MAYBE I’M NAÏVE about the workings of the legal system, but I keep wondering why no-win cases keep coming to trial. I’d define a “no-win” case as one that’s so embarrassing for all parties that they should pay whatever it takes to make it go away. Like Disney vs. Ovitz or Katzenberg vs. Eisner.Or last week’s case — Warner Bros. vs. Lieberfarb. What sort of hubris would motivate Time Warner to pursue this so far? Reduced to simplest terms, here’s my understanding of this case: A guy named Warren Lieberfarb, who’s principally responsible for bringing the DVD to Hollywood, gets his ass fired as head of Warner Home Video. There’s disagreement about the reasons. Lieberfarb was aggressively advocating that studies be made about merging theatrical and video marketing and distribution. The Warner Bros. management didn’t like his proposals or his style. In departing, Lieberfarb claims he was promised a big bonus by the previous Daly-and-Semel management. After the AOL merger, however, he was told he’d have to accept stock options instead. That’s the rub. The options turned out to be devoid of value. Lieberfarb insists he and other Warner execs were deceived by management about corporate problems focusing on AOL. He wants a $30 million payout. Time Warner says, “See you in court.” Really? Do the Time Warner attorneys really want to face a parade of witnesses come November consisting of all the executives the company wants to forget who will be testifying about all the issues the company also wants to forget? I can already hear the attorneys and corporate hierarchs at Time Warner whispering in my ear that I don’t understand the case. Maybe I don’t. But I have a bigger question for them: Mindful that Hollywood loves sequels, do they really want a sequel to Katzenberg vs. Eisner?
* * *Confounding crix Do editors ever critique their critics? That’s a question I’ve often been asked over the years, and the answer is: no and yes. No, because it’s inappropriate for editors to second-guess a critic’s opinion of a particular work. Yes, because editors (me included) sometimes become exasperated with a critic’s overall bias, real or perceived. At the Cannes Film Festival I admit to being a tad impatient with a couple of my Euro-based critics for being overly protective of “auteurs” from their particular countries. Several films of marginal artistic worth which will never be seen outside the festival circuit were greeted with unstinting praise. In the same vein, I caught the newly opened “Billy Elliot” in London last week. Variety‘s critic greeted the show with a fusillade of words like “maudlin” and “lazy,” with Elton John’s music described as its “weakest link.” This caught me off guard, since, in my opinion, “Billy Elliot” will clearly rank as one of the best musicals of its generation. Not since the opening of “The Producers” has a show left its audience on such a high. The job of critics is to deliver their opinions, to be sure, but it is especially troubling for Variety critics to appear disdainful of “audience” shows. Throughout the history of the theater, the biggest hits have been met with critical disdain, from “Abie’s Irish Rose” to “Mamma Mia.” Over the span of its 100-year history, Variety critics have often pointed up the commercial potential of major blockbusters while acknowledging their artistic shortcomings, but we’ve made some bad calls, too. In the face of all this, the role of the editor is to encourage, cajole and now and then bark. As for critics, I empathize with those who candidly admit they have overdosed on certain genres, and thus remove themselves from the critical fray. Such is the case with Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, who was reduced to rhetorical spasms last week after seeing one Lucas film too many, “Star Wars: Episode III.” It was the preachments of Yoda that sent Lane over the top. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” was one example of Yoda’s “reptilian smugness we have been encouraged to mistake for wisdom,” writes Lane. “What’s with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book … Break me a fucking give.” Now that’s a critic with battle fatigue.