Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy 20th Birthday, Sir Critic!

Happy Birthday to me,  Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday Sir Critic, Happy Birthday to me! Oh, it feels great to be 20!

Those of you who know me might be a bit confused. Yes, it is my birthday, this week, and I turn 41 - on Thursday. But it was 20 years ago today that my nom de plume, Sir Critic first made it into print.

I first reviewed films for my high school newspaper in the mid-80s, about the time I was really getting into movies.  But I didn't truly find my voice until a few years later when I started writing for The Guardian, Wright State University's student newspaper. By then I had gotten the nutty idea I had wanted to write about films for a living, so I joined the staff to start down that path.

When I saw Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King in 1991, the film powerfully affected me. I was taken with its zany and touching tale of knights and redemption. Running with the knightly theme, I decided to pull sort of a Sgt. Pepper and assume a sort of alter ego as a knight on a quest for a great movie. And so Sir Phil M. Critic was born. (Yes, he has a first name. Don't ask me what the middle initial means, though. It's like the "O" in David O. Selznick).

The review appeared on page 8 of the Oct. 10, 1991 issue. It went over so well that the name Sir Critic stuck. It became my handle when I first ventured onto this thing called the Internet a year later  - and the name became a part of my identity. It stayed with me when I wrote about movies for The Xenia Daily Gazette, various Cox newspapers, and this blog you're reading right now.

Looking at this review again, I'm still proud of it. Sure, it's a little gimmicky, but it demonstrates the way I break down movies in my mind as I try to figure out why the parts fit, or why they don't.  It's very me, in more ways than one.

So as I reflect back on 20 years of reviews, and I watch Robin Williams explain the Fisher King to Jeff Bridges in Central Park, I think about how lucky I've been. I've had a very trying year, which is why my posting has been erratic, but I'm doing my best to think positive now. I still haven't gotten that full-time job as a critic yet. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But either way, I've been lucky to have a lot of great forums in which to writ, and a great audience, no matter what it's size. Thanks for reading me all these years.  Now find out how it all began ...


Once upon a time there was a knight called Sir Phil M. Critic who was on a quest to see and recommend to the masses some films about spiritual redemption.

Sadly, Sir Critic's quest had proven to be a dismal failure. Indeed, he saw many films that dealt with spiritual redemption, but only one of them, Dances with Wolves, had been truly remarkable to him. Still, the knight held out hope that would find at least one wondrous, spiritually redeeming movie. And so he did.

One day, Sir Critic heard about a film called The Fisher King. Its plot concerned a radio shock jock named Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) who makes on offhand remark to one of his listeners. That remark prompts that very disturbed listener to murder some yuppies and then himself. Stunned by this turn of events, Jack Wallows in despair for three years before attempting suicide.

Just as he is preparing to end his life, two local hoodlums attempt to accomplish that task for him. He is saved by a zany street man (Robin Williams) who calls himself Parry. Their meeting proves to dramatically change both men in many striking ways.

Sir Critic saw that this story, by Richard LaGravenese, was very unusual, but it certainly had potential. Upon learning that the film was to be directed by Terry Gilliam, though, he became concerned. While he had liked Gilliam's previous films (e.g. Time Bandits, Brazil) he was worried that Gilliam could not make a spiritually redeeming movie, considering his overwhelming visuals and often pessimistic attitude. When Sir Critic later journeyed to see the movie, he strode in the theater with a confident but concerned mind.

As the knight strode out of the theater, his mind was completely at ease. "Hark!" he told the masses. "Mister Gilliam has made not only a spiritually redeeming film, but a wondrously unique one as well. The entire cast was excellent, with Williams and Bridges doing some of their best work. Mister LaGravenese's script is actually quite reminiscent of Gilliams's work, in that it has a marvelous, strangely effective way of expressing deeply felt morals with extravagant methods. No other filmmakers could so easily realize such inventive ideas as there are in this picture.

But just as Sir Critic believed he was completely satisfied with the film, he noticed two dreadful-looking forms heading straight for him. "Zounds!" he exclaimed! Those are the dragons of rational thought - the ones who conspire to strip my opinions of all their positiveness!" Sure enough, the dragons began spouting their criticisms.

One charged, "Do you not realize it was a mistake for Gilliam's direction to be so heavy-handed in the early moments of the film?"The other protested, "Surely you say that the story's end was far too easy! It was harder to believe than the rest of the film!"

"You varlets!" shouted Sir Critic. "You shall not make me admire this film any less than I already do! The knight fought valiantly, but the dragons forced him to admit the film had its faults. Yet they had not totally defeated him. As he walked off to the horizon,  he still felt quite grand, thanks to the wild grandeur of The Fisher King.

1 comment:

Allison M. Dickson said...

This is an excellent review, and a wonderful starting point for what has been an amazing run of reviewing films, a run that has greatly inspired me over the years.

And now I want to watch this movie again. It's been many many years.