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New York Times - Film Critics

     I carped last fall about the unnecessarily offbeat choices by the New York Times for two film critic slots: A.C. Scott, a book editor at Newsday, and Elvis Mitchell, a Ft. Worth, Texas-based journalist, replacing the retired Janet Maslin. I lobbied for Dave Kehr, able veteran of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News. Months have passed,and I'd still eager to see Kehr reviewing, but I've also become a convert to both Scott's and Mitchell's writing.

     The Times strategy seems to be to keep high-brow, long-time readers appeased by Scott's intellectual command, his virtuoso vocabulary, his pedantic approach to criticism. Meanwhile, the newspaper entices the bright younger set with Mitchell's lively prose and enthusiastic devotion to popular culture. In general, Scott reviews the supposedly "important" movies, Mitchell the ostensibly "fun" ones. They're both damned good on their beats. Scott has a bullshit-detector for manipulative pictures, hard on Miramax product and a total naysayer about Erin Brockovich. Unlike the easily placated Maslin, he dares criticize more movies than he approves, as he should. Mitchell writes superbly about music films, about (he's African-American) iconic films like Shaft.

     And where does that leave Dave Kehr, after a Times bi-weekly interview column? Last winter, if you'd turn enough arts pages on a busy Friday, you'd finally come to a Kehr review. That is, until Variety editor Peter Bart's incendiary column insisting that Kehr was being used because the Times had no confidence in their two hirees. Bart's charges were probably unfounded - Times editors are said to be pleased with Scott and Mitchell - but, to my knowledge, there hasn't been a Kehr critique since.

(June, 2000)


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