now if I want to save celebrity pics I download them. Had “Lord of the Rings” screensavers for months.

And yet there may be a silver lining. I went to a newspaper seminar the other day on “growing your online audience” and one of the stats mentioned was that, if a reader is going to read a story at all, he or she is more likely to read the entire story -- as opposed to just portions -- if it’s online versus the newspaper. So despite all that talk about writing short because “they” have short attention spans, maybe this is the new home of longform movie journalism. Hope Tom Roston keeps going so I can see how it’s done right. I may prefer to hold stories in two hands, but as long as good writing is out there, readers like me will find it.

Gina Carbone is the features editor for Seacoast Media Group and film critic for Spotlight magazine in Portsmouth, NH.