August 02, 2006

The Good The Bad The Ugly

At first, I never quite believed I'd pursue film criticism as a serious career. In the beginning, writing about movies was just a way of justifying an antisocial habit. It enabled me to catch one, two or three films every weekend and not feel like I was being unproductive. I'd file reviews on Sunday evenings, putting off my schoolwork until at least midnight. From junior year on, I didn't have an ungroggy Monday in high school.

Screen Teen, The Undergraduate and The Good The Bad The Ugly were always very near to my heart. There was no better training for a young writer. When I wrote my earliest reviews, I'd just spew out whatever came to mind, learning from voices as disparate as Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris and J. Hoberman. (The last, along with Dennis Lim and Michael Atkinson, formed a trifecta of brilliant mentors during my three years interning at The Village Voice.)

I think (and hope) that I've become my own man. But I'm burying the lead. This will be my last regular column for the Indy — seven years, almost to the week, after my initial review of The Haunting appeared in these pages. Next week, I'm leaving New York to accept a position as one of Time Out Chicago's three resident film critics. My reviews, alongside those of Hank Sartin and Cliff Doerksen, will be readily available at timeoutchicago.com. I hope you'll keep reading.

I'm not sure that I'll vanish from these pages entirely. Pending time and the permission of my editors of Time Out, my byline may appear here on occasion. One tremendous benefit of writing for the Indy is that it always allowed me to write freely, on any subject of my choice. I was never refused an opportunity to review an obscure French art film (e.g., my 1,000-word pan of Humanité in summer 2000), or to write about something that was only playing in the city, like April's Don Siegel retro at Film Forum. My writing for the Indy also gave me my first experience covering film festivals, from 1999's Hamptons to 2006's Tribeca.

It's fitting that my final regular review would be a pan of Woody Allen's Scoop (see last week's issue). Allen Konigsberg's movies have served as benchmarks for me before. Zelig (1983) was, I'm told, the first movie I ever saw; The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) was the first film I viewed at a press screening. On a review of Allen's Anything Else (2003) that I submitted for a class, Sarris, then one of my professors, wrote kind words that encouraged me to continue with my writing.

I owe a sincere expression of gratitude to my editors — Tom Clavin, for my first four years here, and Rick Murphy for the past three — who always processed my columns with the utmost care. And another shout out is due to the genial Indy staff, who never complained about my obsessive Friday phone calls, and who were always incredibly welcoming despite the fact that I visited, at most, for 20 minutes every year.

I'll always treasure fan reactions. One reader, wondering if I was really as young as I claimed to be, wrote in speculating that I was "an aging homunculus channeling Dwight Macdonald." I'd be honored if that was the case. To everyone: Thanks for reading — it's been wonderful having you around. And my reviews will now be just a short hop away.

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