Eric Conner: Hi and welcome to the backlot. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. Today, we have noted film critic Peter Rainer. He is the critic for the Christian Science Monitor. He’s also written for The New Yorker, for L.A. Times and a lot of other publications. And he has been a finalist for a Pulitzer. And if that’s not enough for you, he is also the author of the book Rainer on Film 30 years of film writing in a turbulent and transformative era. It is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the other booksellers online. So thank you so much for coming Peter Rainer.

Peter Rainer: Thanks, Eric.

Eric Conner: One thing you had talked with me about before is this idea of in essence we all think we know what a critic does because we read their stuff like, oh, they see a movie, they write a review. But obviously there’s more to it than that. So I was wondering if you could talk about maybe your typical day?

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Well, a day in the life, it does vary. But I would say on average, if we’re not talking holiday seasons or, you know, run up to awards, Oscars or festivals, I guess I see at least a movie a day more often than not in theaters. But sometimes, you know, in home viewing situations, the way I find out if a film is opening is you go on various sites to see what the schedule is of openings. You know, often out of date, almost immediately, the various movie companies and publicists will send invites to me and now almost exclusively online invites saying you and a guest are invited to so-and-so movie. And a lot of the smaller, independent foreign films, documentaries and so forth, they often screen them months in advance, sometimes key to when the so-called talent is in town. Studio pictures increasingly either aren’t ready until pretty close to opening date, which is generally on Friday, or they don’t want you to see them all that early for bad word of mouth.

Eric Conner: Right right right, the embargo until.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, the embargo thing is fairly recent development.

Eric Conner: One minute before it comes out, right?

Peter Rainer: Yeah. They say, you know, 12:01 a.m. the Wednesday before the Friday opening the embargo is lifted and so forth. My reviews generally come out day and date with the opening, so I’m not really looking to break embargoes anyway.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: But the embargo extends even to blogs and just sort of online commentary of any kind. Although I notice it doesn’t seem to extend to the publicist contacting you the day after the screening to ask you what you think. That doesn’t seem to have been embargoed. And my response is always, you know, I think it’s somewhere between Creature from the Black Lagoon and Citizen Kane. But beyond that, I’m contractually unable to answer that question, which is sort of vaguely true. I mean, I don’t like to feel like I’m part of the PR system, but anyway, so then I show up at the screening and I usually take notes, with a pen and pad, which I can’t read afterwards, but it’s kind of useful.

Eric Conner: You don’t have like one those little light up pens.

Peter Rainer: No, I probably should get one that they use be more common than it is now. People going with their computers. The lighted pen thing. I always thought was kind of obnoxious, not to mention, you know, you’re sitting next to someone and the light keeps clicking on and you say to yourself well, what great insight that I miss, you know? I mean, the light came on.

Eric Conner: The man with the pen knows.

Peter Rainer: What did I. Right. Yeah. What are they seeing that I didn’t see?

Eric Conner: Well, though probably less obnoxious than a monitor. Like an actual computer screen.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: Illuminating half the theater.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. You know, people say, gee, you’re so lucky. You’re a critic. You can go to these screenings. And there aren’t all these people who are like texting and talking around you. And I say, are you kidding? It’s worse in some ways. I mean, a lot of critics say if if they’re bored by a movie or they’re making deals or they’re doing whatever they’re doing during a screening, it’s just as bad. I mean, that personally kind of drives me up the wall.

Eric Conner: Yeah. When you’re at an advance screening too, not everyone in there is going to be a critic, right? I mean, it’s also sometimes like I don’t know, friends, family.

Peter Rainer: Yeah I don’t know who any of these people are.

Eric Conner: Like they tried to fill the seat sometimes like, yeah, you know, you’re in there with regular citizens.

Peter Rainer: You never know. Yeah, no. The dentist of the of the gaffer, you know, I mean, they just bring all these people in there, especially for the big ones, but. OK. So then I, so I take notes and then I, I generally don’t review a movie like right after I’ve seen it, unless for deadline purposes I have to do that. If I’m at a festival like Toronto where I’ll see maybe four movies a day sometimes or more. A lot of those movies don’t open for many months or a year or more later. So I’ll do sort of an overview of the festival, but I’m not going to get specific or write full take reviews on anything.

Eric Conner: So you don’t. Because I know sometimes like.

Peter Rainer: Well the trades do that.

Eric Conner: Yeah yeah the trades will do reviews when they’re at the festival. Right. But like Christian Science Monitor and NPR, like you don’t.

Peter Rainer: No, not really. And part of the reason for that, I think I mean, it’s it’s good that. I mean the trades are sort of, they’re the trades. So I guess the they have to be on record as saying something about the film at the time that it opens. But if I were to review a movie, a full length review of a movie that’s in the Toronto Festival that then opens in December. You can’t re-review it, so you’re reviewing a movie that won’t be released for several months, just from the filmmaker’s point of view. If you’re not going to run the review again in December, then they’ve lost whatever you said about the movie because it ran too early.

Eric Conner: Now is there a way you can – let’s say you saw something at Toronto and you think it’s great and maybe it’s like a sort of a smaller prestige pic. Is there something you could do to help build buzz for it.

Peter Rainer: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, when I do the overview, I single out in critical terms what I thought of many of the movies. It’s not like I just sort of say what’s there? And that’s it. you know, if if there’s a really great movie or if I discover something or whatever. Absolutely. That’s the main purpose of why I’m there, actually. But I’m not going to do a separate long review. So I’ll see a movie. I’ll write it up based on my notes and recollections and whatnot. And I try to keep the films in my mind strongly enough so I don’t have to see it again. I don’t really like seeing movies twice within a fairly short timeframe at least. I find that I don’t get that much out of it the second time because I’m already kind of bringing to it what I saw the first time. You know, on the other hand, there are almost by definition, a great movie or a difficult or innovative movie is not something you’re likely to pick up altogether on a first viewing. But, you know, I see 250 something movies a year.

Eric Conner: Yeah you don’t have much to.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, it’s very difficult for me to go back and look at something again, even if I want to watch, which on occasion I do. And eventually I will. But, you know, after the reviews out and all the big change for me as a critic is that when I first started out in the 70s, mid 70s, there were maybe six or seven movies maximum that opened in a given week. Now, not just because of streaming and whatnot, but also there are often 20 plus movies per week that play in theaters.

Eric Conner: Right and you have such a wide range beyond just like different platforms.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, sometimes films a lot of the the lower end movies that are part of that 20 are films that for contractual reasons.

Eric Conner: Right they have to.

Peter Rainer: They have to show it, you know, theatrically to get a better sale on the screening or whatever.

Eric Conner: But yeah, there’s so many movies where it’s like day and date where they’re on OnDemand or Netflix or whatever. Well more on demand, but they might be in a handful of theaters that same day.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean a lot of VOD movies are before the theatrical opening. You know, and then there’s the whole issue with Netflix and whatnot.

Eric Conner: Actually what are your thoughts on that with. I know there’s been such a blowback against Netflix films playing the festivals.

Peter Rainer: Right. I sort of disagree. I think that Netflix movies should be in the mix. If they have a theatrical release, this argument that Spielberg and others have made that a TV movie is in the end a TV movie, you know, it doesn’t quite hold water because there are a lot of movies that aren’t particularly well designed for the big screen either. You know they’re just that’s the way they were made.

Eric Conner: Smaller scale.

Peter Rainer: And they could look, look just as at home on a TV screen as anywhere else. But I mean, it is a little sneaky to essentially make a TV movie that you play in the theaters to boost the Netflix viewership and get awards. But you know what else is new? I mean, there’s always a scam. Also, I think even if you agree that these films should not be part of the awards mix, I just think it’s a losing battle. You know, I don’t think that you can rule out so much product that is coming out. You know, a corollary argument was when the O. J. Made in American documentary, which was ESPN.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: They showed it in theaters either just before or day and date with the initial TV airing. And I thought it was the best film of the year of that year. I thought it was an extraordinary film. Absolutely extraordinary. And it won the Oscar for Best Documentary, at which point the documentary committee said we’re not doing this anymore. The argument there was that on the part of other documentarians, you know, Ava DuVernay had a strong, socially conscious documentary that year. That was.

Eric Conner: Right the 13th, was that?

Peter Rainer: Yeah. So their argument was, you know, O.J. is a great film. Congratulations, you know. But if I’d had eight hours at my disposal to make my movie, it would have been significantly more powerful. You know, that argument says that longer is better by definition.

Eric Conner: Well, it’s funny. It’s it’s like the opposite of the argument. Remember when Emmys started really recognizing HBO shows like The Sopranos and, you know, and and the networks were like, well, if we only had to do twelve episodes a season, we would make ours better.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: And I don’t know how much water that holds that argument.

Peter Rainer: Yeah no.

Eric Conner: It’s like blaming like the fact you have more money, more time, more staff and like but we can’t create more good product.

Peter Rainer: Most writers will tell you, you know, journalists and critics that if you have like two months lead time to write a review, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to write a better review than than when you’re on a tight deadline. Sometimes that forces you to really be more creative and come up with stuff on the spot that, you know, the sloth would erase otherwise. So it’s complicated. You know, Netflix, when this movie Okja came out about the pig. So that was sort of their big push, at least for critics and for awards to position themselves as a movie studio, sort of an odd movie to be using as a test case.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: You know, and the experiment didn’t quite work on that level. Some people liked the film more than others, but I think they’re just going to keep trying to do it. You know, a lot of TV shows going back, you know, a lot of Colombo’s and, you know, Spielberg’s Duel, they were all shown theatrically as feature films in Europe.

Eric Conner: But were on TV.

Peter Rainer: Here were on TV here. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Yeah Spielberg’s first real massive movie that kind of put him over.

Peter Rainer: Yeah Duel.

Eric Conner: You know, the top, Duel. Yeah. Yeah, it was. Yeah. That was a TV movie here.

Peter Rainer: Absolutely. It was a Universal TV movie.

Eric Conner: And I mean it aged pretty well in that as TV movies go, it looks like a heck of a cinematic TV movie, especially for that time.

Peter Rainer: Right. I mean, I would think that that probably works better. I’ve never seen it on a big screen but but I would think that it’s gonna come across better on a big screen.

Eric Conner: Right and if you haven’t seen Duel, it’s the movie that got him Jaws. And so, I mean, technically remarkable what he pulls off with what I imagine is a rather small budget.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, it was it was a pretty incredible film. It’s kind of like Jaws, only a giant truck instead of a shark.

Eric Conner: And I think that’s the thing, too. It’s like a lot of these stories won’t get out otherwise.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, it’s if it plays in a theater, I think it should qualify.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: However it got there. And I mean, you have to make some kind of rules. Otherwise, you know, you’re going to start, you know, Game of Thrones best picture of the year. You know, you have to make some distinctions.

Eric Conner: It might, they actually might pick up a lot of technical awards.

Peter Rainer: Yeah right.

Eric Conner: Well, you know, actually, before you mentioned some of the kind of unusual choices your critics group made, but the movie Brazil had kind of a legendary.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: Troubled journey. And if I remember correctly, I think the L.A. critics had named it like the best picture of the year.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, there’s a very interesting story behind that.

Eric Conner: And were you part of that?

Peter Rainer: Yes.

Eric Conner: Oh, great. Do tell.

Peter Rainer: I mean, I like the movie a lot. I don’t think it was my best film of the year, but I wasn’t dissatisfied that it won. And particularly given the circumstances, I thought it was great. What happened was Terry Gilliam had made Brazil for Universal and Sid Sheinberg, who was the head of Universal, didn’t like the movie. And he just kind of sat on it for a long time. And Gilliam, who is not a shrinking violet, was doing everything he could to make this film happen. Took out a full page ad in the trades saying, you know, ‘Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my movie Brazil?’ And then Scheinberg had people come in and do their own cut of the film. They really, by all accounts, messed it up. And that was what they were going to release. And contractually, I guess they had the right to do that. So Gilliam knew one of the critics who was at the L.A. Times at that point, Jack Matthews, they arranged a clandestine screening for the L.A. critics of Gilliam’s cut of Brazil, which technically was illegal. So the critics saw this movie, they said this is a great movie. So now we’re voting that day for the year end awards and Brazil wins best picture Gilliam’s cut of Brazil. So Sheinberg had no choice but to release Gilliam’s cut after that, it was activist criticism at its finest. You know, I mean, you never.

Eric Conner: It was a protest vote.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, I mean, that’s how that came about. And Gilliam was, you know, forever grateful. Because his, there’s a very good chance. That is certainly theatrically at that time, his film would never been released. And the Sergio Leone movie, Once Upon a Time in America is a classic example of a film that was released in a butchered version. I think 40 minutes were taken out of it.

Eric Conner: I think, I’m going to say even more than that. I think it might have been an hour and change might have. Cause like, yeah cause the full cut’s close to four hours.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, I mean, Leone’s cut that eventually was shown is a terrific movie and considerably longer and better and more complicated in terms of the editing and whatnot.

Eric Conner: Yeah and very poetic the way it transitions in and out of scenes.

Peter Rainer: But his movie was originally hacked up by some guy that cut trailers in New York. And that’s what was shown. And a lot of critics. They saw both versions. And I remember I think it was Kael or someone said, you know, I’ve never seen a worse butchering job than was done to this movie.

Eric Conner: I was wondering, you know, we were talking before about some of these movies we like that they don’t quite come together as much. And yet we still have this kind of a soft spot in our heart for them. Guilty pleasures. Even that term might be a bit of a misnomer, because if you like it, why should you be guilty?

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: I was wondering if there were some films in your vast collection that maybe hold a special place for you but didn’t hold a special place for pretty much any critics.

Peter Rainer: Well, the most recent example is the movie Mother, Darren Aronofsky’s film which I normally don’t like his movies, and most people do. Mother, which I saw in Toronto, was loathed by my colleagues almost exclusive. Didn’t make a dime. People hated it. It was loathed. I thought it was a really fascinating movie. It goes off the rails completely the last 15 minutes or so. But, you know, I won’t bother to give my defense to the jury. But it was. And I don’t feel guilty about it. I just feel besieged when I say it to people. They say, ‘really? You like that film?’ and I say yes, and I didn’t like Black Swan. I didn’t like blah, blah, blah. I like smart dumb comedies a lot. I seem to be more tolerant, just like I like bad standup. Sometimes I enjoy watching too. But, you know, Dumb and Dumber when new line. They had a trailer for it, but they weren’t going to press screen it. And I thought, this looks really funny. What’s the problem? You know, bad reviews aren’t going to have any effect on this movie and good reviews will bring people in who would not normally see it. And it’s really funny. So they did press screen it. I just kept after them. I said what do you have to lose? So in that vein, I go every year to the Alex Theater in Glendale for the Three Stooges marathon that they have.

Eric Conner: And now I have to go.

Peter Rainer: Well, yeah. And your kids would. I mean, it’s kids love that stuff. It’s, you know, don’t try this at home. But I think, you know, the Three Stooges is sort of the essence of comedy. Right. You know, it’s just about poking and bashing. And I mean, you know, Curly is a comic genius.

Eric Conner: Jerome Horwitz, right?

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: The artist formerly known as Jermoe Horwitz.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, they were. The larger thing here is that I think that if you really like something, whether you’re a critic or, you know, just an audience member, you know, you should go with it. This idea that there’s something guilty about liking something, there may be a very good reason why you do like something. It’s more important to be ostentatiously wrong then self censoring yourself to the point where you, you know, you know I mean.

Eric Conner: Yeah well, I think Mark Twain said taste never should be defended. I’m paraphrasing him. And Sheryl Crow said, if it makes you happy, it can’t be so bad. And I agree with both.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, yeah. But I do think, you know, as a critic, there are some types of films that I might enjoy, even though I know they’re not good movies. And as long as I’m up front about that, you know, it’s OK to enjoy these movies but don’t enjoy them as something that they weren’t meant to be or aren’t.

Eric Conner: You’ll say that in your review, like upfront that. Yeah. Fair warning. I enjoy this kind of thing.

Peter Rainer: Well, I’ll say, you know, I, I enjoy this kind of stuff because it’s kind of kitsch, probably in ways that the filmmakers did not intend. Sometimes the films are good in ways that are intended to be good. There’s some parts of Towering Inferno as I recall, it’s been many years, that are first rate for what it’s trying to do.

Eric Conner: I was wondering then. So one thing that’s definitely happened is over the years, the phrase everybody’s a critic has taken on grand new proportions because, you know, on YouTube, that’s where a lot of people are getting their reviews. And sometimes, like, you know, they can go from crass to comical, you know, hilariously crude, but also really astute. Yet at the same time, some of these are just fifteen year old kids with Facebook Live. What are your thoughts on sort of that end of the critic sphere? You know, the idea of really, truly, because of the Internet, people are getting their sort of critical takes from those who really don’t even have a writing background.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, well, I mean, what you’re describing impinges on the professional life and careers of actual working critics because there’s less and less incentive for publications to go with critics when there’s this whole gabble of voices out there. I don’t know. I think there’s nothing wrong with being, quote, elitist and saying that not everyone is a critic in the sense that not everyone brings to the fore the kinds of ideas and whatnot. That is what criticism is all about. You know, I’m not putting down blogs. I myself am not really a social media person. But, you know, I’m past the point where I think that if you have a blog that you have nothing to say or you’re just blathering. You know, there are a lot of fine critics now who write exclusively on the Web for various publications. You know, my own publication is primarily online now. So I don’t think that by definition, if you’re a blogger, you’re not a, quote, critic. But I do think that the odds are highly stacked against you because people think that, you know, criticism is not just opinionating. That’s the thing. Everyone says, well, if I just. It’s just my opinion. It’s as good as your opinion. What makes you any better than me? Well, that’s one way to look at it. But the thing is, speaking as a writer, I think you have to be able to be a writer, a real writer to be a critic. I don’t think that just opinionating is what it’s all about, because in the end, everything that I say about a film could probably be reduced to a couple of sentences on a blog and convey essentially the same message. You know, I like the acting didn’t like the direction, the story was sucked, etc.. You know, it’s how you say it. And the arguments that you deliver in the course of the criticism to support what you’re saying that makes a criticism. Not to mention that movies are kind of the, I mean, they encompass so many different things, not only all of the other arts, but what’s going on in society, a reflection of society. I’m not saying that to be a critic, you have to have a comprehensive knowledge of the history of film and have seen all the great movies. It can’t hurt. But I don’t think that just, you know, if someone says, well, I’m a critic because I’ve seen 4,000 movies. No, some of the most interesting articles I’ve read on film have been by people who are not professional critics who are often in the English and American lit departments or sociology or philosophy, you know, people who bring a whole other thing to the table.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: That is much more interesting in many ways than the, you know, the so-called professional critic who’s too often insulated. So, you know, for me, the great critics have been the ones who have covered the waterfront and broaden the spread, talked about films in much larger ways while never forgetting the fact that the critic is first and foremost a member of the audience.

Eric Conner: One thing you’re saying that I think is great is that, you know, the fact is it’s not so much about who’s giving their review. It’s like, are they informed or not? Can they shine some light on their review? Reading Roger Ebert’s longer reviews when I was young, I remember they didn’t always have stars or thumbs up, thumbs down and New York Times still doesn’t do that. You know, I think a lot of really reputable publications, they invite you to read the whole thing because it doesn’t sum it up for you.

Peter Rainer: Right. Well, I mean, it varies in my career. Like you know at the monitor in some of its iterations now, I do have grades, which, you know, if I had a choice, I probably wouldn’t go with. But, you know, nevertheless, it is a way for people to at least latch onto what your overall opinion is and maybe drive them to read the full review.

Eric Conner: Kind of puts in a frame at least.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Or not. You know, in in a sense, all reviews have implicit grades. You know, where it gets a little nutty is like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes where they they sometimes will contact you. You know, that that review read like a B minus. But you gave it a B plus. It’s like, well, please.

Eric Conner: Like like they’re grading your grading, basically.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Right. See, the thing is true criticism, I think is not about the value judgment in the end. In other words, you can read a critic and disagree with everything he or she is saying and still think that it’s it’s it’s an exhilarating read. You know, that that, you know, I disagree with everything you said, but I really enjoyed reading you. That’s to me a better compliment than someone that comes over you and says, I loved everything you said about that movie because I agree with everything. You know, it’s not the value judgment. It’s how you get to that judgment that I think makes for a critic.

Eric Conner: Well, has it changed your approach as a critic that initially when you started people you knew were reading the whole article or, you know, it was in.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: A brick and mortar newspaper so to speack. And now most of your audience is clicking.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, it does it. I mean, there are all kinds of ramifications. It’s very easy on the Internet to just click around. And I mean, I myself have some difficulty in reading long articles still, you know, on an iPhone or a computer. But I know that for the next generation, that’s not going to be an issue at all. Whether that means that there’s gonna be less extensive criticism by virtue of people’s viewing habits on the Internet. I don’t know. I mean, that’s a good question. I hope not. But I think it all comes down to what do you want from film criticism? If you just want value judgments, if you want to know what movie I should see on a Saturday night. That’s a perfectly good rationale for reading a review and writing a review, because in the end, a lot of reviews. I mean, I don’t like reviews where they go on about everything and then you’re like, yeah, but what’d you think of the movie? You know? I mean, I think that’s part of it. And if you have no opinion or if you’re mixed, which is often the case, then that should be in there. That’s generally how it is with with most movies, you know, that I write about. And I don’t like this notion that criticism is something, you know, that sort of comes down from on high. I don’t see it so much anymore. It’s partly because of the Internet. But it used to be that a lot of publishers and editors would say, you know, well, don’t use the first person when you review, really. But, you know, for me, criticism is is very personal. And you’re writing out of your own experience. You’re writing out of who you are. And that that’s another thing you have to connect certainly with movies. It’s, you know, because movies have a way of really hitting you in places that you, you know, aren’t defensed for. And, you know, it’s it’s it’s a very powerful medium and it affects people in very powerful ways, which is why, you know, if you say you really hated a movie that someone loved, on the one hand you could say, well, that’s just the way it is. You like some films I don’t. But, you know, a lot of people take these personally. And I can understand that if you really love some movie and someone says ah it’s a terrible movie.

Eric Conner: Worst movie ever.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, there’s a way in which, you know, you’re going to take that personally because films are a very personal medium. It’s important to put all this in perspective and realize that that a critic is first and foremost a person, you know, who is reacting to what’s up on the screen and. It’s a very personal medium, and so writing about it, I think, should also be a personal thing. You know, not in the worst sense of of, you know, the extreme bloggers who just, you know, like I said, opinionate about everything without backing anything up.

Eric Conner: You know, one of the things I’ve always really enjoyed about film criticism and really, you know, criticism of the arts is it introduced me to movies I never would have seen otherwise. And so on that end one thing about your book is that you found sort of room for these lesser known things. We talked before about, you know, the sort of underseen gems.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: But even I I don’t think we talked about this before. But one documentary you brought up that I wish more people knew about was the stone reader.

Peter Rainer: Oh yeah.

Eric Conner: I’ve got a few of these, but a couple thoughts and stone reader and.

Peter Rainer: You’ve seen it?

Eric Conner: I have. And I saw it a long time ago. But yeah, if you can talk about this like kind of little lesser known documentary that sort of went under the radar of everyone.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, it was a terrific little film. You know, the director had read or started to read a book by a writer named Dow Mossman. I believe his name was the Stones of Summer. But he had written nothing since. So the whole movie is sort of trying to track down this guy. Yeah, it was a fascinating movie in general. I love to discover films for other people to see. I don’t know that he’s directed anything since. I mean, I worked on a lot of political documents.

Eric Conner: Yeah. I don’t know if he did. Because I don’t think he necessarily.

Peter Rainer: Was a filmmaker.

Eric Conner: Yeah he wasn’t a documentarian, but he just.

Peter Rainer: Right he’s not not primarily known as being a filmmaker that I have no problem with that either. I think there are a lot of people who discover film and maybe they only make one or two movies, but they bring something new.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: To the mix. And it’s particularly true in documentaries. I always tell people when they go to a film festival and they want to know what to see. Of course, the program says everything’s a masterpiece. How do you decide? I would choose a documentary over a dramatic film, sight unseen, because documentaries are often made by people who who really care about the subject. They know they’re not going to make much money on this film. You know, there’s just more passion involved. And and if nothing else, you’ll probably learn something that you might not have learned from a dramatic film about a particular subject.

Eric Conner: It might be your only chance to see it too.

Peter Rainer: That too.

Eric Conner: Some of those don’t get distribution, then that’s it.

Peter Rainer: Right. You know, I have a whole section in my in my book, Rainer on film, on documentaries. For me, Fred Wiseman is the greatest living American director of any kind with a body of work that’s unequal. He’s made 40 something movies. He’s in the mid 80s, makes a movie a year, and his films are absolutely extraordinary. The early ones are more accessible because they’re not so long his films tend to be rather long. You know, it goes to what makes a film great. I think to to explore the film in the process of making it in many ways a luxury that not every filmmaker has of any stripe.

Eric Conner: You know, one of the filmmakers you mentioned in I think it was in your auteur section, Richard Linklater, I feel like he’s sometimes not given the credit he deserves, even though I think critics like him. But in terms of a general, maybe the general population, like, doesn’t gravitate to his films, like they might some others. And he is one that for me, and I don’t know, maybe it’s because I saw before sunrise my last night in Europe, I’ve always just found his stuff, even his misfires, so personal and so unique, you know, even boyhood, which got such a response. But he’s been doing this for.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: He’s managed to do this.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I’m not nuts about more recent, more conventional work that he’s done, but he really is an extraordinary filmmaker who is incredibly versatile. You know, Boyhood has a lot to recommend it. He did a film that hardly anyone saw called Me and Orson Welles.

Eric Conner: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Peter Rainer: Which I that was one of the best sort of coming of age in the theater.

Eric Conner: Yeah Zac Effron.

Peter Rainer: You know a life in the theater. It’s a terrific, terrific movie. And then there’s, you know, School of Rock, which is a great, very funny commercial film.

Eric Conner: Yeah. And still somehow personal.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: You know, that one. I felt like he managed to go big without losing anything that makes it Richard Linklater.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he’s he’s an extraordinary filmmaker, you know, incredibly self prepossessing person. But I think that humility kind of works to his advantage as an artist because he’s not all over the place with you when he makes a movie. He he works rather subtly, which is maybe one reason why he doesn’t have a more widespread public acclaim, because he’s not one of these directors who assaults you and you know jumps all over you. Look at this. Look at this. Like Tarantino or somebody.

Eric Conner: In some ways he might be the exact opposite of Tarantino.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, I like some of what Tarantino does also.

Eric Conner: Me very much so yeah.

Peter Rainer: But I do think that that there’s room for yin and yang in that world. And Linklater, he works cheaply enough so that he can do these kinds of films on a regular basis. I think he took a page from Robert Altman in that regard.

Eric Conner: Which it’s funny I was about to say we got to talk about Robert Altman. I mean, one of the all time greats who somehow never won an Oscar as best director. I think he got an honorary Oscar.

Peter Rainer: Honorary Oscar, yeah.

Eric Conner: Do you count those?

Peter Rainer: Yes and no.

Eric Conner: It’s a little bit of a consolation prize.

Peter Rainer: I mean, it’s it’s a great consolation prize, but it’s outrageous that he never got any. Of course, that’s true of Cary Grant. That’s true of.

Eric Conner: Oh yeah the list is long.

Peter Rainer: Charlie Chaplin. Unless you count his Limelight Oscar for the music.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: Hitchcock. All of these guys.

Eric Conner: Kubrick right? Kubrick didn’t win best director.

Peter Rainer: And I don’t think he ever got it. No.

Eric Conner: Yeah. So he he joins a healthy list of some of the.

Peter Rainer: Astaire.

Eric Conner: Some of the best filmmakers we ever had.

Peter Rainer: Yeah Keaton.

Eric Conner: And performers.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s it’s almost a better you know, it’s a better club to be in than the one that.

Eric Conner: Though I’m sure winning an Oscar in a bad club either but.

Peter Rainer: No. No.

Eric Conner: Yeah. And he’s he’s so went to that. He spanned decades too. And it’s kind of amazing that in essence, like his style didn’t change.

Peter Rainer: Well, yes and no.

Eric Conner: Discuss that. So yeah. Let’s talk the yes and no of it.

Peter Rainer: I mean, there’s a long essay on him in my book, and I knew him somewhat over the years. I did probably his last interview for the DGA magazine when he was in New York cutting Prairie Home Companion. He used to have his own movie company in Westwood called Lions Gate, no relation to the current company. And he would invite people there sometimes to see rough cuts and stuff. It was a little awkward and, you know, stopped doing it after a while. But.

Eric Conner: Awkward just because, like, what if you don’t like it?

Peter Rainer: Well, it was awkward for me because I admired him so greatly. But I also didn’t want to see him, you know, I mean, it’s well known he would have a joint in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, and he would as the evening went on. Finally, one of his people came over to me. He says I think if Bob were in better shape now, he probably wouldn’t want you to be seeing the rest. I said, I agree with you completely. I’m out of here. But that was during his low period where he did films like Quintet and Perfect Couple and Health. But he started out doing well, he Kansas City, and he did industrials and promos and all sorts of weird stuff. He came to Hollywood. He did a very low budget movie, completely off the radar that had Tom Loughlin of Billy Jack in it. He did a film called The James Dean story. Not terribly good movies, to put it mildly. Then he went back to Kansas City and did other stuff. But one of those films brought him to Hitchcock’s attention. So he did some Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV. So for about 10 years, he was doing episodic TV, you know, Whirlybirds and Sugarfoot, Bonanza. All this stuff, very traditional stuff.

Eric Conner: Yeah kind of straight down the middle.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. You know, and he was one of the great innovators in American cinema, and yet he had a good 10 or 12 years of doing this stuff. And by the time he started directing features, he was I think he directed MASH when he was in his early mid 40s. So even though he was part of that, you know, Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola, he was a good 15 years older than any of them. So, you know, That Cold Day in the Park was, well no, his first feature was for a studio was was a film called Countdown for Warners. It was an astronaut movie with James Caan and Robert Duvall. And he got fired by Jack Warner because he had the two of them speaking over each other in some scenes. And Warner was like, what is this? You know, they’re talking over each other.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: And so that was when Altman first became a little bit of who Altman was, but he was.

Eric Conner: Right that became like his hallmark eventually yeah.

Peter Rainer: Right but you would never, ever know that he he he made masterpieces like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Thieves Like Us or Nashville or Long Goodbye. Based on the first 20 years of his career, it’s one thing I think that distinguishes film from some of the other arts. You can look at the early writings of Virginia Woolf or Mailer or Austin, you know, and and you can see glimmers of the real artists in those writings. But in movies, for some reason, you know, can you draw a line between Dimentia 13 and The Godfather?

Eric Conner: Easily. No of course not.

Peter Rainer: Or, you know, I mean, there’s a million. So. So Altman.

Eric Conner: Well all those guys came out of the Roger Corman world like that.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. But I even, you know, went when Boxcar Bertha came out Scorsese’s film, I was in college, so I, I hadn’t seen any of his movies. Saw it in a Grindhouse on the second half of a double bill with 20 convicts and a woman on forty second street. And then I wrote about it for my college newspaper and I said, this is like the best directed terrible movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like incredibly well directed. You know a Corman knockoff of Bonnie and Clyde, but and everyone said, ‘oh, you’re just trying to make a name for yourself and discover someone you know’. And then when Mean Streets came out I said, you see. But Altman, you know, MASH is a terrific film, very funny, very hip, very loose. But even there, you couldn’t draw a line between that and because when McCabe and Mrs. Miller came out a couple years later in ’72, I just thought, my God. I mean, if you can really do something like this in Hollywood, then it’s not all corrupt. I mean, it was just unbelievable that he was able to pull that off.

Eric Conner: Although I do feel like even though like maybe he kind of genre jumped, I do feel like you could look at MASH and McCabe and Mrs. Miller and see the same director behind the camera.

Peter Rainer: Well yeah, there’s an iconoclasm.

Eric Conner: Even even like Gingerbread Man, which I enjoyed, actually. But yeah, I mean, to that end, like, he definitely had his stylistic devices and touches that would kind of tell you who was behind that camera.

Peter Rainer: Yeah and and, you know, the Nixon movie that he did a Secret Honor. It’s just a staged play reading. But it’s so cinematic. He didn’t really work from scripts in any traditional way. But at a certain point in his career, when he was at a low point, he became known for directing plays. And so he did films like, you know, streamers Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. There were about six or seven movies that he did that were based on plays. And you thought of of all the directors to be doing that, Altman would be the least likely, you would think.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer:Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is not a very good play, which somehow became an extraordinary movie. And I’m not quite sure how he pulled that off.

Eric Conner: I guess he was almost like a visionary, but also a bit of a Willy Wonka. He’s always like kind of testing things and seeing what.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: What could he get away with?

Peter Rainer: Yeah, he was very iconoclastic. He didn’t. With very few exceptions. After MASH, he didn’t really like working in the studios. His big comeback, quote unquote, was The Player.

Eric Conner: The Player in ’92.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. Which was a terrific movie.

Eric Conner: Fabulous.

Peter Rainer: But it’s kind of like his love hate letter to Hollywood.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: Because the paradox of that movie is that it’s a great Hollywood movie about the inability to make a great movie in Hollywood. You know, I mean, he’s saying this is what the industry has become. And yet it’s a terrific movie.

Eric Conner: Amazingly, too. It’s a good thriller. You know, it’s great satire. It’s funny. It’s dark, but, there’s a thriller in there that really works.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, it’s a terrific film. But, you know, he he never liked to do the same thing twice. He. I think I’ve seen every one of his movies even. But actors loved him for obvious reasons, you know, because he’d just say, let me see what you’re thinking. You know, try anything you want. If I don’t like it, we won’t it won’t be in the movie. But he didn’t say, you know, hit your mark here, do this to that. He allowed them to be very much part of the creative process, which if you have creative actors and you’re a director who can really work that way, is is the best.

Eric Conner: And is it true, like actors didn’t always know if they’re being filmed or not?

Peter Rainer: Right. If he I mean, the way he used sound, he had so many different mics going that there’d be like, I think 14 different that he could pick up on. People always complain, well, I can’t hear what people are saying in his films. Occasionally, I think that was a valid criticism. But mostly he was trying to get at a kind of poetic naturalism or some way in which, you know, because it wasn’t just a lot of gabble. And that’s what, he was very selective in, what he made you hear and what he what you didn’t hear. Yeah. I mean, when you saw his movies, you always felt like you were in for something. You know, you aren’t just going to see another product. And, you know, I thought that it was it was heroic, the career that he had, basically, because it was such a difficult thing for him to do. And especially since, you know, like I said, he came out of episodic TV in the 60s. And to be able to have that and then do the kind of work that he did after that is some kind of heroic thing.

Eric Conner: That’s an artist at its most pure. Right. You know.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Just wanted to tell the stories and he would keep telling them his way and he somehow managed to keep making them. And I remember when when he passed away, too. It’s like you feel sad, of course, because loss of life, he’s gone. And then you feel this weird, selfish sadness of like, I don’t get to see anymore new films from him. But, luckily for you people listening, beauty of a book like Rainer on Film, it reminds you all these movies are out there. And back in the day, some of these were like impossible to get. And one of the great things about the technology we have is like now a lot of these movies. You can get you know, you can find these things in the annals of the iTunes and Amazon libraries. And they’re out there. And the hope is with film criticism, it might bring you to things you otherwise wouldn’t have seen and might make you appreciate things you might not have otherwise thought about or noticed. And I think that’s a thing that that Peter Rainer has done with his career for decades now. Peter’s still doing this and still has new reviews available. What Web says should they go to to check out your material?

Peter Rainer: Well is for the reviews, which can also be picked up on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and on the radio Podcast of the shows that I do for a film called Film Week. But the book I feel is, you know, it does collect I think much of what I really.

Eric Conner: Yeah there’s a breadth to this book. Well, a massive thank you to Peter Rainer for talking with us. And thanks to all of you guys for listening. Remember to check us out to learn about our school. And also we have some of our Q&As a whole, actually a lot of Q&As on our YouTube channel. That’s This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson, who also produced this episode with Kristian Heydon and myself, executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler with a special thanks going out to our staff and crew who made this possible. See you next time.

NYFA: The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of Peter Rainer and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the New York Film Academy staff, faculty or students.

Eric Conner: Hi and welcome to The Backlot. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. Today we actually have someone else in the studio with me, noted film critic Peter Rainer. He is the critic for the Christian Science Monitor. He’s also written for The New Yorker, for L.A. Times and a lot of other publications. He’s a finalist for the Pulitzer and also a teacher and fellow faculty member at New York Film Academy. He’s a native New Yorker and he’s the writer of Rainer On Film, 30 years of film writing in a turbulent and transformative era. This covers decades of his writing career. It’s a book that’s actually available on Amazon and is a terrific book. So, Peter, first off, thank you so much for coming and joining us in the studio.

Peter Rainer: Thanks, Eric.

Eric Conner: So I figure we might as well begin at the beginning. How you started with your love of cinema. If there’s movies when you were a kid that just immediately made you think like this is a career I want.

Peter Rainer: Right. Yeah. I grew up primarily in Westchester County, which is certainly close enough to New York City that I was able to go in all the time and see movies in the many revival houses that no longer exist in New York. But primarily, I saw movies on television growing up, which was an interesting way to get a film education.

Eric Conner: Sure.

Peter Rainer: You know, you didn’t get to see a lot of the so-called classics. At least not the non English ones. There was a show called Million Dollar Movie, which showed the same movie every night for five nights running. And so in that way, I kind of obsessively would rewatch all of these movies and unknowingly learned about acting and script and camera and all of this stuff just by seeing these films over and over again.

Eric Conner: Right. It gives you more of a critical eye.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, you’re sort of a critic.

Eric Conner: You become a bit of an expert.

Peter Rainer: Right. There were ton of newspapers in New York back then, something like 12 daily newspapers. And they all had critics, you know, many of whom are quite good. And so that sort of gave me the idea that, gee, I’m watching all these movies and I’m sort of thinking about them in ways that aren’t just as a fan. The big thing was when my dad gave me a copy of Agee on film, James Agee was a great writer who for a period of about seven years was a film critic. So I read this and I said, wow, this really demonstrates that you can write about movies and be a real writer. He’s not just, you know, the acting was good. This was bad, you know, a checklist and, you know, plot summary. And Pauline Kael had come out with with her first book called I Lost It at the Movies. And that was exciting in a different way because she was just coming onto the scene and writing about movies that were mostly current. So I would say between the two of them, that sort of got me thinking that maybe this is something that I sort of had an affinity for.

Eric Conner: And you went to, was it Brandeis?

Peter Rainer: Yeah, I was – I was at Northwestern for a year and I transferred to Brandeis. I was there from 70 to 73. I was for a time the editor of my college paper, which was really an excuse for me to control the length of my film reviews because I was the film critic.

Eric Conner: It was just a power grab. So you could.

Peter Rainer: Well.

Eric Conner: You could get as many columns.

Peter Rainer: Okay yeah right. I admit. No, I mean, you know, it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever had the opportunity to be my own boss in journalism. You know, and it was very fortunate because that was a time we’re talking, you know, ’70 to ’73 when movies were incredible.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: I mean, I’m not being some old fogy, particularly American movies just broke through. And week after week, I’d be reviewing, you know, The Godfather.

Eric Conner: Yeah Godfather came out in that time.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. The Godfather, Sounder, you know, Mean Streets, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Sorrow and the Pity. I mean, just, you name it, Last Picture Show. They were all coming out week after week and cabaret.

Eric Conner: I mean, the thing is about that time frame, and really to come of age as a critic in the 70s meant you were there for really the modern golden age of Hollywood.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: It’s kind of like where TV is now is where film was then. I mean, that is such I mean, to be able to go into a theater. I mean, I got to see Godfather years later. But my introduction to Godfather was a VHS copy on a not very big TV, but to be able to see those movies on the big screen for the first feeling too, I’m more than a little envious.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. No, it makes a big difference even now, of course. But I think that’s really what set me on the road, because not only were all these great movies coming out, but I’m writing about them for very literally captive audience, my fellow students and teachers. And I think that’s why so many critics of my generation are critics, because we all pass through the same ether.

Eric Conner: And by the time you finished college, I can’t even imagine how many reviews you’ve written, especially if you were the editor as well, like it’s like you get to enter the professional world, sort of tested, you know, like you’re not.

Peter Rainer: In a way yeah. I mean, what I did was, you know, when I graduated, I said, alright well, now what am I going to do with my life? So I gathered my best reviews together from college and I went to the library and I wrote out a list of about 100 publications and I got, I think, two responses.

Eric Conner: Two out of, I’m sorry. Two out of like 100, you said.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, yeah. One was from Mademoiselle magazine. Long story short, Mademoiselle gave me a shot at their monthly film review column. First time I ever reviewed professionally was Chinatown and it’s been all downhill ever since.

Eric Conner: I was about to say you’re starting with rarefied air right off the bat.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, that was pretty amazing. So so now I was in the in the bloodstream and it’s very, very exciting. And then The Herald Examiner, which is one of the two daily newspapers, opened up. And this was a chance to be, you know, the critic for a major metropolitan daily was what I always wanted. So that’s what I did. And I was with the Herald Examiner for 10 years from 79 till the day it folded in 1989.

Eric Conner: So then you had to find a new home.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, well, the L.A. Times knew before we did at the Herald that the paper was going to fold. So within an hour of the announcement, there was an editor who used to work at the Herald who was on the phone trying to bring me over. So that was all very nice.

Eric Conner: What is it like for you as a critic then? I’m sure you travel in these circles. I’m sure you’ve made friends with them over the years. But then part of your job is to give an honest assessment of your friend.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: And their work, which might not always be perfect.

Peter Rainer: First of all, you know, when you’re the film critic for a newspaper in L.A., it’s kind of like being the car critic for a newspaper in Detroit.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: You know, I’m a human being. So if I see films by a particular writer, director or an actor that I really respond to, and then you have occasion to be in a social situation with them, you know, it’s very hard to just sort of wall yourself off and not say anything. The downside is that you do often get played even by people who you respect. If you stop giving good reviews to them, then often you find out who your real friends are, if they’re friends. But, you know, it’s it’s tough. I’ve had, you know, people say, have you ever been dissed by an actor or something? Yes.

Eric Conner: Well, especially with Twitter now, where you read a review by Peter Rainer and you disagree, you can go and all of a sudden with a few touches your fingers, suddenly your three, four million followers find out directly what your thought is of the review by Peter Rainer.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. I mean, I’m not crazy about all that, but, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it. But it comes with the territory. And usually people only write when they’re angry about something or they’ll retweet something and they’ll say you’re wrong.

Eric Conner: Although I definitely know some people who, when they get a great review, they feel the need to share that with the world as well so.

Peter Rainer: Well, good. I wish I got more of that.

Eric Conner: What they call the humble brag, you know.

Peter Rainer: Right. Right. Right.

Eric Conner: It’s funny, too, because being an artist, being a filmmaker actor means you’re perpetually getting reviewed. Yet obviously, some artists know incredibly thin skin despite the fact it’s it’s it’s like part of your job.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. No, I mean, I understand it. But if you if you think too much about how you know, you’re gonna be upsetting all these people, then you might as well be a carpenter.

Eric Conner: Although then you have to deal with people complain about your carpentry. And mind you, I haven’t read every review you’ve ever written, but they don’t come off as nasty even when you clearly don’t like a project.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, well, I try not to be gratuitously nasty because I don’t see the point of that. You know, people have this idea that all critics are like Addison Dewitt, George Sanders in All About Eve, you know, sharpening their knives and they’re only in it for the kill. And admittedly, if you really don’t like something or you’re really offended by something, you can get your rocks off by really flaying something in print. But that gets old awfully fast. And in the long run, it’s the films that that are really great that challenge you as a critic. Like when I came out of Blue Velvet, which I love, but it’s very confounding movie.

Eric Conner: Right. It’s not simple to review something that.

Peter Rainer: No, no you say, well, how on earth am I going to do justice to this experience? And, you know, in my book, there’s a section on masterpieces. And to me, the the mark of a critic is how good are they at really praising something? Because there are some critics who are really good at being nasty. But when they praising something, it’s like, you know, the cinematography was gorgeous and the acting was terrific. And, you know, it kind of doesn’t really sing. The thing is, you have to try to back up your negativity, which is not always easy if you don’t have the space to do it. You know, I’m talking in theoretical terms, but a lot of us, you know, space is is not what it used to be. And you can’t stretch out and really do justice sometimes to the full extent of how you want to support or tear down something. But, you know, there are all kinds of stories of, you know, John Simon who’s who’s still writing. He has a blog. At this point. He’s notorious for writing really defamatory personal attacks on how actors looked and everything like that. And he was at a function years ago and the actress goes over to the order table and picks up his big tray of food and goes over and dumps it on him. He says, I’m going to send you with a cleaning bill. But she got presents and kisses from all the Broadway and Hollywood contingent for years afterwards.

Eric Conner: She had the chutzpah to do what they all wanted to do.

Peter Rainer: I guess so yeah.

Eric Conner: Well, you bring up kind of this idea of space. For years these critics, these writers, they had the room, even Roger Ebert, weirdly enough, Siskel and Ebert sort of – I think maybe tilted reviews towards where it is now in that, you know, Roger Ebert’s written reviews of movies were fabulous. I mean, I think he won a Pulitzer.

Peter Rainer: He did yeah.

Eric Conner: Then they had a TV show called At the Movies, where it was Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, two critics from the Chicago scene. And they then turned cinema criticing into something that was a little bit like a greatest hits collection. Suddenly it was a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Clip: …think about it with Jaws, which had three marvelous characters hunting the shark. Jurassic Park only has Goldblum. The rest of the crew stands around and smiles or schemes. Still, thumbs up from me. The action scenes are really enjoyable.

I gave a thumbs up too and also for the action scenes and I feel that really this movie, though, was a missed opportunity…

Eric Conner: Now we have tomatoes with a aggregate score, Metacritic.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: So it was curious your take on, I guess, where a large chunk of this industry has now gone.

Peter Rainer: When I was first starting out as a critic or reading critics was, some might argue, the golden age of criticism in the sense there were some amazing critics back then. There’s many more good critics now than there were in the 70s. It’s just that there are fewer places to show that you’re good. But when the Siskel Ebert syndrome kicked in, they were originally a local show and then became national and then Disney bought it, et cetera. That created kind of the critic as celebrity. Before that the critics I’d mentioned earlier were celebrities.

Eric Conner: That’s right. I was about to say they had their own celebrity, too.

Peter Rainer: Right. But in a rarefied circle because they weren’t on TV. But Siskel and Ebert, people would tune in to see them who had never heard of Pauline Kael or Stanley Kaufman or anybody. They just want to see these two guys fight, frankly.

Clip:…well I hated this movie more than any other movie on this show. And I’m I’m really surprised at you. You should be ashamed of yourself. First of all.

What, for not agreeing with you? I’ve never been ashamed of that. I’ve been proud of that.

OK, well, in that case, here’s another star for your lapel. OK. This movie is not funny…

Peter Rainer: And then there were knockoffs of Siskel and Ebert. Various other people tried to do it. Look, I knew Roger and I respected him and he was a good guy and a terrific writer. The problem I had with that show was not that it was two guys talking about movies, because if you actually transcribed their words, it’s probably more more words devoted to a given movie than most newspaper critics had in print. But I just felt that, you know, you have thumbs up and you have thumbs down. But most movies are thumbs sideways.

Eric Conner: Sure.

Peter Rainer: Right. I mean, you don’t usually love or hate most movies is kind of somewhere in the middle.

Eric Conner: And there are elements you love elements that don’t work.

Peter Rainer: So I understood why they didn’t have thumbs sideways. But I thought it sort of adulterated the whole concept by pitching it yes or no. Thumbs up, thumbs down. And it became, you know, literally a trademark. Roger copyrighted the thumb. You know, so when people started to see that, hey, you know, you can get on TV and talk about criticism. So suddenly, you know, you would find in the film schools and just in general. I remember talking to this this film class of people who wanted to be critics, a criticism class. And I said, this is awfully photogenic class. Oh I know why that is.

Eric Conner: Right, because they they don’t think of the hunched over the keyboard writing.

Peter Rainer: Right they’re not really. Yeah or they say I want to be a critic and I say, well, what have you written? And they say well I haven’t, I like to talk about film. I like to. I said well that’s not quite it. You know, cause everyone says what a great job. All you do is go to movies all day. And I say, well, yes and no. First of all, most movies are lousy and I see about 250 a year. And second of all, that’s half the job. You know, the real job for me is to be a writer.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: You know, a critic is first and foremost, or should be, a writer. And that’s really what the job is about for me. But the space that we have to do it in, you know, you mentioned is – there are still a number of outlets where you can stretch out. But to really stretch out is a luxury that is not only rarer than it used to be, but in some ways not expected, like what you were saying, the people just sort of want to look for the quick fix.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: You know, is it is it fresh or rotten? Is it this or that? Now at the monitor, I am asked to provide a grade. At least it saves me the trouble of having, you know, rotten tomatoes. People call me up, as they used to say, you know, is this a B or a B minus. But, you know, as far as those sites go, I don’t, unlike a lot of critics, I don’t really have a problem with rotten tomatoes, but I think it cuts both ways. On the one hand, you know, none of the critics whose stuff is being linked on Rotten Tomatoes gets paid for that. However.

Eric Conner: You’re not getting any kind of bump for being featured.

Peter Rainer: Not really.

Eric Conner: Even featured as a top critic.

Peter Rainer: Right. Not that I know of. Also, it’s too easy for editors and, you know, publishers to say, well, we don’t need critics. We can just link to Rotten Tomatoes. You know, if everybody thought that way there’d be nothing to link to because everything that you’re aggregating would be gone. The people who are aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes are people who have individual bylines. But what I like about Rotten Tomatoes is that, you know, in the past, if I wanted to read a critic, say, in Boston or someplace, the only way I could read that critic is if I subscribe to, you know, The Boston Globe or the Phoenix or whatever.

Eric Conner: Right.

Peter Rainer: Now, with the click of a key, you can read anybody. So in a sense, it’s the great leveler. You know, The New York Times and the Podunk Express critic are equally accessible, which is a good thing. It also means that if you’re good, but out there in the wilderness, you don’t feel quite as alone.

Eric Conner: Right no it’s true. Your review can reach so much more of a mass audience than ever. It’s not only limited to that town.

Peter Rainer: Yeah and that’s important. I myself don’t read a whole lot of criticism, you know, hardly any before I see a film, assuming reviews are even out there.

Eric Conner: Yeah I was about to say you also have the luxury of you get to see it early.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, the trades and some publications usually come out earlier than the rest of us, but but for the most part, particularly if I’m at a festival like Toronto, I’m seeing films that are opening two, three months in advance, sometimes a year in advance, sometimes they never open. And, you know, I don’t review a movie right after I see it. Most of the time unless I’m on some big deadline. But I try to take notes just so I have some sense of, you know, what I was thinking. So that when I do review it, if it’s months later, you know, because I do see a lot of movies, I do have the luxury at the monitor of not reviewing everything I see. Thank God, because that’s another.

Eric Conner: You can pick and choose basically.

Peter Rainer: For the most part, I mean, if if if I didn’t wanna review Black Panther for some reason, I would have had to review that just for obvious reasons. But I did want to see it, of course. Or let, let’s say, Transformers movies. I have sort of at this point saying, you know, I just can’t take it anymore. I’m sorry.

Eric Conner: Like you can as a critic then say I think I think my audience is good not to read my review.

Peter Rainer: To some extent. I mean, the reason I have to do some of that is because at least the online version of what I write does reach everybody, not just monitor subscribers, particularly if you’re going through rotten tomatoes and hits matter, clicks matter, all of that stuff. So I can’t just turn my back because, I mean, I wasn’t kidding. There are 20 movies that open in a given week.

Eric Conner: Sure.

Peter Rainer: And the radio show that I’m a part of, Film Week, they sort of like it if the two of us critics see the majority of what’s out there as a great public service to all these people who are listening who then don’t have to see all this crap that we’re talking about.

Eric Conner: I see Transformers so you do not.

Peter Rainer: Well, if Transformers opened on a week when I was on the show, I would have to see the thing. But that’s a classic example of a so-called critic proof movie.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: This idea that the studios are clamoring for critics to write about their movies is certainly not true. And there are some movies that criticism has zero effect. It’s not like, you know, I’m going to give a terrible review to Transformers 12 and Michael Bay is going to sit there and go, God now we just lost 12 million at the box office. You know, the only critic who apparently had even the slightest real effect on studio picture box office was Ebert. Where you have an effect as a critic is with the small indie films.

Eric Conner: Sure.

Peter Rainer: That’s the big difference. Studio pictures. Increasingly, you know, they’ll screen it maybe three or four days before it opens at best. Sometimes they don’t screen it at all. If you’re known for not rolling over like me, sometimes you get to see it last. And then there are critics, you know, blurb whores who who see things real early.

Eric Conner: Well, back in the day, Earl Dittman, his stuff was like, you know, you would have a movie that clearly critics did not favor. And then all of a sudden it would say, like, the greatest epic yet. You know, Earl Dittman, what was it like Wireless magazines?

Peter Rainer: Something like that. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Some thing that doesn’t even exist.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: Yeah. I mean, there were so many critics out there that in essence, they’re they’re not reviews, they’re just glorified fluff pieces to just get their line on the commercial.

Peter Rainer: Right. Well, back in the day, you had some critics who were like that. They could always be counted on to give a great review. Very rarely do I get quoted at this point, but for whatever reason, they tend to go to the same people all the time. And, you know, if you use the word Oscar like it’s only January, but this film is going to clean up at Oscar time or, you know, Driving Miss Daisy, “drive this film straight to the Oscars!”

Eric Conner: Straight to the Oscars.

Peter Rainer: Right. You know, and it’s just shameless, you know. And sometimes, I mean, there are certain critics who are quoted a lot who if you actually go back and look at the full review, they’re kind of mixed reviews. But you have these, quote lines stand out in Dayglo. You know, it says, I didn’t think. For some reason I used always it quoted on John Carpenter movies, even though I was very mixed on them, you know, like The Fog, you know, not a very good movie, but a couple of really scary moments. “Really scary!” I very rarely use exclamation points, but they always put them into these quotes. Sometimes rarely they’ll call me up and say, we want to use this quote, which isn’t quite what I wrote or it’s or it’s the headline which I never write for these reviews. you know, that sort of thing. Look, I like getting quoted. You know, my my mom loved it, and it makes you feel good. But if it’s in the service of something that you genuinely liked. But as I was saying, you know, critics do make a difference for foreign films, independent films, documentaries, those movies, because they don’t have any money to promote their frame.

Eric Conner: Right, right. You are there advertising.

Peter Rainer: Right, we are their advertising and they will build a screening room in your home to show you their movie. I’m not big on streaming. But, you know, there’s a lot of stuff now that’s streamed or DVDs, you know, whatever it takes. And with the traffic in L.A., I have to say, if the choice is me driving an hour and 45 minutes to see a movie that’s an hour and a half or seeing it in the comfort of my own home on a film that is going to lose much visually. That’s what we do now.

Eric Conner: Yeah, on that end I was going to actually ask you about. I was wondering if there were smaller films, independent films. You felt like over the course of your career you’re really able to help champion.

Peter Rainer: Right yeah. Oh, sure. I mean, I, I guess I have two success stories, if I’m may say. One was the movie Blue Sky. Jessica Lange, Tony Richardson directed it, Tommy Lee Jones. Yeah. Yeah. So that was that was made and wasn’t released for like a year and a half. Then it came out, it got a an okay review by the first rank critic at the L.A. Times. And I was at the Times at that point as well. And I thought, well, Jessica Lange’s performance is just unbelievably great.

Eric Conner: Yes, she’s terrific.

Peter Rainer: You know I showed it at a NYFA class to acting students.

Eric Conner: Oh, that’s right. I think I saw the poster film like. Oh, cool.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. No, I wanted to pick something that.

Eric Conner: That’s a bit of a gem.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. And I write about it in my book too. But the piece in the book is taken from the L.A. Times. So what happened was I wrote this big essay about her performance and the paper played it up, front page calendar, and that was just when the Academy was starting to send out VHS tapes of films. So Orion got behind the film to the extent that they sent out VHS tapes with a copy of my review to all the Academy members of this film that no one had seen. And then she won the Oscar and she, I’m told, you know, has credited me for making that happen. At least getting the film out there. It would have died. Another example was Alfonso Caron’s first English language movie, Little Princess was a Warner’s picture. That was a movie that, again, it got an okay review in the Times. But I thought this is just a transcendent family.

Eric Conner: Beautiful film.

Peter Rainer: Beautiful, beautiful film. So I wrote a long piece on it, particularly cause at the time everybody was saying, well, why aren’t there enough good movies for families, you know? I said, well, here’s one and you’re not going to see it. The Warners campaign for it initially was terrible. So, again, they took out big ads. My review was sent out. They rereleased it on the basis of the review. It still didn’t do the kind of business it should have. And the ad campaign had the little girl’s glowing cheeks in the dark, like I mean, like a Stephen King movie. But I know that Cuarón said, you know, I. I really owe you. So, I mean, that that makes you feel good because you really championing you know, I think I speak for a lot of critics that, you know, it’s not tearing things down that we get off on. It’s championing films that might not normally have a life of its own.

Eric Conner: Sure. Well, and actually gets us into part of your book. I really was say to talk with you about which was overrated or under seen. And we’ll start with the under seen and we’ll we’ll start positive before we work our way maybe to the back of the house there. A few of them that I just jotted down that I thought really deserved some mention that I’m really glad you did the book. Wild Bill with a terrific performance by Jeff Bridges. Joe Gould’s Secret. And I’m going to piggyback on that and I want to talk about Big Night, which I love also. Stanley Tucci directed. Then Babe Pig in the City.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: Any of those you want to pontificate on?

Peter Rainer: Well, yeah. Wild Bill. I was the critic at Los Angeles magazine at that time, and I had a lot of space and I thought, you know, Walter Hill’s had a very uneven career, but at his best, he’s a great director. And at that time he was sort of not as highly regarded. And Jeff Bridges, I’ve always thought, was one of the very best actors around. And you know, and here here he is in a full scale starring role. Terrific script. I just thought it was.

Eric Conner: Ellen Barkin was in that too right?

Peter Rainer: Ellen Barkin. Yeah. I mean, it’s it’s an amazing movie that, you know, you and I and eight other people have probably seen.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: But it was a classic example of my trying to put into the spotlight a film that was terrific. And I knew needed some help. Babe Pig in the City is is one of the best sequels ever made. I mean, I love Babe. I think this is even better. It’s a turbo charged woop-de-do great. The script is really good. I mean, everything about it is just a terrific movie.

Eric Conner: And I think it like didn’t hit with family audiences the same way because there’s.

Peter Rainer: Dark.

Eric Conner: There’s a darkness about it, but it actually I mean the themes of it are beautiful and it died. Like, it like.

Peter Rainer: I know.

Eric Conner: And Babe was such a hit and such a hit on video too.

Peter Rainer: I think some people who loved Babe felt betrayed that this wasn’t, you know, the same tone. But I mean, if it had been, it wouldn’t have been as good. It was it was just a terrific movie.

Eric Conner: But you really could feel like the first one you like, George Miller worked on that? And then Babe Pig in the City, like ah yeah, there’s George Miller.

Peter Rainer: Right that’s the Road Warrior George Miller.

Eric Conner: Like there’s a scene that looks like it’s right out of Thunderdome towards the end of that film.

Peter Rainer: Yeah there’s some great chase scenes in it.

Eric Conner: And then Joe Gould’s Secret, which directed by Stanley Tucci.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: Inspired by a true story.

Peter Rainer: Yeah it was a New Yorker writer who sort of befriended this this homeless guy who claimed to be writing a million page history of the world. It was just a very touching movie. It was very well done. You know, it wasn’t a great work of cinematic art, but, you know, it didn’t have to be.

Eric Conner: And that’s what I feel about big night. I I’m curious your thoughts on Big Night. Because that’s one of those.

Peter Rainer: Yeah don’t see you when you’re hungry.

Eric Conner: Yeah. That film’s all about food, but but food not just as food. The food is a symbol of of art versus commerce. And two brothers Primo and Secondo.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Stanley Tucci co-wrote it, co-directed it, starred in it with Tony Shalhoub.

Peter Rainer: And Tony Shalhoub. Yeah.

Eric Conner: And it’s this beautiful little gem of a film. I you know, I teach writing and I use that film every time I have a new group. If I’m talking dialog I go there. If I’m talking theme I go there. And Stanley Tucci, he’s only directed a little bit, but I feel like he really has a real auteur’s eye and auteur’s heart.

Peter Rainer: You know, Big Night, as I recall it ends with the two guys. They sort of make up, but they don’t say anything.

Eric Conner: It’s it’s a 10 minute scene of them cooking an omelet.

Peter Rainer: And they don’t say anything. Right. Sometimes the best dialogue is no dialogue.

Eric Conner: Oh, yeah, and that’s a lesson I teach.

Peter Rainer: That’s a classic example. You know, just just let it play out. You don’t need to say anything.

Eric Conner: No. No dialogue. No cuts.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: So. Well, we talked positive and, you know, without being nasty.

Peter Rainer: Uh oh.

Eric Conner: Some interesting choices for movies that you felt were overrated. Again, not necessarily terrible, but just overrated. And I’ll just list a few. Feel free to riff on any of them. American Beauty, Good Will Hunting, which I do want to talk about. Shine, Fight Club, Zero Dark Thirty. And then you didn’t get into this in the book, but you alluded to Silver Linings Playbook, which I think you just called, and I’m quoting you, “a crock.”

Peter Rainer: I mean, Silver Linings Playbook is entertaining. I called it a crock because I think the way it wraps up, it’s like, you know, mental illness is something that you can literally dance away.

Eric Conner: It’s easy as long as you. Right, right. If you do well in the dance contest, you’re healed.

Peter Rainer: I mean, really.

Eric Conner: But, yeah, I was wondering if any of those particular for you were like American Beauty wins the Oscar for best picture.

Peter Rainer: Yeah that pissed me off. I forget what should have won that year. But that’s actually the first review in my book. I just thought I really wanted to, you know, to come out swinging, you know, with the film that that won all these awards. But I have found that, and a lot of people who’ve read it say, you know, yeah, I kind of agree with you. That was overrated. Sometimes these movies, it takes a while before people really come down from the hype and see these films more for what they really are. You know, Shine, I thought. And we can talk about this in connection with Good Will Hunting also. But, you know, there’s this kind of romance of madness, the genius of, that is very much old school Hollywood, but tricked up in these new ways, people buy it in a way that they might not if it was so nakedly obvious. In the old movies, you know, some great composer tearing his hair out and “I’ve got it,” you know, and aha. You know, there are ways to do that story that are sympathetic and powerful and empathetic without distorting who these guys really are.

Eric Conner: Are there films you can think of that are like the troubled genius? You know, I mean, even Beautiful Mind, which I’m not sure.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, I wasn’t crazy about that either.

Eric Conner: And that one I know got some criticism for leaving out pretty large chunks of who this guy was.

Peter Rainer: Right. You know, all the stuff that’s going to turn people off.

Eric Conner: Yeah, but is there one that you feel like really nailed it?

Peter Rainer: It’s very difficult. You know, the Picasso movie with Anthony Hopkins didn’t work.

Eric Conner: I guess Amadeus maybe to an extent, although it’s not the same category though, right?

Peter Rainer: No and I had a problem with Amadeus too. I’m sorry because the game plan there was that the real Mozart was this amazing genius. But he was this scatological twit in real life, you know, with all this cackling and all that. That’s what people remember, you know, and then somehow out of all of this comes this great music. Now, if you read anything about his life or in general, this notion that he was somehow visited by the gods, I think is a disservice to what genius entails, which isn’t all just, you know, you wake up and you’re a genius. Even geniuses have to work at it and have ups and downs. And there’s more of a psychology to their lives than is allowed for in these stupid movies.

Eric Conner: I think maybe Pollock, I thought might be one. That was good.

Peter Rainer: Pollock was. Yeah, Pollock was pretty strong. I’d have to think about that. You know, I mean, Geoffrey Rush, who was in Shine, was played Einstein in the TV series and he wasn’t bad. But that’s sort of an impossible role to do. It’s very hard to portray genius.

Eric Conner: Well, and I think it, right. And I think Pollock, it’s such a grounded film. You know, in essence, like he was so driven, and he would sort of put his work before all his relationships.

Peter Rainer: Right yeah. No it’s funny because it’s like the ones I think have been sort of successful that I can recall are mostly about painters. With writers, it’s a little more difficult. You know, you’re sitting down and all of a sudden you got. It’s not a very photo, you know, cinematic thing to do.

Eric Conner: A movie you brought up in your book. And this one’s not based on a true story. But Wonder Boys, which is, I think, a terrific movie about writing.

Peter Rainer: Underrated. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Yeah. That, right, that. Was that on your underrated list?

Peter Rainer: No that’s in another. That’s in the Curtis Hanson auteurs section.

Eric Conner: Oh right right. The auteurs section. I thought Wonder Boys if you haven’t seen it, it’s Michael Douglas and it’s that thing Paul Newman was so wonderful at. It’s like it didn’t feel like acting, and you realize how much work into making something look like you’re not doing any work.

Peter Rainer: Yeah, it’s really, I know for fact, that’s one of his very best performances. Yeah. It does capture the writing life in ways that most movies don’t.

Eric Conner: Right. Yeah he doesn’t have writer’s block. He writes too much, which is, that one detail feels so lived in where it has no center because he has no center.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: Gosh I want to watch it like tonight again.

Peter Rainer: Yeah it’s a terrific, terrific movie.

Eric Conner: And who, was it like Dede Allen edited it? I’m trying to remember.

Peter Rainer: Oh Anne Coates?

Eric Conner: Yeah, it was one. It was either Dede. I think it was Dede Allen.

Peter Rainer: Might have been Dede Allen.

Eric Conner: But yeah the idea that Dede Allen and Anne Coates were still doing it, you know, and doing such a great. I mean, Out of Sight I think is one of the.

Peter Rainer: Terrific movie.

Eric Conner: One of the best sorta pulpy genre films.

Peter Rainer: I mean out of sight won the National Society of Film Critics award for Best Picture. And I remember, you know, because usually these awards are given to sort of Oscar bait or prestigious movies that fit all the categories, you know. And here was this terrific genre movie. And I was overjoyed that it won. But I got more calls because I was president of the group like The New York Times saying how is it that this film won? In other words, there was some conspiracy or what? What went on? And I explained to them what happened. And then they they published their own version of it anyway. You know, they they they refused to believe that that you could actually. Babe, the first babe, won best picture also from that group. And I remember there was a picture of a pig on the front page of Variety, you know, and people couldn’t believe that.

Eric Conner: I tell you, watch the last 10 minutes of that film. You know, Farmer Hoggett and Babe and his his big day at the at the sheep herding contest. It is like the most beautifully directed scene.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: And it is such a, I love showing that movie to my kids. If anything, I wish they would want to watch it more times because some of their movies they want to watch a hundred times I’m like, really?

Peter Rainer: What’s an example of a movie that they want to see hundreds of times?

Eric Conner: I mean, listen. I love Star Wars, but those prequels, it’s it’s rough.

Peter Rainer: Really the prequels?

Eric Conner: Listen, they’re young. I try with them.

Peter Rainer: Empire Strikes Back is for me a great movie.

Eric Conner: Sure. I could watch that a hundred times. I probably have watched that a hundred times. You know, and you actually talked a bit about Irvin Kershner’s work on that and Irvin Kershner directed Empire. He passed away a couple of years back, right?

Peter Rainer: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Eric Conner: So I was wondering if you could talk even a little bit about him.

Peter Rainer:Yeah.

Eric Conner: Cause he’s kind of like him and I feel like Hal Ashby to an extent.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: They’re these like great auteurs who were sort of overshadowed by other auteurs of those time periods.

Peter Rainer: Definitely. Yeah. I mean, Ashby directed a string of terrific movies.

Eric Conner: In the 70s he basically like Babe Ruth up there.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. I think even Harold and Maude, I think may have even been the 60s.

Eric Conner: What was that like 68 or 69?

Peter Rainer: Right but his first film I think as a director was, wasn’t it The Landlord? Beau Bridges, a terrific script by I think Bill Gunn. It was a really, really good movie, but he was a marvelous director. I gather he had some, you know, personal and drug issues that did him in early, but he’s not nearly as recognized as he should be now for those films. Kershner even more so. I mean, here’s a director who, you know, he started out he did a Corman movie. There’s a film called The Luck of Ginger Coffey with Robert Shaw and Mary Ure, which is a great newspaper movie. It’s about a newspaper man.

Eric Conner: And he was like George Lucas’s teacher at SC, I think.

Peter Rainer: I believe. Yeah. He he went to SC originally himself. And he was incredibly versatile. He did every you know, from creepy noir, supernatural, you know, Eyes of Laura Mars to Empire Strikes Back. He did a wonderful, very under seen Streisand movie, maybe her best performance, Up the Sandbox. Incredibly versatile and good. I’m missing some, you know.

Eric Conner: Well, one to miss, Never Say Never Again. I believe he directed that.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Conner: Which was the remake of Thunderball with a slightly older Sean Connery.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Right. No. There were, you know, he did the sequel to Robocop. I wasn’t crazy about that.

Eric Conner: Oh my god. That’s right. With the. Just stop at Empire and call it a day because. Yeah and I mean, Empire has such – there’s so much more to that. You know, it elevated the whole genre, really. I mean it’s.

Peter Rainer: Still the best, I think, of them.

Eric Conner: And it’s beautiful. I mean, I’ve been able to see it on the big screen. I saw it when I was a little kid. But you see it now. And there is such artistry to that.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Kerschner had a great graphics sense, too. I mean, really.

Eric Conner: The use of color, the use of framing.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. He worked with Connery much earlier on than than that misbegotten Bond movie.

Eric Conner: Oh yeah, that’s right.

Peter Rainer: A Fine Madness.

Eric Conner:Yeah. Yeah.

Peter Rainer: It’s a terrific movie, which is apparently, you know, recut by the studio. But but Connery is wonderful in it. This is pre James Bond even before Dr. No, I believe. But the word on on Kersh as everybody called him. I only met him a few times briefly. But you know, he said one of the reasons he was more well-known or made more movies is that he said nobody can turn a go project into a development deal. You know better than Irvin Kershner. You know, so. Because he at one point he was going to do a movie with a ninja, and there were always these projects were announced.

Eric Conner: Yeah.

Peter Rainer: But a wonderful, wonderful director.

Eric Conner: And that’s the hope is like you, you know, your book and your reviews. It does. You know, as you’re saying, it shines a light on the ones that aren’t as seen. And that’s honestly for myself teaching at a film school. You know, I try to make a point of bringing in stuff that spans decades and trying to find that balance. And it is hard to sometimes get past the, you know, let’s call it the little bit of aging on top, but there’s these beautiful stories that you as a critic have been able to bring to people and vice versa, which I think is to me, I imagine, the most rewarding part of your job by far.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, and Night of the Hunter, I often show that in classes or talk about because it really is is such a difficult movie. In some ways it’s it’s comedy. It’s scary. It’s funny. It’s you know, you really have to sort of be on its wavelength.

Eric Conner: Mitchum is so good in that.

Peter Rainer: Mitchum is incredible in it. And you know, the script is by James Agee. Only film Charles Laughton ever directed. It was shot by the guy.

Eric Conner: Oh that’s right. Right, right.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. It was shot by Stanley Cortez, who did Magnificent Ambersons. You know, it’s it’s just an amazing movie on every level. And another director who’s even more well-known than Kershner but still, Paul Mazursky is a director who I feel is sort of falling out of the landscape, who did some wonderful, wonderful movies.

Eric Conner: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter Rainer: Real humanist. You know, Harry and Tonto, Enemies, A Love Story based on the Isaac Singer novel.

Eric Conner: Oh yeah terrific. Lena Olin and.

Peter Rainer: Great movie. Yeah. Angelica Houston.

Eric Conner: Ron Silver?

Peter Rainer: Ron Silver. It’s an amazing it’s his best work and his early films, too. You know, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice I saw again not that long ago.

Eric Conner: Oh you wrote about that. Yeah I know you love that film.

Peter Rainer: Yeah. And even Alice in Wonderland, as misbegotten as a lot of it is, has some classic Hollywood satire.

Eric Conner: Was he Down and Out in Beverly Hills, too?

Peter Rainer: Yeah. Downtown Beverly Hills.

Eric Conner: Which which is really good actually.

Peter Rainer: It’s a really funny movie.

Eric Conner: That one aged nicely. Like, some of those you were talking about this, I think with American Beauty, like some movies were great then, and then you watch a little later like.

Peter Rainer: Right. Right.

Eric Conner: That one I saw not that long back again. It was. It really aged beautifully.

Peter Rainer: Holds up, yeah.

Eric Conner: Well, listen, I really appreciate just sitting down and chatting with you. I’ve seen your screenings that you’ve hosted at our school. And I think what you do here for our students is look deeper. Right? Like there’s so much new stuff and there’s so much great television, but you just have to scratch a little bit and you find things like the Criterion Collection.

Peter Rainer: Oh, yeah.

Eric Conner: And I mean, pretty much anything you get in the Criterion Collection, you’re going to be happy that you watched it.

Peter Rainer: Right.

Eric Conner: You might not always get it. You might always like it. But it will expand your film vocabulary and your film knowledge and your film history, all of which if you’re looking to write, direct, produce, act, cinematography.

Peter Rainer:Absolutely yeah.

Eric Conner:You gotta learn from the giants in order to stand on their shoulders correctly, I suppose.

Peter Rainer: Yeah.

Eric Conner: Well, Peter, thank you so much for kibitzing with me.

Peter Rainer: Thank you Eric. It was great. Went fast.

Eric Conner: And we will do this again. So thank you, Peter, for joining us. And thanks to all of you for listening. Again, his book, Rainer on Film is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all other legitimate booksellers. It is more than worth it. If you want to check out some of our other Q&As you can go to our YouTube channel. That’s This episode was edited and mixed by the wonderful Kristian Heydon. Our creative director is the also wonderful David Andrew Nelson, who also produced this episode with Kristian Heydon and myself. Our show is executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler with a special thanks going out to our staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs, check us out at And you can subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you may listen. See you next time.

Peter Rainer: Hi, I’m Peter Rainer. I’m with the faculty of the New York Film Academy. I’m the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor and NPR’s Film Week in Southern California. I have a book called “Rainer on Film; 30 Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.” It’s a collection of my essays and I’ve been at the critic biz for a very long time. What I’m going to talk about today is the films and filmmakers that have really inspired me as a critic and as just a regular moviegoer. Films that have really stayed with me and become a part of my life and have really opened my eyes to what movies can be.

Peter Rainer: I grew up in New York, mostly in the suburbs, but the city was where many of the great revival houses existed. They had a great old revival house in the village called the Bleecker Street Cinema, which was an amazing place. And I often would see as many great films as I could see. Also on television, there was a show called Million Dollar Movie and every night you would watch a film that they would show repeatedly throughout the week. So if you wanted to, you could see a film many, many times. In a weird way that sort of schooled me in how to look at film because when you’re obsessive enough, like I was, to keep seeing the same film over and over again, you begin to pick up on on what it’s like to put a film together, what the acting is like, the performances, you know, all of that kind of combines in a way to let you know that this film didn’t just happen. There were people who made the film, but when I was coming up, I’d sort of gave myself an education and in the process, I was also reading, you know, critics as I went along who wrote on movies. And when I was in college in the early 70s, that was a particularly fervid time for a film, I think, especially American film. It was a real breakthrough in what you could do as a filmmaker. You know, all of these films that I reviewed as a critic for my college newspaper, you know, week after week, you’d see Cabaret, Sounder, The Godfather, Mean Streets, The Sorrow and the Pity, The Story of Adele H., you know, all these great Altman movies, films by Peckinpah, Clockwork Orange, etc. I mean, there was just a ton of great stuff all the time. And I think what I discovered without really realizing it, although some readers pointed it out, was that I guess I sort of favor films that have a sort of humanistic angle. Which is not to say that I don’t love really all kinds of movies if they’re good. You know, people often say to me, well, are there any types of films that you particularly like or any genres that you really like or don’t like? And my answer is usually, not really. It sort of depends on the film, not on the genre. But I do sort of favor films that have a sort of humanistic angle, as opposed to the great big scale epic directors. There are certain directors who who have really stood out for me over the years, such as Vittorio de Sica, the early neorealist pictures that he made. John Renoir an all time great director. His focus was always on the human element. The Indian director, Satyajit Ray, is for me perhaps the greatest of all film artists. And his Apu Trilogy is for me, probably the greatest single entity and film. That and the first two Godfather movies.

Clip: I want you to rest well and in a month from now this Hollywood bigshot’s gonna give you what you want.

Clip: It’s too late. They start shooting in a week.

Clip: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Peter Rainer: And then also, Yasujiru Ozu, whose film Tokyo Story especially, is this is for me one of the three or four greatest films ever made.

Clip: [Clip from Tokyo Story in Japanese]

Peter Rainer: And Ozu was was a director who worked in an extremely rigorous style. You’d be hard pressed to find any camera movement whatsoever in his films. But what he was able to accomplish as a director was was to really, again, bring out the human element in these people and focus on what’s important. And I think that that’s really something that people have to be reminded of, particularly in this day and age when people are making movies and they often feel that if they’re not showing off with the camera, that somehow, you know, something is, is amiss. That they’re not really utilizing the medium, that they’re, they’re just being, you know, stage people and not movie people. And my feeling is, if you get a powerful experience from watching something on screen, then to argue if it’s, you know, not movie-ish enough, it has no real value. Some of the best films ever made have been movies that could probably have worked on stage. What you’re looking for is the experience that you take away from seeing something. And I think that that can work with a director as spare and rigorous as Ozu, stylistically, or as flamboyant as DePalma or a Japanese director like Mizuguchi or Kurosawa, who are always considered, particularly Kurosawa, the, quote, most western of directors. And that was because he filled with such dynamism in films like Seven Samurai, one of my favorite films, or Yojimbo or Rashomon or any number of other of his films, that he, in a sense out-Hollywood-ed Hollywood. But that’s a very different approach to film than Ozu and they’re equally great if the results are.

Peter Rainer: Ingmar Bergman, I know, has a sort of mixed reputation these days because there was a time when Bergman was thought of as the, the film director that the people who didn’t really like movies liked. Because he was sort of highbrow. He talked about the big issues, you know, religion. And I think a lot of people thought, well, OK, that’s what it really means to be a movie artist. But I think an early film of his like Summer Interlude was quite wonderful and it’s very simple and beautiful. It’s like a Renoir movie in some ways. De Sica is another one who was very important to me in terms of of the sort of humanistic angle. When he teamed up with Zavattini, the two of them made some of the most groundbreaking neorealist pictures ever made. And I don’t know that any director has made more great movies within a shorter span of time than De Sica did, from the late 40s through the mid 50s. In something like eight years, he made, you know, like six masterpieces. Bam, bam, bam, bam. What de Sica often did was he use non-actors. The Father and Bicycle Thief.

Clip: [Clip from Bicycle Thieves in Italian]

Peter Rainer: Or the old man in Umberto D. who was, I believe, a professor and had never acted before. The notion that they had, he and Zavattini, was that you don’t want people to be acting, quote unquote. You just want them to be. And when this approach works, you really do feel like you’re watching the unvarnished truth. But when it doesn’t work, and it didn’t always work with De Sica, you feel like, well, gee, I wish the great actor had been in that role. It all depends. Another great French director who was a big inspiration to me, who had a similar idea was Robert Bresson. Bresson disdained actors and didn’t want anybody to be really performing in any big way in the films. He just wanted to kind of read the lines and have a certain blank affect. And that, in this way, the true spirituality and the power of the story would come through. And again, when this works, it works incredibly well. And when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But there are tons of Hollywood movies that have inspired me of all types, The Godfather movies, as I mentioned the first two and portions of the third, but mostly the first two, are really so novelistic, so, so rich in characterization.

Clip: A crooked cops who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That’s a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don’t we Tom. They might like a story like that.

Clip: They might. They just might.

Clip: It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

Peter Rainer: I remember when I saw them in college, it just seemed like, you know, where did this come from? You weren’t really prepared for, for the power of what he did in that movie. I’m not sure he was either and he’s talked so much about it ever since in interviews and he’s, I think, become tired of all the adulation on those films. And he’s gone back and forth about even whether he thinks they’re great or whether he should have made Godfather Part 2, which is maybe the greatest film ever made. But those films were were just so revelatory because he could have done it an entirely different way. He could have just done some slam bang gangster movie like so many others that were being done at the time, or had been done. And instead, he made, of all things, this deeply personal film about this family and really movie about the dark side of the American dream.

Peter Rainer: I’ve always had a problem with movies that depict violence without showing the consequences of violence. That show people getting blown away and, you know, and then you go out and have a smoke or you go out to dinner and it doesn’t really seem to affect the characters very much. Bonnie and Clyde, this was a movie that really put the violence right in front of you.

Clip: This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker.

Clip: Glad to meet you.

Clip: I’m Clyde Barrow.

Clip: Clyde.

Clip: We rob banks.

Peter Rainer: And because it started out in a kind of rompy way, the film kind of faked you out in order to make that point. It was a very powerful film, as was The Wild Bunch, if we’re talking about movie violence, several years later. Peckinpah should be more recognized, I think, than he is now. But he was a great inspiration for me as a director. The Wild Bunch is, I think, the equivalent of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as a piece of epic action, a movie about the nature of violence. Peckinpah had such a phenomenal sense of how to make a movie, how to frame and shoot and cut. Everything that he did was just so instinctively right.

Peter Rainer: Robert Altman has always been a very special director for me, despite his extreme unevenness. And he’s a director who really, in a sense, came out of nowhere. I mean, he was doing episodic TV and Sugarfoot and a lot of, Whirlybirds, a lot of these TV shows. He was really kind of a journeyman director, you know, well into his 40s until he started directing features. And even then, the first couple of features that he made that were nothing extraordinary. Then he made M*A*S*H, which is wonderful, tremendously entertaining movie.

Clip: [Clip from M*A*S*H]

Peter Rainer: But you wouldn’t really look at that either and say, well, this is the work of a great director. It was just sort of this really highly entertaining, smart movie, but not the work of a great artist. When he made McCabe & Mrs. Miller… Where did this come from? How could anybody make a movie, this Renoir-esque within the studio system? It was a period Western with Lauren Beatty and Julie Christie.

Clip: You’re John McCabe?

Clip: Yeah.

Clip: Mrs. Miller. Looking very forward to see you.

Peter Rainer: The music was from Leonard Cohen and it was a film of such deep poetic resonance that it stayed with me. And you know how sometimes when you see a film and you worry, gee, it meant so much to me when I was growing up,, but I wonder if I see it, you know, 10-15 years later, whether it’s going to still mean the same thing to me. Cause sometimes that happens, right? You see a film and it meant a lot to you, then you see it again and it doesn’t look so great? It’s a cruddy feeling, right? Because you feel like you’ve been mugged. But that didn’t happen with McCabe & Mrs. Miller or quite a few of the other films that that really meant a great deal to me. If anything, when you return to these films, they reveal more to you. Although I have to say that, especially with movies, I don’t find that if I go back and look at a film repeatedly that it does a whole lot for me if the viewings are, you know, close together. If I see a film and then I see it again two weeks later, I don’t bring that much more to the party than I did when I saw it the first time. For me, it sort of has to marinate for a while. And also you have to do a little bit of growing up. When I was a kid, I would see films like L’Avventura or Jules and Jim, and I’d say, well, yeah this is a great movie. But really, what did I know? You know, I was 15, 14. What did I really know about life that I could say that L’Avventura was a great movie? It really, kind of, doesn’t work that way. You know, you have to live a life in order to be able to appreciate some of these great films. And that’s a very important thing, not only for people who write about films, but for all you filmmakers and actors, that you have to have built up a certain amount of experience in your own life in order to be able to connect up emotionally to the material that you’re working on. And it’s not enough to simply put a story on the screen and fix it up with a lot of camera pyrotechnics. You have to have a knowledge of life that will bring something to life on the screen. And a lot of the directors that I mentioned, Renoir, Ray, de Sica, Ozu, Kurosawa, Coppola, these are directors who understood that completely.

Peter Rainer: I could go on. There are so many movies that inspired me and I will go on in subsequent podcasts, I’m sure, but this is just a taste of some of the movies and directors who really inspired me to do the kind of work that I do.

Peter Rainer: The show is edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. The creative director is David Andrew Nelson. Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Great talking to you.

Clip: Live from the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, it’s the 92nd Academy Awards.

Peter Rainer: Hello, this is The Backlot podcast for the New York Film Academy. This is Peter Rainer, author of Rainer on Film 30 Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era, and critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. Today, I’m going to talk about the Academy Awards that recently wrapped up. The purpose of the Academy Awards, of course, is, is to promote the film industry. That’s why it was created in 1927. Bunch of studio heads got together and decided that this would be a good way to monetize the Hollywood film industry and it worked. The ratings have gone down significantly over the years. Last year, the ratings were up a bit because they had no host. This year it was also a hostless show and the ratings were down something like 20 percent. This is due, I’m sure, primarily because of social media. A lot of people now just look at excerpts and clips and highlights, as opposed to actually sitting through the entire show, which tends to grind on anyway. But unless there’s some gaffe like there was a number of years ago when La La Land was mistakenly voted to Best Picture over Moonlight.

Clip: La La Land.

I’m sorry. No, there’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture.

Moonlight won.

Peter Rainer: It’s usually those kinds of moments that you remember and not all the other stuff. The range of movies this year is criticized for not being diverse enough. There was the whole Oscars So White campaign that started a number of years ago when none of the actors in any of the categories were anything but white. And also this year there was a lot of controversy because there were no women who directed among the five nominees. And there was only one actor of color, Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, who was nominated in the acting categories, you know a total of 20 slots. My attitude towards all of these controversies is that I would like to see Hollywood be far more diverse than it is in terms of who’s represented, who’s stories are represented, who gets to direct. But I’m a critic and not a sociologist and so I, and presumably the academy of voters who were voting for excellence, quote unquote. You know, I can only endorse and vote for those films and performances that I think are truly deserving and first rate. The fact that there aren’t more of those kinds of films by women directors and actors and filmmakers of color is due to the fact that the industry has not been nearly as welcoming to those filmmakers, those artists and those stories as they should be. That’s a separate issue from saying that you’re going to vote for a more diverse roster of winners. I think you have to vote for what’s out there. And the fact that there aren’t more films of that type that are represented at the Oscars connects up to the problem of why these filmmakers and actors don’t have greater opportunities. As opposed to these are the films that are out there and you have to vote for what’s out there.

Peter Rainer: In terms of what was out there this year, there were certainly a number of performances and pieces of direction that I thought were overlooked in this realm that could have been cited. I’m not the biggest fan of little women, but I do think that the best aspect of it was the directing and the performances.

Clip: You’re a great deal too good for me, and I’m so grateful to you and I’m so proud of you. And I just I don’t see why I can’t love you as you want me to. I don’t know why.

You can’t.

No. I can’t, I can’t change how I feel. And it would be a lie to say I do when I don’t. I’m so sorry Teddy.

Peter Rainer: And Octavia Spencer was marvelous this year. You know, a lot of actors were neglected. So the larger question here is just how relevant, how accurate are the Oscars as any kind of indices of excellence? I think we can probably all agree that the Oscars are a lot of fun. They’re a lot of fun to watch. But as any kind of true indicator of what was the best in a given year, it falls pretty short. I think the last time I thought the best picture of the year was actually the best picture of the year was maybe like The Godfather, Part 2. So there are a lot of good movies that don’t get recognized. You have to look at the Oscars as inextricably linked with the members of the Academy who vote the Oscars, who are until fairly recently overwhelmingly white and domestic and older, all of which leads to certain kinds of films and certain kind of nominations. This year, there was a concerted attempt to broaden the membership internationally, which may explain the success of the South Korean movie Parasite, which won, you know, Picture, Director, and Screenplay, among others. But there still remains a certain amount of controversy as to whether the Foreign Language movie, which is now called I think Best International Film, you know, whether films that are not in English should be cited by the academy as the best film of the year, for example. Now, Parasite won arguably the two major awards of the night, Best Picture and then also Best Director.

Clip: And the Oscar goes to Parasite.

Peter Rainer: The question is, you know, did Bong Joon Ho who directed Parasite, you know, he’s he’s had a tour of duty in Hollywood. He did Snowpiercer.

Clip: What are you saying?

We take the engine and we control the world.

When is the time?


Peter Rainer: And Okja was Netflix and had a lot of English speaking actors in it.

Clip: 10 years in planning. On the cusp of a product that will feed millions, and what happens? That farmer girl is gonna destroy us.


Peter Rainer: So he already was kind of in the club, in that sense. He wasn’t a total outsider. But nevertheless it was a very homegrown film, very South Korean. But it did strike a large nerve with the larger voting body because it’s a film that is a kind of deranged upstairs, downstairs. It’s a film about income inequality in a sense. And I think that’s one of the things that really helped put it over.

This is the first time that a Foreign Language film has ever won the Best Picture Oscar in 90-some years, but to argue that of all the foreign films that have been made, that this was the best and the only one that deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar, that’s certainly not true. The fact that the Best Picture Oscar has never gone to any movie by Kurosawa, to Antonioni, to Fellini, to Jean Renoir, to Ingmar Bergman, to Francois Truffaut, to Jean Luc Godard. You know, I could go on and on and on. Some of those directors have won the Foreign Language film, but not the Best Picture.

Now, there’s no law in the Academy that says that if you are a documentary, you can’t also be nominated for Best Picture. In the case of Animated, I believe Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture. So again, I mean, there’s no law that says that a film by, say, Miyazaki, the great Japanese animator who won Animated Oscars, could not also have qualified and won for Best Picture. The idea that a Best Picture is only English language is kind of silly, but if you’re going to create categories, then the question is, well, why are you doing that? If it’s just a wide open for Best Picture and any movie can qualify, then why do you have these separate categories? Because what happens is, like for instance Roma last year was nominated for both Foreign Language Film and Best Picture. And the prevailing wisdom was that it would not win Best Picture despite rapturous reception because it had already won best foreign film and, you know you split your vote and et cetera. And that’s probably what happened. In this case with Parasite, I think it just sort of overrode all those considerations.

Does this set a precedent for this happening again in the future? I doubt it. I think it’s somewhat of an anomaly, given, I think, the lack of any really strong competition. But I think that it’s important to recognize films for the cultures in which they are made and not to assume that everything that gets the nod in Hollywood is going to lead to bigger and better and more expensive and more, quote, commercial product. So the Oscars have a lot to answer for. But I think that the outpouring of affection for Parasite this year was deserved because I thought it was a good movie. If it hadn’t been a good movie, you know, forget it. You know, I didn’t think Crazy Rich Asians was a very good movie and I said at the time, I think this isn’t really going to lead to very much in Hollywood in the way of relevant strong movies by and about Asian actors, directors, writers, stories. It’s just going to lead to Crazy Rich Asians, Part Two. I wasn’t crazy this year about the movie The Farewell, but, you know, you could argue that that was also shafted by the academy. It was a much lower profile film with an Asian cast than Parasite was.

Peter Rainer: The acting categories, I thought they were pretty much a lock. The Supporting Actor, Actress and so forth were pretty predictable as to who would win. In most cases, I thought that they chose well among the five that were nominated.

Clip: Here are the nominees for performance by an actress in a leading role. Cynthia Erivo, Harriet. Scarlett Johannson, Marriage Story. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women. Charlize Theron, Bombshell. Renee Zellweger, Judy. And the Oscar goes to Renee Zellweger.

Peter Rainer: Renee Zellweger winning for Judy, the fact that she was playing Judy Garland, you know, when actors play famous actors in movies and biopics, that often tilts the Academy, narcissists that they are, into voting for them. I thought she was terrific in a not very good movie.

Clip: I’m working harder than you would ever believe.

Are you?

And right now, my husband is making a deal for me that means I can start over.

You’re not listening.

I have someone I can rely on, someone who’s helping me make money instead of losing it at the track.

Can we not?

I’m going to get a place and they’re going to live with me.

Peter Rainer: And Scarlett Johansson, I thought, was the lesser of the two leads in Marriage Story. I thought her performance wasn’t quite up to what Adam Driver was doing and her role wasn’t quite as well written.

Clip: I can’t believe I have to know you forever.

Oh you’re f**kin’ insane. And you’re f**king winning.

Are you kidding me? I wanted to be married. I already lost. You didn’t love me as much as I loved you.

Peter Rainer: So it made the film a little top heavy in terms of what the story was about. Saoirse Ronan is just an incredible actress in Little Women. She’s only 25 and, you know, already been nominated several times. She’s really, you know, incredibly versatile. Movies like Brooklyn. She’s done Chekhov on film. She’s, she’s done, you know, just about everything there is that she can do and there’s obviously a great deal more to come. Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, I thought it was a very strong performance again in a movie that I thought was pretty staid and, given the subject matter, a rather uninspiring piece of filmmaking.

Clip: Here are the nominees for performance by an actor in a leading role. Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Adam Driver, Marriage Story. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes. And the Oscar goes to Joaquin Phoenix, Joker.

Peter Rainer: In the Best Actor category, Joaquin Phoenix was the clear favorite and he did win. It’s a movie that I found to be sort of powerful, but in a way powerfully pointless. But his performance is one of a series of really strong performances that he’s given in his career.

Clip: I don’t need you to tell me lies. I know it seems strange. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I don’t know why everyone is so rude. I don’t know why you are. I don’t want anything from you. Maybe a little bit of warmth, maybe a hug, dad. How ’bout just a little bit of f**king decency. What is it with you people? You say that stuff of my mother.

Peter Rainer:Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory was marvelous. And it was a very uncharacteristic performance, so I’m glad it was recognized. Banderas is an actor who’s typically very emotionally out there. His energy is all outward-directed. And in this film where he’s playing a sort of stand in for the director, Pedro Almodóvar. His energy is all sort of inward-directed and every bit as powerful and strong as, as what he’s done in the past. So I think it was a real change for him as a performing style and it was eminently successful. And Adam Driver in Marriage Story I thought was extraordinary. And Jonathan Price in the year’s most unlikely buddy movie, the bromance The Two Popes was strong playing opposite Anthony Hopkins.

Clip: I cannot do this without knowing that there is a decent possibility that you might be chosen.

No. It could never be me.

All right. We’re at an impasse. You cannot retire from the church unless I agree to your going. And I cannot resign until you agree to stay.

Clip: Here are the nominees for achievement in directing. Sam Mendez, 1917.

Peter Rainer: As far as the directing categories go, well, I thought 1917 was sort of a stunt. The idea that it was all shot in one take, it wasn’t of course, but it was made to look that way, was justifiable. But, but I think that if the movie had been shot in the normal way, you know, broken up into, to scenes and camera shots and so forth, that it would be seen for being the conventional war movie that in many ways, it is.

Clip: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman.

Peter Rainer: The Irishman was a movie I was not totally on board for. It’s a well-crafted, well-acted piece of work. The problem I had with The Irishman is that I think that the De Niro character, the hitman is they go a little soft on him. That, as is true of a lot of gangster movies, even much greater ones like The Godfather, that there’s a tendency to soft play the psychopathology of these characters. After all, in The Irishman, DeNiro’s hitman is really unrepentant and uncaring about any of the people that he’s offed, except for Jimmy Hoffa. And I wish the film had explored that a bit more instead of, you know, somewhat sentimentalizing him.

Clip: Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Peter Rainer: Quentin Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, you know, he writes killer dialogue. He makes you want to watch anything that he shoots. And the period recreation of that time in Hollywood was quite extraordinary and I found parts of it very moving. And Brad Pitt, I thought, was was terrific and deserved to win the Best Supporting Actor award.

Clip: My hands are registered as a lethal weapons. That means we get into a fight. I accident kill you. I go to jail.

Anybody accidentally kills anybody in a fight, they go to jail. It’s called manslaughter. And I think all that lethal weapon horses**t is just an excuse so you dancers never have to get in a real fight.

Peter Rainer: But I did have a problem with the way the film wraps up, which is similar to what he did in Inglorious Basterds, where he takes a horrific event and sort of redoes it so it turns out to be the way we all wanted it to turn out. And I think that using these horrific real life events as jumping off points for kind of, you know, pulp fantasias, I find sort of problematic.

Clip: Here are the nominees for performance by an actress in a supporting role. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewel. Laura Dern, Marriage Story. Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit. Florence Pugh, Little Women. Margot Robbie, Bombshell. And the Oscar goes to Laura Dern, Marriage Story.

Peter Rainer: Laura Dern is beloved in Hollywood and also is quite terrific, aside from Marriage Story, where she won, in Little Women.

Clip: I’m angry nearly every day of my life.

You are?

I’m not patient by nature. But with nearly 40 years of effort, I’m learning to not let it get the better of me.

Peter Rainer: Florence Pugh was also terrific in Little Women.

Clip: And if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition because it is.

Peter Rainer: I don’t understand the Jojo Rabbit push, Scarlett Johansson, or much of anything about that movie. It’s not that I objected to the fact that this is a film about a little boy whose fantasy friend is Hitler in war time and that. It just, I didn’t find it funny. You know, I think that you can do that sort of thing, that kind of black satire if you’re a lot sharper. It didn’t really think out what it was trying to do. Both as satire and as serious film. But then again, I didn’t like Life is Beautiful either for similar reasons.

Clip: Here are the nominees for Best Documentary Feature. American Factory, Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, and Jeff Reichert. The Cave, Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfad, and Sigrid Dyekjær. The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris, and Tiago Pavan. For Sama, Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. Honeyland, Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, and Atanas Georgiev. And the Oscar goes to American Factory.

Peter Rainer: It was a marvelous year for documentaries and I know that a lot of you students are interested in making documentaries and that’s really important. Documentaries are a marvelous way to explore a culture, explore a subject, really get into it. And also, you really have to tell a story when you’re doing a documentary and you have to choose the right subject. You can’t just film, you know, a movie about the checkout line at the supermarket. I mean, it has to be something that really uncovers something or in some way really plugs into the human condition. And I know you all have a lot of stories out there, personal stories, stories of your origins and where you come from and where you’re going, that, that would make, you know, marvelous documentaries. So you should take a lot of comfort from the opening up of such avenues as Netflix to show these films. In the Documentary Feature category, you know, there was American Factory, which won. I particularly liked Honeyland and For Sama and The Cave. The Cave and For Sama were both very hard films to watch. They’re about, you know, death and destruction in Syria. But they were very good movies, too. It wasn’t just that they were showing you a lot of horrific stuff and, you know, gee, I’m glad the cameraman got out OK. But they were powerful testaments to the survival instincts and the human tragedy and the human spirit that comes from, you know, surviving and persevering in these terrible conditions. And Honeyland was about a Macedonian beekeeper who takes care of her aged mother and has some issues with her neighbors and what comes of all of that. And like a lot of movies that start small, it expands to take in quite a bit more than its ostensible subject. And it really is about the human condition and about surviving and the ancient beekeeping traditions that this woman has lived by or torn asunder by commercial interests. I think the film far transcends the basic description of it as a kind of, you know, movie about how capitalism destroys ecology. But thankfully the filmmakers don’t underline it. You discovered for yourself, and that’s always the best way to experience movies anyway, I think, is when you are brought into the movie as opposed to being hit over the head.

Clip: Here are the nominees for Best Original Screenplay.

Okay I’m going to open this for you.

No, not yet…

Peter Rainer: The Best Original Screenplay, again, was a Bong Joon Ho for Parasite.

Clip: Bong Joon Ho.

Peter Rainer: And I think in many ways it was the most inventive and interesting screenplay. Knives Out was a funny whodunnit. Marriage Story, I think, had its moments, certainly. 1917, less so. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, uneven but strong. But I think it was justifiably given to Parasite because that was a movie that, again, sort of was about something that on the surface was a small scale domestic drama, and yet expanded into a much larger indictment, really, of income inequality and the grasping on both sides of that inequality to survive.

Clip: Here are this year’s nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Irishman, screenplay by Stephen Zaillian. Little Women, written for the screen by Greta Gerwig. Joker, written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver. Jojo Rabbit, screenplay by Taika Waititi. The Two Popes, written by Anthony McCarten and the Oscar goes to Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit.

Peter Rainer: In the adapted screenplay category, Jojo Rabbit won. Little Women, you know as I mentioned, I thought had, had issues with the screenplay. I had more issues with the screenplay than I did with with any other aspect of the film, because Greta Gerwig, who also directed, of course, shuffles the time scheme so that you’re going, you know, flash forwards, flashback and so forth. And I found myself looking at the length of the hair of the characters in the various scenes to determine, you know, which time zone I was in. And I don’t know why that had to be.

Clip: Here are the nominees for performance by an actor in a supporting role. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Peter Rainer: In the Best Supporting Actor category, I mentioned Brad Pitt I think was was highly deserving. It’s a testament, again, to the fact that you can be a big movie star and also be a really good actor. They don’t always go together. You know, you can be a big star and not necessarily have the chops to be a really good actor or vise versa. There are a lot of wonderful actors who don’t have that charisma or the or didn’t get the right role and so they’re not stars. But the fact that Pitt is both is extraordinary and rather rare.

Clip: Al Pacino, The Irishman.

Peter Rainer: There are others like that. Al Pacino, for instance, who was also nominated in The Irishman. I thought he was quite good in that movie. Some people said he’s doing Shouty Al again, but I thought it was justified that he shouts a lot in that movie. He’s playing Jimmy Hoffa.

Clip: You know the operative word I’m talking about here. Solidarity. And it works. It works for all of us and it works for our friend here Frank Fitzsimmons. Frank Fitzsimmons here. My executive vise president. If there’s anyone that can do this job, it’s this man here and with him at my back, where are we going to go but up?

Clip: Joe Pesci, The Irishman.

Peter Rainer: Joe Pesci came out of a kind of retirement for The Irishman and again, as I mentioned with Antonio Banderas, an actor who’s known for very explosive, outward directed energy, directed all his energy in this performance inward and I thought it was equally powerful.

Clip: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Peter Rainer: Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood playing Fred Rogers. It could have been just some adept impersonation, a sort of soft sneakers and cardigan performance, but it was much more than that. I think he really inhabited the soul of Fred Rogers and was, even though it was a supporting performance, it was the kind of emotional center of that film.

Clip: Bill was right. You love people like me.

What are people like you? I’ve never met anyone like you in my entire life.

Broken people.

I don’t think you are broken.

Clip: And the Oscar goes to Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Peter Rainer: So the bottom line with the Academy Awards is that we have to recognize that they are not a true mark of excellence in most cases. It’s kind of a circus. It’s kind of a political show, but it does on occasion promote certain films and filmmakers, countries that deserve to be recognized. And my feeling about the win this year for Parasite for Best Picture is, I’m basically all for it because I think it was a very good movie and it also had the added benefit of being a kind of political statement in the best way. Hollywood movies have been mostly rather conventional and not terribly good for the most part. The interesting work is coming out of the indie realm, much more so than the studios, which tend to recycle franchises. And anytime you move out of that box, I think is a good thing, whether it’s in awards or anywhere else. So I’ll just leave it at that. I think that hopefully next year will build on this year rather than this turning out to be some sort of one-off anomaly. So thanks everybody for listening and go out and make the best movies, best performances, best editing, best cinematography, best sound mixing, best everything, OK? Because you’re in a good place to really learn all of that, and one day maybe you’ll be in the Student Academy Awards category or the regular Academy Award category. The important thing is don’t make movies to win awards. Make movies because you really care about them. Bong Joon Ho said in his acceptance speech that one is most creative when one is most personal and I think that’s also true for you all, that you have to make movies that really mean something to you and not necessarily just, you know, resumes for studio work. You should experiment and do things that you really care about. And a lot of student filmmakers who have gone on to big things in Hollywood, I’ve seen their student movies and they were not traditional cookie cutter films. The student films of Spike Lee, Terry Malick, Scorsese, De Palma, David Lynch, many others were all very different from what you normally see. So go thou and do likewise.

Perter Rainer: This is Peter Rainer, I’m a teacher at the New York Film Academy. This is The Backlot podcast talking about the Oscars. The show is edited and mixed by Kristian Heydon. The creative director is David Andrew Nelson. Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Great talking to you.


Hi, I’m Peter Rainer I’m a film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR master faculty of the New York Film Academy and author of Rainer on film. Today I’m going to be doing a podcast. The theme of which is the many great film luminaries that we’ve lost over the last many months. Each in their own way represents a bit of film history and have made major contributions to the art of filmmaking. It’s quite a long and sad but also rejoicing list of people and accomplishments that if you aren’t already aware of who these. Filmmakers and actors are then I hope this inspires you to search out their films.

Let’s start with Bernardo Bertolucci Bertolucci was an Italian film director who was most noted for a number of movies including The Conformist Last Tango in Paris. 1900 and The Last Emperor which won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director Bertolucci was a prodigy. One of the most astonishing movie prodigies in the history of film. He directed his first feature when he was 21 called La Commare Secca. That film was not altogether successful but it was certainly prodigious. You could see that there was a born filmmaker at work at the time in the late 60s. The primary influence on so-called art cinema was of the French New Wave. But Bertolucci was influenced I think more so than the others not only by the French New Wave but by Hollywood the conformist was his first major international success. And it was absolutely extraordinary and in some ways it’s his greatest film and his most beautifully directed.

That led to. Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando.

I don’t want to know your name. You don’t have a name and I don’t have a name either no name here.

It remains a towering achievement especially in Brando’s performance. It’s probably the greatest performance. I think that’s ever been put on film Bertolucci followed Last Tango with 1900 which was a truly bizarre movie that had some incredible incredible sequences in it.

Remember when no one believed you could see the city up here. But we managed to see it from here. How close it seemed. Did you manage to see the whole war from here too.

Last Emperor which was his big epic about the last emperor of China that won nine Academy Awards including best picture.

What are you standing there for. You always wanted to leave the Forbidden City. Now you’ve got an hour to pack so go.

It was sort of Bertolucci going Hollywood to some extent but in the way of an artist the important thing to recognize about Bertolucci is that you could watch his films in a state of almost pure rapture. There are all sorts of things that you have to put into a movie besides how a movie looks. You need to do more than just know how to work the camera. But if it all comes together as it did in the best of Bertolucci then there’s really nothing quite like it. He was certainly one of the leading lights of the post-war film generation.

The next director. I’d like to talk about is Stanley Donen who passed away in February of this year. Now he’s not a name that most might know offhand but I’m sure you know some of his movies specifically Singin’ In The Rain which is often called the greatest musical ever made. But starting at the beginning Stanley Donen was originally a dancer. He was in the Broadway production of Pal Joey. That Gene Kelly starred in and Kelly and Donen sort of hit it off to the benefit of all of us. It was one of those things but Donen was somebody who again like Bertolucci was was something of a prodigy. He was in his mid 20s when he directed his first feature which was on the town. That movie really opened up the notion that you could do these big Hollywood musicals and not have them all be on soundstages. The opening sequence where the three guys are bustling around the city is obviously really shot in New York.

What Donen did subsequently was while he brought more realism into the actual locations he also used a lot of more you know movie tricks and things that that didn’t exist before. In general the musical in Hollywood was a genre where you had a lot of stuff going on with the performers and then they would go on stage to do their thing or they would break out into song but there was always sort of a demarcation between the non musical sequences that we were seeing and the musical sequences which were set up to be highly theatrical. But with Donen it was a bit different. He in collaboration with Gene Kelly directed some of the best musicals ever made in this country. As I understand it Kelly did the choreography and Donen did everything else and the marvelous fluidity of the camerawork and the way that he shot the dancing was extraordinary. Donen grew up as a boy marveling at Fred Astaire. So it was wonderful when he finally got to work with Astaire in funny face which he directed in 1957.

Or the movie royal wedding which has that famous scene with Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and the ceilings of that state room.

That’s an example where Donen was able to sort of use the medium of cinema to film musical sequences that you couldn’t duplicate if you were just in an audience watching a stage show. So even though his his background is very much in theater he was one of the film directors who was able to make things much more filmic and that’s had a great influence on on many films of all kinds. Ever since.

Singin’ In The Rain is a film about the transition from silent pictures to Talking Pictures. It’s just a flat out joy from beginning to end and of course it has. The singing in the rain number which you’ve probably seen has Gene Kelly singing in the rain.

The screenwriter Beau Goldman was once asked what’s the greatest scripted scene you’ve ever seen in a movie. And he said it’s the Singin’ In The Rain number from Singin’ In The Rain which is wordless unless you count the song that the Gene Kelly sings. But Goldman’s point was that you don’t have to have a lot of words to have a great scene. But that was not the only high point in Donen’s early career as a musical director. He also did a very interesting picture also with Gene Kelly called It’s Always Fair Weather. It’s a sort of a post-war downbeat musical when musicals began to go on the wane. He moved on to straight films like Charade which was 1963. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. This is a marvelous marvelous spy thriller comedy romance and it’s often called the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Alfred Hitchcock never directed. He lived in England for a time and directed some very interesting films there. He was a big fan of the British comedians who were rampant then and he directed an interesting comedy called Bedazzled in 1967. He also did a film in 69 that very few people have seen called staircase that had Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as a gay couple which was highly unusual back in the day. There was nothing explicit about it but it was definitely a gay couple and both performances were extraordinary in the 70s. Donen came back with a wonderful comedy called Movie Movie it was sort of a tribute to old Hollywood and it was wonderful return to form even though it wasn’t entirely commercially successful. What we have to remember about Stanley Donen was that he was more than any other filmmaker in Hollywood responsible for creating musicals that had a real cinematic core to them. He really used film in ways that were extraordinarily creative just completely out of the realm of what directors were doing at that time in the musical. He changed the entire landscape of what a movie musical could be. And he did it in a way that was so joyous and so much a tribute to the dancing in these films also the way that he not only featured the dancers but film them to their best advantage is a lasting legacy for him and his films and will always give us great joy.

Moving on now to Bebe Anderson. Bebe Anderson was a great Swedish actress who is known primarily for her work with Ingmar Bergman. She was very much central to that Bergman universe of great actresses that he used as essentially almost a repertory company. He was absolutely extraordinary with actresses and usually the best work of these actresses was with Bergman. Bebe Anderson started out in the early 50s the first time she worked with Bergman was in 1951. He was directing a detergent commercial for television and she was in the commercial. But she really arrived on the scene in two major Bergman movies both made in the same year 1957. Wild strawberries and Seventh Seal Seventh Seal is most well-known I guess to most of you all for the scene where Max von Sydow plays chess with death.

And Bibi Anderson has a role in that as the wife of a peasant in Wild Strawberries Bebe Anderson plays two roles one is kind of a hitchhiker and then in the flashback scenes she plays the cousin of the doctor and she’s marvelous in both roles but the film that she is most known for was persona 1966.

It’s a very powerful and famous film. And Bebe Anderson was quoted as saying at the time that she read the script for the movie and she didn’t really want to play the role because it was the role of someone who was very insecure and scared and vulnerable. That’s not the sort of character that she wanted to be playing in the movies. But she also said well that’s sort of who I am in real life. And so Bergman picked up on that and that’s what he used in creating this role and in directing her and putting her on film. She said to be a great director you also to some extent have to be a great psychiatrist and certainly Bergman was a great master at that but he would only have been a master if he was working with Master actors. So persona is the standout performance in Bebe Anderson’s long career. She was in maybe Robert Altman’s Worst movie a film called quintet. I mean it’s sort of flabbergastingly awful in ways that only a great director could do. But there is a sequence in it where Bebe Anderson has a monologue that’s quite extraordinary. So the the moral there is you can be pretty amazing in a terrible movie even if the movie that surrounds you is awful. You have a chance to shine anyway if you have the material at least in the moment to do it. Bebe Anderson was also directed by Bergman in a number of stage productions. People forget that Bergman’s career as a stage director was was in many ways as voluminous as his film career. I have no. Problem imagining Anderson being as great on stage as on film. But I think she had a natural quality in film that was radiant and she took to the camera like very few other actresses.

Moving on now to Agnès Varda. She was a real Pathfinder in the history of women directors in cinema and is only being recognized in full now because of partly her longevity I mean she she died fairly recently at the age of 90 and had received an honorary Oscar. And she also was nominated for a documentary that she did. I believe the oldest director to ever be nominated for an Oscar. But aside from all that her beginnings are quite interesting she started out as a photographer. She really was able to incorporate the integrity of the image into her film directing in a way that was quite integral to who she was as an artist. She is often called the godmother or the mother of the French New Wave which was a great efflorescence of cinema that started in France in the late 50s. Her first film was called La Pointe Courte. It was kind of in the neo realist vein of Visconti and Antonioni and directors like that. But her first feature was barely seen and not commercial in any way so it was some time before she did her next picture like six years Cleo From 5 to 7 it was called it was an amazing movie that really sort of put Varda on the map. Even then they didn’t always take her seriously. Her first feature was reviewed in The New York Times and it said the only thing worth noting about this movie is that it was made by this 25 year old girl but Varda’s career over time was unlike any other director. She was never really a part of the French New Wave in any real aesthetic way. She was part of what was instead called the Left Bank movement the Left Bank movement was sort of much more experimental and intellectual than the French New Wave. Her films are much more haphazard and handmade and I think that came from her photography background as well. She tended to see things in very particular ways. You know she she sort things out she saw film and film imagery as almost artifacts of experience in the late 50s. She married the great French director Jacques Demy he directed Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the success of that film brought to him and Varda to Hollywood. She loved Los Angeles and she had a connection to the city for the rest of her life. And she did a number of documentaries while she was here. She became involved with some of the Warhol people who were on the West Coast. She also was involved with the Black Panthers and Eldridge Cleaver and Dennis Hopper. You know she was part of that whole world but her films were influenced much more by the history of photography than by the history of film. That’s because of where she came from and what she came out of. She loved location shooting. She was one of those directors who the act of filming itself was part of the aesthetic process. She wasn’t bound by the kinds of rigidities that come with you know strict shooting schedules and so forth. Her most powerful movies are her documentaries or films that draw heavily on the documentary experience because that points to her intense fascination with the real and with discovering film and people in the process of training a camera on them of filming them of trying to somehow create something that didn’t exist before. People think that documentaries are quote objective right. That you just show something but the personality the core of the person who’s making these movies is not germane to the film itself. That’s not true. All of the great documentary filmmakers are able to convey what’s happening in front of your eyes in front of their cameras. But in ways that are very very intimate to who they are. But the best of them I think are not coercive and so you have you know the great documentarians who really show you the richness of experience in ways that dramatic films cannot always convey and I think the best of Varda’s documentaries do this as well. As time goes on. And her films become more accessible to a larger audience. They will find that they’re not at all intimidating or quote arty but are really human. Varda lived a long and fruitful life and did it her way which is not what you can say for every film director. She’s now been adopted as a beacon for others to do likewise.

So now we’re moving on to John Singleton. John Singleton was to this day the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Oscar for best director. He was 23 when he filmed Boyz N The Hood. His first feature 24 I believe when he was nominated which was a good year earlier than Orson Welles for Citizen Kane. John Singleton came out of South Central Los Angeles and had a great love of film instilled in him as a film student at USC. He submitted a script for admission that became the germ for Boyz N The Hood which was a very personal movie about the racial strife and violence in South Central. He had a very dedicated idea of what he wanted to be as a filmmaker from a very early age which isn’t always the case. A lot of fine directors find their way into film through other avenues but Singleton was single minded in wanting to be a film maker from early on Boyz N The Hood was a film that he felt he just simply had to get made and made by himself. Columbia Pictures I believe had offered to buy his screenplay but it was not really interested and have him directed. And he as young as he was and as ambitious as he was said thanks but no thanks. And so he was allowed to direct the film. And he stated in interviews that he kind of was learning on the job and because the film was shot in sequence. He felt that the film actually gets better as it goes along because he’s learning more about how to direct as he’s making the movie. It’s pretty strong all the way through it gets more dramatic towards the end but a really signal aspect of this movie is that when you watch it you see that as young as he is. This is a film that Singleton really really wanted to get made. What comes through is that deep deep commitment to the story which can often transcend many other things in a film. So he was creating his own way and his subsequent career he did a film called Higher Learning baby boy. He did a remake of Shaft in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson. He also did a movie that was powerfully received called Rosewood in 1997 which is about a little known racist attack in Florida in 1923. He expressed some disdain and disappointment for where things were going in Hollywood and the opportunities available to him as a director in an increasingly commercialized industry. So he also produced a number of movies that he didn’t direct. Hustle and Flow did television episodes for shows like Empire and American Crime Story. He was an influence along with Spike Lee and Carl Franklin and several other directors on the youngest newest black filmmakers. Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins took from John Singleton his desire to make films his way he once was quoted as saying about Boyz N The Hood that he had to direct it because no one was going to make the film I wanted to make except me. And so he made it happen. I had occasion to hear him speak several months ago at the academy Theatre in Beverly Hills and he spoke so reverently of what it was like to be in film school and not simply to learn how to make movies but to learn why you make movies. Ultimately you’re in the film business the art of film because you want to tell a story and you want to tell it in a way that matters to people that makes a connection to people. So it’s important to see a lot of the great films that have been made in the past not just because you can talk about movies at parties and impress your friends but as a real central inspiration to what you do for yourself not not to copy other people’s stuff but to see what’s been done and Singleton was saying that evening that as successful as he was he would sometimes call over to the film school and ask what films they were showing to their students because if he had time he would maybe just sit in and watch these films. I was quite moved by that because great movies can not only enhance your life they can change your life and they can also do so much for you as a filmmaker. It’s important to recognize that John Singleton who was first and foremost a film director and writer throughout his career starting at the very beginning wanted to expose himself to these great movies because those are his legacy as his films will be a legacy to any director who has a passion to put his or her story on the screen and to know that if you struggle hard enough there’s a good chance that you can do it.

Doris Day in the late 40s and 50s was a major star in the recording world. Before she ever came a movie actress with Les Brown’s band and many others she was able to captivate audiences with her singing which was not altogether bubbly cheery but had a certain melancholy or worldliness. She was never quite the chipper virginal type that she was characterized as she was a natural in the movies. She had a kind of effervescence. She did a lot of musicals and singing in her early films romance on the high seas etc. And she was very successful at that. But she was in a way a kind of antidote to some of the noir aspects of film that were predominant in the post-war era. There were a lot of slinky vamps and ladies of mystery Who were the counterpart to the very straight laced suburban mom types and the girlfriends and the chipper girl next doors and so forth that were also prevalent in the 50s. So there was a kind of yin and yang in the way Hollywood depicted women. And then here comes Doris Day who was kind of the antithesis in many ways certainly of the vamp character but also to some extent with the totally wholesome girl next door type. She managed to find a way to be herself and yet be sort of iconic as someone that people look to in the movies for good clean fun. She was an adept actress who didn’t stray very far from the kinds of roles that people associate her with particularly her comedies with Rock Hudson. But there were exceptions. She played Ruth Etting in a terrific movie. Love me or leave me where she was a gangster’s moll opposite Jimmy Cagney.

Don’t spoil this picture. It’s the first thing I’ve cared about since New York and I don’t want to lose it. I have to work. Do you understand. I’ve got to it’s all I’ve got.

Shut up you’re gonna work who said different.

She was in a film with Rex Harrison called Midnight lace which was a rather strong dramatic performance in a rather dark movie.

He said he was going to kill me before the month is out.

You got one of the less romantic ones.

Peggy he means it.

They always sound as if they mean it pet.

But I’m scared.

And there were a number of examples of that but I don’t think that that’s particularly what people wanted from Doris Day and it’s probably not in the end what would make her iconic. Doris Day had a marvelous voice in the Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much she sings case Sera Sera which became her theme song in a sense.

She knew how to put a number across. Doris Day often said when asked you know why do people like you so much. You know what is your appeal and she said it’s because when I sing I really mean what I’m singing. And that’s just as important for the kind of movies that she made for the most part as it is for something that would be much darker. And that’s why I think she was so popular during the 50s and 60s at a certain point the kind of image that she projected went out of style in the late 60s and 70s for all of her. Brightness and happy chipperiness as a performer. She had a rather harrowing life with four bad marriages and all sorts of other things. And one of the things that happened was that most of her money was spent by her third husband Marty Melcher and so she did the Doris Day show for television which she really wasn’t crazy about doing but she needed to get her money back. So she did the show was successful but after that in the 70s she she decided that she really didn’t want to do anything anymore. She did say some years later she was tired of doing nothing that she wanted to come back and look out for what I’m going to do I want to be better than ever. But it never happened. She never did come back. It’s a shame in a way that she didn’t work more in the last two or three decades of her career. Not everybody can do what Doris Day did but the career of Doris Day is is a tribute to what you can do as a performer if you really know what you’re best at and you can put a persona across as surely as you can put across a song. And she certainly could do that said.

Just in closing a quick note on Tim Conway who passed away as of this taping last night Tim Conway was almost exclusively a television star with the Carol Burnett Show for many years. He had his own show for a while and he had all sorts of guest appearances on people’s shows throughout the years. He won an Emmy for his appearance on 30 Rock but for those of you who have never heard of him or seen him Tim Conway was known for cracking up. Harvey Korman in their comedy routines they often didn’t rehearse in advance. Korman had no idea what was coming and Conway loved to crack him up. Carol Burnett said he lived for that and you can just see in all of these sketches Corman trying to hold it in sometimes literally and just it’s not happening. There are so many wonderful characters that Conway played the old man on the Carol Burnett Show those wonderful sketches where he’s this exasperated boss with a bad toupee and a large mustache and and an accent that he said was sort of based on his mother’s Romanian accent.

Now like I told you I have this real important meeting with the Mr. Phillips.

Oh yeah he’ll be here at noon.

Oh thank you for that news flash. You have any news on the Hindenburg.

He started out even in the Army apparently he was sort of a cut up. He did radio and then he worked his way into television. But he was such a versatile and funny actor that if you were a sketch comic or you had a show like Carol Burnett’s where you had to turn out so many of these sketches so often he was your sort of all purpose infielder. He could do just about anything. And his sense of timing was as extraordinary as anybody’s. One of the great things now about film and about television is that all of this stuff still exists. You can call up so much from the past on computers and so forth. It’s really wonderful that this stuff still exists for people to enjoy forever and ever. It used to be cliche that they’re gone but their work lives on. But it really is true much more so than it ever has been. And I think that for an actor like Tim Conway it’s a very rare gift to be able to make people laugh in that way to have given such great pleasure to audiences over the years and to have that as a legacy. Especially with so-called clean comedy. I mean there was very little that was off color or anything about what Conway did. He was sort of more in that homespun comedy that was accessible to everybody and just as funny now as it ever was. Rest in Peace Tim Conway.

This is Peter Rainer film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. And on the faculty for the New York Film Academy author of Rainer on film. Thanks for listening. And until next time.