Richard Corliss (1944 – 2015): Critic as everyman

by Glenn Lovell

Richard Corliss, TIME mag’s longtime film critic, has passed away at age 71 from a stroke. He was easily one of the most authoritative yet least pretentious reviewers to occupy the aisle seat. Unlike pundits Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, known for their labyrinthine tangents, Corliss conversed easily with the reader as reliable friend. And thanks to TIME’s notorious space constraints, he mastered the pithy, precisely crafted three- to four-graph review that still somehow left us feeling satisfied.

I always found myself flipping through the back of TIME to get Corliss’s take on the latest by Scorsese (he loved “GoodFecorlissllas”) or Richard Linklater (ditto “Boyhood”), and he never disappointed in either erudition or analysis, cynical disdain or clever wordplays. Along with Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times, he was one of the only critics to sound off against the obscenely bloated “Titanic,” writing, “Ultimately, Titanic will sail or sink not on its budget but on its merits as drama and spectacle. The regretful verdict here: Dead in the water.” (He also slammed the Coens’ brilliant “Fargo” as mean-spirited, but, hey, we all have our blind spots.)

And when something caught his eye, he sang it praises like no one else. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” he wrote, “towers over the year’s other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If good directors accept Tarantino’s implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in.”

Corliss, writing in Film Comment, on the depressing state of his profession:

“The long view of cinema aesthetics is irrelevant to a moviegoer for whom history began with ‘Star Wars.’ A well-turned phrase is so much throat-clearing to a reader who wants the critic to cut to the chase: What movie is worth my two hours and six bucks this weekend? Movie criticism of the elevated sort, as practiced over the past half-century by James Agee and Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, J. Hoberman and Dave Kehr — in the mainstream press and in magazines like ‘Film Comment’— is an endangered species. Once it flourished; soon it may perish, to be replaced by a consumer service that is no brains and all thumbs.”

You can sample many of Corliss’s reviews at RottonTomatoes.com

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One Response to “Richard Corliss (1944 – 2015): Critic as everyman”

  1. thinman Says:

    Thanks for that post. I looked forward to his Time reviews. I read this in THR yesterday & the ‘articles you might like’ list next to it included an item about EW’s Owen Glieberman being let go. Difficult days for film criticism. I am glad the Internet is a forum still. The THR article included a very touching comment by Todd McCarthy & an anecdote on how he credited some cowriters for a story.

    Like

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