Jean Oppenheimer

 

How did you get started as a film critic?

I was very lucky.  I had been writing short articles -- for free – for a monthly (or was it quarterly?) newsletter published by the American Cinematheque, an organization in Los Angeles.  The editor, who was lazy, asked me to write an article that SHE was supposed to deliver to American Cinematographer (AC) magazine. This was back in 1991 or ‘92.  I got to write the article under my own name. Apparently the article was okay-enough that I was given another assignment by AC –- and I have been writing for the magazine ever since. 
I sent the AC article to the Village View, one of Los Angeles’ three weekly, “alternative” newspapers, as a writing sample (along with a few other writing samples).  The film editor hired me to conduct interviews with actors, directors, writers, etc. and write profiles/features for the paper.  I also wanted to try my hand at film reviews but the editor made me wait six or seven months before giving me a shot. 


What was your first meaningful movie-going experience?

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which I saw when I was 12 years old, and THE 400 BLOWS, which I saw at 15.  As a younger kid I loved FANTASIA and saw it nine or ten times.  I grew up in south Texas, which didn’t offer much in the way of  “cinema.”  The big, studio films played but nothing like THE 400 BLOWS or THE LONLINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, both of which I saw in summer school in Massachusetts in 1966.


What was your first published review?

ACROSS THE TRACKS, starring Ricky Schroeder and released in either 1991 or ‘92.  It wasn’t a very good film but I singled out the young actor who portrayed the central character’s brother.  The actor was Brad Pitt!  This was before he was “Brad Pitt” -- before he appeared in THELMA AND LOUISE, which is the film that first put him on the map.


What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?

There are so many!  BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE WILD BUNCH.

What movie are you embarrassed to admit you love?

I wouldn’t say “loved,” but I enjoyed a number of films that everybody else panned: 4000 MILES TO GRACELAND and THE STEPMOTHER come to mind.


Name a film you think everybody should see.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD


Is there a genre or era you have a particular affinity for?

I really like Westerns, war films (especially World War II) and films with morally conflicted heroes (or villains).


What other film critics, past or present, do you admire?

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times and Ella Taylor, who used to be with the LA Weekly, are my favorites because they are such good writers.  I don’t necessarily agree with their take on a film but I always want to read what they write.  Their use of words and turns of phrase consistently impress me.  I also admire Jim Hoberman’s work in The Village Voice.


Is there a classic film you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen?

Many, but off-hand I can’t remember what they are.

 

What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?

Jesus, there are so many!  Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS and a horrible movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal titled something like BUBBLE BOY.


To the public at large, what purpose does a professional film critic serve?

To the public at large, probably none.  But there ARE moviegoers who respect specific critics enough to go out and see a film based solely on the review.  Reviews can certainly bring attention to a film that otherwise might have fallen under the radar.  And enough praise from critics –- or certain critics –- has even been known to influence studios to keep a film in theatres longer and to allow it to grow by word of mouth, rather than dumping it after the first week.  Studios think primarily in terms of money – i.e. how much money a film makes the first weekend -- rather than in terms of quality and the potential a film has to attract an audience over time.


What’s the best part of being a film critic and the worst part of being a film critic?

The best part: going to screenings (i.e., seeing lots of movies for free).  The worst part: getting stuck seeing a lot of crap.


Name the worst sequel ever.

BABE II: PIG IN THE CITY


What would you say to the old saw that critics are frustrated artists, punishing those who do for doing?

I think there undoubtedly are critics who would like to perform -- whether it be acting, writing, directing, etc. -- but I don’t think most of them/us are trying to “punish” the people who actually have succeeded in doing so.


In your opinion, have you ever written something that had a measurable impact?

I have been told by readers – and radio listeners (I was on a local NPR film review program for more than ten years) –- that they went to a film specifically because I raved about it.  Of course, there have also been people who avoided films I liked because they don’t like or respect my views.

 

     
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