With becoming immodesty and good cause, Movie City News — founded by former film festival manager, former television writer and Web pioneer David Poland with managing editor Laura Rooney — announces itself as “Hollywood’s Homepage.” At almost five years old, Movie City News boasts a million visitors a week and is heavily favored by publicists whose job is to ratchet up the chatter around their movies. As you’d expect from an Internet phenom funded exclusively by film advertising, it blows hard with hyperbole, gossip by the pound, Oscar coverage by the ton, interactive backstabbing and eye-crossing, off-the-wall debates about the meaning of this weekend’s box-office stats.
You can also find a generous helping of smart and erudite discussion of American studio and indie film at Movie City News, not to mention coverage of world cinema from Armenia to Rwanda, much of it written by Poland and a small band of, he cheerfully admits, poorly paid columnists. He’s as likely to link to brainy film sites like Greencine Daily or Film Comment as he is to Entertainment Weekly, and just as quick to expound on his love for Alain Resnais or the late Kurt Vonnegut’s novels (and the terrible movies they’ve inspired), or flag articles on Nick Broomfield, Terence Davies or Aki Kaurismäki in the European press. I don’t know a critic or film journalist who doesn’t check out Movie City News at least once a day, as much for diversion as for keeping up with trends in the business. Poland cultivates a brash, combative Web persona with an appetite for the jugular of rivals and competitors, especially when it comes to the dizzying business of box-office analysis, in which his own predictions have ranged from the dead-on to the genuinely wacko.
In person Poland’s a genial, self-deprecating motormouth. “I can talk,” he says happily between forkfuls at a Santa Monica restaurant while I load my audio cassette. “I’m known as the tape-killer.”
He’s been called a lot of names, ranging from “the alpha-male of Oscar bloggers” (by Los Angeles magazine) to “a paparazzo with a Typepad account” (by one of the many youthfully irate respondents to his blog, The Hot Blog). Budd Schulberg would enjoy Poland. He has the me-first braggadocio of a Sammy Glick: “When you write as much as I do you must have a huge ego,” he says. On demand he rattles off his party piece, an oft-repeated assault on the widely held notion, which he attributes to New York Times Hollywood reporter Sharon Waxman, that the movie industry is going down the tubes.
“It’s a fallacy that kids aren’t going to the movies,” he says vehemently. “In raw dollars, the business is better than it’s ever been.”
Whether or not he’s shilling for the business on whose advertising he depends, Poland is always an engagingly contrarian read.
For sure, he’s a lot more thin-skinned than Sammy Glick. Like many people who make their living on the attack, he’s better at dishing it out than he is at taking it. Having regularly dumped all over L.A. Times Hollywood columnist Patrick Goldstein, he went public on the site with his distress when Goldstein hit back. Still, for all the bile of his well-known war with rival Hollywood blogger Jeffrey Wells — who, on Poland’s direction, was ordered out of a carful of Poland’s colleagues on the way to Sundance — he admits to a double-edged appreciation for his equally excitable enemy.
“Sometimes,” he says, “you just want to go to the circus.”