After an astounding fifty year career at The Observer — that’s fifty, 5-0 — film critic Philip French announced over the weekend that he is retiring from his position at the paper at the end of the summer. The Guardian (which owns The Observer) has the story; French will step down after filing his final column at the end of August, putting the capstone on a tenure that stretches all the way back to April 1963.
Vanessa Thorpe’s piece on French’s retirement is most worth reading for the wonderful quotes from French about his job. Like this one, on the importance of honesty in criticism:
“From time to time you may pull your punches, but not in the next round… You have to be truthful.”
Or this one, on the value of an experienced critic in a world dominated by younger voices:
“No critic should ever say they are bored. It is not enough just to understand a film; you must try to say something of interest or value.”
For U.S. readers unfamiliar with French’s work, I also recommend this sort of greatest hits piece French put together a few years ago — ten reviews of ten landmark films from his then-45 years at The Observer. From there you can find his full reviews of “The Deer Hunter,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Titanic,” which French was not a fan of (“Women and Film Critics First,” read the hilarious headline):
“Even the much vaunted special effects give the picture a woozy, surreal appearance, rather like those Malcolm Morley paintings that reproduce old picture postcards on a vast scale.Of course each generation must make its own interpretation of the event and it is perhaps a comment on our dumbed-down fin de siecle culture that the film should have no imaginative grasp on history, no feeling for tragedy, and that a banal romance should be substituted for a complex shared experience.”
Thorpe says “French’s long career will be celebrated, both in print and at a public event” later this summer. For now, I’ll honor his work by taking those five words — “You have to be truthful” — and taping them to my office wall above my computer.
Read more of “That’s a Wrap: Philip French, Observer Film Critic, Steps Down After 50 Years” and “A Life in Film.”
[H/T Movie City News]