Richard Schickel, 1933 - 2017
The critic, author and filmmaker was 84.
"He and his fellow Time film critic Richard Corliss, who died in 2015, were towering figures to a lot of young cinephiles who came up in the middle part of the 20th century," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. "They weren't groundbreaking theorists or crusaders of any sort; they wrote for a mass market publication, often under a tight word count. But they did their jobs with insight and flair, trying to connect movies to historical and cultural forces and arguing for and against certain trends in the industry. Whether I agreed or disagreed with their verdicts, they made me appreciate the skill involved in sketching a concise but thorough portrait of a movie-going experience."
"Despite his longtime association with one of this county’s most famous magazines," writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club, "Schickel was arguably better known for the work he did outside the review beat, including the documentaries on filmmakers and special effects that he wrote and directed for PBS and other networks, and his popular books on the likes of Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Elia Kazan, Clint Eastwood, and Walt Disney. His 1984 biography D.W. Griffith: An American Life was widely acclaimed in its time."
In the New York Times, Sam Roberts looks back on a response Schickel wrote in the LAT to a piece in the NYT "which suggested that blogging might be making book reviewing more democratic." Schickel: "Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities."
"By nature gregarious, Schickel was not a critic who kept himself apart from filmmakers," notes LAT film critic Kenneth Turan. "His friends ranged from reclusive director Stanley Kubrick, whom he visited on his English estate, to Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne. Perhaps his closest, most sustained relationship was with Eastwood, whom he communicated with frequently and admired as a filmmaker and an individual. Schickel also found time to reconstruct a version of the World War II epic The Big Red One that was closer to the wishes of another friend, director Sam Fuller, than anything that had been available before."
Updates, 2/22: "Meeting him was a thrill—for me," writes Marshall Fine for IndieWire. "As filmmaker Martin Scorsese said in a statement he released after word of Richard’s death reached him, 'As a person he was, to use a once popular term, "crusty," and he could be brutally funny…But it’s his deep and abiding love of movies that I’ll always remember about him… This is a man who gave his life to the thing he loved.' … And while he ended his career writing about film for truthdig.com ('They seem to want to keep paying me,' he told me in a phone conversation about 18 months ago), in his day he was part of a new wave of critics who, today, seem determinedly old-school: people who, by dint of knowledge, erudition, analytical ability and a facility with language, could express opinions that made films seem like an essential part of the artistic and cultural conversation."
"Richard Schickel could be direct and unsparing," grants Time's Stephanie Zacharek. "But his work stands against everything that people so often misunderstand about critics. His toughness sprang from his passion for movies—because, in both their riches and their disappointments, they demand nothing less from us."
Updates, 2/25: "Dick Schickel was the pro, and the reliable hack movies deserved," writes David Thomson for Sight & Sound. "He was the Roscoe Karns character in the newsroom gang from His Girl Friday. I do not use the word ‘hack’ with any distaste; it’s a badge of honor and I heard him use it on himself a few times. It meant that he reckoned movies required expertise, experience and a wry literacy that disdained drawing attention to those qualities. He was a patient contemporary of alleged personality critics, and he could be amusing and caustic about any culture tempted into the absurd self-esteem of star movie authorities. So Dick wrote to assignment, to word count, on deadline, for close to 60 years. And he was very good."
About a week before Schickel passed away, Jonathan Rosenbaum posted his review of the Griffith biography that originally ran in Sight & Sound in 1984. "Arriving on the heels of Donald Spoto’s Hitchcock and Richard Koszarski’s Stroheim," he wrote, "Richard Schickel’s massive biography of Griffith manages to steer a middle course between the compulsive narrative thrust of the former and the more scholarly negotiation of diverse hypotheses pursued by the latter. Grappling with a life and personality that surprisingly proves to be no less private and elusive than Hitchcock’s, Schickel confidently leads the reader through over six hundred pages of text without ever resorting to Spoto’s questionable tactic of baiting one’s interest with the promise of scandalous revelations."