How did you get started as a film critic?
At the UCLA Daily Bruin, where I learned newspaper criticism as a critic in film, music, art and theater.
What was your first meaningful moviegoing experience?
Watching "How The West Was Won" as a young boy in the original Cinerama process at the Pacific Warner Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. on the day after Kennedy was killed.
What was your first published review?
A Mission Viejo High School paper review of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."
What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?
Renoir's "Rules of the Game."
What movie are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I'm not the least embarrassed about any film I love, and I think any critics who are had better check themselves.
Name a film you think everybody should see.
What’s the most common question you’re asked when someone discovers you’re a film critic?
What's good out there right now?"
What’s the most controversial review you’ve written?
Is there a genre or era you have a particular affinity for?
Genres and areas of cinema: Westerns among genres, because Westerns encompass everything. Handmade cinema, from Hans Richter to Brakhage, Deren to Costa. The cinema that dissolves the phony boundary separating fiction and non-fiction. Eras: The entire silent era, the transition years from silent to sound (those half-sound/half-silent films like "Sunrise"), the Modernist breakthrough period from 1955 to 1962, the rise of Chinese independent cinema from 1995 to the present, the movement of the observational non-fiction film of the past ten years.
What is your process in approaching a review?
Take the film on its own terms, apply knowledge of the past work of the filmmakers involved, be honest and accurate, comprehend the film's intent, identify its ideas (if any), and least important, determine if it's a good/mediocre/bad film.
Do you like to discuss a movie with other critics immediately after a screening or before writing a review?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no; it depends on who's around.
What other film critics, past or present, do you admire?
Andre Bazin, Serge Dany, Jacques Rivette, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Stanley Kauffmann, Manny Farber, Kent Jones, Andrea Picard, James Quandt, Mark Peranson, Quintin, James Naremore, Kong Rithee.
What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?
No comment, stupid question.
Is there a classic film you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen?
Feuillade's "Tih Minh." And I haven't seen nearly enough early Dreyer, early Ozu or late Rossellini.
If I weren’t a film critic, I’d be a…
I'd be what I am when I'm not doing film criticism, which is a festival programmer.
In the age of digital media and blogging, where is film criticism going and where should it go?
Print critics have painted a fictitious portrait of online criticism as a vast wasteland of empty-headed nabobs spouting uninformed opinions. It's in their interest to do so, regardless of the actual complexity of the online critical landscape. There are indeed more than a boatload of idiots daily clogging cyberspace, but there are also plenty of immensely valuable and thoughtful outlets in which some of the most sophisticated and cinephilic criticism anywhere is being written and published. Among these sites include: Rouge, Senses of Cinema, Cinema Scope, La lectora provisora, Cahiers du cinema (France and Spain) and Filmjourney, among many, many others. Print outlets are steadily starved of interesting, creative approaches to film criticism, given the expectations of editors who nothing about cinema and the perennial problem with space restrictions. In no time at all, the vast majority of the most vital sources for penetrating criticism and cinephilia will be online, with print reduced to largely bland, consumerist, it's-good-it's-bad reviews.
To the public at large, what purpose does a professional film critic serve?
The public at large has no idea what a film critic does, and no sense of what purpose the critic serves.
What’s the best part of being a film critic and the worst part of being a film critic?
The best part is watching a film you find and love and having a chance to write about it. The worst part, as an American film critic, is writing in a country that displays absolutely no interest in the value of film criticism.
Name the worst sequel ever.
No comment; dumb topic.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about film critics?
That we hate movies that people love.
What would you say to the old saw that critics are frustrated artists, punishing those who do for doing?
Nonsense, because criticism at its best is an art form. Besides, the premise is wrong since criticism is never about punishment.
Are movies better because of film critics?
No, because there's no cause and effect between the two.
In your opinion, have you ever written something that had a measurable impact?
What advice do you have for aspiring film critics?
Watch as many films as possible in cinemas, study the masters and for those films you can't watch in a cinema, buy a region-free DVD player in order to play discs from around the world. Learn either French or Spanish, in order to read criticism in another language. And watch the MUBI website.
Has social media changed how you interact with your readers and has social media made the job of film critic easier or harder?
Readers are more in touch. Social media hasn't made the work easier or harder at all.
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