Register Tuesday | June 25 | 2019

Swagariffic

An open letter to movie-studio marketeers

Dear Senders of Superfluous Promotional Goods:

Heartfelt thanks to you, NASA, Lockheed Martin, IMAX and Tom Hanks for the Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D Moon Survival Kit. The freeze-dried ice cream was tasty and brought back fond memories of middle-school field trips. Okay, it did make me a little sick, but that’s the authentic experience, right? I’d better pace myself and save the moon-rock jelly beans for later. Maybe I’ll wash them down with some Tang, pre-mixed in an adorable, if impractical, astronaut-shaped water bottle. The 70 mm film can was a nice touch, by the way, and so sensible: what better way to contain all these goodies and tote them around? To be honest, it’s a little big for toting around; and to be a little more honest, it’s a lot big for fitting on my desk. But I’ll figure something out, and—oh, was there a press release in there? Sorry, I totally missed that. Whatever; I’m sure I’ll like the movie. I mean, do I even really need to see the movie?

Anyway, you’ve been so kind—you always are. Despite what people think, the movie critic’s life can be lonely and glamourless, but one perk is the love we feel from promotional companies, made manifest in your swag. All that merchandise rained down upon us from your generous souls; it touches us. The hats, T-shirts, stuffed animals, posters, pens, coffee mugs, nonperishable foodstuffs and countless weird little toys... well, maybe not toys, exactly—you can’t really do anything with most of them—but they’re cute and tied in to the movies somehow. Like the wrench that came for Dodgeball. Or thebottle of Visine and the sleep mask for Red Eye. Or the Exorcism of Emily Rose greeting card that screamed when we opened it. Spooky! Maybe the Inside Deep Throat mouse pad wasn’t so clever, but it was functional. It’s like this: When you review books, they give you books. When you review movies, they give you crap. Big studios—big hearts, we like to say.

Really, you’re spoiling us. When I said I was hoping for an Audi A8 and pair of nickel-plated .45s in preparation for Transporter 2, I was only half joking. But I wasn’t disappointed, I swear. And this fall, wrapped up in my Just Like Heaven cashmere scarf, I’ll be such a dandy! Which reminds me: when Capote comes out, I could really use a nice martini shaker. I never got one from Swingers—which is totally cool, no biggie. Just an observation. Yeah, you’re on it, I know you are. And hey, I know this’ll sound weird, but is there any way that, for the first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, you guys could hook me up with a wardrobe? It doesn’t have to be, like, some magical portal to a fantasy world or anything like that—I’m just trying to get my apartment set up. Believe it or not, movie critics don’t make serious bank.

What, is that too much? Oh, I see. I’m asking a lot. I’m the unreasonable one. Well, I have to tell you, as the shit piles up on my desk, I’ve started to wonder: What does it cost for you to develop all this stuff, produce it and ship it to us? And then ship it to us again because we’re on your press list twice and you still haven’t corrected that in spite of our frequent requests to do so? One Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo press kit in a giant condom wrapper is enough, honestly—we don’t need two. And yet, when we ask for, say, a screener tape—you know, a copy of the actual movie we’re supposed to be reviewing—you get all cagey and stingy about it. What’s the matter, did you max out the Fed-Ex account distributing all the swag? Or is it just that you’re afraid for us to see the movie because you suspect it sucks?

I mean, for crying out loud, when colleagues tell me about the There’s Something About Mary hair gel or The Aviator urine jars, really, why shouldn’t I believe them? Dave in my office still has that bar of Fight Club soap sitting on his computer. Really, what am I supposed to do with all this crap? I am a grown man, for Christ’s sake. And even if I had children, and I brought this junk home to them, they’d tell me it was time for me to get a real job.

However cheap and low-grade the junk is, it’s still a waste of money—and so are the labour hours you yutzes spend checking up on us to make sure we aren’t selling this garbage to kitsch-collecting shut-ins on eBay. Yeah, the Anchorman bobbleheads might make us a few bucks, but most of this rubbish we couldn’t give away. And believe me, we’ve tried. It’s all just so wasteful—your swag budgets alone could be used to finance, what, five independent films? Ten? Or, I dunno, to finance some fucking hurricane relief in New Orleans. How about that? Why don’t you take your goddamn water bottles and pens and snack packs and take them to where they might be useful. There, I said it.

Forgive me. Oh, my, forgive me. Listen, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. You’ve been so generous. I’m wearing the scarf right now. I don’t want to tell you how to do your job.

Actually, now that I think about it, your job must be really hard. I mean, coming up with just the right item, and then coming up with five or six other ones. Not all movies make it easy for you, either. Like, whatever are you going to do for Jarhead, the ex-Marine’s memoir of the Gulf War? Or what about Spielberg’s Munich, about the Mossad agent avenging the murders of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics? That’s due just before Christmas, isn’t it? Would little plastic car bombs with blinking lights, or maybe chocolate hollow-point bullets, make good stocking stuffers? Or is that crossing a line, do you think? I don’t know, you’re the experts—just keep doing what you’re doing. I’m sure whatever you come up with will be great—I look forward to it. Oh yeah, and to the movies too.

Yours truly,

Jonathan Kiefer

Jonathan Kiefer is Maisonneuve’s film flâneur. His column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by Jonathan Kiefer.