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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. I’ve 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 Cusack’s 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 Allen’s 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 Stoltz’s Boudreau Richter, because this spoiled, dissolute, womanizing, money-borrowing, cocaine-snorting, good ol’ young man doesn’t mention a single movie in the course of the film. He’s the reviewer for the Tulsa Register — lucky him!! — but I’m sorry to say that Richter has no interest whatsoever in cinema. His influential mom (Mary Tyler Moore) is pals with the editor, and that’s how he got the job, which he is screwing up by ignoring deadlines. “I’ll have a review ready first thing Monday morning,” he promises, but that’s 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.” That’s the last we hear about it until he’s fired.

     A Slight Case of Murder, from a Donald Westlake story, is co-written by and stars William F. Macy, as a New York–based cable-movie critic. Terry Thorpe’s 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 he’s 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? They’re hopelessly negative, but at least Richter and Thorpe are scummy studs instead of the usual neutered nerds. The film critic as Superfly!


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