Eric’s Sack of Mail: film vs. theater, ‘The Producers,’ gynecologists

It’s time to open Eric’s Sack of Mail again, to respond to e-mails I’ve received that were neither angry nor stupid, but that merit some response nonetheless.

First is this question, sent anonymously to the “Ask Eric Stuff” feature of “Snide Remarks.” Questions sent there are meant to be fodder for jokes and aren’t usually real questions that the person expects a real answer to. But this one is interesting, and it’s one I’ve been asked several times in seriousness, so I thought I’d give a reply. It is:

Do you prefer live theatre or films and why? Which is easier to review?

For me, films are easier to review for the simple fact that they are the same every time you watch them (assuming there are no problems with the projector or sound system). When there are flaws in a play, you have to consider: Is this an “opening night” problem that will be fixed by tomorrow? Was that a choice the actor made, or was it a one-time mistake? Is the entire cast having an “off” night, and if so, does it seem likely they will repair themselves for future performances, or is this probably as good as they get? All of that makes live theater trickier to review.

There’s also the fact that when you are reviewing theater, it is generally in the city where you live, and so there is the likelihood of meeting the actors and directors personally. Movie critics are generally much more distanced from their subjects, which helps them to be impartial. It’s very hard to be completely honest, either in positive or negative terms, when you have had personal communication with the participants.

As for which medium I personally prefer, it’s hard to say. I would choose movies, but only for logistical reasons: Movie theater seats are about 10 times more comfortable than most playhouse seats, and usually with more legroom. If you’re going to be seeing a lot of something, the physical comfort of the experience is not an irrelevant factor.

But the experiences tend to be very different. Live theater can have an energy that film can’t. On the other hand, movies can provide a sense of visual wonder that a play could only hint at. Maybe this tells you something: The times that I have seen a play and then seen a movie based on it, I have almost always thought the play was better.

Speaking of plays and movies, here is an e-mail from a reader named Chris. He writes:

ive been reading other reviews of “the producers” and they have all given it terrible ratings! And in my view it is one of the best films i have ever seen and it is probably the best film on offer at the moment! i was shocked at other critics views of the film and your the only one to appreciate the brilliant twisted humor of mel brooks bravo! other critics dared to call the timing and directing bad! i could of screamed! This film did not only dazel me but inspire me to see it and others on stage, if it can do it for me and other teenagers then that is surely worth a round of applause for just that! If you could see to the other critics getting some sort of verbal attack for there remarks this would also be greatly apprectaited!…..maybe not even verbal!!!!

Well, I’m probably not going to beat up any of my colleagues, but I’m glad you liked my review and the film. Stay in school and pay more attention in English class.

Finally, a reader named Alisha noticed the opening paragraph to a recent “Snide Remarks” column, which went like this: “I am a big fan of planning things. Telling TiVo to record a show as soon as it appears on the schedule, mapping out which films I’ll see at Sundance, making an appointment with my gynecologist as soon as the six-month reminder card arrives — this is like crack for me, my friends. Hot, buttered crack!”

Alisha makes this observation:

I saw the opening blurb for the most recent Snide Remarks, “French Kiss Off.” I liked the joke about a six-month exam reminder card from the gynecologist. I especially appreciated the unintentional humor, as gynecological exams are annual.

Ha! Maybe for you they are. But I like to get mine every six months, whether I need it or not.