For, Friday, May 29, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week this space carried a 41-year-old column that explained what a movie critic does, or is supposed to do, from the perspective of a fledgling reviewer in his earliest years on the job. This week we have a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column that ran some five months later with my responses to comments by a couple of readers. This was back in the olden days of written letters before online screeds, and when newspapers actually carried ads for movies, and when R-rated pictures could be softer than some PGs, and PG-13 had not yet been created. A gentler time, I assure you. Under the headline, ‘Critic gets some of his own medicine,’ this one was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 11, 1981. (And I’m thinking about changing my name to ‘Clifford’! What do you think?)

I don’t get a lot of mail — and that’s fine with me.

For some reason, when people want to give me a word of encouragement or praise, they call me on the phone. But when they want to violently disagree with me, they send a letter.

I don’t mind that, except that they generally send them to my bosses, to let them know what an insensitive clod I am. My bosses already know that.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a note from Gregg Olsen recently, who gave it to (Newspapers in Education chief) Sally Archer on one of her many trips to Utah schools, where she tells teachers how to use the Deseret News in classrooms.

Gregg writes: “I am interested in theater. Do you know if Clifford Hicks has any openings for an assistant? I have known a little about movie critics and I am 13 years old.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have any such openings. (I have a tough time convincing my employers that what I do is a full-time job.) But if I did, I’d call on Gregg. He’s perfectly qualified. He knows a little about critics, he’s 20 years younger than me and he’s interested in theater. In fact, he sounds better qualified than me.


Most recent letters I’ve received are self-contained and need no reply but a couple express what I consider to be common misconceptions.

The letter from a Sandy resident that ran in the “Forum” (Deseret News letters to the editor) the other day, complaining about my review of “The Watcher in the Woods,” had a paragraph deleted before it went into print.

Marean Miller wrote: “People generally can figure out from the ads in the newspaper and in the rating of a movie what they will see on the screen.”

While it’s true that exploitation movies with suggestive ads often tell the story (“Vampire Playgirls,” “The Naughty Cheerleaders”) and some major films give enough descriptive hype to let you know what you’re in for (“Halloween II,” “So Fine”), more often they are obscure. No glance at an ad for “True Confessions” or “Rich and Famous” is going to tell you enough about what the picture contains. And that’s especially true for “Raggedy Man.”

Mrs. Charles Pearce, of Alpine, recently wrote that she would rather not see R-rated ads than have to put up with those for exploitation films. She wrote, in part, “I would rather take a chance on missing an acceptable movie like ‘Ordinary People’ than have to look at this junk every day.”

I don’t like the “junk” either but eliminating all of it is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are too many worthy R-rated movies that are less offensive than PG-rated films. And as far as the ads are concerned, most of the display copy that is changed to meet our newspaper’s standards is for PG films, such as “For Your Eyes Only,” “Paternity,” “Mommie Dearest,” etc.


Often, too, the ads are completely misleading as to the film’s content. The ad for “Silence of the North” shows Ellen Burstyn on a raft, fighting a rough river. The dress she is wearing is low cut enough to reveal some cleavage — but nowhere in the movie does she wear such an outfit.

A recent ad for a horror film, “Deadly Blessing,” showed a woman with a low-cut, flimsy nightgown; the same scene in the movie had her wearing a heavy, high-collar nightgown.

Two recent horror comedies, “Student Bodies” and “Saturday the 14th,” were referred to in ad copy as “The World’s First Comedy Horror Movie” and “This Year’s Number One Horror-Comedy Spoof,” respectively. Both were, of course, ridiculous assertions.

And the list goes on and on.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, there is a need for the moviegoing public to go beyond media hype before spending their hard-earned dollars on a movie. Beyond the opinion expressed, a review also serves as consumer information. You can find out why a movie is rated R or PG and generally whether the subject and how it is handled will suit your personal taste.

You don’t even have to agree with the reviewer. But if you do — send a letter to my bosses.