In Memoriam: Richard Corliss
We met in the late ’60s. I was at French Film Office, Andrew Sarris at the Village Voice, Mary soon-to-be-Corliss at MoMA and Richard, at, I think, New Times—the four of us on the brink of 40-plus-year marriages whose lifeblood was movies.
Corliss was a leading light of the “heroic age of movie criticism,” a second-generation votary (and sometimes critic and mediator) of the passionate and influential and argumentative cinephilia of Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael. But he was entirely his own man, championing screenwriters, in a book (Talking Pictures) that should be more widely known. He was extremely funny, a punster, bubbling over with thoughts and ideas, a performer, someone whose facility and wit, most apparent in the enforced compression of Time magazine style, could mask an extraordinary breadth of knowledge. He wrote long, scholarly (but never “academic”) articles for FILM COMMENT and introduced fresh voices as its editor. He also sounded the alarm for the future of film criticism when he wrote a timely (if friendly) attack on his colleague Roger Ebert for the new “thumbs-up” style of consumer movie reviewing.
Still, it was as if he had been born to write for Time. He once said he’d been auditioning for the magazine since his teenage years. A devotee of wordplay, he loved the challenge, and the freedom to write about any and everything from yoga to Las Vegas to theater. He adapted to the online format like the space-starved word juggler he was.
Time was his berth, in the literal as well as metaphoric sense, as he passed many an all-nighter on its premises. He was forever youthful, more responsive to the kid-centric blockbuster talents of Spielberg and Lucas than some of his peers. His tastes were sometimes mainstream, but as often (for his middle-of-the-road readers) esoterically eccentric. He was an early fan of Hong Kong cinema, and I can remember at Cannes when he was the first to champion the Australian apocalyptic road movie Mad Max.
Dark, handsome, and bear-like (eye candy, in fact!), he liked and loved women (though his heart was devoted to one), and wrote acutely sensitive think pieces on actresses (did he ever call them actors?) in the context of changing roles.
He left such a blizzard of good prose and provocative commentary, it will take a while to sift through it, and comprehend just how very good he was. His death is a great shock and sadness—I will miss him terribly, his voice, his enthusiasms, his connection to the past.