The Life and Death of a Film Critic

Today was one of those pivotal days. In most ways, it was just like most days. I got up, had breakfast, ran some errands, met a friend for lunch, and contemplated my survival and the meaning of my existence while being ever cognizant of the looming cloud of failure that from time to time blocks out the sunshine of hope in my life. So yeah, today was pretty typical. The one exception being that today I got an email telling me I could not attend an upcoming press screening of a movie I planned to review.

Not that long ago, I said that I’ve never bothered to keep track of how many film reviews I’ve written. Honestly, it is well into the thousands, and after having not thought about it, but then thinking about it, I realized that a conservative estimate would have to be around five thousand. I know that compared to film critics like Roger Ebert or the late Pauline Kael, that’s really not that many. But for someone who never really set out to be a film critic—and who has now done it professionally for over ten years—it sure seems like a lot.

Some of you know this story, but for those that don’t, I’ll keep it brief as possible. Back in the early 1990s I was doing research for a documentary film that I wanted to make about blaxploitation movies. My appreciation for film went back to my childhood, and included all genres, but I had a special place in my heart for the black films of the 1970s, and so I set out to make a documentary about those movies. While I was doing research—which literally consisted of me watching movies—I started taking these crazy notes, just so I could keep track of little facts and whether or not movies were any good. These notes became the basis for the first film reviews that I ever wrote, which I then published in my ‘zine, BadAzz MoFo. The very first issue of BAMF came out in May of 1996, and last year I published a collection of revised reviews from those early issues.

While all of this was going on, I became a film critic. BadAzz MoFo became known by people, and some of those people asked me to write for their publications, and in time I was paying my rent by writing film reviews (and other things as well, but primarily movie reviews). It really is one of those ridiculous stories that almost sounds too good to be true, especially when you consider that I only started writing reviews as nothing more than research notes, or that I decided to publish those notes in a printed collection because my film career was moving too slow and I wanted to do something creative in the meantime. Had things worked out differently for me as a filmmaker, I probably would have never become a film critic. Which, when you really think about it, makes me something of a success through failure. My mom would argue that point. And to be honest, I don’t see myself as a failure, so much as someone who strayed from the path he set out on. This has been especially true the last three or four years, in which I have used film criticism as a safe place to hide from the other things I need to work on. Honestly, the vast majority of the film reviews I’ve written since 2007 have been the work of a lazy coward.

So, what does all of this have to do with me being denied access to a press screening of a movie?

Well, I guess it just seemed like I needed to give a little background before saying what I’ve been avoiding saying for a while now, and doing what I’ve needed to do. And even as I type these words, the words I really need to type, that say what I need to say, none of it is coming easily. But here it is…today is my last day as a film critic.

Now, at the risk of sounding like KISS, who has announced their retirement more times that I’ve proclaimed to be done messing with crazy women, I should clarify a few things. First and foremost, just because I’m not working as a film critic, it doesn’t mean I won’t write about movies. As long as my editors at MSN (and anyone else for that matter) are interested in the film and pop culture essays that I write, and they pay me, I’ll keep crankin’ ‘em out. Second, I may still write film reviews from time to time. I know better than to say “never” or “not ever again.” Such hyperbolic bullshit too often comes back to bite you in the ass. If I see something that moves me one way or another, I may write a few words and post them, and maybe someday collect some of those words and print them. But after too many years of watching movies with a critic’s eye, and then struggling to find the right words to describe how I feel about what someone else has done, I can’t really do it anymore. Third, as long as my good friends Cort and Fatboy will have me on their show, I’ll still talk about movies there. And finally, the day may come where I decide I want to delve back into the waters of film criticism (but I doubt it).

Perhaps one or two of you reading this right now are overwhelmed by some sense of great loss when you imagine a world without David Walker writing what he thinks about movies. And if there are any of you reading this, feeling like your world is crumbling down around you, all David Walker can tell you is what he told his last girlfriend, “You’ll get by without me.”

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, for whatever it was worth for whoever gives a shit, let me share a few more things with you. Most important of all is that I haven’t given up on writing, nor am I abandoning this website. Anyone who comes here with any regularity knows that I write about more than film, and because I fancy myself more of a writer than a film critic anyway, I will continue to indulge myself in whatever manner I see fit. The fact of the matter is that I have several projects in various stages that mean more to me than writing movie reviews ever did, and I am now going to be giving them the time that they deserve.

Currently, I am scripting the comic book Number Thirteen for artist Robert Love. Robert and I collaborated on stories that appear in the first and fourth Popgun Comic Anthology. Those of you that saw our Blind Monkey Style story in the first Popgun Anthology will be happy to know that we are planning on self-publishing a mini series (the image at the top of this post is from the cover of the second issue). Check out Robert’s website for more information on ordering Blind Monkey Style. As for Number Thirteen, I believe that is coming out through a major comic publisher later this year. Check out the Facebook fanpage for updates and more information (and of course I’ll be pimpin’ it here).

I’m also developing a new comic mini series with Jim Hill, the artist that drew the Funkytown comic book story in BadAzz MoFo #7. Jim and I are both busy with other projects, but I’m hoping that this book will be out either later this year, or sometime in early 2011. If you haven’t read the Funkytown comic, just buy a copy of BadAzz MoFo #7.

As for film projects, I have a small project that is scheduled to start shooting next month. It is something that I have been developing for close to three years now, and is a project near and dear to my heart. The only way I can describe it is My Dinner with Andre meets Hollywood Shuffle. (And if you want to see any of my other films, you can buy those in the BAMF Store.)

But the big news is that I have written my first novel, Darius Logan and Super Justice Force. This is a Young Adult action/adventure novel that I basically wrote for myself when I was 13. I wanted to create something that would have entertained and inspired me when I was a teenager, and I have done just that. I’ve been working on this project for a while now, and in doing so have discovered something that I really enjoy doing, which I do better than I’ve ever done anything before. I haven’t talked about the book too much, simply because I didn’t want to be premature in discussing it. But it is done. It is good. It is currently being shopped to publishers by an agent. And when it has a deal—notice I said “when” and not “if”—things will change.

This first novel is part of a trilogy, and I plan on spending the next few years writing the second and third books (although the second book has already been started). All of my other projects—the comics and the films—are secondary to the Darius Logan series. One of the hard lessons I learned while working on first the book was that I was using film criticism as an excuse to keep from doing what really needed to be done. I would have a pile of DVDs that needed to be screened and reviewed, that would eat up days at a time. And all of that was time taken from working on the book, because the book was something that intimidated me. The book represented opportunities to take my life in new directions and face new challenges. So like most people, I found a way to keep shooting myself in the foot. Every time I hit some sort of creative trouble spot, I would run out to a press screening or watch a DVD and write a review—none of which helped the book or me.

The funny thing about what I’m writing here and now is that in my head I’ve been writing it for close to a year. I’ve been trying to break away from being a film critic for over a year. I had even planned my very last review—Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre. I bought the DVD, and planned this incredible review that talked about how much that film had changed my life, and had encouraged me to pursue film. And then I was going to talk about how I’d become sidetracked from making movies and telling stories by over a decade of commenting on other people’s creativity, and that was going to be accompanied by some sort of essay/manifesto much like this one. But I didn’t do it out of fear. I was afraid to give up something that I didn’t much care for, because I was afraid to pursue something that I felt passionate about. In fact, I still haven’t even watched Santa Sangre, which I’m sure has something to do with some subconscious neurosis. I know that’s some crazy shit, but we’ve all done things like that.

So there you have it—David Walker is no longer a film critic. I’m not sure what that really means. Maybe it will be like when Jet Li said Fearless was his last kung-fu movie (and technically it was). Sure, he’s kicked ass in movies since, but by his definition, Jet Li hasn’t made a whushu flick since Fearless. Keep that in mind if I ever write about movies again—I may be writing about film, but I’m no longer a film critic.

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One Response to “The Life and Death of a Film Critic”

  1. brettdavey Says:

    David,

    I am sure sometimes it feels like you’re pissing in the wind with all the work you’ve done over the past several years. I am someone who has every issue of BAMF and is a big fan of the magazine. Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to an “Alternative Media” class at the University of Rhode Island (my alma mater) and spoke to the kids about the passion it takes to start one’s own publication. I whipped out an old copy of BAMF (the Asskickers issue) and told them how every time I went in Borders, I would always scour the alternative section to see if there was a new issue of BAMF. I told them that’s what they needed to inspire in their readers. I started my own pub 15 years ago and also make independent movies. (We just had the premiere of my latest at the RI School of Design in front of 450 people.) People who are creative have to constantly struggle with no-talent asshats. It sucks that you aren’t going to write reviews because they crack me up (see “Snow Dogs”). Just wanted to drop you a line with some support and encourage you to keep kicking ass, no matter what you do.

    Brett

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