No Respect? - Responses
From LA to Toronto to Austin, the e-mails have poured in from kindly film buffs responding to my plea for assistance in a recent Film Culture column. Ive been tracking down film-critic characters in narrative movies for a documentary on American criticism. I offered my limited list and asked whether readers might remember more. Remember they did, from John Cusacks critic ex-girlfriend (Joelle Carter) in High Fidelity to the knife-victim woman TV critic in the Clint Eastwood flick The Dead Pool (1988). A television watcher waxed on about a juicy 1995 episode of The Simpsons in which Springfield had a film festival and, causing Homer fits of jealousy, Marge invited to town as erudite judge and jury none other than Jay (The Critic) Sherman.
In my column, I made the ignoramus claim that only one movie ever has had a film critic as the protagonist, Woody Allens Play It Again, Sam (1972). Wrong. Readers pointed me to two other works, the straight-to-video Keys to Tulsa (1997) and the made-for-TV A Slight Case of Murder (1999). Keys to Tulsa posits the most unusual film version of a film critic in Eric Stoltzs Boudreau Richter, because this spoiled, dissolute, womanizing, money-borrowing, cocaine-snorting, good ol young man doesnt mention a single movie in the course of the film. Hes the reviewer for the Tulsa Register lucky him!! but Im sorry to say that Richter has no interest whatsoever in cinema. His influential mom (Mary Tyler Moore) is pals with the editor, and thats how he got the job, which he is screwing up by ignoring deadlines. Ill have a review ready first thing Monday morning, he promises, but thats as far as it goes. When he rubs up against an old flame (Deborah Unger), he mumbles to himself, I guess I could write my review this afternoon. Thats the last we hear about it until hes fired.
A Slight Case of Murder, from a Donald Westlake story, is co-written by and stars William F. Macy, as a New Yorkbased cable-movie critic. Terry Thorpes ambiance is more familiar: movie posters, a 16mm projector in his home, fetishized lectures he gives on his adored film noirs. He may be the protagonist but hes hardly a hero. No film critic ever is. He admits to delivering vicious reviews, and as he confesses in an aside, he once fell asleep at a screening after drinking too much and I had to fictionalize my review. Slippery ethics also lead Thorpe to cover up his involvement in the accidental death of his mistress and ultimately to bludgeon the man who is blackmailing him. Not to mention seducing the long-legged bimbo wife of a detective friend during a nocturnal screening of Gaslight in his apartment.
Am I, a critic, insulted by these two portraits of my profession? Theyre hopelessly negative, but at least Richter and Thorpe are scummy studs instead of the usual neutered nerds. The film critic as Superfly!
- GERALD PEARY