Sunday, April 20, 2008

No Bed of Roses

Many people believe a movie critic’s job is one of the best in the world. And maybe it is. However, there’s definitely a flip side of that coin. I’m not referring to writing deadlines and all the bad movies critics must sit through. Instead, it’s embarrassing interactions with actors and other film-related personnel as well as mail from certain irate movie fans that cause me problems. Here are a few examples:

Under the category of “stupid things I’ve done,” my behavior toward Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston ranks high on the list. At a party in Taos (New Mexico) after she received the Taos Talking Pictures Maverick Award, I clumsily demonstrated to her the funny curtsy she performed while playing Cinderella’s wicked stepmother in Ever After. Fortunately, she just laughed and said, “I’ll be sure to remember you!” And she did. A few months later, I received a personal note from Huston thanking me for the articles I wrote about her.

Although I’m reluctant to reveal my most embarrassing interview, it provided a great story for director Jan Sverak to tell his friends in the Czech Republic. Sverak and his father Zdenek came to San Diego in February of 1997 to arouse interest in their wonderful film, Kolya, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year. The handsome Zdenek, who plays a middle-aged Czech cellist saddled with a six-year old Russian refugee named Kolya, resembles Sean Connery both physically and in terms of his screen charisma. Naturally, I was eager to meet him in person. But the elder Sverak suffered jet lag and opted for a nap in his Hyatt Hotel room instead of doing interviews. Claiming his father doesn't travel well, the younger Sverak said, "Maybe you can take a peek at him before you leave." At the close of the interview, I reminded him of his offer by saying, "I'd like to peek at your father now. I'll be very quiet." Sverak just looked at me, stunned. "I was kidding, of course," he declared as he ushered me quickly to the door.

My first meeting with noted movie critic Roger Ebert was also not one of my finest moments. After introducing myself to Ebert at one of the Telluride Film Festival events a few years ago, I decided to take a picture of him -– so I took my trusty camera back to where he had been sitting in the huge auditorium. But, by that time Ebert was standing to videotape the audience. When I pointed my camera at him, Ebert said, “Your picture-taking is ruining my videotaping.” To which I replied, “Your videotaping is ruining my picture-taking.” He was not amused.

Hearing reactions about my reviews from movie fans usually makes me very happy – even if they disagree with my opinion about a particular film. But some “hate mail” has just the opposite effect. For example, one person was quite upset about my positive review of The Day after Tomorrow. “You are a lousy film critic -- but a great comedian,” he wrote. Obviously, that particular review also hit a nerve with another man who called me “The stupidest person on the face of the earth.”

My parody of The Ring provoked almost as many negative vibes. One fan of the movie stated, “You’re just trying to be clever and prove you’re smarter than the rest of us.” After re-reading what I wrote, I had to apologize for not including a disclaimer and explaining that the piece was meant as a parody. I should never forget how seriously fans take their favorite movies!

In all honesty, despite humiliating incidents and hostile mail, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than watch movies and write or talk about them.

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