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Remembering Film Critic Richard Corliss (1944-2015)

Remembering Film Critic Richard Corliss (1944-2015)

I wouldn’t be who I am today without the recognition, insight and mentoring of Richard Corliss. I first met him when I was a wee NYU Cinema Studies grad toiling in the publicity bullpen at United Artists at 729 Seventh Avenue. He was looking for photos for Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” for Film Comment Magazine. We hit it off. He was smart and witty and loved movies and knew more about them than anyone I have ever met. But he was also curious, and always asked questions. He and then Village Voice columnist Stuart Byron and I would dish on the movie business, the box office and the Oscar race in a neverending quest to understand How Hollywood Works.

Now I will have to carry on without him. Richard plucked me from publicity, took me in at Film Comment as Associate Editor, tried to teach me how to write. He’d edit my copy, adding color and wit and sparkle that I lacked. I loved our collaboration. I was his eyes and ears and would execute the magazine in the bowels of Lincoln Center while he communicated with me on the phone; we’d have long conversations, often late at night, ranging over the breadth of film.

His passions were endless. He could expound on obscure Korean masters, the genius of the Pixar system, go toe to toe with Michael Eisner, Steven Spielberg or Jeffrey Katzenberg, and tended to lean toward style over content. He understood how movies were made, and he and his wife Mary, who was a long-time curator of the film stills archive at The Museum of Modern Art, loved hanging out with the artists behind the movies, from art directors to cinematographers. “The film is, in an old phrase, beyond gorgeous,” Corliss wrote of Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient.” “All year we’ve seen mirages of good films. Here is the real thing. To transport picturegoers to a unique place in the glare of the earth, in the darkness of the heart — this, you realize with a gasp of joy, is what movies can do.”

Corliss toiled long and hard on his pieces for Time. All-nighters were common. You don’t write as well as he did without putting in the hours. He never slacked. He was a tireless and enthusiastic workaholic. As many writers over 50 were losing their jobs in this challenging time for journalism, Corliss kept his. That’s because he could report on anything–as a business reporter on Disney, on Bollywood or other Asian cinemas for international editions, on theater, television, music, sports, yoga, or anything they threw at him. He handed in two dozen cover stories and over 1000 reviews. He was worth keeping around. “It’s not clear that Richard ever slept, for the sheer expanse of his knowledge and writing defies the normal contours of professional life,” wrote Time editor Nancy Gibbs.

At Film Comment, I loved chasing after Guilty Pleasures from the likes of John Waters, Michael Powell and Stephen King. I would do Oscar Predicts months ahead of the nominations. Labor over the annual Grosses Gloss. I got to work with such Film Comment all-stars as David Thomson, Richard Jameson and Kathleen Murphy, Michael Sragow, J. Hoberman, Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, Lee Beaupre, Harlan Jacobson and David Chute–who I fell in love with, followed to Los Angeles, and married. 

Richard and his wife Mary came to our New York wedding. I was Film Comment’s West Coast Editor for a while, but eventually moved on to staff jobs at EW, Premiere, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety, where I launched this blog. I’d see the Corlisses in Cannes every year, and enjoyed our dinners in New York, often with Dave Kehr, including a memorable one a few months back over the holidays. It was our last together. 

Check out Time for Richard Zoglin’s superb obit–“Amid the murk he sometimes had to wade through, as well as the masterpieces that turned him into an enthusi-wooziast, Corliss’s writing always glowed. And so did he”–links to Richard’s best reviews and his portrait of Ingmar Bergman, whose “The Seventh Seal” opened his eyes to film as art at age 16. When most critics were rushing out reviews at Cannes, Richard took his time and posted something worth waiting for, like this one on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” His must-read books “Talking Pictures” and  “The Hollywood Screenwriters” did for screenwriters what his friend Andrew Sarris did for directors. Richard also published monographs on “Lolita” and “Greta Garbo,” an essay to accompany the screenplay to “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” (Newmarket Press), and most recently wrote “Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (And a Few You Love to Hate).” 

I will miss my friend. My heart goes out to Mary and his family. I will always be grateful for what he gave me. And his writing stays behind. 

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