Fairfax film critic Schembri and the mystery of the Twitter time machine

Yesterday I sat down to eat my lunch and noticed something weird unfolding on Twitter. It appeared to be a kind of surreal online performance piece in which I was unwittingly cast as one of the key players.  Bizarrely, the words “Luke Buckmaster” and “time machine” were mentioned 10 separate times in a flurry of online activity that began shortly after 1pm and was still going nine hours later.

It all began with a scary movie. Last Friday I wrote a story about how Fairfax film critic Jim Schembri spoiled the ending of Scream 4 by revealing the identity of the killer in the opening sentence of his review. Youch.

Like many other people, I read his review online last Thursday and was surprised that such an experienced film journalist had broken one of the cardinal rules of film reviewing: you don’t give away the ending.

But in a strange twist, the copy on each Fairfax website had changed come the morn and the print version of the review published in The Age the following day was different too. Schembri’s critique was now spoiler free.

That’s odd, I thought, so I emailed him at 9.12am Friday and asked him to comment on the changes. I sent him the original and the altered content and wrote:

Could you please (comment) on how that change came about? Was the first version a mistake — i.e. an earlier draft of the review — or did you intend to reveal the killer’s identity? Your response would be greatly appreciated.”

Schembri did not respond to me but went on Twitter shortly after and wrote the following: “Scream 4: ALERT — We do NOT give away the ending of the film.”

By this time he had already generated disgruntled tweets from Scream fans understandably miffed that he’d ruined the ending of the movie. But this tweet — in which he appeared to suggest that his review had never contained a spoiler — sent the Twitterverse into a tizzy.

You DID give away the ending, and you’ve changed the wording since. I read your original review last night,” wrote one. ”It was in the first line of the review! Changing it after the fact does not alter Google cache,” said anotherAnd another: “absolutely spoiled it for my friend Laura yesterday. Great to alter the review, but gross to lie about it.” And another: “what was your motivation behind revealing the killer initially? I sincerely would like to know.” And there were many, many, many more.

I published my story approximately four hours after I contacted him — you can read it here — which provided, thanks to the power of Google, proof that the copy of his review had changed, though neither I nor the numerous people who read his original review would have needed such verification. After all, we saw it with our own eyes.

I wasn’t the only one to write about #Schembrigate. Glenn Dunks, of the popular blog Stale Popcorn, wrote:

… you could imagine my surprise and shock when a prominent Melbourne-based, but nationally published in Fairfax newspapers such as The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, film critic — a very big fish in this rather small pond — went and announced who the killer was within the opening sentence of his review! I immediately went to Twitter and Facebook and announced this abhorrent unprofessional act.”

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Categories: Journalism, Online, Print

7 Responses

Comments page: 1 |
  1. film critic tiff
    life goes on

    by Steven McKiernan on Apr 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm

  2. Luckily Jim is not national…just a couple of small audiences in Melbourne and Sydney…oops forget his 400 twitter followers

    by Pete from Sydney on Apr 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

  3. Agreed, you shouldn’t give away the ending of ‘Scream4’ and then deny that you did it. You should give away the ending and be proud about it, at hopefully stopping some people from wasting their time and money on it.

    The Age published its review of Scream 4.on Thursday written by Jame Wilson.

    by wayne robinson on Apr 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  4. online community may remember for some time”. I’ll say! I still remember his review of Frankenstein lamenting that it wasn’t a patch on the Boris Karloff version… not a hint of knowing the Mary Shelley original, which the Branagh version more closely followed. What a dill.

    by on Apr 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

  5. This link was posted on the pure poison blog at the beginning of the month;-

    It’s become one of my favourite stories and i think it sums it up nicely.

    by Gareth Perkins on Apr 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm

  6. Is 1300+ words on this little spat in the film world really relevant for the wider Crikey readership? Keep it on your blog!

    by Koshka on Apr 19, 2011 at 3:46 pm

  7. What they find harder to accept is somebody who doesn’t admit they made a mistake and instead engages in a bizarre performance the online community may remember for some time.”

    Quite possibly the biggest overestimation of a) the significance of the event and b) the half-life of events that happen on the internet.

    Sorry to be snarky.

    by Tom on Apr 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

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