Thumbnails Special Edition: In Praise of Our Writers at RogerEbert.com

Thumbnails is a roundup of brief excerpts that usually introduces you to articles from other websites that we found interesting and exciting. In light of the holidays, I'd like to shine a light on some of our wonderful writers at RogerEbert.com, who have been profiled on other sites.—Chaz Ebert

1. 

"Why Film Critic Scout Tafoya Sees Beauty in Unloved Cinema": As explored by Patreon's Matt St. Johnson.

“Tafoya’s criticism — which has been featured in Consequence of Sound, Rogerebert.com, and Nylon — is influenced heavily by his work in film. He’s written and directed over 25 feature-length films (with a Western on the way), and he even got to don 19th century garb as an extra in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village.’ Because of his time on the other side of the fourth wall, his criticism isn’t just aimed at those who love movies — it’s for those that make them, too. This is most evident in ‘The Unloved,’ a video series where Tafoya searches for beauty and meaning in box office flops and critically maligned cinema. ‘What I wanted to do was let people know that just because a film looks like a disaster and everybody talks about how much money it lost, that there’s still something to talk about,’ said Tafoya about his video series ‘The Unloved.’ And as far as Tafoya is concerned, the lower the Rotten Tomato rating, the more stuff there is for him to unpack. Is ‘Alien 3’ (42% on Rotten) as much about abortion rights as it is about Alien babies and intergalactic prisons? Was the 2018 reboot of ‘The Predator’ (32%) really that bad, or was the film — along with its star, Olivia Munn — a victim of gender bias and sexism? Are these films any good? For Tafoya, the answer is yes, but also, that’s totally beside the point.”

2. 

"Nerds in High Places: Nell Minow": Profiled by Tony Panaccio of Bleeding Cool.

“I was a sulky teenager in the 60’s and my mother was trying to get me to read the newspaper beyond the comics and Ann Landers (advice column). She said, “You like movies — the Sun-Times has a new movie critic who is only a few years older than you are. Why don’t you read his reviews?” So, I began reading Roger Ebert right after he became the Sun-Times film critic and of course instantly fell in love with his writing. The Siskel-Ebert television series was local in Chicago at first, so I saw that from the beginning, too. Roger’s reviews in the paper and on television had an incalculable impact on the way I see film and — importantly — on my writing as well. He inspired me to write my first movie reviews, for my high school paper, and later for my college paper. Many years later, I got an email from Roger asking me to present a film at his annual festival, now called Ebertfest. That event is as important to me as SDCC. It is unique because everything takes place in one location, the spectacular Virginia Theater in Roger’s home town of Champaign, Illinois. So, the sense of community that builds up over the festival as everyone sees the same films together at the same time is truly extraordinary. Roger was a wonderful mentor and I am forever grateful for the vision and support of Chaz Ebert in maintaining rogerebert.com with a magnificent — and wonderfully diverse — group of writers. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of it.”

3.

"For Dallas Writer Matt Zoller Seitz, Movies are the Secret to Success and Solace, Life and Death": According to Chris Vognar of The Dallas Morning News.

“As a fifth-grader, Seitz wrote, directed and starred in a sci-fi play called ‘The Creature Syndrome.’ ‘It was basically a rip-off of ‘Alien’ and the original ‘The Thing’ with James Arness,’ he says. He also wrote a sequel, but he couldn't act in it because his character died at the end of the first one. It all sounds a little like Max Fischer, the precocious wunderkind at the heart of Wes Anderson's ‘Rushmore.’ ‘When I saw ‘Rushmore’ for the first time,’ Seitz says, ‘I thought, ‘Holy crap! Wes Anderson is plagiarizing my life.’’ Seitz was devouring the art of storytelling and pop culture in early childhood. His dad, Dave Zoller, is a jazz pianist and composer (Matt recently helped him release a Thelonious Monk tribute album, ‘Evidence’). His mom, Bettye Zoller Seitz, is a voice actress, singer and teacher. They divorced when Seitz was 6, and Seitz was shipped off to suburban Kansas City to live with his grandparents. His grandmother would get him into R-rated movies and come back for him later. One time he talked her into letting him see the seedy, sex-filled ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar.’ He told her it was a sequel to ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’’

4. 

"The Only Looming Boy in New York City": A conversation between Aaron Aradillas of RockCritic.com and our own critic Glenn Kenny.

“When I started writing about music professionally, the defensiveness had turned into something like a sense of mission, which I think gave my early Village Voice pieces--I started writing freelance for the paper in 1984--a nicely geeky, enthusiastic quality. In fact, I didn't file a negative review for the Voice until then-music editor Doug Simmons sent me to a Tears for Fears concert in 1986; said notice ended up being titled ‘Schlock Therapy.’ (The band actually brought that fucking monkey from the ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ video up on stage to dance as they performed the song. These, indeed, are the things I can do without.) I had really enjoyed practicing vituperation in my college paper writing, but I wasn't very good at it. I got better. As far as it making any difference as to what I was writing about, well, you bring different skill sets and I think different ideological baggage to whatever medium you write about. Beyond making adjustments for that, I can't say that writing about music feels better or worse than writing about films feels better or worse than writing about books. The only thing that would make a difference were if I were presuming to write about something I have no real knowledge of. No way could I bluff my way through a ballet review, for instance. Fortunately I'm not called upon to do many of those. Finally, I'm with Manny Farber, who said, ‘I can't imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism.’”

5. 

"Interview: Film Critic Monica Castillo": A look back through the archives at a 2013 conversation between Derek Deskins of Lonely Reviewer and Castillo, who was serving as co-founder and co-chair of The Boston Online Film Critics Association.

“[Derek:] ‘Boston has so much going on, but it seems that the majority of people don’t know that this stuff exists.’ [Monica:] ‘That’s why film critics are important. We do draw attention. We are probably the only ones publicly stating ‘Oh my god, please check out this film, it is amazing, drop what you’re doing right now, go see it.’ There are so many films like that. ‘Gimme the Loot’ which played only one week here, did horribly, which was really unfortunate, but it’s in my opinion one of the best debuts by a new director I’ve seen in a long time. It could’ve been a seasoned professional. I was so stunned. It’s such a great story. Across the street right now, “Something in the Air” is playing, probably only until Thursday, one week.’ [Derek:] ‘Then wait for it to go on Netflix Instant.’ [Monica:] ‘Basically. Again, these small little films that otherwise people miss on their radar because it doesn’t have the multimillion dollar campaign behind it. It’s not distributed by a big ass studio that’s going to push the trailer on every single film in the [AMC] Boston Common [Theater]. You’ll never know they exist.’”

6. 

Courtesy of Honoronline.ir

"My Man Godfrey: An Interview with Godfrey Cheshire": A 2001 conversation between the critic/filmmaker and Keith Uhlich at Sense of Cinema.

“The big influence was Andrew Sarris because I started reading The Village Voice when I was in high school and I read it religiously when I was in college and beyond. I also read his book, The American Cinema. That has remained a key text. I think that Sarris really was the most important American film critic ever. He was the most important in terms of his impact on me. When I say that, what I mean particularly is the overview and the point-of-view he provided regarding film history and the importance of directors. On the other hand, I think that in some ways his ‘auteur theory’ has been misconstrued. [A] very [popular yet] diluted idea of what this means is something like “the celebration of the director.” I think that’s not really true. It’s really a matter of using the director to look at films in various ways, including themes and genres. I really think that Andrew Sarris gave people [the permission] to take cruddy genres seriously. [This] was a lot more important than saying, ‘you can appreciate the director.’ He said you could appreciate directors who worked in gangster films, war films, westerns, etc. That really was the big revolution and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. Up until that point, people who took film seriously, as he himself pointed out, did it from a kind of literary standpoint. They might give credit to the director, but the director had to be working in high and noble subject matter. He was the one that really said one could consider John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock to be the greatest film artist even though they’re working in genres that everybody else, up until that time, would sneer at.”

7. 

"Interview: Collin Souter, Short Film Programmer of the 2017 Chicago Critics Film Festival": A 2017 chat with Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com.

“[Patrick:] ‘Several prominent filmmakers began with a short film as a calling card. Do you have an example of a filmmaker that began with a short, and how did that short get them attention?’ [Souter:] ‘There are tons, but Trey Edward Shultz comes instantly to mind because I kind of still kick myself for not programming the short film version of ‘Krisha,’ which eventually became a feature film. The short is almost a shot-for-shot tryout for what eventually became the longer feature – it literally had the same cast, shot list and editing. But a lot of shorts are like that, they help to fundraise for the eventual feature. When I first watched ‘Krisha,’ I was amazed at the technique, but the film left me with that feeling of ‘what am I supposed to get out of this?’ And I couldn’t think of a good way to put it into a program without thinking the audience would have the same feeling… for example, you couldn’t open with it, it can’t be in the middle and you wouldn’t want to end with it. So while I knew there was a great talent behind the camera – as well as the cast – I just felt that it didn’t work as a short film. It was missing something that would have made it feel whole. And then I saw the feature film, and it delivered on the promises of the short and was an amazing film. It was number six on my TOP TEN list.”

8. 

About Our Critics Part I: Some of our writers have answered our Movie Love Questionnaire to help us get to know them better. An excerpt of Managing Editor Brian Tallerico's submission is copied below, and can be read in full here. Click on each name of the following writers, and you will be directed to their own questionnaire: Nick Allen, Matt Fagerholm, Simon AbramsChristy LemireSheila O'MalleyPeter Sobczynski and Jana Monji.

“Both of my parents were movie fans but it was my mother's adoration of musicals that I think had the most formative effect. I remember watching movies like 'Singin' in the Rain,' 'On the Town,' and 'Kiss Me Kate' repeatedly as a youngster, along with classics like 'Some Like It Hot' and the majority of the Hitchcock catalog. My parents instilled in me a love for classic cinema. It also helped significantly that they were theater lovers, especially my father, who took me to Broadway at a young age. It sparked a love for the stage in me, pushing me toward a career in theater. I acted a good amount in high school and college but fell in love with directing, mounting plays in college and even one here in Chicago. Not able to pay rent with it, I took only a slight turn from my Theater/English education and focused on writing about what I loved, including film, but I trace a lot of what I do back to watching and, importantly, discussing films with my parents at a young age. They encouraged conversation. I remember talking about what I read or watched and THAT had the greatest impact. Fiction and film weren't just to ingest, they were ways to spark discussion.”

9. 

About Our Critics Part II: An excerpt of our critic Odie Henderson's Movie Love Questionnaire submission is copied below, and can be read in full here. Click on each name of the following writers, and you will be directed to their official contributor pages: Tomris Laffly, Vikram Murthi and Mark Dujsik.

“By 1980, I was allowed to attend movies without adult supervision. My cousins and I went every weekend. We were all around 10 years old, which meant R-rated movies were verboten. Theaters used to enforce the ratings, and I remember the mean ticket booth lady whom we could never convince we were 17. So from ages 10 to 15, I became very adept at sneaking into R-rated movies. 'The Blues Brothers' was the first time I did that, and the sense that I was getting away with something naughty hung over the entire screening. There was fear of being caught, but there was also unbridled exaltation over the car chases and musical numbers depicted onscreen. My cousins and I sat next to an older boy, and when the usher finally saw us and came to throw us out, we lied and said 'we're with him!' Thankfully, the guy vouched for us. I still don't know why 'The Blues Brothers' is rated R.”

Image of the Day

Take a listen to this in-depth conversation with our TV critic and contributor Allison Shoemaker on the 2016 episode of the Stitcher podcast, The People's History of Film.

Videos of the Day

In this video from Ebertfest 2014, you'll find a panel featuring various critics and contributors from our site--including Matt Zoller Seitz, Odie Henderson, Simon Abrams, Peter Sobczynski, Omer M. Mozaffar and Jana Monji--who discuss their memories of Roger Ebert.

Our contributor Katherine Tulich conducts exclusive video interviews for us, and recently sat down with filmmaker Martin Scorsese and actor Al Pacino to discuss their acclaimed new Oscar contender, "The Irishman."

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 18th year.

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