Critic, his­to­rian and au­thor Leonard Maltin is still low-key about his le­gacy

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wen­zel

There are plenty of tal­ented film crit­ics in the me­dia, and bril­liant, pas­sion­ate film schol­ars at work in academia.

But in the pop­u­lar con­scious­ness, Leonard Maltin has no peer. The busy critic, his­to­rian, au­thor and, re­cently, pod­caster has been the face of film for many Amer­i­cans for the bet­ter part of four decades — first on “En­ter­tain­ment Tonight,” then on Turner Classic Movies, the Reelz Chan­nel and else­where.

But the 66-year-old doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think I’m pre-em­i­nent,” Maltin said over the phone from Los An­ge­les in ad­vance of his key­note speech at Den­ver’s 10th Neustadt JAAMM Fest. “I’m just avail­able.”

JAAMM Fest — which stands for Jewish Arts, Au­thors, Movies and Mu­sic — kicks off Oct. 26 and in­cludes live mu­sic and dance, film screen­ings, au­thor lec­tures, awards, par­ties and more at the Staen­berg-Loup Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, 350 S. Dahlia St.

But Maltin’s 7 p.m. ap­pear­ance at the Elaine Wolf The­atre on Nov. 7 lends star power to the pro­ceed­ings, given his near-con­stant me­dia pres­ence and the en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of his dozen-plus books on film his­tory dat­ing back to 1970.

We asked the char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally up­beat, easy­go­ing New York na­tive about this fraught mo­ment in Jewish-Amer­i­can cul­ture, his his­tory in Colorado and why he won’t be up­dat­ing his all-time fa­vorite movie when the Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute comes call­ing.

A: It was won­der­ful. My fam­ily and I have been go­ing there for decades. Not years, but decades. Our daugh­ter was 2½ the first time she went and so she’s grown up there. It’s also the only film fes­ti­val I’ve ever been at where I have to use sun­screen.

A: I don’t go to Cannes. The nice thing about Tel­luride is that it presents the lat­est in world cin­ema — a lot of the films that are go­ing to be buzzed about all dur­ing the fall sea­son and Os­car time. But at the same time, I saw two rare silent films there. And that’s one of the things that makes the fes­ti­val so spe­cial, is that it re­ally casts a wide net.

A: Oh, yeah, although I will ad­mit that my en­ergy level is not what it used to be. I used to power through films from early morn­ing un­til late at night. I pick my shots a lit­tle more care­fully now.

A: Ob­vi­ously I’ve done this more than once, and more than once at Jewish film fes­ti­vals, so I kind of know the ar­eas I’m go­ing to cover and how I’m go­ing to do it. But I like to be as spon­ta­neous as I can. I like to think af­ter all this time I can kind of scope out an au­di­ence and tell when they’re at­ten­tive and in­ter­ested, and con­versely when they’re not. A: Not re­ally, be­cause I stay away from all that.

A: I don’t know, quite hon­estly. I sus­pect we’ll have more of a sense of that in ret­ro­spect than we do right now. In terms of movies, they have a long ges­ta­tion pe­riod — some­times many, many years. I teach a weekly class at USC (Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia) in L.A. and we have film­maker guests ev­ery week. One of the first things I ask is, “How long have you been work­ing on this?” And you would just be as­ton­ished at the an­swers — five years, seven years, 11 years. “Dal­las Buyer’s Club” was 22 years. Even with a green light and fi­nanc­ing, it takes a long time to get a film up and run­ning, so it’s hard for movies to be ter­ri­bly cur­rent. And cer­tainly with tu­mul­tuous events chang­ing on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour ba­sis, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily look to movies for an­swers or guide­posts.

A: There’s peo­ple, and then there’s peo­ple.

Q : I saw that you re­cently in­ter­viewed Mel Brooks for your pod­cast “Maltin on Movies.” That must have been a thrill.

A: We’ve chat­ted be­fore, and I even hosted a long trib­ute to him at the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences. But we recorded (the pod­cast) at his of­fice, and when I left I was hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing. I grew up at a time when he and Carl Reiner were still do­ing their 2,000 Year Old Man on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Hol­ly­wood Palace.” And he made a short called “The Critic” in 1963 that played at my lo­cal the­ater in Man­hat­tan with “Dr. Strangelove.” In those days, they didn’t clear the au­di­to­rium at the end of ev­ery movie be­cause there were con­tin­u­ous screen­ings. I loved that short so much that I sat through “Dr. Stran­glove” a sec­ond time so I could see it again. Not that I minded sit­ting through “Dr. Strangelove” again.

Q: Yes it is. I don’t have to re­visit that de­ci­sion. And talk about lucky: I got to see that for the first time on the the­ater screen, larger than life, in the dark with a sim­patico au­di­ence. It was the late ’60s and the counter-cul­ture gen­er­a­tion had em­braced Humphrey Bog­art as their an­ti­hero, which he cer­tainly is in “Casablanca” as Rick. So my par­ents took me to a the­ater in New York that was show­ing that and “High Sierra,” and I’ve never fallen out of love with it.

A: I read years later that it was taught in some cour­ses as the per­fect screen­play, and it is! It has ro­mance, sus­pense, hu­mor, top­i­cal­ity, a point of view. What more could you ask? It also has an ex­tra­or­di­nary cast and not just the stars, but ev­ery sin­gle per­son who ap­pears on cam­era — even if it’s only in one scene — is col­or­ful and in­ter­est­ing. That doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten.

A: Well, ev­ery­body needs talk­ing heads and so-called ex­perts. A: You’re right, I’m schmo.

Pro­vided by JAAMM Fest

New York na­tive Leonard Maltin, 66, doesn’t like to pre­pare re­marks be­fore giv­ing speeches in or­der to read the room — and “to be as spon­ta­neous as I can.”

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