Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Exit The Critic: Terry Lawson
Reading Defamer earlier today I came across a post about the Detroit Free Press' decision not to replace film critic Terry Lawson, who took a buyout offer late last year. I could go on about the death of film criticism, but I want. For the record, I think there are plenty of fine critics out there and plenty of people reading them. But there is a problem with newspapers and the fact that a paper like the Free Press can't keep Lawson around says everything about that problem.

I grew up reading Lawson when he wrote for Dayton's Journal-Herald and later the Dayton Daily News. (A merger brought him from the city's morning paper to its only paper.) He was a tough, fair critic with a personable prose style who wasn't afraid to criticize a sure-to-be popular movie if he didn't like it or champion one he liked even if it didn't look to be a popular favorite. (I remember his four-star review of Robocop making me feel like I had permission to think of a really great genre film as just a really great film. Period.) He was also a local. I remember attending a Sunday-afternoon art film series in 8th grade where he would show up for Q&A sessions after the film.

Other reviews that mattered to me: His declaration of Hannah And Her Sisters as a masterpiece meant a lot. I saw the film in junior high and loved it. I'm sure I didn't get all the nuances—-Why would Allen need to buy white bread and mayo to convert to Christianity?--but I'm with A.O. Scott in thinking that it's okay for kids to stretch out of their comfort zone. His review of Jean De Florette brought me downtown to my first foreign film.

I don't want to write about the guy like he's dead. Hopefully he'll keep writing for someone else. But I also hope the Freep and all the other papers trimming back their local arts coverage realizes what they're losing by getting rid of their local arts sections and replacing their critics with, say, the semi-ubiquitous, widely syndicated Orlando critic Roger Moore. There's no sense of connection there. As a budding film buff, it felt important to have a guy who was just as passionate and a lot more knowledgeable about the things I loved in town. It felt like these things were important to where I was and not just something that happened somewhere else.

And, yeah, I recognize the irony of me saying this as someone who's mostly read online and published in a newspaper distributed in 10 cities. Why should someone in our Denver edition feel like I'm writing for them? I don't know. But I only hope that someone reading me develops a passion for what I'm writing about of the sort Lawson prompted in me. Even if I did like Cloverfield.

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