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The Gutting of the Cinematical Brand

[Updated post with audio below. Original post follows.]

The first paid online writing gig I ever applied to was for a movie blog called Cinematical. In April 2007, I wrote an application to then-Managing-Editor Kim Voynar at the Weblogs Inc. website, before the huge blog network was acquired by AOL. A week or two later, I sent a follow-up e-mail to Kim, who said she’d never received my application, and also that there were no openings available for the site.

I didn’t let the sweet, sweet sting of rejection stop me, though. I wrote for a movie website called CHUD, and in late 2007, I began podcasting with two fellow movie nuts. Our podcast was later acquired by /Film, which I currently call my online film home.

Still, I’ll always remember the prestige and joy that that Cinematical held in my mind. In a time when “blog” was a word that wasn’t nearly as widespread as it is today, Cinematical seemed like the perfect blend of edginess and respectability, of energy and expertise. Even the name seems to roll of the tongue and signify how fun and lively writing about movies can be. The site has had its ups-and-its downs over the years, but under the guidance of people like Erik Davis, I felt like it really came into its own in the past year or two.

That’s why I was apprehensive when I first heard in September that they’d be merging with moviefone, another AOL property. From AOL’s perspective, the move makes complete sense. Why maintain two separate movie-related properties when you can achieve synergies by merging them together? And Cinematical still remains intact, with many of the same voices and the same great content (the URL still functions but directs to a Moviefone branded landing page, along with the Cinematical branding underneath. The effect is mildly confusing).

Still, I was dismayed this week when I saw movie advertisements quoting people from Cinematical as being from “Moviefone.” In my opinion, this is the clearest sign that Cinematical, as a brand, is on the decline (Just the other day, Olivia Wilde also identified the site as Moviefone, when thanking it for its glowing Tron Legacy review). Again, I understand completely why AOL would want this to be the case. EVERYONE knows what Moviefone is (didn’t we all see that Seinfeld episode with its delightful parody of the ubiquitous service?), and having that immediate name recognition has to help when you’re printing out posters or airing commercials. Unfortunately, few outside of our world know what Cinematical is (ditto /Film). The fact that Cinematical’s brand can be unraveled with one sweep of the corporate pen is a chilling reminder of the dangers of having a corporate overlord, although I can’t say it’s that much easier roughing it as an independent site. 

While I know that the folks at Moviefone put out great content, that name will never mean the same thing to me at Cinematical does. Back in the day, it was on the frontier of a revolution surrounding the way movies are written about and covered. And it stood for so much of the good stuff that warms my heart and energizes me.

It will be missed.

Update: I have spoken with Cinematical editor Erik Davis about this post to get his perspective. Here’s audio of our conversation: