How did you get started as a film critic?
Started as a copyboy, then became an entertainment department stringer at the LA Times.
What was your first meaningful moviegoing experience?
I believe that first picture I ever saw was The Great Dictator, and I loved it--I was 4 in 1940--but the first picture I really connected with was Lady in the Dark in 1945.
What was your first published review?
November 28, 1962, LA Times. it was Tatsu, starring Toshiro Mifune.
What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?
What movie are you embarrassed to admit you love?
Big Trouble in Little China comes to mind. It may be a toss-up as to whether Sincerely Yours or Showgirls was the most unintentionally hilarious movie ever made.
Name a film you think everybody should see.
Gone With the Wind.
What’s the most common question you’re asked when someone discovers you’re a film critic?
Where do you see the movies you review?
What’s the most controversial review you’ve written?
That's easy: a positive review of Heaven's Gate. The only other reviewer who wrote an enthusiastic review, according to Michael Cimino, was a critic on a Rochester, NY paper. I stlll think I was right.
Is there a genre or era you have a particular affinity for?
Film noir, silent movies, Golden Era Hollywood, foreign films, strong American indies.
What is your process in approaching a review?
Asking myself why I liked the film--or why I didn't. Let the reader know how you feel right--or near--the top. Try to evoke the feel of the picture without getting caught up in outlining the plot. Deal with the larger issues and ideas the film raises. How cinematic is the film, how fully has it drawn upon the resources of the camera--does the film work visually? More important than performances or dialogue, actually.
Do you like to discuss a movie with other critics immediately after a screening or before writing a review?
Not at length, certainly, but it's hard not to exchange a look or at least a word with a critic who is a friend if we've just sat through a knockout--or an all-out stinker.
What other film critics, past or present, do you admire?
Andrew Sarris is at the top of my list. I admire many, many critics, but those who leap to mind include Manohla Dargis, Todd McCarthy, Myron Meisel, David Ansen, Michael Wilmington, Richard Brody, Scott Foundas. Ella Taylor, Andy Klein, Anthony Lane, Henry Sheehan.
What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?
Is there a classic film you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen?
The Sound of Music, but am not so sure I am embarrassed to admit that. Until very recently I would have had to say The Wizard of Oz but at last saw it.
If I weren’t a film critic, I’d be a…
If I weren't a film critic I would be a ribbon clerk at Woolworth"s--if five-and-dimes were still around. That's what my late friend--and Glendale High classmate--John Mahoney of the Hollywood Reporter used to say, and I cannot improve upon that.
In the age of digital media and blogging, where is film criticism going and where should it go?
As a 4th generation Californian ink-stained wretch I worry about the demise of print but accept that new media is where young people have to go--and it could be great (but probably not for me).
To the public at large, what purpose does a professional film critic serve?
To judge films as fairly and evocatively as possible. What's most valuable is to call attention to new talent and seasoned talent attaining new heights and revivals of classics. Big pictures need to be covered of course but often are critic=proof.
What’s the best part of being a film critic and the worst part of being a film critic?
Creating audiences for special or worthy films. The worst part of being a film critic? Having to put down a movie made by gifted people with the best intentions but which fails with a thud. Having to sit through trash that withers your soul.
Name the worst sequel ever.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls--and I am a big Russ Meyer fan.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about film critics?
That we're paid off by the studios if we praise a movie a reader doesn't like.
What would you say to the old saw that critics are frustrated artists, punishing those who do for doing?
Bullshit. Trying to write the best reviews you can is enough of a challenge for a lifetime.
Are movies better because of film critics?
Probably not in a general way, but when a number of critics get behind a fine, venturesome film I believe it can do some good for cinema as a whole.
In your opinion, have you ever written something that had a measurable impact?
Yes, I know for a fact that countless times I have had measurable impact on non-mainstream movies drawing an audience.
What advice do you have for aspiring film critics?
Don't even think about doing it unless you absolutely have to give it try. It has never, never been harder for film critics to get started, let alone survive.
Has social media changed how you interact with your readers and has social media made the job of film critic easier or harder?
I don't think this question has much relevance to an old-time newspaper reviewer like me.
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