Slackjaw: So You Want To Be A Film Critic?

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Back in 1992, I was living in Brooklyn, but still writing for a Philadelphia-based weekly called The Welcomat. Shortly after moving up here, I'd met with then-New York Press editor John Strausbaugh in the hopes of running this column in both papers, but he turned me down, explaining that they didn't want to run anything that was running elsewhere. I could understand that, and so I had to remain satisfied with writing the occasional feature and what-not for the Press.

Then one day I opened the Press and saw that they were looking for a new film critic. The only critic they had at the time was Godfrey Cheshire. He wasn't going anyplace, but they wanted someone to balance him out a little bit. Godfrey was very good at what he did, but the impression I got was that they wanted someone a little more lowbrow.

Even though I'd never done any film writing in the past, I didn't let that stop me. I figured the fact that I'd been a movie geek all my life and was plenty lowbrow to boot made me a shoe-in. A film critic gig for the Press would allow me to continue writing Slackjaw for Welco and have a regular, if meager, income up here, too. It'd be a pretty swell deal.

Given that I didn't have any old film review clips to send them, I'd need to write some new ones. But what? Even though I didn't care about anything that was coming out of Hollywood at the time, I figured that was probably what they were looking for. So a little before 10 one weekday morning, I headed up to West 23rd Street to catch the very first regular NYC screening of Basic Instinct. All the major reviews had run already. The publicity machine was in high gear. Hell, the Post had even devoted a full-color cover to it. I was less curious about the movie itself than to see who'd been suckered.

Not too many, it seems. The masses would come, yes, but only about six people were desperate enough to line up outside the theater at 10 a.m.: four pervs in their standard-issue perv trenchcoats, an angry lesbian and me, wearing my own non-perv trenchcoat.

I went home afterwards and wrote a little review, which I titled Basic Instinky (ooh, I was a clever one back then!). In the review I pointed out that the sex was no big deal, the disco scene was hilarious and already outdated, and that at heart it was nothing but a remake
of Sea of Love and about 40 other pictures.

Now, it's long been a bad habit of mine that when an editor, say, clearly wants something specific, I'm driven to give him just the opposite. Something he obviously doesn't wantthough in my mind, something he should want. In this case, for instance, they clearly wanted someone to review new releases, easing the burden on Godfrey a little bit. But here's what I was thinking instead. The paper's audience at the time was made up of people who were more inclined to go to Kim's or Tower Video and get something interesting than they were to plunk down all that cash to see some new crap. In that case, it seemed like video reviews would be more worthwhile than yet another review of a Tom Cruise movie. Reviews of obscure, offbeat things that had just come out on video, and that you weren't going to be reading about in every (or any) other goddamn paper in New York.

With that in mind, I still decided to play it a little tamer than I could have. A week earlier, I'd finally tracked down a VHS copy of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Devil's Rain, the 1975 horror film with the goopiest ending in film history. Figuring the presence of recognizable stars would help my case, The Devil's Rain featured William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Ernest Borgnine as the devil and John Travolta.

I put a lot of work into that review, had fun with it, and it turned out OK (I thought so anyway). Then I printed them both out, put them in an envelope, and mailed them off. I knew I was going to be up against about 8,000 other candidates vying for that gig, but, like each and every one of them, I figured I had it in the bag.

Needless to say, I didn't. Never heard a thing. Not a peep. And a few weeks later, Matt Zoller Seitz began writing film reviews for the Press. Even back then, I knew they'd made the right choice. Everything worked out for the best anyway, and I began writing Slackjaw for the Press less than a year later.

This past weekend I tried to track down those two little reviews, thinking it might be kind of funny to run them here, finally. I was such a kid then. That's why I think it's also probably for the best that they both seem to have vanished for good into the ether, gone forever, victims of one disc implosion or another.

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