Critical acclaim for a true original
Ever since David Thomson abandoned himself to the full-time adoration of Nicole Kidman, the title of world’s greatest film writer has been up for grabs. Sadly, many wise people’s favourite for the job, the pathologically irascible, creatively perverse Jonathan Rosenbaum, has just written his last column for the distinguished freesheet, the Chicago Reader.
Rosenbaum, the child of cinema owners, grew up in Alabama and honed his eccentric taste while working as an assistant to Jacques Tati, the great French director, and as a researcher in the British Film Institute.
When he visited Dublin a few years ago to promote his book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media limit what Films we can see, he enthusiastically derided the standard of much contemporary film journalism.
“Well, if one is serious as a critic, one should be saying: ‘How does this fit in with the history of cinema?’” he told me. “Of course, if you’re not aware of the history of cinema, then you can’t do that.”
Rosenbaum has never been backward in declaring his dislikes – Miramax, Cannes, Sundance, virtually every film writer of any prominence – but his writings are most notable for promoting underappreciated films from all corners of the world. He was an early champion of Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-Hsien, but was happy to tell me that one of his favourite films of the 1990s is still Joe Dante’s Matinee.
Happily, although he has vanished from the Reader, Rosenbaum’s musings are still widely available on the internet. To get some sense of his singular inclinations, have a glance at his list of 1,000 essential films. Frank Tashlin gets four nods, but Martin Scorsese gets just one (for The King of Comedy). Hurrah for original thinking.
View Rosenbaum’s 1,000 at www.alsolike life.com/FilmDiary/ rosenbaum.html
King of criticism: Jonathan Rosenbaum