Critical Condition

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.


2 responses to “Critical Condition

  1. my father was the highest selling man in variety’s advertising section, he worked for variety for his entire life. he was there before peter bart was born, when the office was on the top floor on sunset near vine, next to the cinerama dome before it was the dome. i used to play in the office with the switchboard operator’s cords, maggie was her name, i never saw anyone with hair piled up to high. to this day i find myself tucking a pencil behind my ear. the stone staircase to the office was scary, the steps didnt have closed risers. we would play there, with the little paper dixie cups, for my dad to finish for the day or evening. He would take my sister and i to the movies and to cc browns for a sundae. there were tons of discarded rolled up pieces of paper tossed on the floor, they had missed the wastebaskets. this was in the days before the flood of technology; i remember the incessant chatter of typewriters, telephones and pencils being sharpened. it was like the stock exchange, only it was about movies and not math. my father was a salesman through and through. i remember how cheerful he was with all the stars, the producers, o how he loved his work, i used to wish he loved me as much as his work, and i remember how downtrodden he was with management. all the time. it was hard to watch my tall in charge dad get clammy and agitated, it was always and only about management and when it was time to go into their glassed-off office. they didnt want him to sell so much, they didnt want to pay his commissions. they told him to stop being so good. he was their brightest star, tall, handsome and glamorous. they placed him front and center at all the restaurants, screenings, awards and at canne every year. He won the admiration of everyone in town. they took out full page color ads with him, because of him, and did it all the time. and what did the bums in charge at variety, year after year after year do? instead of slapping him on his 6’4″” back, they systematically slapped him down. his seniority was his downfall. they moved him from the westcoast daily and created a weekly, to try to curb his success. his loyalty was unparalleled, as was his feeling of being under-appreciated. it was standing room only at his funeral, the town turned out in throngs. i don’t remember seeing management. he gave his life to that company. they gave him a measly retirement party but my dad was happy because Monty hall was a friend who emceed the event. Imp sorry that behind the glitter there is no gold. imp sorry for todd mccarthy. i empathize. i do remember, that over all the years, at all the events, army archerd’s wife was always lovely and kind.

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