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RogerEbert’s Contributors Remember ‘The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide’

RogerEbert's Contributors Remember 'The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide'

This month brings the publication of the final edition of “The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide.” The venerable critic and historian confirmed in August that the long-running book of capsule reviews would cease publication, following declining readership that inevitably came with the rise of the internet. Though Maltin will continue to publish on his Indiewire blog Movie Crazy, his guide’s end is still something worth mourning. 

We voiced our thoughts on the subject back when it was announced, but with the end of the guide this month came more opinions from other critics. RogerEbert.com asked a dozen contributors to share their thoughts on the legacy of Maltin and the book. The full article is worth reading, but here’s a few highlights:

Editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz writes about how his days as a Dallas Observer staff writer and movie guru had him answering movie questions for callers:

“What’s the name of that movie…with the guy…who’s wearing…the [expletive] hat?” one might slur into the phone, whereupon I’d elicit as many additional bits of information as I could (character names, actor names, black and white or color) then reach for Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and find the answer. Most of the people on the other end of the line didn’t seem to know that there was such a thing as a film reference guide, so they were awed by my seemingly limitless knowledge of who played what in which film released in what year… Thanks, Leonard, for making me seem smarter than I was.

Godfrey Chesire writes that the guide’s end marks the end of a movie era:

Maltin’s book offered elegantly concise descriptions of every film you might ever want to see. I might have disagreed with certain emphases or number of stars awarded, yet overall I still marvel at how solid the judgments his team of writers offered strike me. It’s a book I’ve never stopped recommending to people, and the thought that henceforth there’ll be no new edition appearing annually in bookstores is dismaying. With its disappearance, a certain era of film culture passes over the horizon.

Matt Fagerholm notes the value of writing precise, to-the-point reviews now that online criticism frequently measures at 1,000 words plus.

In this age of “more is more” online commentary, Leonard Maltin’s work is refreshingly succinct. He could summarize his thoughts on everything from ageless classics to modern hits in just a few sentences.

Glenn Kenny writes about his friendship with Maltin back in his days writing for Video Review magazine, and of Maltin’s uncommon kindness.

Leonard was Our Man In The Big Time, and on the not-frequent occasions he was in NYC to visit Video Review’s offices he never high-hatted anyone the way certain other well-known contributors were known to do. Like William K. Everson, who was something of a mentor to all of us, Leonard was just passionate about movies, particularly old ones, and he was naturally friendly, and naturally more friendly than average to people who shared his passion.

Peter Sobczynski writes about the value of having the movie guide in an era without IMDb or online review aggregators for movie fanatics.

And yet, there was once just such a time and for anyone who bore even the slightest interest in film history back then, there was. . .well, it would undergo a couple of name changes over the years, most recently to “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide,” but to most people, it was referred to simply as “Maltin.” Yes, there were other books out there that collected brief capsule reviews of films, but the one that that Maltin and his small army of contributors put together since its inception in 1969 (it would become an annual concern in 1988) was different. Despite only being allowed a few sentences at most per title (and they would try to include as many films as was possible to fit in without overwhelming the binding), the write-ups demonstrated a wit and style and sense of the history of cinema that was a rarity even back then, and which perfectly straddled the line between mass acceptability and academic rigor. 

Finally, here’s Neil Minow writing about how the book stands as not just a guide for beginners, but a reminder for veteran moviegoers that there was still plenty out there to discover.

For many years, I kept “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” on my desk at work.  The ostensible reason was an open bet with anyone who came in to see me — they could pick a page number at random and if I had not seen a movie on that page, I had to buy lunch.  I’m glad to say I never lost.  But the real reason was that I liked seeing it there to remind me of all the movies I loved and all those I had yet to see.

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