The Mind of Maltin http://ift.tt/1xW35AJ
The Tacoma Film Festival went big in its ninth year. Not only did the Grand Cinema’s signature event feature higher profile films this month – edgy flicks starring the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Sam Rockwell and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – but organizers also scored a major coup by landing high-profile speaker Leonard Maltin, among the most popular film critics and historians in America.
Maltin – best known for reviewing films for “Entertainment Tonight” and his “Leonard Maltin Movie Guide” – made a couple of appearances at the festival on Oct. 10 and 11; and, in between, he met with Tacoma Weekly in the lobby of Hotel Murano to talk about being a smarter viewer, the toll blogging has taken on his craft and why you should quit paying for 3D. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Tacoma Weekly: What is the first film you remember seeing?
Maltin: The first film I have a memory of seeing is Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” when it was reissued in the ’50s. And, in those days … you could stay and watch a movie four times. They wouldn’t kick you out. The reason I bring that up is that what I remember is my mother taking me by the hand into the theater as everybody was leaving. So what I saw was … the last shot as Snow White and the Prince go off into the golden sun for their happy ending. That image is burned permanently into my memory and my psyche.
TW: How old were you?
Maltin: Either four or five.
TW: In contrast, what are the films you most wish you could forget?
Maltin: Fortunately, I’m forgetting them. (He laughs.) I’m at an age now where they’re starting to drop out of the memory banks.
TW: You got started at a young age, and I’m curious what you think you would be doing if the whole critic/film historian thing didn’t work out.
Maltin: I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was very young – not an animator, but a cartoonist. I even submitted cartoons to several magazines and got rejection slips. But then I wrote to some of my heroes, and I got the most phenomenal, personal letter from Charles M. Schultz in which he was very encouraging and enclosed a signed, original “Peanuts” daily.
TW: That’s pretty cool.
Maltin: Then, about 30 years later, I got hired to interview him. … I told him that story. He jumped out of his seat and said, “Well, we gotta get something newer.” He went and found a Sunday original page and signed it to me and my wife, only this time he signed it “Sparky,” which was his nickname.
TW: Is that still hanging in your living room?
Maltin: You bet, both of them – the old one and the newer one.
TW: What advice would you give someone who is 14, 15 – like you were when you were first starting out – if they want to break into the business?
Maltin: I’m glad I’m not trying to break in today. I don’t know how you make a reputation today, how you make yourself heard or noticed amid the clutter. Everything has changed. (Long pause.) What can you say to someone except, “If this is your passion, then you have to follow it?” And, of course, one still harbors hope that if you’re good somebody will notice. But there’s an awful lot of people out there writing, blogging and posting. It’s a very crowded landscape, and very few outlets are paying any money.
TW: I guess in pop culture when you were coming up there was a bit of a serendipitous moment, whether you were an aspiring rock star or …
Maltin: I guess, whether it was making your own garage tapes or publishing your own magazine, as I did. But the low-tech environment, in some ways, gave more opportunity – this seems counter-intuitive – to people who were ambitious and determined, because they stood out more. Now everybody’s just another blogger or just another YouTube wanna-be.
TW: What’s the No. 1 thing you want to instill in your students at USC?
Maltin: I want to make them a smarter audience, a more demanding audience. I don’t think Hollywood respects young moviegoers. There’s some cause for that, if they’re gonna go see movies like the new “Transformers” or the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” But then moviegoers don’t get a choice, do they?
I have a big class – 360 students – and only about a quarter of them are aspiring filmmakers or film critics or writers. We draw from the whole campus, so I have water polo players, English majors and business majors and everything else. … I’ve shown them foreign language films, with subtitles, and documentaries on subjects they’ve never thought about before, micro-indie features with no recognizable actors; and, if they’re good, they’ve responded. It says to me that they’re underestimated as an audience.
TW: Along those lines, what are the most insufferable cliches you see in modern cinema.
Maltin: Well, “sequel-itis” is very discouraging; and yet, this summer, the only films that did big business, apparently, were sequels. A good movie, like “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise, got great reviews and did only modest business. So what message does that send to the studio chiefs? People want something they already know. People want more of the same. That’s dispiriting. And yet, you can’t have a sequel if you haven’t had an original. A sequel to what? Someone had to bank on that first movie before it became a series.
TW: How do you feel about the whole 3D craze?
Maltin: Well, the 3D craze is over. It’s only because they love it in China that they’re still doing it, and because they can bilk people out of an extra three bucks at the box office.
TW: I’ve seen a few lately where I’ve thought, “Why did I spend that extra five bucks?”
Maltin: Well, duh. I mean, I’ll be curious to see what James Cameron does with the next “Avatar.” He’s a visionary – a technological visionary, to be sure. And when you see a film like “Life of Pi” in 3D you say, “OK, this is why 3D exists, for someone to make this kind of film” - or “Hugo.” But those are a tiny minority. A lot of the studios aren’t even bothering any more.
TW: If we can veer back toward the impact of the Internet. Of course, nowadays versus 20 years ago, you can go to IMDB and any number of sources to find out anything you want to find out about a movie. Give me your best sales pitch for using a guide, like the one you’ve become known for (“Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.”)
Maltin: Well, I’m highly prejudiced, so it’s hard to do that. I mean, I use IMDB, like everybody else. But it frustrates me because they don’t give you the cast in billing order. So if you (can’t find) a quick answer to “who plays the best friend in that comedy I saw last week?”
When “Nebraska” came out last year … who really knew June Squibb before that movie, right? Yet, she’s been working for decades. So what we did was we went back and added her name to the cast lists of films she’d been in. She was in Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” 21 years ago. Now, if you were having this conversation two years ago, that wouldn’t matter. It matters now. It’s a point of interest. But if you go to an online source, you’d never look for her name, and it would be way down among other supporting players. We point out that she’s in it: curated information, edited information, user friendly information. That’s what we’ve always tried to provide. And our readers have been loyal and supportive and encouraging. They’ve just diminished in number.
TW: Until earlier this year you had the app.
Maltin: I wish I still had the app. It was not my decision (to discontinue it.) The sales weren’t strong enough to support it. People, again, didn’t want to pay. People want to get all the information for free. They want it on their device, and they want it for free. Sometimes you have to remind people that you get what you pay for.
TW: You get to see a lot of great films, but you also have to watch a lot of terrible ones, and you’re familiar with all the formulas and cliches. What is it that keeps you excited about film?
Maltin: A fresh idea, a new face, a new voice. I loved “Boyhood.” I loved “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” I really enjoyed “St. Vincent,” which opened yesterday, and “Whiplash,” which opened yesterday in New York and L.A. I see films like that, and it recharges my batteries and gives me a moment of optimism.
TW: Well, since Halloween is coming up, what are your three go-to – or maybe underrated – horror films?
Maltin: Well, I’m not a fan of modern horror. I like spooky, eerie films – ghost stories, the supernatural – more than graphic gore. I’m a wimp, so I couldn’t see the saw “Saw” movies. It’s just not my thing. But when I see a film like “28 Days Later” – which is not just a mindless zombie movie, it’s about a plague – it scares the daylights out of me.
TW: I see you like the new “Dead Snow,” though I think you wrote you hadn’t seen the original - which is hilarious, by the way.
Maltin: Normally, a film with tearing out somebody’s intestines would just send me running in the other direction. But it’s hilarious; and I do like the combination of humor and horror separate from that, going back to “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” right up to “Young Frankenstein,” “Shawn of the Dead” – films like that. I’ve always enjoyed that mixture.
I still like the gothic horror films THAT I grew up watching on TV. “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Wolfman” - those are still favorites of mine.
October 15, 2014 at 01:35PM