On March 14, the Boston Phoenix closed. Last fall, the print weekly switched from traditional newspaper to glossy, having merged with a sister Boston magazine (see a comparison here). While the Phoenix saw a temporary rise in national ads following the redesign, this wasn’t sustained; the lack of ad revenue has been cited as the major reason for the publication’s shuttering.
Its closing is a sad sign for the world of film criticism. The Phoenix spawned a number of top critics over the years, from current critic Peter Keough, who’s now out of a job like many of his generation, to Janet Maslin, now a film and lit critic for the New York Times, who began her career as a rock critic at the Phoenix.
Others who got their start there include The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean and David Denby, The Orange Country Register’s new critic Michael Sragow, New York Magazine’s David Edelstein, Salon’s Scott Rosenberg, NPR critic Ella Taylor, screenwriter Stephen Schiff, EW’s Owen Gleiberman, LA’s Henry Sheehan, Film Comment and ex-LA Herald Examiner scribe David Chute, Charles Taylor, Stephanie Zacharek and Steve Vineberg.
In fact both of Boston’s alternative weeklies, like New York’s Village Voice, provided a proving ground for some of the best film critics of the past few decades. The long-defunct Real Paper fostered my one-time mentor, the late Village Voice columnist Stuart Byron, Newsweek’s David Ansen, rock critic Jon Landau, Myron Meisel, the late Kathy Huffhines, EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, author David Thomson (“The Biographical Dictionary of Film”), Mike Wilmington (Movie City News), film biographer Patrick McGilligan and Gerald Peary, who directed the must-see history of film criticism For the Love of Movies.–and also wrote for The Phoenix, right up to its last issue.
The Phoenix and sister weekly The Real Paper also served as a model for director Joan Mickin Silver and one-time Phoenix writer Fred Barron’s entertainingly scruffy “Between the Lines,” starring the young Jeff Goldblum, John Heard and Lindsay Crouse (mother of “Girls” star Zosia Mamet).
Point is, these weeklies gave critics room to develop their voice and find a local following. Today’s up-and-coming critics are alive and well on the internet. Who are the strongest voices of the next generation?