When I was in college, I asked another student what she wanted to do when she graduated and her answer was that she wanted to be a film critic.
“You want to review movies for newspapers or magazines?”
She corrected me. “No, I don’t want to be a film reviewer. Reviewers respond to movies they watch for an audience who may be undecided about seeing the film. A film critic writes for an audience who will appreciate a deeper understanding of what they’ve already seen.”
Film critic Richard Corliss died yesterday.
He was both a movie reviewer and a film critic. Before my fellow student alerted me to the difference, Corliss was the first film critic to influence my outlook on movies. As a teenager, and then as a college student, I was a subscriber to "Film Comment,” a glossy magazine about movies, published 6-9 times a year. Corliss was not only a writer and the managing editor (from 1970 - 1982), he was the guiding visionary behind thoughtful writing about film that evaluated the output from Hollywood, but placed a special emphasis on European cinema as well.
One of my favorite annual articles in the magazine written by Corliss featured a recap of the previous year’s offerings, not a list of "Best Films of the Year," but what Corliss recalled were the Best Scenes, or Best Moments in Films during the previous year.
Even writing about film back then, Richard Corliss had a deep understanding and a prophetic appreciation of where film was heading toward in the future – that visceral would prove to be more powerful to modern audiences, even if what was memorable were fragmentary -- scenes/sequences/aspects of the production -- rather than the overall quality of the entire movie.
Somewhere in my cellar, there are boxes of saved magazines of at least fifty issues of Film Comment. Over the years, and four different houses, I could never part with my collection. It felt like I would be throwing out treasure maps rather than just old magazines. Note I write, treasure map, not "treasure" because I believe the definition of "gold" must always be reserved for the movies filmmakers actually create.
But the magazine “Film Comment” was for this young filmmaker, the road map that helped point the way to the treasure.
Yes, Richard Corliss was a film reviewer, but he will always be, in my mind, a film critic. He was the first writer about film who challenged me to think deeper, and see differently, what I had already seen.