Friday, April 24, 2015

Richard Corliss R.I.P.

Richard Corliss, longtime film critic and editor at Time magazine, died yesterday at the age of 71. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Richard Corliss was born in Philadelphia on March 6 1944. He was only five years old when he saw his first film: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950). It was when he saw Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) at age 16 that he realised film could be an art form. He attended St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia where he helped edit the school newspaper. He later earned a master's degree at Columbia University and graduate work at New York University.

Following college, Mr. Corliss began writing about film for such publications as the National Review, New Times, and the SoHo Weekly News. In 1970 he became the editor of Film Comment. His first book, Talking Pictures, was published in 1974. It was followed that same year by his second book, Greta Garbo.

It was in 1980 that he joined Time. He would become a senior writer for the magazine in 1985. Although best known for his film reviews, Richard Corliss wrote about a bit of everything at Time. He often reviewed television shows, and even acted as the magazine's theatre critic at times. Over the years he wrote about everything from Disney World to the songwriters and singers of the Brill Building. His third book, Lolita, a study of both Vladimir Nabokov's book and Stanley Kubrick's film, was published in 1995. His final book, Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love and a Few You Love to Hate, was published last year.

Richard Corliss was one of my favourite film critics. That is not to say that I always agreed with him.  He disliked Robert Altman's movie M*A*S*H (1970), which numbers among my favourite films of 1970. He liked The English Patient (1996), which I have always counted among the very worst films ever nominated for any Oscar, let alone Best Picture. That having been said, we agreed more often than not, and in some respects his tastes were quite similar to my own. He loved classic Disney animated films and Hong Kong martial arts movies. He was a fellow admirer of Ingmar Bergman and François Truffaut. Even those times when I disagreed with Richard Corliss (as in the case of The English Patient), I understood why he liked or disliked any given film.

Indeed, Richard Corliss was very good at getting his point across. Unlike many film critics he did not simply say that he thought a film was good or bad, but he explained why he thought a film was good or bad. What is more, his writing style was lively and entertaining. He could be very witty, whether he was tearing down a film or praising its merits. Even those times when I disagreed with Richard Corliss, I was entertained by his reviews. What makes the quality of Mr. Corliss's writing all the more remarkable is that he was very prolific. He wrote around 2500 articles and reviews for Time magazine alone. He also served as a film critic on the magazine longer than any other person.

Of course, what made Richard Corliss such a great film critic is that he truly loved the movies. As stated in Richard Zoglin's obituary of Mr. Corliss in Time, when asked if a particular film was worth seeing, he would reply, "Everything is worth seeing." Even when writing about a film he did not like, one got the sense that Richard Corliss truly loved movies. Indeed, Mr. Corliss was no film snob. His tastes ran from Ingmar Bergman to Stephen Spielberg to Quentin Tarantino. As a critic he has been described as a "populist". I think it may be more accurate to say that he simply loved film. 

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