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A teenage cineaste falls in love with the Voice's film pages

From time to time, the Voice's notorious fractiousness carried over into movieland, with the staff contributing their (mostly negative) opinions of some current sensation. As a youngster I participated in one such pile-on in response to Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara; Sarris was understandably incensed when the staff took issue with his praise for Manhattan. Those amateur hours notwithstanding, the paper published an impressive number of distinguished or promising film writers. (In addition to those already mentioned, these include Michael Atkinson, Georgia Brown, Stuart Byron, Katherine Dieckmann, Terry Curtis Fox, Tad Gallagher, Dennis Lim, William Paul, B. Ruby Rich, Jonathan Rosenbaum, P. Adams Sitney, Elliott Stein, and Jessica Winter. Other erstwhile Voice film writers—Manohla Dargis, David Edelstein, and Carrie Rickey, as well as former film editor Lisa Kennedy—have gone on to high- profile careers as daily critics.)

If movie reviews are understood as a form of journalism, Voice critics broke a number of stories. Once unknown and ignored genre flicks like Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, and The Evil Dead received partisan reviews. The Voice was the first paper to review "midnight" movies like El Topo and Pink Flamingos (the latter by Jack Smith, no less). The first review I was assigned, in late 1977, was David Lynch's Eraserhead, then playing to audiences of four and five at the Cinema Village. And where else could the ex-TM have reviewed Todd Haynes when he was working in Super 8 or Wong Kar-wai before his movies played above Canal Street?

Not only did the Voice give Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman double coverage when the movie had its U.S. opening at Film Forum but it made that event its cover story—a tribute to the passionate advocacy of film editor Karen Durbin. (I remember that Karen also fought successfully to find double jump space for me to review Claude Lanzmann's Shoah—and, as used to happen with some regularity in those days, I needed the extra room to take issue with another critic's notice.)

Poet, film diarist, and critic Jonas Mekas
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Poet, film diarist, and critic Jonas Mekas

It was precisely because the Voice was so site specific, so committed to film culture as it was being made and experienced in New York City, that its coverage not only engaged the Teenage Me but cineastes all over the country and even the world. There's been an erosion of space and an imposition of format, but I'd like to believe that this readership is still there and that the commitment remains.

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