Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

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Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostSun Feb 19, 2017 10:43 pm

http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-richard-schickel-dies-20170219-story.html

'One of the fathers of American film criticism': Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84
Richard Schickel
Richard Schickel, film critic and author. A longtime reviewer for Time magazine, Schickel died Saturday at 84. (Michael Lionstar / Knopf)
Jeffrey Fleishman

Richard Schickel, whose erudite prose and piercing critiques made him one of America’s most important film critics in an era when cinema became increasingly ingrained in the cultural consciousness, died Saturday in Los Angeles from complications after a series of strokes, his family said. He was 84.

In a career spanning five decades, thousands of reviews and dozens of books, Schickel chronicled Hollywood’s changing landscape, from the days when studios reigned with stars such as Katharine Hepburn to the rise of independent directors who summoned a new wave of realism that distilled the yearnings of a turbulent nation. A reviewer for Time magazine, Schickel had a legion of followers; he could be incisive and at times bruising in praising or panning a film.

“He was one of the fathers of American film criticism,” said his daughter Erika Schickel, a writer. “He had a singular voice. When he wrote or spoke, he had an old-fashioned way of turning a phrase. He was blunt and succinct both on the page and in life.”

In his 2015 memoir “Keepers: The Greatest Films — and Personal Favorites — of a Moviegoing Lifetime,” Richard Schickel wrote: “I just like to be there in the dark watching something — almost anything, if truth be known. In this habit — I don’t know if it is amiable or a mild, chronic illness — I have been indulged by wives, girlfriends, just plain friends and children. Of course, a lot of the time I’m alone, unashamedly killing an evening, no questions asked.”

Schickel began his career as a critic in the 1960s, joining a generation of voices, including Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, who were capturing Hollywood at a time of aesthetic and financial change. Movies were speaking to the country’s identity, its fabric, and film critics often found themselves reviewing not only cinema but the moods of society. In his 1967 review of Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Schickel wrote of the interracial love story starring Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Hepburn:

“Where to begin discussing the ineptitude with which the nightmare is realized on screen. … Kramer is earnestly preaching away on matters that have long since ceased to be true issues.”

He took on other classics as well, describing “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) as “close to travesty” and “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) as “cramped and static.”

But Schickel did not inflate the role of the critic or for that matter the importance of cinema. Movies at their best, he said, were a “joyous enterprise” and at their worst a “harmless addiction.”

"Richard was a giant of American film criticism, one of the last survivors of a golden age," Times film critic Kenneth Turan said. "No one could touch him for the high quality of his writing sustained over so many formats and so many years."

Schickel was a prodigious writer and documentary filmmaker. His 37 biographies, critiques and other books included an array of subjects: Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, D.W. Griffith and Elia Kazan. He wrote and worked on 37 documentaries, including “From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga” and “Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin.”

His review of “The Aviator” went like this: “Director Martin Scorsese soars triumphantly close to the sun, and unlike Icarus, never falters in his flight. An epically scaled biography of Howard Hughes, the mad genius of airplanes, movies and womanizing, this is filmmaking on a grand, rare, often curiously poignant scale, featuring a stunning performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the great American nut cases.“

Born in Milwaukee in 1933, Schickel estimated that he had seen 22,590 movies in his lifetime. The first was Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1938. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and lectured at USC and Yale University.

He is survived by daughters Erika and Jessica; step-daughter Ali Rubinstein; and grandchildren.
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostMon Feb 20, 2017 9:51 am

Schickel definitely had a reputation as a disagreeable character, especially if he was writing your biography. I also heard a story from a friend of mine that a famous restorationist was meeting with him and started leafing through the galley of his Griffith bio and immediately spotted two errors, at which point he just set the book down quietly...

But he could be a very sharp critic. A minor work but superb is his monograph in the BFI series on Double indemnity.

His most impactful work, though, has to be The Men Who Made the Movies, his 1973 series profiling surviving film directors of the golden age for PBS. Where other celebrations of the era (eg. That's Entertainment) sold nostalgia, this series brought film studies to the small screen, and our whole awareness of directors as the key personnel behind movies surely owes a lot to seeing a critic engage their work seriously and as a body worth studying as a whole.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostMon Feb 20, 2017 10:11 am

Agreed, Mike.

MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES was a watershed. As discussed here recently, that estimable series would be just behind Brownlow's HOLLYWOOD on my list of "upgrade with better clips" list. (And in this case, restore the original narration, as well.)

And yes, Bio-wise, I found his Griffith turgid, and his Disney bitter.

-Craig
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostMon Feb 20, 2017 11:00 am

wich2 wrote:Agreed, Mike.

MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES was a watershed. As discussed here recently, that estimable series would be just behind Brownlow's HOLLYWOOD on my list of "upgrade with better clips" list. (And in this case, restore the original narration, as well.)

And yes, Bio-wise, I found his Griffith turgid, and his Disney bitter.

-Craig


And his Harold Lloyd book completely reprehensible. I know he wrote it under contractual obligation, but that doesn't excuse what he delivered. As I wrote about it in my own book, "Beware of biographies bearing no bibliography."

Jim
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostTue Feb 21, 2017 7:27 am

His plagiarism was limited only by his faulty technique.

-- Peter Schickele
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostFri Mar 03, 2017 3:14 pm

He wrote very well - something I can't always say for many "film historians" - unfortunately I do think his opinion often overruled fact (which many are other writers are also guilty of) and at his nadir, he was as guilty as any film writer of "phoning it in" when he didn't appear to be that interested in the subject. I was amused that the writer of a Bette Davis book a decade ago (a filmography as coffee table book) gave him top billing and apparently equal royalties for just writing a particularly long forward. I guess his name did mean something. Of course any film writer is going to have their detractors, often rival biographers. How many times have we seen that. Like him or not, he was absolutely one of the five or so most important film history authors and I enjoyed his best works.
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostMon Mar 06, 2017 5:08 pm

Just received the new issue of TIME in the mail today and they gave him, their film critic for almost 40 years, all of two lines among the deaths of the week. Must have been some bad blood at the end or, like a lot of employers, they just don't care about their longtime employees. I've seen many bigger and better tributes given to unknown behind-the-scenes people at magazines when they pass away.
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Re: Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

PostMon Mar 06, 2017 8:43 pm

I like Schickel's earlier work; The Stars is shrewdly observed, and I still think the Douglas Fairbanks study, His Picture in the Papers, is the best reflection of celebrity in America ever written. Back in the early '70s, I counted down the days between episodes of The Men Who Made the Movies. Agreed with Mike on the BFI monograph on Double Indemnity. Something sour set in through the years, however, and most of Schickel's later books (especially the biographies) don't make for enjoyable reading: the tone too often leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Still, shrewd or sour, he was a very gifted writer. I too saw that issue of TIME earlier today and was appalled at his being dismissed in two lines.

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