Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Todd McCarthy, Variety’s leading film critic for three decades, gets fired.
Oh, no wait. Variety claims they offered him a freelance gig in recompense (which I imagine would feel like dating your ex-wife). But other sources claim not.
I don’t want to sound like the unrefined, intellectually malnourished blogger Variety would like you to think I am, so I’ll refrain from using the hostile lexicon that has earned us the epithet “unprofessional,” and instead, put my reaction to this sad, backward news in the gentlest language I can: Variety is fucked.
T0dd McCarthy wasn’t merely a valuable asset, a fringe benefit to the paper, he was the paper. His knowledge was (was? Is this a eulogy?) far reaching, his sense of the business and the technical aspect of filmmaking unmatched by contemporary film analysts, and his prose style – if you went in for varietyese – cut to the showbiz heart of it quicker than any other. I don’t want to get hyperbolic here, but I’m sure that McCarthy was to film journalism was Confucius was to the Chinese. Get in, get out. Illumination.
He left no room for sentiment. He loved film, I’ve no doubt about that, but he was a scientist first – a surgeon, really – and an aesthetician second. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the last paragraph from (what may be) his last Variety review.
Even if you know, or think you know, what’s coming at the end, the emotional undertow is hard to resist and is of a piece with the picture’s articulated philosophical position about doing all one can during one’s brief moment on earth. Gotham locations are evocatively but unostentatiously used, Marcelo Zarvos’ fine score stirs added emotional turbulence, and tech contributions are more than solid.
I wouldn’t feel the need to mention what film he was reviewing, were it not for its title – Remember Me.
When he got the news, Roger Ebert tweeted, “Variety fires Todd McCarthy and I cancel my subscription. He was my reason to read the paper.” David Poland’s headline was “RIP Variety.” Anne Thompson: “It is indeed the end of an era.”
Well, of course. Why else would a person read Variety? Certainly not for its hard-edged journalism and inside scoop. These days, everyone has scoop, and it travels at lightening speed with the click of the mouse.
The paper’s only trump card was McCarthy. But the morons let him go. Schmux nix crix.
What makes this the saddest film critic firing to date is that McCarthy was uniquely qualified in a field of unqualifieds. Where most of his peers had strong eyes and wrote nicely, few had the hard-earned means to consider motion pictures on behalf of a particular, insider market, in this case, the Hollywood community.
As the opinion epidemic spreads, making more heretics into kings with every passing day, it becomes clearer that each person, entitled to his point of view, also feels entitled to authority. They aren’t. In our own way, we can all address story and character and the various elements of narrative – a God-given impulse that stretches from the cities the farthest stix (rural areas) – but only a cinema surgeon like Todd McCarthy can tell the art bone from the tech bone, the B.O. artery from the market capillary and diagnose the patient’s various interlocking conditions accordingly.
But not anymore. The doctor is out.