Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Stu

A few weeks ago I heard a news report on the radio about someone bringing a lawsuit against the movie studios. The principle behind the suit, as I understand it, is essentially that the maker of a product (the studios) are deceiving consumers (moviegoers) by offering free junkets and free screenings and other perks to movie reviewers, thereby influencing the reviewers to give favorable reviews, even if the movie isn’t great. The studios are thus causing the potential moviegoers/consumers to receive faulty product information.

This is an interesting issue, one that deserves serious discussion. I will happily contribute to said discussion (serious or not) next time. In the meantime, this gives me a good excuse to reminisce about Stu.

Stu has a last name, but I am not going to mention it because Stu might have a lawyer. And, as I recently heard on the radio, people sometimes have their lawyers haul people into court. So I will omit Stu’s surname in the hope that, if he is reading this, he will think I am talking about someone else. (And maybe I am.)

Years ago, I worked in the production department of a small publishing company. One of the numerous publications I worked on was a weekly entertainment throwaway, I mean, complimentary publication, which was inserted in a weekly suburban newspaper. If you didn’t get it in the newspaper, you could also pick it up for free at many fine restaurants and cinemas. The idea was that the company sold lots of ads to the restaurants and cinemas, and then the editorial space around those ads was filled up with extremely complimentary and positive reviews about those very same restaurants and about the movies that were playing at those very same cinemas. The beauty of this system was that the publisher, John (he too has a last name, which will go unmentioned), did not have to spend a lot of money on writing talent since, in most cases, the restaurants themselves actually wrote the reviews. Not only did he save money on writers that way, but he could also be sure that the restaurants would get details like their addresses and phone numbers right.

As for the movie portion of the publication, Stu was the editor-in-chief. He was a larger-than-life character, in more ways than one. A man somewhere in his middle age, Stu wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and had a moustache. He also had a big pot belly that served as a virtual billboard, since he was always walking around in medium-size tee-shirts stretched over his extra-large torso, blazoned with the logo of some new movie. The shirts were gifts from the movie studios. He was always being flown down to Los Angeles to see press screenings of new movies and to meet the directors and the actors. Every issue of the magazine featured one or more photos of Stu standing next some big star, like Steve Guttenberg. His “reviews” were always a source of amusement to those of us in the production room, since every single review invariably declared the movie in question “the best movie” Stu had ever seen.

We sometimes speculated about whether John actually paid Stu a salary or if he just survived on all the freebies given to him by the movie studios. His diet seemed to consist of sodas and popcorn, which were probably provided free by the cinemas, as well. And he obviously never had to buy shirts. Say what you want about Stu, he was generous with his largesse. We little people were always getting passes to movies as well as the occasional tie-in product. He gave me the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers, for which I was grateful. And, thanks to him, I got to see an advance screening of Airplane!, for which I was also grateful. I also got to attend advance screenings of Can’t Stop the Music (and meet Steve Guttenberg!) and The Gong Show Movie, for which I was less grateful.

His generosity only partially made up for the fact that he was a prima donna in the production room, throwing tantrums at deadline time because everything wasn’t completely perfect and up to his standards. This from a man who declared in print that Rocky III was “the best movie” he had ever seen. Some typesetter eventually got his or her revenge (either accidentally or deliberately) when one of Stu’s reviews went to press with his name in the by-line spelled “Stud.” This was particularly funny because Stu seemed to have absolutely no relationship with the opposite sex. Instead, he always had a male teenage protégé who drove him everywhere (Stu didn’t drive) and took the photographs of Stu with the big stars. When one protégé grew too old for the job, a younger one took his place.

To be fair, there was one movie on which Stu refused to put his seal of approval. It was called The Last Married Couple in America and it starred George Segal and Natalie Wood. Some of us were looking at an outtake from the film and discussing it when Stu wandered by. To our dismay, he muttered something negative about the movie. Stunned, we asked why he didn’t like it. “I don’t like group sex,” he said. Later someone was recounting the incident, since the fact that Stu had finally seen a film he didn’t like was big news. “Why didn’t he like it?” the listener gasped. “He said he didn’t approve of group sex,” came the answer. “Actually,” I corrected, “what he said was that he didn’t like group sex.” We buzzed about that one for weeks.

Eventually, I left that company for greener pastures, but I would still see Stu’s by-line from time to time whenever I picked up my complimentary copy of the magazine. The magazine eventually died a merciful death. Later on, Stu popped up on public access cable TV with a program about movies. True to form, his on-air sidekick was the manager of a local cinema chain. The last time I saw Stu was when I went to a screening of The Gods Must Be Crazy. He was sitting in the very front row, wearing one of those too-small tee-shirts and gobbling his large popcorn and large soft drink. His eyes were glassy and dazed. I don’t think he remembered me.

* * *

In a totally unrelated note, the legendary New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael died on Monday. Before I discovered her, I thought the only point of a film review was to get information on a particular movie. She taught me that the review could be entertaining in its own right, even if you never saw the film being discussed. Because of her, that is a standard I have always tried to aspire to.

-S.L., 6 September 2001


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